Tampa Bay Lightning training camp opens on Thursday, which can mean only one thing:
No more hurricane coverage!
But, seriously, hopefully you and yours made it through Hurricane Irma unscathed. AMALIE Arena sustained some minor water penetration, and it appears a couple of the massive player banners greeting fans as they enter the arena are no longer there.
Otherwise, we're no worse for the wear at 401 Channelside Drive. Hopefully, the same can be said for our fans.
Now it's back to business as usual. And for the Lightning, that means the first official day of training camp. Thursday's activities will include player physicals and testing as well as photos, videos and media interviews.
On Friday, the Bolts will take the ice as a complete group for the first time since the conclusion of the 2016-17 regular season.
What are the major storylines for Tampa Bay this season?
Here's what we're watching as Lightning training camp 2017 gets underway.
1. ARE STAMKOS AND CALLAHAN HEALTHY?
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos missed 65 games last season with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. Alternate captain Ryan Callahan was forced to sit almost the exact same amount, suiting up for only 18 games while dealing with a right hip issue that plagued him all season. Had those two been healthy a full season, the Lightning, who finished one point behind the Maple Leafs in the final regular season standings, likely make the playoffs. And as one of the hottest teams in the NHL down the stretch after going 8-1-1 over the final 10 games - plus with eight seed Nashville's run to the Stanley Cup Final out of the Western Conference -- who knows how deep the Bolts could have advanced in the postseason.
So are Stamkos and Callahan ready to rejoin the Bolts for Opening Night?
All signs point to a resounding yes.
Callahan was one of the first to arrive at the Ice Sports Forum for informal workouts leading up to training camp and looked to be back to the Callahan of old. The 32 year old was able to train fully in the offseason and said he's the most excited he's been in a long time for the start of training camp.
And that should have Lightning fans excited as well.
Video: TBL@NYI: Callahan deflects Sustr's shot into the net
As for Stamkos, he says his knee feels as good as its felt since undergoing surgery in November. He joined informal workouts at the Ice Sports Forum last week and didn't appear limited in his movement or his participation. He wore a regular jersey, a good sign as any lingering issues would have put him in a red, no-contact jersey.
Still, he's admitted he's not 100 percent yet, and is unsure when he can proclaim himself fully healthy again. He won't really know if he's good to go until a game situation.
Everything says he should be fine.
All of Tampa Bay will hold its breath until that proves to be the case.
2. WHAT WILL THE LINES LOOK LIKE?
With a few different pieces to the forward group, and assuming Stamkos and Callahan are good to go for Opening Night - we have no reason to believe they won't - the Lightning's lines will probably look considerably different than they did last season.
As camp gets underway and continues into the seven preseason games, it will be interesting to note what combination of players head coach Jon Cooper ices. Will the Triplets become a thing again or will Cooper split them up to spread the wealth among the lines? Where does Brayden Point go? He's clearly talented enough for one of the top two lines, but, at center, he's not beating out Stamkos or Tyler Johnson just yet. Where will the Bolts' newest addition, Chris Kunitz, slot in? Does Yanni Gourde, who was such an integral part of the Lightning's late-season run last season and, arguably, the best player on the ice in the Calder Cup Finals, slip into one of the top two lines?
Video: CHI@TBL: Gourde buries OT game-winner on a breakaway
We should get a better idea of the coaching staff's thinking after a few training camp practices.
For what it's worth, I put together my best guess as to what the lines could look like on Opening Night
Killorn Stamkos Point
Palat Johnson Kucherov
Kunitz Namestnikov Callahan
Gourde Paquette Brown
I'd like to keep the Triplets together, at least at the start of the season, just to see if they can rekindle the magic they produced during the 2014-15 season. I toyed with putting Point as the third line center but ultimately felt he was too valuable to keep out of a top six role. I like the Kunitz-Namestnikov-Callahan combination as a defensive shut-down line, but that grouping might need a bit more offensive firepower as well. And depending on what kind of training camp Gourde has, I could see him on any one of the four lines.
Of course, these lines are assuming other players don't beat out any in the aforementioned group for a starting spot on Opening Night.
How'd I do? Tweet me your thoughts and your own line combos @bburnsnhl.
3. EIGHT DEFENSEMEN? REALLY?
Probably the biggest decision the Lightning will make in training camp is whether to bring highly-touted defenseman prospect Mikhail Sergachev up to the NHL for good or send him back to junior for one more season. This question probably won't be answered until after training camp either as Sergachev can play a few games in the NHL before a permanent decision must be made. Another season in junior isn't going to do much for his progress but neither is sitting in a NHL press box as a healthy scratch.
Assuming Sergachev does stick with the Bolts for the duration, the Lightning will have eight defensemen on the roster. In addition to signing veteran free agent Dan Girardi in the offseason, Tampa Bay re-signed Andrej Sustr to a one-year deal. The Lightning inked Slater Koekkoek (one year) and Jake Dotchin (two years), a pair of guys who spent time between Tampa Bay and AHL Syracuse in 2016-17, to one-way deals, meaning they'd have to clear waivers (unlikely) if they were sent down to the minors.
Add in veteran rearguards Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Braydon Coburn, and suddenly the Bolts have plenty of options on the blue line.
Video: Braydon Coburn on D-Man Competition
General manager Steve Yzerman indicated following the off-season maneuvering he'd have no problem keeping that many defensemen on the roster. It's good to have depth in defense, but even if the Lightning go 11 forwards/7 defensemen, somebody's going to be the odd-man out. And with youngsters like Dotchin, Koekkoek and Sergachev needing experience, it would be a shame to healthy scratch any of those three.
Which means training camp will be especially important for defensemen looking to secure their spot in the lineup (i.e. Sustr, Sergachev, Dotchin and Koekkoek).
4. WHO TAKES THE LEADERSHIP REIGNS?
The Lightning lost some of their locker room leadership last season following the trades of Brian Boyle, Valtteri Filppula and Ben Bishop along with long-term injuries to Stamkos and Callahan.
The Bolts addressed those concerns in the offseason with the signing of four-time Stanley Cup winner Chris Kunitz from Pittsburgh along with veteran defenseman Dan Girardi, an alternate captain for the New York Rangers the past three seasons.
Remember how the additions of Boyle, Anton Stralman, Brenden Morrow and the long-term signing of Callahan gave the Lightning plenty of experienced voices during the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Final run?
Adding Kunitz and Girardi could have a similar effect this season.
But who will join them in the leadership department?
Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman took on more of a vocal role as the 2016-17 season progressed. Look for him to continue to develop this aspect of his game. Also, with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat locked into long-term deals in the offseason, expect that pair to have a bigger presence in the locker room as well.
Will anybody else grow into that role?
Training camp will give us a good indication who might step to the forefront.