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2017-2018 NHL Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Welcome back Steven Stamkos!

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

In this 31 part series, I will be working my way back from 31st to 1st in my projected 2017-2018 standings. Twenty-third up are the Tampa Bay Lightning who are entering into their 25th year. They won the Stanley Cup in 2003-2004 behind the coaching of John Tortorella and a power line of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal not to mention the stellar play from Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin ("Bulin" wall). They have since made the playoffs in 3 of their last 4 seasons.

Basic Stats:
2016-2017 NHL Standings: 16th
Eastern Conference Standings: 9th
Atlantic Division Standings: 5th
Goals for Rank: 14th
Goals against Rank: 16th

: The Lightning have had moderate levels of success under Steve Yzermans tenure. They made the playoffs in 4 of 7 seasons (including a Stanley Cup finals loss to the Blackhawks three years ago) and seem to have built a solid roster and decent prospect pool. They are seemingly average in all aspects neither exceling nor lacking too much. After waiting for years for Jonathan Drouin to materialize into the touted star they anticipated they traded him off having found multiple measures of success in Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. The number one power play team, they get Steven Stamkos back and will likely be even more lethal both on offense and on the power play. Under Jon Cooper, the team is not shy from playing rough but could serve to speed up a bit vs. opposition. They ranked 2nd last year in both hooking and tripping penalties as they worked to slow down opponents suffering the 5th most minors in the NHL. Their top 4 defensemen next year in Victor Hedman, Jake Dotchin, Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi should be above average. They combined for a +23 last season (Girardi being +8 with the New York Rangers). In net they have a question mark. Ben Bishop is gone and in his place are 34 & 36 year old Peter Budaj and Michael Leighton and 23 year old Andrei Vasilevskiy. Andrei is the likely starter going into his 4th season with a career 2.60 GAA and .915 Sv% with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last season he had a 2.61 GAA (24th in NHL) and .917 Sv % (16th in the NHL). He will do his best to fill in Ben Bishops shoes and while their goaltending depth is worse, the starter spot should be more of the same. I expect the goal production to increase heartily into the top 10 and the goals against to possibly regress a few spots.

Major Additions
: Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz
Major Subtractions: Jonathan Drouin, Valtteri Filppula and Ben Bishop

Prospects and Picks:
- Callan Foote. I'll try to keep my writings subdued but I'm really bullish on Foote as a prospect. Son of NHLer Adam Foote he has all the grit and physical presence of his dad but with a better head on his shoulders. He seems to understand the perfect times to play the puck vs. the man and he does an immaculate job of staying in position. He scored 57 points across 71 games with the Kelowna Rockets last season and will likely need 2 seasons before he's ready to join Tampa Bay.

-Mikhail Sergachev. The 9th overall pick in the 2016 nhl draft was the cost that the Montreal Canadiens paid for Jonathan Drouin. Mikahil scored 43 points across 50 games in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires last season before being promoted across a 4 game pointless run in the NHL. I don't think he will crack the squad to start this season but if any injuries or slumps emerge he will likely be one of the first names called up.

Sleeper Fantasy Asset:
-Andrei Vasilevskiy. He played 50 games for the lightning last year filling in formidably after Ben Bishop was traded. I think he has potential for a 30 win season this year if he is given a few more starts. Additionally there is a chance for his numbers to improve (obviously there is a chance he falls apart) but the young talented goalie is showing the makings of a potential top 10 goalie.

-Alex Killorn or Brayden point or Ondrej Palat or Nikita Kucherov depending on who is on Steven Stamkos's line. Last year we saw points go from 85 (Nikita Kucherov) to 36 (Alex Killorn) without Stamkos. Whichever one of them is on his line should see at LEAST a 5 point bump so watch for how they decide to break out the top 6 early on in the year or even in preseason.

Cap Situation:
They currently have around $3.3MM with 22 players signed.

Projected finish:
2017-2018 NHL Standings: 9th
Eastern Conference Standings: 5th
Atlantic Division: 2nd

NHL 10th: Anaheim Ducks (Western Conference 5th; Pacific Division 2nd)

NHL 11th: Ottawa Senators (Eastern Conference 6th; Atlantic Division 3rd)

NHL 12th: Montreal Canadiens (Eastern Conference 7th; Atlantic Division 4th)

NHL 13th: New York Rangers (Eastern Conference 8th; Metropolitan Division 4th)

NHL 14th: Calgary Hurricanes (Western Conference 6th; Pacific Division 3rd)

NHL 15th: Carolina Hurricanes (Eastern Conference 9th; Metropolitan Division 5th)

NHL 16th: San Jose Sharks (Western Conference 7th; Pacific Division 4th)

NHL 17th: Dallas Stars (Western Conference 8th; Central Division 4th)

NHL 18th: Philadelphia Flyers (Eastern Conference 10th; Metropolitan Division 6th)

NHL 19th: Winnipeg Jets (Western Conference 9th; Central Division 5th)

NHL 20th: St. Louis Blues (Western Conference 10th; Central Division 6th)

NHL 21st: Boston Bruins (Eastern Conference 11th; Atlantic Division 5th)

NHL 22nd: Buffalo Sabres (Eastern Conference 12th; Atlantic Division 6th)

NHL 23rd: Arizona Coyotes (Western Conference 11th; Pacific Division 5th)

NHL 24th: Los Angeles Kings (Western Conference 12th; Pacific Division 6th)

NHL 25th: New Jersey Devils (Eastern Conference 13th; Metropolitan Division 7th)

NHL 26th: Detroit Red Wings (Eastern Conference 14th; Atlantic Division 7th)

NHL 27th: New York Islanders (Eastern Conference 15th; Metropolitan Division 8th)

NHL 28th: Vancouver Canucks (Western Conference 13th; Pacific Division 7th)

NHL 29th: Florida Panthers (Eastern Conference 16th; Atlantic Division 8th)

NHL 30th: Las Vegas Golden Knights (Western Conference 14th; Pacific Division 8th)

NHL 31st: Colorado Avalanche (Western Conference 15th; Central Division 7th)