There’s no doubt that the Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the most disappointing teams of the 2016-17 NHL season. Most fans and analysts expected big things out of the team with many even selecting them as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Just one year removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2015-16, the Bolts looked poised to finish the job in 2016-17.
Of course, we all know what happened once the puck dropped. The Bolts succumbed to inconsistency and injury in 2016-17 and failed to even qualify for the post-season. Talk about a fall from grace.
Heading into the 2017-18 season there’s a renewed sense of optimism surrounding the team and its fanbase. Many feel the moves that general manager Steve Yzerman has had to make this offseason were astute and may pay off in a return to the post-season. Of course, the team has parted was with longtime netminder Ben Bishop and emerging star Jonathan Drouin, but there’s reason to believe that the pair can be replaced from within.
In goal, Andrei Vasilevsky is the real deal. He has outperformed Bishop for nearly two calendar years now and will finally get his shot at being the team’s undisputed starting goaltender in 2017-18. Drouin’s production isn’t likely to be replaced by any one individual but the addition of veteran Chris Kunitz, signed as a free agent after back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins, should help fill the gap along with production from up and coming players like Brayden Point, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette.
If captain Steven Stamkos can manage to stay healthy for the entirety of the 2017-18 season and Nikita Kucherov continues his ascent to the top of the NHL, the Lightning will be a formidable team up front. Also, don’t count out the team’s defense. Victor Hedman will be a legitimate contender for the Norris Trophy for the next decade, while Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi provide a steady veteran presence. Youngsters Slater Koekkoek, Jake Dotchin and Mikhail Sergachev, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in the Drouin trade, look poised to do big things moving forward.
Despite all the optimism, the fact remains that the team still faces some unknowns. How will Vasilevsky fare in his first full season? Will Drouin’s play be missed? What happens if veterans like Kunitz, Ryan Callahan and Braydon Coburn weigh the team down?
With all of this consideration, what do you think? Will the Tampa Bay Lightning make the playoffs in 2017-18?