With 28 games played, the Tampa Bay Lightning are officially at the midpoint of the 2020-21 season. They have a record of 20-6-2, bringing them to a total of 42 points and a .750 points percentage. That is good for first place in the Central Division, tied in points with the Florida Panthers but they have the advantage in regulation wins. Taking a look back at the first half of the season, team writers Kyle Knopp, Nathan Moser, and I discussed several awards and who we think deserve them so far.
Andrew Mulville: Steven Stamkos
The best forward for the Lightning so far has to be Stamkos. The captain has a huge impact when he steps onto the ice. Whether it is at even strength or on the power play, he finds a way to get in dangerous positions and create scoring chances. He leads by example both on and off the ice, energizing the team when they need it the most. He is currently tied for first on the team with 27 points this season.
Kyle Knopp: Stamkos
This is tough on a team with so much firepower. I could easily go with Brayden Point or Ondrej Palat, as both are scoring at will this season, but I have to give the edge to Stamkos. He is leading the team in goals and tied for the lead in points while playing in two fewer games.
Nathan Moser: Stamkos
There are many forwards who are playing some fantastic hockey such as Point, Palat, and Anthony Cirelli; but as I mentioned back during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, this is Stamkos’ team. In 26 games this season, he has 14 goals and 13 assists for 27 points. He is a leader both on and off the ice and continues to be one of the best talents in the entire NHL. He leads by example, like how he fought back from his devastating injury last year to play in the Stanley Cup Final and motivated his teammates while doing all of that. On the ice, his skillset becomes too good for other teams to handle. He is the best forward on the squad in a stellar group of many others.
Andrew Mulville: Victor Hedman
Hedman is a shoo-in here. He has been the best defenseman not only on the Lightning but arguably in the league, too. Having been dominant on both ends of the ice, the former Norris Trophy winner is right back in the conversation to be a finalist for the trophy again. He is tied for the team lead in points with 27, which is also the most among defensemen in the league. He has been masterful at quarterbacking the top power-play line, setting up Stamkos in “his office” time and time again. In fact, that is exactly how he scored his 500th career point, making him the leader in points among defensemen in franchise history.
Kyle Knopp: Hedman
Easily this goes to Hedman, who is tied for the team lead in points, but a case could be made for Mikhail Sergachev to be in the running. Hedman continues to lead the way for the Lightning’s back end by averaging 25:30 of time on ice per game while producing at almost a point-per-game pace.
Nathan Moser: Hedman
Hedman runs the Tampa Bay defense and is one of the faces of the entire NHL on the backend. The 2020 Conn Smythe Trophy winner continues to shine both offensively and defensively through the first half of the 2020-21 campaign. He has posted 5 goals and 22 assists for 27 points in 28 games. Other blueliners like Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh do not have as much of a workload because of the role Hedman plays for Tampa. They can focus on playing their respective roles while Victor does his thing. He has more Norris Trophy wins in his future for sure.
Most Valuable Player
Andrew Mulville: Andrei Vasilevskiy
It has to be Vasilevskiy. Every night he is on the ice, he gives the team a chance to win regardless of how his teammates are playing in front of him. He has been consistently dominant. Beginning on March 10, 2020, he played every minute of hockey for the Lightning for 35 straight games, including every playoff game and the first nine games of the 2020-21 season. He went 25-9-1 during that stretch and never had to be pulled from a game. He is dominating again this season, leading the league with 18 wins.
Kyle Knopp: Vasilevskiy
While this could go to the captain, who is averaging 1.04 points per game, I have to give the nod to Vasilevskiy. The Big Cat is 18-3-1 on the season with a .932 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.90 goals-against average (GAA). When he has not been in the net the Lightning has struggled, posting a 2-3-1 record. Even on a bad night, the Lightning has a chance to win with Vasilevskiy in net.
Nathan Moser: Vasilevskiy
No matter how talented an offense and defense are, if a team does not have a solid goalie, any game can be derailed. Vasilevskiy continues to prove why he is one of the best goalies in the league. This season so far he has an 18-3-1 record with a 1.90 GAA, a .932 SV%, and three shutouts in 22 games played. He can be relied on heavily to make the crucial saves that further propel a team like Tampa to be as dominant as they are. He has been in the Vezina Trophy conversation for a few years now, and that conversation will not go away anytime soon.
Andrew Mulville: Ross Colton
I think the biggest surprise has been Colton. He was called up when the Lightning got bit by the injury bug in February and he has made the most of his opportunity. He has only played in four games but has shown great potential. He has a goal and an assist, including a goal in his first-ever NHL game. Recently, head coach Jon Cooper gave Colton an opportunity in a shootout, and sure enough, he lit the lamp. I have a feeling we will be seeing a lot more of him in the future.
