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NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of the League’s 32 teams from Aug. 8-Sept. 8. Today, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For the first time in three years, the Tampa Bay Lightning will begin an NHL season without the title of defending Stanley Cup champion.
The Lightning (51-23-8) returned to the Stanley Cup Final, but their quest to be the first team to win the Cup three straight seasons since the New York Islanders (1980-83) ended with a six-game loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
“No one gets to the Stanley Cup Final not to win the Cup,” Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said June 28. “You get to the Stanley Cup Final to bring home the Cup, especially this year when we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win three straight Stanley Cups.”
[Lightning 32 in 32: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown]
Tampa Bay will have to replace two stalwarts from those Cup-winning teams, forward Ondrej Palat and defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
Palat, who had played his entire 10-season NHL career with the Lightning, signed a five-year, $30 million contract ($6 million average annual value) with the New Jersey Devils on July 14. He had 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) in 77 regular-season games and tied for the Lightning lead with 11 goals in 21 playoff games last season.
McDonagh, who was second on the Lightning in average ice time during the playoffs (22:26) was traded to the Nashville Predators on July 3 for defenseman Philippe Myers and forward prospect Grant Mismash.
The Lightning also lost defenseman Jan Rutta, who signed a three-year, $8.25 million contract ($2.75 million AAV) with the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 13. Rutta usually played on the top pair with Victor Hedman at even strength.
Those departures gave Tampa Bay flexibility under the NHL salary cap to keep its championship window open.
That included signing defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak and forward Anthony Cirelli each to an eight-year contract extension July 13.
“We’re all young guys and obviously those two are a huge part of the team and myself probably included in that,” Sergachev said. “They are leaders. ‘Cerny’ is out there blocking shots, eating minutes and playing against the best in the world. Cirelli does the same thing. I think it’s important to keep those guys so everyone stays together.”
Video: TBL@NYR, Gm5: Sergachev nets tying goal from distance
Sergachev, who turned 24 in June, will receive $68 million ($8.5 million AAV). He had 38 points (seven goals, 31 assists) in 78 regular-season games and 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 23 playoff games last season. He said finding more consistency will be key to his growth.
“There’s a difference between a good player and a great player and that’s consistency,” Sergachev said. “I’ve been kind of lacking that at times, but I have to keep working hard because there’s a lot of trust in me playing on the second [pair] left side.”
Cernak signed for $42 million ($5.25 million AAV). The 25-year-old had 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in 55 games and led the Lightning with 165 hits.
Cirelli signed for $50 million ($6.25 million AAV) but the 24-year-old is expected to miss the start of the season after having shoulder surgery following the Cup Final. It was expected he would need 4-6 months to recover.
To help fill that void, the Lightning signed forward Vladislav Namestnikov to a one-year, $2.5 million contract July 13. The 29-year-old had 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) in 75 games with the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars last season.
The Lightning are also excited to see what forwards Brandon Hagel and Nicholas Paul, each acquired before the NHL Trade Deadline last season, can do for a full season. Paul signed a seven-year, $22.05 million contract ($3.15 million AAV) on July 1, before he could have become an unrestricted free agent.
“It wasn’t a hard decision for me,” said Paul, who had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 21 regular-season games for the Lightning after being acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on March 20, and nine points (five goals, four assists) in 23 playoff games. “I wasn’t looking around. I knew this is where I wanted to be and thankfully we got it done.”
Hagel had seven points (four goals, three assists) in 22 regular-season games for Tampa Bay after being acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on March 18, and six points (two goals, four assists) in 23 playoff games.
Retaining their young talent to support a veteran core that includes Hedman, forwards Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy should keep the Lightning in Cup contention for several more seasons.
“You go down the list with Point, ‘Kuch,’ ‘Stammer,’ ‘Heddy,’ ‘Vasi’ back there,” Cirelli said. “As long as we have those guys, I think we’ll be good for a long time.”
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