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Five questions facing Tampa Bay Lightning

Ability to avoid Stanley Cup hangover again, Vasilevskiy workload among unknowns

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Tampa Bay Lightning:

 

1. Can they three-peat?

After defeating the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning will try to become the first team to win the Cup in three consecutive seasons since the New York Islanders won four straight championships from 1980-83.

Although the Lightning had significant offseason turnover at depth positions, including losing their third line of Barclay Goodrow (traded to New York Rangers), Yanni Gourde (selected by Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft) and Blake Coleman (signed with Calgary Flames), their championship window remains open. General manager Julien BriseBois noted that core players such as goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, defensemen Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh, and forwards Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point each is signed for at least three more seasons, with forward Anthony Cirelli and defensemen Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev each two seasons from restricted free agency.

"That's why I believe there's a lot of reason to believe we can continue to compete for the Stanley Cup over the next few years, at least for the next three, considering that all these players are under contract and we're going to be able to keep them going forward," BriseBois said.

Video: MTL@TBL, Gm5: Lightning presented with Stanley Cup

 

2. Can they avoid the Stanley Cup hangover again?

For the most part, Tampa Bay last season eluded the lapses many defending champions experience, with the start of the regular season delayed until Jan. 13 and the schedule shortened to 56 games because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The Lightning started 9-1-1 and never lost more than three consecutive games on their way to finishing 36-17-3, third in the Discover Central Division, behind the Carolina Hurricanes (36-12-8) and Florida Panthers (37-14-5).

But playing 104 games, including 48 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, since the NHL resumed the 2019-20 season with the start of the postseason Aug. 1, 2020, might catch up to them physically following a truncated offseason. Returning to an 82-game schedule this season, compacted to accommodate a break from Feb. 3-22 for the 2022 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend and the 2022 Beijing Olympics (events where Tampa Bay likely will have several players participating), will provide more challenges.

 

3. Do they have enough forward depth?

Adding Goodrow and Coleman before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline and putting them with Gourde on the third line made the Lightning a deeper, more complete team. They must replace all three, as well as forward Tyler Johnson, who was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on July 27.

Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare each was signed to a two-year contract as an unrestricted free agent to help replace some of the grit those players contributed. But Tampa Bay will need others to step up, such as Ross Colton, who likely will take over as the third-line center, and some of their younger forwards, such as Alex Barre-Boulet, 24; Taylor Raddysh, 23; and Boris Katchouk, 23.

 

4. Will Andrei Vasilevskiy need more rest?

The goalie played 94 of the Lightning's 126 regular-season games and every minute of their 48 playoff games the past two seasons. After such a heavy workload and a short offseason, managing Vasilevskiy's playing time during a compacted schedule this season, which likely will include him playing for Russia Olympic Committee (ROC) at the Olympics, will be important to keep the 27-year-old fresh for the playoffs.

Brian Elliott, who was signed to a one-year contract July 28 to replace Curtis McElhinney as Tampa Bay's backup, played 30 games (26 starts) for the Philadelphia Flyers last season. The 36-year-old was 15-9-2 with a 3.06 goals-against average, an .889 save percentage and two shutouts.

Video: Best Andrei Vasilevskiy Saves from the 2020-21 Season

 

5. Is Cal Foote ready for a full-time NHL job?

Foote didn't play in the playoffs last season after the 22-year-old defenseman scored three points (one goal, two assists) and averaged 12:53 of ice time in 35 regular-season games as a rookie. Tampa Bay hopes Foote can be a regular on its third defense pair this season after David Savard left to sign with Montreal.

Veteran Zach Bogosian is another option to play on the third pair. The 31-year-old signed a three-year contract July 28 after he had four assists in 45 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. Bogosian played for the Lightning in 2019-20.

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