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31 in 31

Three questions facing Tampa Bay Lightning

Signing restricted free agents Cernak, Cirelli, Stamkos' health among concerns

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, three important questions facing the Tampa Bay Lightning.


[Lightning 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]


1. Will they be able to sign Erik Cernak and Anthony Cirelli?

Although re-signing each restricted free agent is the goal, the Lightning know how difficult it will be to do so with the NHL salary cap remaining at $81.5 million this season.

"We're still plugging away, hoping to get things done," assistant general manager Stacy Roest said. "It was pretty impressive the way this team came together (to win the Stanley Cup) and those [two] were a big part of that. It's nice to have guys like that in our group, for sure."

Cernak, a defenseman, scored 12 points (five goals, seven assists) averaging 18:57 of ice time in 67 games last season and had four assists averaging 20:43 in 25 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Cirelli, a forward, scored 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) in 68 regular-season games and nine points (three goals, six assists) in 25 postseason games.


2. Will Callan Foote earn a roster spot?

Foote, a defenseman prospect who turns 22 on Dec. 13, needs to make a big impression during training camp to earn his shot, according to Roest.

"We love the way our [defensemen] have developed in Syracuse (American Hockey League) with Cal Foote and Ben Thomas, and we've also got Luke Witkowski, so we feel we're deep there," Roest said. "When camp opens, guys have to hit the ice and then we'll see how they look. It's a competition for every spot."

Foote, selected by Tampa Bay with the No. 14 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, scored 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 62 games for Syracuse last season. If Cernak, who like Foote is a right-handed shot, is not signed when camp opens, it improves Foote's chances of making the NHL roster.

The Lightning also signed defenseman Alexander Green to a two-year, entry-level contract Sept. 9. The 22-year-old right-hand shot, selected in the fourth round (No. 121) of the 2018 NHL Draft, scored 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 29 games as a junior at Cornell University last season.

Video: 31 in 31: Tampa Bay Lightning 2020-21 season preview


3. Will Steven Stamkos be ready for the start of training camp?

The forward should be recovered from a core muscle injury that required two surgeries.

"Everything went well with the second surgery (Oct. 7), and he's been doing well," Roest said. "He has some time to rehab and then get back to working out again, get back on the ice."

Stamkos had the first surgery March 2, 10 days before the NHL paused the season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The Lightning captain sustained a lower-body injury during voluntary small-group workouts in early July and missed all but one game of Tampa Bay's run to the Stanley Cup. He returned for Game 3 of the Cup Final against the Dallas Stars on Sept. 23 and scored his only postseason goal in 2:47 of ice time in a 5-2 victory.

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