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5 Questions: Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita Kucherov contract, power-play production among issues

by Corey Long / NHL.com Correspondent

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

 

Will restricted free agent right wing Nikita Kucherov agree to a contract by opening night?

Kucherov, who scored 30 goals and led the Lightning with 66 points last season, remains unsigned. The Lightning have $5.866 million in salary-cap space, according to General Fanager, and Kucherov reportedly is looking for a contract that would pay him $6 million to $7 million annually. General manager Steve Yzerman has expressed confidence that Kucherov will sign but has not said how he plans to find the cap room. Yzerman proved to be a shrewd negotiator when he got forward Steven Stamkos to agree to an eight-year, $68 million contract on June 29, but this may be an even tougher task. The Lightning opted to keep forwards Joel Vermin and Brayden Point through a round of roster cuts Sunday as a potential replacement for Kucherov if it gets to that.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm5: Kucherov scores off Namestnikov's feed

 

Will World Cup of Hockey 2016 participation impact team chemistry early in the season?

Twelve Lightning players and coach Jon Cooper participated in the World Cup. All of the players (except Kucherov) are expected back in training camp this week, but it remains to be seen how long it will take them to regain chemistry after spending most of training camp playing in the international tournament.

 
Can new assistant coach Todd Richards improve the power play?

Richards, the former Columbus Blue Jackets coach, will help Cooper try to turn around a power-play unit that ranked 28th in the NHL (15.8 percent) last season. Although the Lightning roster mostly is unchanged from last season, Richards and Cooper will have a much more confident Jonathan Drouin and a healthy Tyler Johnson to start the season and give the unit a boost.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm1: Drouin scores off Palat's dish on break

 
Who will provide additional scoring on the third and fourth lines?

The Lightning scored 224 goals last season, tied for 12th in the NHL, after they had 259 to lead the League in 2014-15. In order to return to the offensive production of two seasons ago, the Lightning will need more scoring from the bottom six forwards. Valtteri Filppula had his worst production (eight goals, 23 assists) in a full season since he was a rookie in 2006-07. Vladislav Namestnikov has the potential to score 20 goals, and the Lightning signed Cory Conacher on July 13 after he scored 22 goals for SC Bern of Switzerland's National League A last season. Conacher had nine goals and 15 assists as a rookie with the Lightning in 2012-13 before he was traded to the Ottawa Senators for Ben Bishop.

 

How will the time-share work between Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy?

There's little doubt that Vasilevskiy is the Lightning's No. 1 goalie of the future, but Bishop, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, is their top goalie right now. Bishop has started 60 games in each of the past two seasons, but the NHL's condensed schedule this season features more back-to-back games, presenting Vasilevskiy more opportunities to play and Bishop more chances to take a day off so he can be fresh for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Expect Vasilevskiy to get roughly 30 starts as the Lightning increase his workload to prepare him to be their No. 1 next season and beyond. 

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