NHL 2017 Season: Tampa Bay Lightning Pre-Season Overview
The Tampa Bay Lightning had an average 2016 – 2017 season that had hints of promise, even if the desired results didn’t ultimately materialize. They missed the Playoffs after a three season streak, placed 5th in the Atlantic Division, and 10th in the Eastern Conference. Their record of 42 – 30 – 10 could be improved on, but it was significantly better than the underperforming teams in the league, and they did maintain a positive goal for / against ratio with 234 goals scored and 227 goals conceded.They have a strong squad and a stable coaching system. Jon Cooper will continue as head coach this year, and Steve Yzerman still handles the GM responsibilities. With stability and continuity, they’ll use some of their key acquisitions to make a real challenge for the top spot of the Atlantic Division and an appearance at the Playoffs.
Jonathan Drouin is The Only Real Loss for the Team
Before we take a look at the key acquisitions for this year, let’s take a look at one player that they will be sad to see go. Jonathan Drouin was traded to the Canadiens, and while this allowed them to take a strong defensive player, the loss of Drouin might be controversial for some fans and analysts. Drouin is strong on the left wing, and last year he had his best ever season in the NHL. He played 73 games, scored 21 goals, and made 32 assists. He has the potential to get even better with the right coaching and opportunities, so the Canadiens will be happy to have them as they add depth to their forwards.While some will see Drouin as lost talent, the fact is that he alone is not the kind of player who can make or break the team, regardless of his steady improvement in performance. Trading him to the Canadiens have allowed the Lightning to strengthen their defense, and that should ultimately work out in their favor, as we’ll see from some of the following additions…
Mikhail Sergachev Joins from the Montreal Canadiens
In exchange for Drouin, the Tampa Bay Lightning gets Mikhail Sergachev and a conditional 2nd round draft pick for next year. Some won’t be familiar with Sergachev, but many of the experts inside the sport believe that he’s going to be one of the future stars in the NHL. Sergachev was drafted in 2016, and was the fourth pick after Olli Juolevi. This is important to note, because Sergachev has since shown that he was the better pick overall.Scouting Director Craig Button from TSN has said that “Mikhail Sergachev can do it all. He’s an excellent skater with the quickness to jump into the attack and the requisite footwork to operate in tight areas and beat pressure. He has a very good shot and the smarts to get into offensive spots where he can make a contribution. He also can deliver body checks that make life unpleasant for opponents.”Matias Strozyk from Elite Prospects has also been very positive about the ability and promise of Sergachev. He has been quoted calling Mikhail a “dominant two-way defenseman whose tenacity and competitiveness characterize his style of play. Plays with a poise and confidence that facilitates his creativity with the puck as well as split second decision making. Naturally, fluid skater who is always looking to be engaged, if not the center of each unfolding play. All in all, a diligent two way defensemen who excels at finding ways to be a difference maker in games.We’re predicting that Mikhail is going to be a strong asset to the Lightning, and he’s a safe bet for one of the best defensemen in the NHL in the near future. Another defenseman that will be joining the team is Dan Girardi from the Rangers. Girardi is a veteran NHL player and will bring a lot of experience to the team. He’s also a strong points scorer who has a consistent assists record.
Chris Kunitz Joins from the Penguins
The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t just address their defensive positions with acquisitions, and also signed Chris Kunitz from the Pittsburgh Penguins. On the left wing, Kunitz can be a consistent scorer, although his stats have dipped somewhat in the past three years. Last year only saw 9 goals and 20 assists, whereas back in the 2013 – 14 season he scored a career high of 35 goals and 33 assists. Even if his recent performance hasn’t quite been there, he can still regularly make assists and add value to the forward players. He could also shine in a new environment, after spending the last nine seasons with Pittsburgh. He also brings valuable playoff experience to the team, having been in playoff games for 11 of the last 12 seasons, and he has been a member of the Ducks Stanley Cup team in 2007, and won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009, 2016, and 2017.
How Will Tampa Bay Lightning Perform in 2017?
No matter what the fans think right now, the loss of their second best scorer (Drouin) will soon be forgotten. Don’t forget that there are talented players like Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman on this team, and Steven Stamkos looks ready for his bounce back year. Before the 2016 – 17 season, Stamkos was killing in the stats with 36 goals and 28 assists. Once he’s fully rehabilitated, it will only be a matter of time before this team is again a force to be reckoned with. Health will be key to Tampa Bay Lightning. Last season’s drop in performance was largely down to players suffering from health issues, and there’s enough of the same talent from their last playoff appearance that it’s hard to imagine them not making it back to the playoffs this year.The 2016 – 2017 season was not an indication of a decline, and a better finishing record and higher divisional position this year will prove that fact.