Kyle Knopp: Mathieu Joseph
To me the biggest surprise this season has to be Joseph. Heading into training camp we were speculating whether he would make the taxi squad and, not only did he play on opening night, but he has proven to be an everyday player for the Bolts. He is also able to be plugged in at any position on any line, making him a key piece to the Lightning’s lineup.
Nathan Moser: Tyler Johnson
Johnson was a potential player the Lightning were going to move on from this past offseason because of being near the salary cap ceiling, and it seemed inevitable he was not coming back. He was even placed on waivers, but no other team claimed him.
Despite all of this, He is back playing for Tampa once again. He remains a threatening offensive presence complementary to the rest of the roster. He notched six goals and eight assists for 14 points in the first 27 games. He may eventually find himself on another roster soon (maybe this offseason), but his contributions, for now, are the Bolts’ gain.
Andrew Mulville: Curtis McElhinney
McElhinney just hasn’t been good enough. Sure, he has been hung out to dry a few times, but he has given up plenty of goals where the blame rests squarely on his shoulders. He has a record of 2-3-1, with a .874 SV% and a 3.19 GAA. In order to give Vasilesvkiy some rest, McElhinney will need to step up his game in the second half of the season.
Kyle Knopp: McElhinney & Alexander Volkov
My biggest disappointment for performance this year is a tie between McElhinney and Alexander Volkov. McElhinney is hard to put here because he is a backup, but his last two outings have been brutal and when he comes in to give Vasilevskiy a night off, he needs to be able to keep the team in games.
With Volkov, it is a twofold issue. First, I haven’t quite seen the fire in his game out of him yet and, besides a few points here and there, he is easy to go unnoticed on the ice in a bad way. Second, although Cooper has confidence in Volkov’s play, it is taking some ice time away from other guys who need a few more looks. I wish we saw more Gemel Smith, Colton, or Alex Barre-Boulet in place of Volkov more often.
Nathan Moser: Mitchell Stephens Being Out of the Lineup
Stephens entered the NHL last season, tallying three goals and three assists for six points in 38 games. This year so far, he was only able to suit up in four contests (and put up an assist in that time) before a lower-body injury took him out of action. He needed surgery and has been out ever since.
Fans and the organization must wait to see the growth Stephens gained so far and the experience he was going to add for a little while longer. He will possibly be another solid player that will stabilize the depth this team has in the future. Unfortunately, some time must pass before the Lightning faithful sees him in action again.
Prediction for the Second Half
Andrew Mulville: Colton See’s More Playing Time
Colton has been played really well on the fourth line for Tampa alongside Patrick Maroon and Joseph. Although he is still getting his feet wet, he has proved that he deserves playing time. With Stephens still out due to injury, I think Colton will get rotated into the lineup more frequently. If Cooper has enough faith in him to give him a chance in the shootout with the game on the line, he is doing something right. Look for No. 79 to play a role in the Lightning’s playoff push as the season wears on.
Kyle Knopp: Lightning Will be Playoff Bound
The Lightning opens the second half of the season with four of their first six games against the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, and Carolina Hurricanes, all teams vying for a playoff spot. Luckily, only one of those four is on the road, but those will be important games to earn points and begin to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. The Lightning will make the playoffs, but if they continue to allow teams to stick around late in games, they may not make as deep of a run as they would like.
Nathan Moser: Joseph Racks Up Points
Championship-caliber teams stay dominant over the years by being able to stay deep in their lineup and continually find contributors who step up. The Blackhawks in their 2010s dynasty is a perfect example. When players like Antti Niemi and Troy Brouwer left, others like Brandon Saad and Corey Crawford suited up. When more players exited, the Blackhawks found more talent in guys such as Teuvo Teravainen. Even after their three Cup dynasty was over, they found more players to fill the roster in Artemi Panarin and Alex DeBrincat.
The Lightning has had to let certain players go because of the salary cap, but they also are capable of having others step up in the same way. They could have the best depth in the entire league right now. I predict Joseph becomes a critical part of the offense in the second half of the season and becomes even more of a fan favorite amongst the Lightning faithful. He has seven goals and four assists for 11 points in 28 contests. I predict fans will find him on the scoresheet quite more in the second half of the 2020-21 campaign.
Second Half Up Next
The Lightning has a big opportunity to start the second half, as they will play seven of the next 10 games at Amalie Arena. They have found success on home ice this season, recording a dominant 10-2-0 record. They’ll also have 3,800 fans in the stands, a big boost for the players. To kick things off, the Lightning takes on the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday in downtown Tampa.
Andrew is a freelance writer who covers the Tampa Bay Lightning at The Hockey Writers. He is a passionate hockey fan who grew up near Tampa, Florida. He is a husband, father to a Golden Retriever, and is studying to be a Physician Assistant. Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Mulville