Lightning: 3 Keys That Have Fueled Championship Success

The Tampa Bay Lightning and their fans have had a lot to be happy about in the latest era of their history. Of course, there are the two Stanley Cup championships and the potential to threepeat on the horizon. However, there are more detailed aspects of the organization that both the team and fans can be proud of. Whether it’s those in the offices behind-the-scenes calling the shots or the number of players who can step up when needed, here are a few things fans can look back on and be happy about as their team strives to become a dynasty.

Knowledgeable Hockey Management

One of the best hires in franchise history occurred back in May 2010 when Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik brought aboard longtime Detroit Red Wings forward and former captain Steve Yzerman to become the team’s general manager (GM). Some of the most impactful talent the club has ever had came during the Yzerman Era. He and his management team had a knack for finding stellar talent to fill out the ranks throughout the team’s system.

They drafted Nikita Kucherov as a late second-round selection in 2011, who became a multiple 100-point scorer since he joined the main roster during the 2013-14 season. In that same 2011 draft, he chose winger Ondrej Palat in the seventh round (208th overall). A couple of other finds included Ross Colton as a 2016 fourth-round pick, current Seattle Kraken forward Yanni Gourde as an undrafted talent spending time in the American Hockey League (AHL) and ECHL, who emerged once he joined the Lightning organizational system, and Anthony Cirelli in the third round of the 2015 draft. That is not even mentioning other transactions like trading Jonathan Drouin, who was not happy with the organization, to the Montreal Canadiens and receiving a young, promising defenseman in Mikhail Sergachev in return.

It seemed that everything Yzerman touched turned to gold. However, even after he left and was replaced by current GM Julien BriseBois, the organization continued to make beneficial decisions that further improved the squad. BriseBois was responsible for acquiring forwards Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow via trades during the 2019-20 campaign. He also signed 2019 Stanley Cup-winning forward Pat Maroon, who helped by providing his experience with the St. Louis Blues in order to put Tampa over the top. Like Yzerman, there has not been a lot that BriseBois has missed on.

Julien Brisebois Tampa Bay Lightning
Julien Brisebois took over as Tampa Bay Lightning general manager after Steve Yzerman left.
(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

On top of that, the Lightning have had Jon Cooper as their head coach ever since he joined the team in 2013, following previous bench boss Guy Boucher being relieved of his duties. Cooper has been fantastic in his first NHL job. He has only missed the playoffs twice since his arrival, with one of those being the season he took over for Boucher. Besides the two Cup championships, he also first led them to the Cup Final back in 2015 when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.

In my opinion, he is a future Jack Adams Award winner as the best coach in a season. He has not won the trophy yet, but he is one of the best in the league. He definitely has a lot of superstars to work with that help improve his stats as a coach, but he pulls the strings behind the bench the right way.

There are many organizations that have not gotten their coaching or management right quite yet. Some fans around the league are discontent with the people running the hockey operations for their clubs. One thing Lightning fans can appreciate is that they probably could not be in a better spot in either department. BriseBois has handled the GM job perfectly since Yzerman left, and Cooper is the best coach this franchise has ever had. The potential for more success is not too far in the distance.

Solid Depth

The injury bug has taken its toll on the Lightning so far this season. Two of the biggest examples are Kucherov and forward Brayden Point. Kucherov suffered a lower-body injury and had surgery, while Point got an upper-body injury and is considered week-to-week. With many other organizations in the NHL, losing two superstars to injury would be catastrophic. Fans would sit on pins and needles waiting anxiously for at least one, if not both, players to return. Other teams’ play would possibly drop off on the ice as a result of one or two missing talents. For the Lightning, another reason they have been so successful is that they have one of the deepest lineups in the entire league.

Brayden Point Tampa Bay Lightning
Brayden Point suffered an upper-body injury this season for the Lightning.
(Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Kucherov missed the entire 2020-21 regular season, but the team had enough firepower in his absence that they made the postseason regardless. Now, he is missing some time again, and so is Point for a bit, but there isn’t panic among the people in the organization or the fans. They know the team has enough talent to rack up the wins. If someone comes out of the lineup, someone else steps up. Colton is one example of someone last season who came in his first NHL season and made his own impact. He had great players around him to help bring out his game, but he fit right into the system. It was like he had played on the team for a few seasons already.

