The Lightning are our pick to win the Stanley Cup thanks to its star-studded offense, Norris-candidate defenseman, and depth in goal.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, our pick to win the Stanley Cup.
THN's Prediction: 1st in Atlantic, Stanley Cup winners
Stanley Cup odds: 8-1
Key additions: None
Key departures: Matt Carle, D; Jonathan Marchessault, RW
-Can Victor Hedman win the Norris Trophy? He certainly can, especially since Drew Doughty finally got his. Hedman will have plenty of opportunity to put up points (always a voting factor) on a high-powered Tampa Bay team, but he also has the defensive chops to justify a win. Hedman already faces the toughest competition of any blueliner on the Bolts and still comes out with excellent possession numbers. If he stays healthy, he’s a strong candidate to win it all.
-Is there enough ice time to go around? The Lightning are flush with talented forwards, and as Jonathan Drouin has proven himself to be a top-shelf threat, meting out shifts will be tricky for coach Jon Cooper. Steven Stamkos’ blood clot largely shielded Cooper from the challenge in the latter stages of the season, but with all hands on deck, you’re looking at three scoring lines with little drop-off. Cooper can manage what is the best problem a coach can have, however. And, really, things can’t be any more chaotic and distracting than they were last season, which still saw the team push Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference final.
-Who is Tampa’s goalie at the end of the season? Andrei Vasilevskiy, but it’s a tough, pragmatic call. Vasilevskiy, 22, is younger and cheaper than Ben Bishop. Vasilevskiy also proved in the playoffs he can be just as reliable. Bishop is a UFA next summer, when he’s 30, and could even be trade deadline bait should a team come in with a blockbuster offer (Dallas, we’re looking in your direction). Otherwise, Vasilevskiy is clearly the future and might as well be the present, come playoff time.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Lightning were one game away from a second consecutive Stanley Cup final berth and they did it without Steven Stamkos. That’s extremely impressive (although their path there wasn’t exactly difficult thanks to the league’s strange divisional playoff format) and they’ll probably find themselves right back in the mix this season.
From top to bottom this is a very strong team. They are the only team in the league that are top 10 in every position. There’s a lot of star power throughout the line-up which is why they’ve been so successful.
In net, Ben Bishop has quietly cemented himself as one of the better goalies in the league, even if he looks shaky at times. Whether he lasts the entire year will be an interesting thing to watch as heir-apparent Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn’t exactly proved much at the NHL level yet and would be a below average starter until he shows otherwise.
On defense, there’s Victor Hedman, a serious Norris trophy threat this season, and his underrated partner Anton Stralman. The two form one of the league’s best defense pairings and are the key cogs on the backend. Things are bleak after them though. Among teams with playoff chances above 50 percent, Tampa Bay’s bottom four is the weakest. That’s something that needs to improve this season as they’re not exactly in good company.
Up front is better and Tampa’s biggest strength, led by Stamkos and The Triplets. It might be surprising to see Nikita Kucherov’s name at the top here, but he’s at the same level as Stamkos production wise and does a better job pushing play. He’s one of the best wingers in the league right now and is only getting better.
As for the other forwards, there’s a lot to like, but the distribution of ice-time is worth keeping an eye on. Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula usually get big minutes, but they aren’t the same players they once were. With the emergence of Jonathan Drouin, Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov, it’s difficult to see them in the top six, but considering their veteran status it’s not out of the question. Tampa Bay would be worse for it if that were the case.
The Lightning are legit Cup contenders this season, as you’d expect. They’ve got star power to go far, but that defense depth looks suspect and if they get eliminated early that’ll surely be the culprit.
Up next: San Jose Sharks
Previously: Toronto Maple Leafs | Edmonton Oilers | Vancouver Canucks | Columbus Blue Jackets | Calgary Flames | Winnipeg Jets | Arizona Coyotes | Buffalo Sabres | Montreal Canadiens | Colorado Avalanche | New Jersey Devils | Ottawa Senators | Carolina Hurricanes | Boston Bruins | Detroit Red Wings | Nashville Predators | Philadelphia Flyers