NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have set their sights on becoming the first team since the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017) to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
Although the core group of forwards Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos, defensemen Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh, and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy remains intact this season, the flat NHL salary cap of $81.5 million for this season has forced the Lightning to make some difficult roster decisions after winning the Cup for the first time since 2004.
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They lost defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk (Anaheim Ducks) and Zach Bogosian (Toronto Maple Leafs), and forward Carter Verhaeghe (Florida Panthers) in free agency. Forward Tyler Johnson was placed on waivers Oct. 9, allowing any NHL team to claim him and the four years remaining on his contract. Johnson has provided Tampa Bay a list of eight teams he would agree to be traded.
"Winning is a hard business at this level," general manager Julien BriseBois said. "For us to win the Cup, the players had to do a lot of hard work and the coaching staff had to make some hard decisions, and now if we want to win another Cup, it's my turn to make some hard decisions.
"There's always some turnover, and this year the turnover is going to require that some of our players that have been here for a while and just helped us win a championship aren't going to be returning."
Restricted free agent defenseman Erik Cernak and restricted free agent forward Anthony Cirelli remain unsigned, but the Lightning did sign defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who was a restricted free agent, to a three-year contract Nov. 25. They also brought back two veterans, signing forward Pat Maroon to a two-year contract and defenseman Luke Schenn to a one-year contract.
The Lightning will also give Callan Foote, their top defenseman prospect, every opportunity to earn a roster spot out of training camp. Foote, who turns 22 on Dec. 13, scored 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 62 games in his second full season with Syracuse of the American Hockey League last season.
"We're really happy with him," assistant general manager Stacy Roest said. "The AHL is not an easy league, and when you're used to playing big minutes in junior, and then you get to the AHL, you realize how fast, strong and big the competition is. It takes a while to adjust, and [Foote] adjusted really well."
In addition to the prospects in the pipeline, the Lightning return many key performers who played significant roles in their championship run, providing optimism for a repeat. After ranking first in the NHL in goals per game (3.47), tied for seventh in goals-against per game (2.77), tied for fifth on the power play (23.1 percent) and tied for 13th on the penalty kill (81.4 percent) during the regular season, the Lightning were among the top five in each of those categories in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"My job, my duty, is to make decisions that increase the odds of the team being successful, and every decision I'm going to be making is going to be based on trying to improve the odds that we will continue to be a Stanley Cup contender year in, year out, for the foreseeable future," BriseBois said. "I believe that we have what it takes to be such a team."