Related: Lightning Need Colton to Step Up During Point’s Absence

With Kucherov and Point out, Tampa still has captain Steven Stamkos, Palat, Alex Killorn, and Cirelli to provide the offense. They had Gourde the last number of seasons to put up some points before the Kraken selected him in the expansion draft. They always manage to have their production come from so many different skilled players.

Switching to defense, after Victor Hedman as the number one guy, they have Ryan McDonagh, who had experience as a top blueliner when he was captain of the New York Rangers. He established himself as a solid defender while also being able to put up his fair share of offensive production. Sergachev is only a few campaigns into his career, and he already has shown off both offensively and defensively what he brings. Then, there are more defensive-minded players like Jan Rutta and Erik Cernak who currently hold roster spots as well.

Ryan McDonagh Tampa Bay Lightning
Ryan McDonagh esatblished himself as a solid defenseman when he was with the New York Rangers before coming to Tampa. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Depth is something they have been able to keep up for a little while too. Other names that have come and gone include Coleman, Goodrow, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Luke Schenn, among others. Tying this with the previous point on great management, BriseBois has been able to fill the empty voids left behind by talent they have had to let go in order to fit under the current salary cap circumstances.

When skilled players like Coleman, Gourde, Goodrow, and Schenn all departed, other pieces fit into the puzzle, in Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Zach Bogosian (who came back after winning the 2020 Cup with the Bolts). Tampa’s management group is able to identify the right talent to fill in the holes that appear every season, and that is how they are able to sustain a stellar roster. Consistent depth all over the lineup is another thing that Lightning fans can appreciate and why the team has had their recent success the last number of years.

Proven Ability

While Tampa has had to let go of many great talents over the last couple of offseasons, like Coleman, Goodrow, and Shattenkirk, among others, most of the players on their current roster remain from their two Stanley Cup championships. The offense leads the charge, with Kucherov, Point, Stamkos, and Killorn being some of the names that consistently tally points for the club. On the blue line, Hedman is the face of the operation. He gets stellar support, though, from defensemen in McDonagh, Sergachev, and Rutta. Then, when looking in net, Andrei Vasilevskiy is the goalie who the team relies on for big saves in critical moments. He even gets postseason shutouts in perfect timing, too.

The core members of the club are under contract for a long time. While other skilled players may not be able to stay with the salary cap circumstances for Tampa, the ones who define the era Tampa is currently going through are signed with no chance of leaving. Looking at the contracts, Stamkos is a member of the Lightning until his deal comes up in the summer of 2024, Hedman’s contract ends in 2025, Point’s runs on further than both of those, Kucherov’s ends in 2027, and Vasilevskiy is locked up beyond the 2026-27 season as well. Going further on the deals, Stamkos, Hedman, Vasilevskiy, and Kucherov all have no-movement clauses (NMC), so that further proves the type of assets they are (all of this info was found on The Hockey Writers’ Full Salary Cap Data for the Lightning).

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy
Andrei Vasilevskiy, shown here winning the 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy, continues to be one of the best goalies in the world. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

As long as the key skill is locked up long-term, fans don’t have to worry about the team’s production falling off. The core players have proven multiple times with these Cup championships that they have the ability to win a third. Once Kucherov returns, he will tear up the NHL again. Last season’s playoffs were proof he can shake the rust off in quick fashion in order to play a crucial role in collecting a victory.

Point, one of the players mentioned in that core who doesn’t have a NMC, went on a goal streak last postseason that, at one point, went nine games long. Vasilevskiy, who won the 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy, continues to be one of the best goalies in the entire world, if not the best. Fans can relax and appreciate that the superstars who are the faces of the Lightning right now are not going anywhere, and these are the same talents who have proven that together they can beat down any other club in the league in order to win a Cup.

There are other reasons that the Lightning have been as successful as they’ve been in the last number of years, but these three mentioned are a few of the most important. Management is so crucial in molding a team’s roster, and the Bolts have been fortunate in what both Yzerman and BriseBois built. There are deep ranks in every position on the team, thanks to those in management making smart decisions. Then, to put the bow on top, the main components that help run the team like the well-oiled machine it is, are under contract for many more seasons to come.

The Lightning are not going away anytime soon as a powerhouse and are a force to be reckoned with. There may be other top teams throughout the NHL, but they are going to have to go through Tampa, which has been no easy task for anyone. Many more great moments for Lightning fans are on their way, and they have many things to appreciate as their squad continues to try and get that third straight Cup.

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