It’s here! The 2022-33 NHL season is here. For the Tampa Bay Lightning this is a special season for a few reasons. One reason is this is the 30th season for the franchise. Here’s my Lightning season preview of this year’s version of the Lightning where I’ll go in detail on some of the other reasons.
After two consecutive Stanley Cup championships in 2020 and 2021, our boys fought the good fight in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. Yes, they fell short against the Colorado Avalanche. The fact that they were in the Cup Final shocked many so called experts. As they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Though no one can change the fact that it was their third consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance.
I wrote a piece last season that this Lightning franchise since 2015 is a bona fide NHL dynasty. It is my belief that the core group of Lightning players still on the roster have a chip on their shoulders this season. Losing in the Cup Final is the source of said chip. How much of an incentive this chip will be losing the Cup they held through two seasons will be evident this season.
New, Old Position
The last time the NHL began a season where the Lightning were not the reigning Cup champion was October of 2019. It seems like forever ago. In the previous postseason that season, the Lightning entered as the number one seed in the league. Presidents’ Trophy winners. They didn’t win a single game in the playoffs. That sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets was stuck in their craw. It became evident throughout that regular season that it was the motivation that propelled them to win the Cup in 2020.
This week, the NHL begins the new season with a team other than the Lightning as reigning champs. Again, I believe this will motivate the boys to get back what they think is rightfully theirs. The Stanley Cup. Obviously, time will tell but if the Lightning core group is truly an NHL dynasty, don’t count them out.
As is the custom every year, the club has new players. Some players from the last few years are gone. Through free agency the team lost Jan Rutta and Ondrej Palat. Ryan McDonagh was traded to the Nashville Predators.
New, Old Faces
To lose three productive veteran players like these would decimate most NHL teams. As the season rolls out we’ll see how it affects the Lightning. Anyone who has any trepidations about this, only needs to look at the 2014-15 roster. That team made the Stanley Cup Final and began the run of success this team has enjoyed to this day. Four Stanley Cup appearances and two Cups won. Six Conference Finals and four wins in those. Their bona fides are not in question.
Only six players from that eight year old roster remain with the team. However, that includes Vlad Namestnikov, returning to the team after four years away with five teams. The five players who have been here since that 2015 are the reason for the extended franchise success.
Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy. These five are leaders that any NHL team would love. These fantastic five have been the thread leading to the overall organizational success.
Change is Constant
Having this nucleus of players only works if the team can add all the other pieces year in and year out. This season in addition to Namestnikov, the team has added 6’5” Philippe Myers, 6’ 3” Haydn Fleury and 6’ 1” Ian Cole on defense. Can this trio of defensemen make up for the loss of McDonagh and Rutta? Those two were on the team’s top two defensive pairings. They ate a lot of minutes.
Cole’s season came to an abrupt hold with the allegations of sexual misconduct. The Lightning have suspended him pending the NHL’s investigation. Myers, who was placed on waivers for cap purposes, cleared those waivers and is expected to play in the season opener.
As it happens every season, the new players have to gel with the players, coaches and system they find themselves in now. How quickly and how well that can happen goes a long way towards determining the success this season.
At the start of the season, two players are rehabbing from season ending shoulder surgeries. Anthony Cirelli and Zach Bogosian are on schedule to return before the end of November. Holding on to Cirelli’s spot is Gabriel Fortier.
Lightning Season Preview and Outlook
What should we expect? These boys have given us their blood, sweat and tears for the last three seasons. Winning two Cups and over 100 games including playoffs each year. No one could blame them if this season was not so good. Problem is, the core group of players won’t allow that.
Stamkos is arguably the best Captain in the league. Same goes for Vasilevskiy in net. The argument can be made that Hedman is the best defenseman too. Kucherov is an elite offensive talent. Killorn is the longest tenured Lightning behind Stamkos and Hedman. This type of leadership won’t fail this team. Add glue guys like Corey Perry, Pat Maroon, P.E. Bellemare and Erik Cernak. These lunch pail guys that do all the things they are called on to do and then some.
Then behind them are the younger players that will lead this franchise into the next decade. Players like Brayden Point, Nick Paul, Ross Colton and Brandon Hagel and Cirelli when he returns. Oh, by the way, that’s just the forwards. On defense, Mikhail Sergachev and Cal Foote are primed to reach new levels of play.
Starting the season with only two home games in their first nine is going to be a challenge. That’s just October. There is no doubt in my mind that this team will be a serious Cup contender. Frankly, it is in the team’s DNA.
During the back to back Cups, the margin between the Lightning and the rest of the league was discernible. Last season the gap closed and it was evident in the Cup Final. I firmly believe the Lightning are among the top 3-4 teams in the league today. Of those teams, only Tampa has this chip on their collective shoulders.
Regular Season Prediction
- Another Slow Start, Sloppy Play Lead to Disaster in Dallas December 2, 2023
- Disappointing Homecoming for Vasilevskiy as Bolts lose 4-2 November 30, 2023
- Rocky Mountain Low for Bolts in Denver November 27, 2023
- He’s Back! The Successful Return of Andrei Vasilevskiy November 24, 2023
- No Overtime Luck for Bolts Tonight as Jets Win 3-2 November 22, 2023
- Measuring Stick Game for Lightning Comes Up Huge November 20, 2023
- Amalie Again Proves to be Sweet Home as Bolts Win 6-4 November 18, 2023
- Scoreless drought and losing streak come to an end in 4-2 victory November 16, 2023
- Stalwart Blues defense hand Lightning consecutive shutout losses November 14, 2023
- Saturday Night is Not Alright for Listless Lightning November 11, 2023