Tampa Bay Lightning roster coming into focus with free agent signings
With the additions of Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz, the NHL roster is almost set.
The Tampa Bay Lightning started off free agency with a controversial signing of defensemen Dan Girardi. Hours later, the team added left winger Chris Kunitz to the mix. That followed the re-signings of pending free agent goaltender Peter Budaj and forwards Cory Conacher, Yanni Gourde, and Gabriel Dumont. Add to that the trade of Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.
There will probably be a few more depth signings coming over the following days, but the bulk of the heavy lifting in free agency is done. The exception being getting Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat signed to new deals. Those will get done soon as salary arbitration will create a deadline for the players and the team to work it out.
With all of the additions, there are still a few questions of where everyone slots in, both up front and on the back end. The one place where there aren’t any questions are in goal as Andrei Vasilevskiy is the unquestioned starter with Budaj as his back-up in net.
Let’s go through a couple of scenarios for both the forward lines and the defensive pairings and the reasoning for each one.
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Chris Kunitz - Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point
Alex Killorn - Vladislav Namestnikov - Yanni Goude
Gabriel Dumont - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Extra: J.T. Brown
The first line would undoubtedly be a very strong line. Palat plays the best two-way game on the team and his playmaking from the left wing would play well with Stamkos in the center and Kucherov’s overall game on the right wing. Kunitz would bring a hard working mentality to a line with a couple smaller players. Point is more of a possession driver and should work well continuing on the right wing with Johnson in the middle.
The third line gives you a digger and a consistent point producer in Killorn to go with the playmaking skill of Namestnikov and Gourde as a trigger man. Dumont was brought back on a two-year contract after having success on the fourth line late last season. Paquette can continue his hard nosed play on the fourth line along with a hopefully healthy Callahan.
For much of the offseason, I’ve had Namestnikov penciled in as the first line left winger. That line had worked well early in the 2016-17 season and I thought they might have a chance at rekindling that connection. When Kunitz’s name started coming up in rumors, that started to shift my thinking on his position. I had thought that if the team were to bring in another winger, that it would be a right winger. Or perhaps a center to play on the third line.
If they had brought in a right winger that was capable of playing on the second or third line, then Point could have moved to the second center spot with the free agent taking the spot on the second. Otherwise, Gourde could have slid to the third center spot with the free agent going on the right wing of the third line.
Namestnikov - Stamkos - Kucherov
Palat - Johnson - Point
Kunitz - Gourde - Killorn
Dumont - Paquette - Callahan
The fourth line doesn’t change on this projection but a few other names move around. As mentioned above, I’ve had Namestnikov in my projections on the first line and I’d really like to see that. Palat on the second line provides the dig for Johnson and Point to get the puck into the net. Killorn has moved over to the right wing on occasion the past couple years due to injuries, but he doesn’t seem as comfortable there. Gourde is better suited as a winger, but he can manage as a center. He’d have plenty of size next to him with Kunitz and Killorn.
Bonus: An anonymous RawCharge writer presented this line-up as his “Cooper Special.”
Kunitz - Stamkos - Callahan
Palat - Johnson - Kucherov
Killorn - Namestnikov - Point
Dumont - Paquette - Gourde
Cooper does like to run back to this safety blanket of the Triplets when things go sideways, but never seems to stick with it for long. Moving gritty grinders up in the line up and skill players down in the line up has also happened all too often. I hate to say it, but this is a line up I could see Cooper sending out, especially after a bad game.
Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Dan Girardi
Extras: Slater Koekkoek, Andrej Sustr
The defense really is the hardest to project and it really depends on if Sergachev makes the team out of camp. In this line up, you could see Dotchin and Girardi flip spots with the hope that Hedman’s superior possession skills can carry the anchor that is Girardi. Otherwise, Girardi teamed up with Coburn means non-existent offense. Hopefully Coburn can do enough to keep Girardi out of trouble and get the puck out of the zone. That pair could end up being hemmed in a lot though. In this line up as well, you could see Sustr in over Dotchin with the same possibilities of playing with Hedman or Coburn.
Hedman - Dotchin
Koekkoek - Stralman
Coburn - Girardi
This is the scenario for if Sergachev doesn’t make the team. The two young defensemen have the best partners available to them to help protect them. The same concerns for Coburn and Girardi remain and the potential of Sustr playing over Dotchin.
Hedman - Stralman
Coburn - Girardi
Koekkoek - Dotchin
Koekkoek and Dotchin have played as a pairing together with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. In this kind of alignment, they could get very limited minutes to keep them sheltered from any tough assignments. The downside is that when the team is on the road, Jon Cooper and Rick Bowness will have to put them out on the ice without knowing who the other team is sending out. That could lead to other teams trying to take advantage of the young pairing by sending out their top forwards against them.