Today is Independence Day in the United States and because of this the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens players are having a rare two-day break between games in their final series. While the Habs are not going to give up that easily, there’s a looming feeling that we have only a couple of games left to watch this Lightning team in their full glory.
Yes, the Lightning will keep their biggest stars like Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos. These are great players, some of the best of their generation. With great management, you can build more championship teams around them. Then there are players like Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak, who already play a big part in the current team, or players like Ross Colton, who have shown that he’s ready to take on a bigger responsibility.
Due to significant cap crunch, the team will part ways with several of their players this offseason. We’ve already talked yesterday about Tyler Johnson – a player who went from being an anchor of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final run, to a player who plays around nine minutes per night and was put on waivers last offseason. His two goals in Game 3 could be the last big highlight of his Lightning career.
Alex Killorn has been in the Lightning organization longer than any other player on the roster. Together with Johnson, they’re considered the two main assets which the Lightning will try to expose to Seattle in the expansion draft alongside some prospects or draft picks. At the age of 31, Killorn is playing his best hockey – he’s significant for the Lightning’s top power play unit and recently passed Martin St. Louis in the list of the Lightning’s top-scorers in playoffs. He has also been a big part of Tampa Bay’s community and raised money for charity with the “Dock Talk with Killer” Instagram show. Given his current injury and questionable status for Game Four, there’s another question: has Killorn already played his last game in a Lightning jersey?
At the time when the Lightning acquired Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, these moves were met with some skepticism. The Lightning gave up two first-round picks and their top prospect Nolan Foote in those trades. But the team wouldn’t have gotten this far without them. Both Coleman and Goodrow brought much-needed grind, for the lack of which the Lightning were heavily criticized after getting swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first-round of the 2019 NHL Playoffs. Alongside Yanni Gourde they formed a line which is known for their work ethic and ability to get under the opponent’s skin. Both Coleman and Goodrow are becoming unrestricted free agents after this season and while the Lightning would love to keep them, their market price has increased significantly and the Lightning won’t be able to match offers from other teams.
Ryan McDonagh is another player whose name appears from time to time in articles discussing potential Lightning offseason moves. He carries a pretty massive $6,750,000 cap hit and has five more seasons under contract at the age of 32. He, however, is the best Lightning defensive defenceman who plays the toughest minutes, and his departure might leave a big hole in Tampa Bay defence.
Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde are less likely to be moved than the players mentioned above, although the probability is still higher than zero. Currently the Lightning are about five millions over next season’s cap with just 19 players under contract, which means that moving just one or two players wouldn’t be enough. According to Jon Cooper, the players are acknowledging the current situation [NHL.com]
“The players are aware of it. The players, it’s almost player driven,” Cooper said on the team’s off day Saturday when asked to explain his last day of school comment from the night before. “It’s not that we make a big deal of it. I think we all know the realities of the sport. Our team’s been well-documented. Finally getting over the hump last year and then remarkably being able to stick together for one more crack at it. I don’t see the circumstances of what happened last year happening again and I know the players don’t see that. I think you guys all know what I meant by the last day of school. It’s a bond that this group has carried together for the last two years and it’s special. This doesn’t come around very often, and I think the players, they know this. And that’s why it doesn’t take a whole ton to motivate this group.”
Nikita Kucherov has solidified himself as a frontrunner in the Conn Smythe race this postseason, let’s hear what analysts around the league saying about him [Tampa Bay Times]
Kucherov now has back-to-back 30-point postseasons putting him in company only with Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Kucherov’s 1.52 points per game in the playoffs rank sixth all-time in the elite company of such greats as Gretzky, Lemieux, Doug Gilmour and Joe Sakic.
During his third playoff run with the Lightning, Erik Cernak has started providing more offense [Tampa Bat Times]
“Watching (Cernak) this year, especially, he’s one of those defensemen you’re like, ‘I don’t want to be on the ice with him. I know he’s going to finish me, I know he’s going to punish me,’ “ Callahan said. “He kind of goes under the radar because he’s not putting the puck in the net, but without him, that’s a big piece of why (the Lightning have) been so successful. (They have) that deep, deep D-core.”
Unfortunately, the families of the Lightning’s players didn’t get a special exemption and won’t be able to travel to Montreal for Game Four on Monday.
Can confirm that #TBLightning families won’t be getting a special exemption to travel to Montreal for potential Cup clinching Game 4 Monday. Back to bubble life for Tampa Bay.— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) July 3, 2021
The Montreal Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme isn’t ready to give up [NHL.com]
Ducharme on previously overcoming a 3-0 series deficit with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads in 2012:
You can’t look too far ahead. If you do, the mountain seems pretty high. There are steps to follow. The first step is to win at home on Monday night. Those who think we’ll just go away don’t really know us. We’ll fight. That’s all we’re thinking about right now.
Jon Cooper with some meaningful choice of t-shirt during his yesterday’s media availability