What Obstacles Must the Tampa Bay Lightning Overcome This Offseason In Order to Repeat
The Tampa Bay Lightning are coming off a dominant 2020 season. The team amounted 93 points in only seventy games during the regular season, following that up with winning all but six games on their way to a Stanley Cup Championship. With a large number of core players returning next season, the question must be, how realistic is a repeat for the 2020-2021 Tampa Bay Lightning?
The first obstacle to overcome is the fact that the bulk of contracts are tied up in a small number of players. The team has 76 million dollars tied up in only sixteen players going into next season. With the salary cap staying at 81.5 million dollars going into the next season, Tampa Bay does not have a lot of room to work with when looking to resign and add new players. For this exact reason, two of their key pieces in Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev are liable to offer sheets. Cirelli and Sergachev are both currently making less than one million dollars and are restricted free agents. This, coupled with the fact Tampa Bay is having serious salary cap issues, means there could be real potential for other teams to look at them as possible offer sheet candidates.
Another thing that could potentially hinder the defending champions is the turnover on defence. Defenseman Zach Bogosian left the team to sign a one-year deal with Toronto, while fellow defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk left to sign a three year deal with Anaheim. Bogosian was a big physical defenseman whose presence will most definitely be missed on the back end, while Shattenkirk was a key contributor to the Lightning’s powerplay. This means that, for the time being, aging veteran defenseman Braydon Coburn may need to be relied on for more ice time.
Another move that may have surprised some in the hockey world was the fact that Tyler Johnson was placed on waivers by the team. Johnson has been a part of the Lightning’s core for a number of years; however, he somewhat struggled this past season after only posting fourteen goals and seventeen assists. This was a disappointment after he scored 29 goals the year before. This lackluster production this past season, coupled with his cap hit of five million dollars, led to him being placed on unconditional waivers. This allowed the Lightning to clear five million dollars in cap space, which was much needed. Johnson would have been difficult to trade with his large cap hit, so placing him on waivers was a necessary yet unfortunate move to make. It has yet to be seen whether last year was simply a down year or whether Johnson’s years of top-six production are over.
Another component of Tampa Bay’s success next year will rely on the health of team captain Steven Stamkos. He missed a large portion of the season due to injury and ended up reinjuring himself during the playoffs. He is expected to be ready for the start of next season; however, that is a storyline to keep an eye on. With all things considered, there is still a lot of time to see how everything plays out for the Lightning this offseason. Some more moves will likely need to be made, and it will definitely be interesting to see what implications the salary cap continues to play on the Lightning’s quest to win another championship next year.