Comments / New

Tampa Bay Lightning Season Preview

Oct 10, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Jonas Johansson (31) looks on against the Nashville Predators during the second period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the For Hockey Fans season preview of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a really good team that is starting to enter their “How Long Can They Keep This Up?” era. After two consecutive Stanley Cup wins and three straight Finals appearances, things crashed back to reality last season after they were dumped out of the first round by, of all teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The toll of success and a flat salary cap has led to an exodus of secondary talent while an aggressive pursuit of trade deadline additions has sapped their prospect pool and future draft capital. Still, banners hang forever and general manager Julien BriseBois had done an admirable job of keeping this franchise, not only competitive, but among the top of the NHL power rankings over the last few years.

The loss to the Leafs did seem to prompt a subtle change in his offseason strategy as he focused on bringing in fast, aggressive forechecking forwards to help alleviate some of the pressure on the defensive corps. Were the changes he made enough to keep the Lightning in the playoff hunt? Do they still have the distinction of being a Stanley Cup favorite? Or, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, and Los Angeles Kings, have they begun the quiet descent into mediocrity that eventually befalls all dynasties in the Salary Cap Era? So many questions that can only be answered by their play on the ice.

Key additions/subtractions

After a couple of offseasons of adding veteran (i.e. older) players, general manager Julien BriseBois swerved a bit and jettisoned some of those veterans while bringing in experienced, but relatively younger players. Out went Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (38), Corey Perry (38), Brian Elliott (38), Ian Cole (34), Pat Maroon (35) and Alex Killorn (34). In came Conor Sheary (31), Luke Glendening (34), Josh Archibald Tyler Motte (28), Calvin de Haan (32), and Jonas Johansson (28).

The biggest loss on the ice would be Alex Killorn, a reliable presence among the top six forwards and big presence on the power play for the majority of his 11-year career with the Lightning. As he’s aged, he’s become more productive as he’s scored 52 goals over the last two seasons. There really isn’t anyone in the crop of free agents the Lightning signed that can match that production so the team is going to have replace the offense with a group effort.

An under-the-radar loss on the roster was Ross Colton. The 27-year-old center was a solid presence on the bottom-six that plays a rugged game and could chip in the occasional goal as he scored 47 in 190 regular season games and one big huge spectacular Stanley Cup-winning goal.

Unfortunately for the Lightning he was a restricted free agent due a pretty large raise and the team just didn’t have the cap space to accommodate it. So they shipped him off to Colorado for a second round draft pick this summer and let the Avalanche pay him $4 million a season.

While the on-ice production of players like Maroon, Perry, and Bellemare is a bit easier to replace, the Lightning’s leadership group took a big hit in the locker room. It’ll be up to the home-grown veterans like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to guide the team now.


Despite the attrition of players over the last few seasons, the Lightning can still boast a pretty effective top line of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov. Stamkos had another season where he averaged more than a point-a-game while scoring 30+ goals. Kucherov had a ho-hum 113-point season and Point mustered 51 goals. Not too shabby for a trio and there is no reason to expect too much of a decline from there.

While the second line hasn’t been decided yet, Brandon Hagel (30 goals) and a healthy Anthony Cirelli (29 points in 58 games) are a good complementary piece that can provide offense while also harassing opponents defensively.

The power play went through some wild swings in efficiency over the season last year but still finished third in the league at 25.4%. With the offensive talent on the roster, there shouldn’t be too much of a let-up in that department.

As far as weaknesses, Mr. BriseBois hopefully addressed some of those in the offseason. One thing that stood out last season was how immobile the fourth line was compared to the rest of the league. While Bellemare, Perry, and Maroon brought a vast amount of skill and experience to the ice, the “School Bus” line struggled to maintain pace at times and were pinned back in their own zone. There’s a hope that Sheary, Motte, Glendenning, and Eyssimont bring a little more speed and forechecking to the bottom-six to help balance out the play.

I know what you’re thinking, what about the goaltending? We’ll get to that in the next section.

Biggest questions

It’s crazy how things can change in the span of a couple of days, eh? During his exit interview last season, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy talked about how his body kind of let him down midway through the season and that he didn’t deal with the recovery as well as he could have. There was no mention of anything after that. Then camp opened and he was kind of day-to-day. Then a week ago he was under the knife and out for two months. Great.

So, now the number one question in all of the land is, can the Lightning hold serve long enough to stay competitive in the Atlantic with a goaltending duo consisting of Jonas Johansson and Matt Tomkins? Maybe?

To give him his credit, Johansson has held up his end of the deal in preseason by not allowing a goal over his first two starts. Tomkins, signed to split time with Hugo Alnefelt in the AHL, can’t match Johansson’s prodigious NHL experience of 35 NHL games, but has been playing professionally in the Swedish Hockey League over the last two seasons. Also, the Bolts have a fairly light schedule in October, so he shouldn’t be called on too often early on in the season.

