In 2019-20, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to achieve the ultimate goal of every NHL franchise, win the holiest of holy grails, the Stanley Cup. The current core for the Lightning had been knocking on the door for a good six-plus seasons before finally kicking it in, defeating the valiant but overmatched Dallas Stars in six games.
During this current run, no team in the NHL has won more regular-season or playoff games than the team in Tampa.
Last season was especially sweet, considering how things went in the playoffs the previous season. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy with 128 points, the Bolts were unceremoniously bounced out of the playoffs in four straight by the hard-charging Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Lightning were able to get their revenge on said Blue Jackets in last year’s playoffs and rode that momentum all the way till the end to hoist the Cup for the second time in franchise history.
Winning Back-To-Back Titles Is Incredibly Difficult
So having shed the undeserved “choker” moniker, how do the Lightning do what only one team, the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins, has done since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings?
Repeating as Stanley Cup champions is arguably the hardest team accomplishment in major sports today. The NFL and NBA have both had recent dominance by one franchise in the New England Patriots and Golden State Warriors, respectively.
Only the MLB has proven to be more difficult than the NHL to win back-to-back, with the most recent team being the 2000 New York Yankees. Few would argue, however, that navigating the four playoff rounds in the NHL is far more physically taxing than getting through the MLB playoffs. With all due respect to the single-game wild card play in, the MLB structure is essentially three rounds, with the first round being just a five-game series.
The Lightning, over recent seasons, has been one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. They have reached the Eastern Conference Final four times in the past six campaigns. Tampa has also reached the Stanley Cup Final twice while winning it once. Now that they have broken through, could this be the beginning of the NHL’s next dynasty?
Lightning Have an Incredibly Talented Team
The fact that this group was able to win it all without one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history in Steven Stamkos should give the rest of the league some sleepless nights headed into the season. At only 27 years old, Nikita Kucherov should continue to show what a special player he is well into the future. Brayden Point has transitioned quickly from promising young talent to full-blown A-list scorer.
On the defensive side, Victor Hedman showed the hockey world that he is the best two-way defenseman in the league as well as a gifted leader. Newly re-signed defenseman Mikhail Sergachev continues to show a great deal of promise and, at such a young age, will only get better. Losing the steady Kevin Shattenkirk will certainly hurt, especially late in the season, but the emergence of 23-year-old Erik Cernak should mitigate the loss, at least a bit.
In goal, you have arguably the most talented netminder in the NHL in Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vassy, as he is known locally by players and fans alike, was stellar all playoffs, and he should’ve gotten mentioned more as a contributing factor in the Lightning’s playoff run.
Unexpected contributions from Ondrej Palat, coupled with incredible point production from Kucherov and Point, seemed to relegate Vasilevskiy to the back burner at times. Make no mistake, though, he was a major reason for the Lightning emerging victorious. The .927 save percentage speaks volumes, with a shutout in the deciding sixth game against the Stars.
New Season Presents New Challenges
Now, it’s not all rainbows and lollipops for Tampa going into this season. Questions remain where the money will come to re-sign Anthony Cirelli and Cernak. With the Sergachev deal already done, that leaves little left for the Lightning to do anything at all as of now. Tampa will undoubtedly lose at least one or two key forwards in the way of Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn or even Yanni Gourde.
Last year’s trade deadline additions of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow were both key contributors in the postseason. Both also have much cheaper deals than Johnson, Killorn and Gourde, making at least one of the three expendable. Kucherov and Johnson both have no-trade clauses, so that could make either of them more difficult to move to create the much-needed salary cap space.
Tampa will need some money in the coffers to mimic last year’s trade deadline if the team is to repeat. With the obvious nature of the game, injuries take a toll every year, and the teams that are able to shore up any holes going into the home stretch are usually the ones making a deep playoff run.
Overcoming Divergent Obstacles to Win it Again
Whether they are able to strike gold like they did last year with Coleman and Goodrow remains to be seen. Both players combined cost the Lightning less than three million, and that’s a good return on investment, especially with Coleman, who chipped in 13 points in the playoffs. Nonetheless, if they can’t even take a stab at finding help at the deadline because of finances, then the odds of a repeat definitely slide a bit.
This year’s edition of the Lightning will not be a carbon copy of last year’s team. Can the key offseason additions from last year like Patrick Maroon, Luke Schenn, Coleman and Goodrow step up again the way they did last year? Will the stellar performances by Hedman, Vasilevskiy, Point and Kucherov be duplicated? Can Stamkos regain his form and stay relatively injury-free for the entire season?
Who knows how everything will play out. Each NHL season is an incredible grind with a ton of twists and turns for every team. With that said, if the bulk of these questions are answered correctly by the Lightning, expect another Stanley Cup boat parade along the Riverwalk in downtown Tampa.
Frank is a former competitive hockey player at the D3 college level. He’s what you’d call a hockey “lifer” having also worked as a hockey referee, time keeper and assistant youth coach, along with being a longtime member of USA Hockey. Frank comes to THW after contributing content on the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Orlando Magic for BackSportsPage.com.