NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three questions facing the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Injuries to forwards Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan were a huge reason the Tampa Bay Lightning missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in four seasons. The Lightning went 8-1-1 in their final 10 games but finished one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning's fortunes should improve this season if Stamkos can remain in the lineup and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy can live up to his potential.
[LIGHTNING 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]
1. Can Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan stay healthy?
Stamkos missed the final 65 games last season with a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee and has missed 115 games over the past four seasons. Though Stamkos is entering his 10th NHL season, he's relatively young at 27 and remains one of the top natural goal-scorers in the League when healthy.
"Well, you have to feel for [Stamkos]," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It's not that his career has gone bad, it's just that he's spent a lot of it in the stands ... for a variety of injuries and that happens to players. But you just feel for him because you know how much he wants to play, and that's the toughest part. Losing your captain, it's tough. But this is a longer rest period for him and we'd expect him to be at full health come September."
Callahan is participating in informal workouts with teammates and said he is feeling no limitations after having hip surgery twice since the end of the 2015-16 season, causing him to miss 64 games last season.
Video: 31 in 31: Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-18 season preview
2. Is Andrei Vasilevskiy ready to be a No. 1 goalie?
The Lightning spent the better part of two seasons preparing Vasilevskiy for the No. 1 role, and it became his when they traded Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 26.
Vasilevskiy, 23, struggled through the middle of last season and lost six consecutive starts from Jan 3-19. But he rebounded and was 12-4-2 in his final 18 starts, after Bishop was traded, and finished 23-17-7 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
3. Will Adam Erne, Matthew Peca or Yanni Gourde stick in the NHL?
Forwards Erne and Peca each spent time with the Lightning last season and made a positive impression; Erne, 22, had three goals in 26 games, and Peca, 24, had two points (one goal, one assist) in 10 games. They will attend training camp with an opportunity to win a spot on one of the bottom two lines. Erne (6-foot-1, 214 pounds) would be a nice physical presence on the fourth line, if he can stay healthy.
Gourde, a 25-year-old forward, had eight points (six goals, two assists) in 20 games with the Lightning last season and is another player to keep an eye on in training camp.
Video: DAL@TBL: Erne nets second goal on spin-o-rama in 3rd