In this edition of Tampa Bay Lightning news and rumors, we’ll discuss both the Expansion and Entry Drafts, trade rumors, and more.
Seattle Got a Good One
It has been clear for some time now that this offseason was going to be a rough one for Lightning fans. Just a few days after Barclay Goodrow was traded to the New York Rangers, the Seattle Kraken selected Yanni Gourde during the Expansion Draft. Gourde, who is a phenomenal player and an even better person, was well-loved in the Tampa Bay community. The Kraken are lucky to have such a special talent on their franchise’s inaugural roster.
Unfortunately for the Kraken, Gourde recently underwent shoulder surgery and will miss the start of the regular season. He spent six seasons with the Lightning, tallying 187 points in 310 regular-season games. After being a key member of the Lightning’s physical third line, he is expected to play center on one of the top two lines for Seattle.
On July 19, the Lightning announced their preseason schedule. They’ll begin with a road trip to Carolina and finish with three straight games against the Florida Panthers. The Lightning also extended their affiliation agreement with the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears for the next two seasons. As part of the preseason festivities, the Lighting will take on the Panthers at Amway Center in Orlando on Oct. 5.
The day after the Expansion Draft, the NHL released the regular-season schedule for each team. The NHL is returning to its usual divisions this season, so the Lightning will compete in the Atlantic Division. They will kick off the 82-game season at home on Oct. 12 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Lightning will take part in the NHL Stadium Series as they face off against the Nashville Predators at Nissan Stadium on Feb. 26, 2022. Also of note, the Lightning will host the Kraken at Amalie Arena for the first time on Nov. 26.
Here We Go Again
The writing has been on the wall for Tyler Johnson for some time now. Last offseason, the Lightning attempted to move Johnson via trade and by putting him on waivers twice. As it turns out, they were unable to offload his contract and he ultimately played a big role during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, the Lightning are in a salary-cap crunch once again this offseason and it appears as though they could be attempting to move Johnson again.
After the NHL Entry Draft concluded on Saturday, general manager Julien BriseBois said,
“Everyone is going to turn their attention back to solidifying their NHL team. Free agency is going to open up in a few days and I suspect trade talk is going to pick up again in a few days.”‘Inside the Lightning’s 2021 draft class. Plus, the latest on trade talk and free agency’ by Joe Smith, The Athletic, July 25, 2021
BriseBois also recently stated that it was unlikely that they would be buying out any contracts. Thus, it would not be surprising if the Lightning are active in the trade market this week ahead of the start of free agency on July 28. The Lightning are just under the cap with only 17 players signed for the 2021-22 season so something has to give. It will be interesting to see if BriseBois has to include a sweetener for a team to take Johnson, who has three years left on his contract with an average annual value of $5 million. Veterans Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn could also be dealt this week to free up cap space. BriseBois has made the negotiating rights to Blake Coleman and David Savard available, too.
Gronk the Goalie
One of the question marks this offseason for the Lightning is who the backup goaltender behind Andrei Vasilevskiy will be. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski showed up to their facility decked out in Lightning gear. He took to Twitter to explain his outfit, stating he is in fact the backup goalie for the Lightning. Something tells me he would have a difficult time managing his schedule this fall. However, he did have the opportunity to get some ice time during a practice with the Lightning prior to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Gronkowski and the Buccaneers, who are also in the midst of their offseason, will look to replicate the Lightning’s back-to-back success this season by winning their second straight Super Bowl.
A Successful Draft
Although the Lightning did not have a pick in the first two rounds of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, they still managed to have a strong draft overall. They were the last team to make their first pick, selecting defenseman Roman Schmidt 96th overall in the third round.
|3||32||Roman Schmidt||D||USA||18||6′ 5″||210|
|4||30||Dylan Duke||LW||USA||18||5′ 10″||175|
|5||32||Cameron Macdonald||C||CAN||18||6′ 4″||190|
|6||32||Alex Gagne||D||USA||18||6′ 1″||205|
|7||4||Daniil Pylenkov||D||RUS||20||6′ 1″||194|
|7||19||Robert Flinton||LW||USA||17||6′ 2″||210|
|7||32||Niko Huuhtanen||RW||FIN||18||6′ 2″||204|
The Lightning did not have a fourth-round pick entering the draft, but traded their 2022 fourth-rounder to the Montreal Canadiens to move up and select Dylan Duke. Of all of their draft picks, Duke is the most exciting of the group and is likely to develop well within Tampa Bay’s system. In a draft where the Lightning prioritized size and strength, Duke was the only player selected that is under six feet tall. When asked about him, director of amateur scouting Al Murray said,
“He’s a left-shot forward, plays usually left wing, and he is all about what we call a Bolt. He’s high energy, really smart, competitive, always net-front, always banging around, has good skill level, good skating.”
It will likely be years before we know whether this draft yielded any NHL-caliber talent for the Lightning, but on paper, they fared well considering the picks they had in hand. It will be interesting to see if they attempt to sign any undrafted free agents, too. One such player that would be an interesting signing is Ryan St. Louis, son of Lightning legend Martin St. Louis, who will be playing for Northeastern University this season.
In the next few days, there will be a lot going on in the NHL as teams prepare for the looming free agency period. The Lightning will have to be active in the trade market early on this week. The free agency period opens on Wednesday, July 28 at 12:00 P.M.
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