Welcome to this edition of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stock Up and Stock Down, as we start with the pre-season edition of the 2023-24 season, focusing on looking back on the off-season and what lies ahead as the team prepares for training camp.
As training camp for the 2023-24 season approaches, the Tampa Bay Lightning have had an interesting offseason as they attempt to make a serious run to qualify for this year’s Stanley Cup Final. While not as busy as other teams that had a stockpile of draft picks and salary cap space to sign higher-priced free agents, the Lightning still were able to make enough moves to keep the franchise heading in the right direction.
After a disappointing loss in the first round to the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, the Lightning were faced with the daunting task of assembling another Stanley Cup-quality roster with very little salary cap space and only a few late-round draft picks. We will look at the highs and lows of the Lightning during their offseason.
Stock Up: Brisebois on a Budget
Due to salary cap constraints, the Lightning were forced to part ways with some quality veteran players and replaced with players with more cap-friendly salaries. Included in this group were Ross Colton and Alex Killorn, who played important roles in the Lightning being able to reach three straight Stanley Cup Finals. General manager (GM) Julie Brisebois worked with his tight budget to bring in quality veterans such as Conor Sheary, Luke Glendenning, and Calvin de Haan. Brisebois also added Logan Brown and Mitchell Chaffee on two-way contracts, giving the team other options to look at when training camp opens.
Brisebois was also able to pivot quickly when recent signee Josh Archibald informed the team that he would not be playing hockey this season due to personal reasons. Veteran Tyler Motte was quickly signed and could provide critical minutes in a bottom-six role. The former fourth-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks played in all seven of the New York Rangers’ first-round playoff games last season against the New Jersey Devils and posted ten shots and 12 penalty minutes.
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While many feel that the Lightning’s roster got significantly worse over the offseason, some of the new additions could step up and provide help for the team in the coming season. For example, Glendenning has a solid reputation as a face-off specialist, winning over 55% in his career. In 17 playoff games this past season with the Dallas Stars, he won 60% of his draws and frequently was on the ice to close out games. Winning critical faceoffs was one area that the Lightning struggled with last season.
Stock Up: National Television Coverage
It seems that the NHL also feels the Lightning are Stanley Cup contenders, as the league has slated them to play 11 times on their American television partners, ESPN and TNT. The Lightning will start ESPN’s opening night tripleheader on October 10 against the Nashville Predators. Other notable matchups include a November 16th matchup at the Chicago Blackhawks and their first overall draft pick, Connor Bedard, and two back-to-back games in February against the New York Rangers and New York Islanders.
Stock Down: Gap Closing in the Atlantic Division
While the Lightning comfortably made the playoffs last season, the combination of a potentially weaker roster and improvement among the non-playoff teams could make it tougher, if not jeopardize the chance for the Lightning to make the playoffs in 2023-24. The Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators are young and improving, while the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to make the playoffs when they lost their last game of the year to one of the worst teams in 2022-23, the Blackhawks. Any of these teams could make a run at the playoffs, and the Lightning have to be careful not to take a step backward.
Stock Up: Motivated Lightning
Throughout the offseason, there has been some talk about how the early exit to the Toronto Maple Leafs has provided extra motivation for the team coming into the 2023-24 season. Recently, defenseman Mikhail Sergachev told 32 Thoughts: The Podcast: “In my head, we should’ve won the Cup. Every year we should win the Cup, in my head. Yeah, obviously we’re pissed off. We don’t want to lose. We don’t want to be the team that Toronto finally got to the second round, and they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. They didn’t go through the second round. But we didn’t want to be that and lose to them.” Sergachev continues to increase his role as one of the younger and more vocal leaders on the Lightning roster.
Sergachev also stated in that interview that many of the Lightning are also quite motivated by the early exit. “The guys are very competitive even now. Usually, before camp, we skate [together]. We’ll do five drills and play a game. Usually, it’s like beer-league hockey. Now, it’s intense. Some hitting, too. It’s great. Competitive”
Another player who was highly motivated was Nikita Kucherov, who was back on the ice just one week later, working on his game with 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Adam Oates. The two skated together about three times before Kucherov took a couple of weeks off and immediately returned to Tampa for more time on the ice. “When training camp starts and the season starts, I want to be ready for everything,” Kucherov explained. “All those little things that happen 25 to 35 times a game, I practice them.”
The motivation that resulted from last season’s early exit will be one of the many topics that this weekly Lightning Stock Up, Stock Down column will track in the coming days and weeks leading up to the start of the 2023-23 NHL season.