Vasilevskiy is expected back in 8-10 weeks, which would land sometime in late November or early December, so even if the Lightning get off to a shaky start, there is still runway left for them to salvage things. However, in what is expected to be a tightly-contested Atlantic Division, they can’t afford to get too far behind.

The second question would be the depth of the roster. While Mr. BriseBois has been able to keep the core of the team together, he’s had to shed important role players such as Yanni Gourde, Jan Rutta, Ondrej Palat, Ryan McDonagh, Ross Colton, and Alex Killorn in order to remain cap compliant. He’s done a decent job of plugging the holes by bringing in Nick Paul, Brandon Hagel, and Tanner Jeannet, but there is a bit of a gulf of talent and scoring between who has left and who has remained.

Should injuries take out any of the top six forwards or top four defensemen, there really aren’t players available to plug in and maintain the expected level of play. The prospect cupboard is stocked with bottom-six forwards and third pairing defensemen (which are important to a team, but not the type of players that move the goal-scoring needle). There isn’t much room on the cap for Mr. BriseBois to swing a deal to bring in a high-impact player either. It’s pretty much this roster or bust.

Star players

Make absolutely no mistake, we are still in the Golden Era of Lightning Hockey. Yes, some of the big names may have passed that magical line of 30-years-old when the pundits expect body parts to start falling off of players, but the stars are still putting up the numbers. A case can be made that there are two, sure-fire first ballot hall of fame players on the roster in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy are building their first-ballot cases as well, but aren’t far off. The youngster of the core, Brayden Point at 27-years-old, is also on a hall-of-fame trajectory.

While the next generation has some lofty shoes to fill, Brandon Hagel and Mikhail Sergachev are turning into really, really good players who will likely, thanks to their ability and long-term contracts, will be the leaders of the franchise once Stamkos and Hedman decide to hang up the skates.

Under the radar player who could have an impact

You thought I was going to go with Tanner Jeannot didn’t you? Well, despite everyone else picking him as a key player for the Lightning, I’m going to go with the other trade deadline acquisition from last year – Mikey Eyssimont.

The Colorado native only had 2 points (1 goal, 1 assist) in fifteen regular season games after the Lightning picked him up from the San Jose Sharks in the beginning of March, but over that stretch his 1.06 iXG/60 at 5v5 was tops on the team. The man created chances, he just couldn’t finish them. Eyssimont did add another goal and assist in the Lightning’s brief foray into the playoffs last season.

So, what kind of impact could he have this season? Well, he is kind of at the forefront of the latest remodel that Julien BriseBois has tried to pull off while dancing up (and above the salary cap ceiling). Eyssimont is a fast skater that forechecks and makes life miserable for the other team. If he can convert on just a few more chances this year, he could also be a key addition to help offset some of the offense lost in the offseason.

He is probably going to bounce around on the third or fourth line, but Coach Cooper has played him with Anthony Cirelli and Brandon Hagel, two players that constitute the Bolts’ second line, in the preseason. With Eyssimont’s willingness to create chaos in the offensive zone that could cause some issues for their opponents.

Key rookie/young player

This is always an interesting category for the late-stage championship Tampa Bay Lightning. With a prospect pool that ranks near the bottom (okay, usually at the bottom) of the league in terms of future impact, there aren’t many high-end young players waiting in the wings. With a high-end top of the roster, they really don’t need any rookies to burst upon the scene with Bedardian scoring abilities, either.

While they may not be a Calder Trophy factory, they have managed to find a few useful players over the years. Nick Perbix and Darren Raddysh jumped into the line-up last season and were key players in the team’s rush to the first round of the playoffs. Ross Colton was another solid young forward whose play on the ice nabbed him a nice contract raise, unfortunately it came from the Colorado Avalanche and not the Lightning.

Over the last couple of seasons they have tried to introduce a few younglings into the forward lines without much success other than Colton. Alex Barre-Boulet, Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, Cole Koepke, and Gabriel Fortier have been given a chance only to end up back in Syracuse or traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. This year, there are a couple of young players still hanging around training camp heading into the last weekend of preseason. Barre-Boulet and Fortier are the familiar names, but there is a new name, a free agent signing from Europe that could be the most intriguing injection of fresh blood since a young kid names Brayden Point was scampering around the ice.

Walterri Merela is a Finnish forward that was signed out of the Liiga this summer. The 25-year-old winger is coming off of back-to-back titles with Tappara and over those two seasons he had 77 points (36 goals, 41 assists) in 98 games. At 6’2″ he uses his size well and isn’t afraid to go to the front of the net or wreck some havoc along the boards. He caught the eye of a lot of Lightning fans during the rookie showcase this fall and has continued the strong play into the preseason. His style of play would work well for a Lightning squad that needs to fill some holes in their bottom six.


The Lightning hold off the young bulls for at least another year and make the playoffs. The core group stays healthy and they finish with 98 points, good enough for third place in the Atlantic behind Toronto and Buffalo.

For more Tampa Bay Lightning content, please visit Raw Charge.