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Lightning Round: Getting ready for the season

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With just one practice left it’s almost go time

NFL: OCT 04 Chargers at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning have, for the most part, wrapped up their abbreviated preseason schedule for the 2020-21 NHL season. After today’s off day, there is one more practice scheduled for Tuesday and then the puck drops on the season Wednesday night as they take on the hockey team from Chicago.

Expect to see a lot of names pop up on the waiver wire today as the organization trims down the roster to get under the salary cap. There are decisions being made as to which of those players that clear waivers are assigned to Syracuse and which ones stay in Tampa on the taxi squad. The Lightning are going to try and balance the needs of the franchise along with the development of some of their younger players as the season moves forward.

The question for players like Cal Foote and Boris Katchouk is: Is it better for them to be playing regularly in Syracuse or staying in Tampa and soaking up the NHL experience in practices and on road trips? In a full season, the answer would be a no-brainer - go get that playing time. In a shortened season, the Crunch are only expected to play 32 games and that could change depending on conditions, it may be more valuable for a prospect like Foote to be getting direct, daily input from Coach Jon Cooper and his staff, as well being able to learn beside veterans like Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh.

The organization will take that into consideration, as well as any financial implications, when they make their final decisions on Monday. Will any of the waiver-eligible players that are sent down be claimed by other teams? Most likely not. A lot of teams are still battling their own salary cap issues and taking on players and salary right now may not be in their best interest.

Even if players are assigned to Syracuse, don’t think that means they won’t find their way to the NHL at some point this season. Coach Cooper expects that he may need more than the 4-6 players that end up on the taxi squad at some point this season. He isn’t wrong in believing that. A shortened training camp along with a condensed schedule is the perfect recipe for injuries. The teams with the most depth in their organization, not necessarily the most top-end talent, are going to be the ones in the playoffs this year. Luckily the Tampa Bay Lightning have both, even with Nikita Kucherov on the sidelines.

Lightning News:

Sunday featured the second, and final, Blue/White scrimmage of the preseason. In lieu of exhibition games against other teams, this was the best chance for the coaching staff to see the players compete at game speed.

Here were the line combinations and defensive-pairings:

The top two lines from each side are most likely going to be what the Lightning start with on opening day. There was some mixing and matching of the defensive pairings throughout the game so the staff may not be settled on what that final look might be.

For what it’s worth (not much) Team Blue “won” 4-2 with goals from Tyler Johnson, Daniel Walcott, Barclay Goodrow, and Ross Colton. Team White’s goal scorers were Alex Volkov (on a penalty shot) and Mathieu Joseph. Jan Rutta also added a goal in a bonus 3-on-3 session they had following the end of regulation.

After the game, Coach Cooper shared his thoughts on the action, calling it “much better than the scrimmage a couple of days ago.” While he wished he had more time, he feels like they’re in a decent place right now in regards to getting ready for the season and that the fact that they are returning a lot of the same players may give them a slight edge when the season starts.

Where will Foote end up? Cal Foote benefitted from the offseason as much as any player on the roster. With Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian, and Braydon Coburn all departing, that left room on the roster for a defenseman. Foote is in the running to fill one of those spots.

Time to predict how many points teams will finish with! The oddsmakers have the Lightning tied with the Colorado Avalanche for most predicted points in the NHL with 73.5. Vegas (71.5) and Boston (70.5) are the only other teams that crack the 70-point barrier. File this one away and see how the touts in Vegas did at the end of the season.

Old friend Carter Verhaeghe is impressing the folks down in the southern part of the state. The former Bolt is now skating on the Panther’s revamped top-line with Aleksander Barkov and Anthony Duclair. That is a lot of speed and skill for the Lightning’s in-state rival. It’ll be interesting to see if he flourishes with more playing time. Perhaps he becomes Jonathan Marchessault 2.0?

Vancouver becomes the fourth team in the last few days to shutter their practice due to health concerns in regards to the Covid-19 virus. They join Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Columbus as teams that have lost practice time. They are expected to resume practice on Monday and as of now, unlike Dallas, their regular season hasn’t been affected.

Veteran goaltender Corey Crawford was signed by the New Jersey Devils this past offseason as a stop-gap until young netminder Mackenzie Blackwood was ready to take over the reigns full time. That plan might be accelerated as Crawford announced his retirement over the weekend. No specific reason was given by the two-time Stanley Cup winner. Enjoy the debate over his Hall of Fame candidacy that will come and go over the next few years.

Washington’s Evgeni Kuznetsov shared some sentiments that a lot of his fellow hockey players are probably feeling as well. With everything that’s going on, there will be a sense of relief for the players when they are back on the ice, focused on hockey.

Just a couple of more days until the season starts! Keep wearing your mask (hopefully one with a lightning bolt) and washing your hands.