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Can the Lightning win the East again?

Tampa Bay has almost everyone coming back....and that's scary for the rest of the league

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

In the salary cap era, you can pretty much guarantee that dynasties have pretty much gone by the wayside.

Unless you are the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings.

But if teams draft well, and pick up the right role players, they can be constant contenders for years to come. The Tampa Bay Lightning have found this mix, and it's translated into success for this young franchise.

Steve Yzerman has built a nice foundation in Tampa Bay. (Courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Steve Yzerman has built a nice foundation in Tampa Bay. (Courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

The Lightning showed they belonged by going to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015, where they gave the Chicago Blackhawks all they could handle. Out of 6 games, 5 games were decided by just one goal. It was something Lightning staff, players and fans can be very proud of.

But in the NHL, things don't get any easier.

In the East, you've got some really good teams looking to knock off the Bolts. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and even the Detroit Red Wings look primed and ready to compete in a pretty loaded Eastern Conference.

Steven Stamkos has a burning desire to bring Tampa Bay a Stanley Cup Championship. (Courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Steven Stamkos has a burning desire to bring Tampa Bay a Stanley Cup Championship. (Courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Rather than go out and mess up the continuity of their franchise, the Lightning pretty much kept the roster from last season intact. The offense looks pretty stacked, with Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and the second year offensive star from the QMJHL-Jonathan Drouin. This team has four 20 or better goal scorers on their team-Stamkos, Johnson, Kucherov and the veteran Ryan Callahan, who had a pretty decent season last year for the Lightning with 24 goals and 54 points.

Best Offensive Players for Tampa Bay in 2014-15

Name Games Goals Assists Points +/-
Steven Stamkos 82 43 29 72 2
Tyler Johnson 77 29 43 72 33
Nikita Kucherov 82 29 36 65 38
Ondrej Palat 75 16 47 63 31
Ryan Callahan 77 24 30 54 9
Valtteri Flippula 82 12 36 48

-14

Sure, the Lightning have one of the best players in the galaxy in Stamkos, but fans are just as excited about how the young Drouin will do in his second year in the NHL. Last year, he struggled with 32 points in 70 games. Over the offseason, he worked on his strength and conditioning, and it seems to have worked. In seven preseason games, he had four goals and four assists.

"There were a lot of things going on last season, but I learned a lot from this team and this coaching staff," Drouin told NHL.com "Everyone's going to say that when you're in not in the lineup it's frustrating, but it was a good team last year and we were winning with the lineup we had. You always want to be in the lineup to help the team, but that wasn't my decision, so I just had to be ready when I got in."

Jonathan Drouin looks to bring his game to another level in 2014-15. (Courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Jonathan Drouin looks to bring his game to another level in 2014-15. (Courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

This season, he will be on the top line with Stamkos, and that should help Drouin improve his game as well.

"[Stamkos] is a great teammate and a great leader, that's why he's got the 'C'," Drouin told NHL.com. "He brings that tremendous work ethic to the rink and he's one of the top players in the game. I know if I put the passes where they are supposed to be, there's a very good chance he's going to put it in the back of the net."

Not only are the Lightning hoping for a big season from Drouin, but also a Norris Trophy-like performance from defenseman Victor Hedman. He probably would have won it last year, but was derailed by a broken finger, which forced him to miss 23 games last year. He is also one of the best two-way players in the game. In 2013-14, he nabbed 55 points in 75 games, and last season, he got 38 points in 59 games for Tampa Bay.

Victor Hedman is one of the more complete players in hockey. (Courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Victor Hedman is one of the more complete players in hockey. (Courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

When he did return from injury, he had an amazing postseason, helping Tampa with 13 assists and 14 points as they pushed the Chicago Blackhawks to 6 games in last year's Cup Final. His ability to not only provide defensive stability, but also to help offensively makes him one of the most valuable players on this team.

Not only is the pressure on Stamkos and Hedman, but also goalie Ben Bishop. He had a fantastic 2014-15, going 40-13-5 with a .916 saves percentage and a 2.32 goals against average. You would think he would have won the Vezina with those numbers, but unfortunately, he plays in a league with Carey Price, who was just a smidge better. Bishop will be called on to carry more of the workload after his backup Andrei Vasilevskiy suffered a blot clot, and is out 2-3 months.

Ben Bishop will have to be Superman again this year for the Tampa Bay Lightning. (

Ben Bishop will have to be Superman again this year for the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

If Stamkos, Johnson, Hedman and Bishop can fire on all cylinders, this team has a real shot at repeating as Eastern Conference Champions.

The key will be if they can all stay healthy or not.

Jake's Top 8 Eastern Conference Teams-2015-16 Season

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

2. Montreal Canadiens

3. Pittsburgh Penguins

4. New York Rangers

5. Washington Capitals

6. Ottawa Senators

7. Detroit Red Wings

8. Columbus Blue Jackets