Coming off a Stanley Cup Finals appearance against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, the Tampa Bay Lightning had high hopes for a return in the 2015-2016 season. The team came very close to reaching that goal, losing in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. There were many ups and downs over the course of the year, including some bad luck with injuries that may have prevented the Lightning from raising the Cup this year.
Tampa Bay has a deep and talented roster, and that depth was tested this season. Injuries ravaged the lineup so much that the AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch had to play defensemen as forwards just to fill the lineup. One of the main reasons the team was able to sustain its winning ways was goalie Ben Bishop. Bishop led the NHL with a 2.06 Goals Against Average and was second with a .926 save percentage (among goalies with at least 15 appearances). His injury in Game 1 of the Conference Finals may have been the difference between moving on and going home.
Pending Free Agents: Everyone in the hockey world knows of the impending unrestricted free agency of Steven Stamkos. The 26 year old team Captain is one of the best players in the world, and will be highly coveted by every team in the league. He was forced to miss almost 2 months of the regular season and playoffs because of a blood clot, but that won’t hold back any potential suitors. General Manager Steve Yzerman likely will not offer Stamkos as much as some other teams, so it will be up to him to determine if he prefers the familiarity of the Lightning or the money of a new destination.
Another important free agent (restricted) is 22 year old Nikita Kucherov. The Russian winger led the team in scoring in both the regular and postseason, tallying 19 points in 17 playoff games. He is in line for a significant payday, possibly around $6.5 million per year.
Draft Picks: Tampa doesn’t pick until late in the first round, so it is hard to imagine they will find a prospect ready to play in the pros. A potential option to move up in the draft is to trade disgruntled winger Jonathan Drouin. The 3rdoverall pick of the 2013 draft, Drouin’s time with the Lightning has been tense to say the least.
After being demoted to Syracuse during the season, he left the team and requested a trade. After no trade was made, he returned on fire. He scored 9 goals in his first 10 games in the AHL, and put up 14 points in 17 playoff games. A team looking to make a splash and win soon like the Montreal Canadiens might be interested to deal their top 10 pick for him.
Free Agent Additions: The top free agent targets for the Lightning are their own Stamkos and Kucherov. Other than that, they will likely not be too active in free agency, looking to add some depth and maybe a backup goaltender.