Regular season 2020-21: 75 points (36-17-3) – third in the division, eighth in the league
Playoffs: defeated Florida in the first round (4-2), defeated Carolina in the second round (4-1), defeated the Islanders in the semi-finals (4-3), defeated Montreal in the final (4-1) and won the Stanley Cup
Top scorer: n Braden Point (23 + 25 = 48 points in 55 games)
Key losses: n Barkley Goodrow (Rangers), n Yanni Gourd (Seattle), n Blake Coleman (Calgary), n Tyler Johnson (Chicago), s David Savard (Montreal), s Luke Shann (” Vancouver “), to Curtis McElinnie (unrestricted free agent)
Key acquisitions: n Corey Perry (Montreal), n Pierre-Edouard Bellmar (Colorado), z Zach Bogosian (Toronto), in Brian Elliott (Philadelphia)
In terms of results, the last two seasons have turned out “Tampa” ideal. What more can a team dream of other than two championship trophies in a row? Another question is that maximizing these titles from the point of view of the hockey business was out of the question. Both seasons were severely influenced by the pandemic, which meant many hundreds of thousands of undersold tickets and tens of millions of dollars in lost profits. The Lightning managed to keep the key players, and thanks to this, on paper, they remain, perhaps, the main favorites of the coming season. Which, I would like to believe, will be carried out in a more or less usual mode. True, the price for keeping the strongest was paid a great deal: take another look at the list of names in the “key losses”. Will their champion car drive without so many dismantled parts?
Without Nikita Kucherov, who missed the entire last regular season, “Tampa” had to be content with a modest third place in the division and a guest start in the first two rounds, and his fellow attackers – much more modest statistics. Braden Point was the only forward to score more than 17 goals, while Lightning’s attack finished only eighth after a clear first season earlier. But as soon as Nikita returned to the start of the playoffs, everything immediately returned to normal. Kucherov (8 + 24 = 32 points in 23 games) became the top scorer of the tournament by a solid margin, despite the fact that Islanders defender Scott Mayfield broke his rib with a club kick in the conference finals.
[Смотри также: 32 за 32: “Тампа” идет за “трипитом” в режиме экономии]
The 25-year-old Point, who has grown into an elite center-forward, has been consistently good in both the regular season and the playoffs. With 14 cup goals, he became the best scorer in the playoffs for the second time in a row, and this time he also scored the most victorious goals (three), and in equal squads, and in the majority (seven each). The combination of Point’s excellent skating and scoring flair, Kucherov’s unique talent for reading Kucherov’s game, Ondřej Palata’s persistence and efficiency make this three one of the strongest in the NHL.
In defense, the main giant remains 30-year-old Victor Hedman. If there is a defender in the world who can be called the standard of the profession, then the 198-centimeter Swede, perhaps, corresponds to him to the greatest extent. Hedman can do everything in hockey. The MVP of last year’s playoffs is tough and hard-working, equally good in defense and attack. It’s not even surprising that he became a finalist of the Norris Trophy for five championships in a row, but that he won it only once.
Video: Andrey Vasilevsky’s 10 best saves in the 2020-21 season
In recent years, it has been very difficult for young people to make their way into the base of this exceptional team, but now there are three forwards on the verge of getting there. Alex Barre-Boule, 24, has already played 15 appearances for Lightning last season (three goals) and is arguably the favorite to replace the left-handed striker in the third line. In 10 matches for the southern farm club, Syracuse Crunch, Barre-Bule scored 12 (8 + 4) points.
Taylor Reddish and Boris Kutchuk, two 23-year-olds from the 2016 second-round draft pick, who were also very successful at Syracuse last year, are likely to make periodic appearances in the championship lineup. Reddish scored 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 27 games, and Kutchuk 34 (11 goals, 23 assists) in 29 appearances.
The champions have a lot of them, but the main thing is to recognize Andrei Vasilevsky. When the gates of such a great team are defended by the best goalkeeper in the world, who plays without injuries and practically without recessions, then it is almost impossible to cope with it. The Russian four times in a row became the leader of the NHL in terms of the number of victories in the regular championships, and in the same four seasons he was a finalist of the Vezina Trophy (having won it in 2019). In both championship playoffs, Vasilevsky played at the goal every minute of all 48 matches, and two months ago he was naturally recognized as the MVP of the playoffs. By the age of 27, he had already made a serious claim to become one of the greatest goalkeepers in history. It’s no surprise that with such a goalkeeper, champions feel like they are behind a stone wall.
There are no frankly weak points in “Lightning” – otherwise the rivals would have found how to put pressure on them in the cup series, which “Tampa” have won eight in a row. However, with the loss of a whole bunch of cool bottom forwards, depth of attack could be a challenge for this team. Fresh rookie blood is great, but replacing Gourd, Coleman, Goodrow and Johnson will be very difficult.
Video: Nikita Kucherov’s 10 best moments in the playoffs-2021
We have already talked about Kucherov with Vasilevsky, but 23-year-old Mikhail Sergachev, just imagine, may turn out to be one of the two youngest players in the championship in the coming season. It’s strange to say this about a defender who has more than four seasons of full-fledged NHL experience behind him, two Stanley Cups and 136 points scored in 284 regular season matches. With the departure of Savar, his peer Cal Foote may become Mikhail’s new partner.
In addition to them, 22-year-old striker Alexei Lipanov, 21-year-old defender Dmitry Semykin and 21-year-old goalkeeper Amir Miftakhov are on contracts with Lightning, but it does not seem that either of them was close to fighting for a place in the base.
Tampa will make the playoffs if …
The world will not turn upside down. It’s hard to even imagine what should happen to this team, which has no flaws, but has Vasilevsky, Kucherov, Point, Hedman and Stemkos, so that it has problems to catch on to the top eight in the East. There is little doubt that Tampa will be in the playoffs.