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The Best Case Scenario Season Preview for the Tampa Bay Lightning

Is it me or was that the longest offseason in the history of offseasons? It doesn’t matter, because the long, cruel summer is over and the 2023-24 Tampa Bay Lightning season is here. In order to celebrate how about not one, but TWO season previews? Earlier we talked about the worst case scenario for the Bolts. Now that we have exhaled the negative, let’s inhale the positive.

So what is the best case scenario for the Bolts? Well, that is an easy answer:

Jul 7, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper hoists the Stanley Cup after the Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in game five to win the 2021 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Lightning have the talent to make it to the playoffs. Once they are there, all it takes is one or two players to get hot and the next thing we know Jon Cooper is lifting his third Stanley Cup and we can all bask in the hatred of 31 other fan bases. The road to another championship is still open, but it is a little rougher than in the last few seasons. So, what needs to break the Lightning’s way for them to bring Lord Stanley back home to the Sunshine State?


Yes, this is the answer for every single franchise in the NHL, but more so for the Lightning this year. For them to make it to the playoffs, they need Jonas Johansson to hold serve in net for the next few months. They don’t need him to be the second coming of Tony Esposito or Patrick Roy, just provide slightly above average netminding for the next 8-10 weeks until Andrei Vasilevskiy is healthy. Square up to shots, make he first save, and let the players in front of him clear out the rebounds or eliminate second chances. Do that and it’s a win.

Then, hopefully, the procedure that Vasilevskiy underwent is truly successful and we’re not worried about his discs betraying him as he shows that he is still one of the best goalies in the league. Starting the season in December gives him a little bit more energy by the time the playoffs roll around and he carries the team on his back once again. Would you want to be a team that is facing a rested, healthy Vasilevskiy that might have a bit of a chip on his shoulder from last season? Probably not.

Forecheck, Forecheck, Forecheck

It was blatantly obvious what Julien BriseBois wanted to do not only this offseason, but also at last year’s trade deadline. He wanted the Lightning to get back to the style of play that makes them an absolute pain to play against on a nightly basis. That will all start with the forecheck. Conor Sheary, Tyler Motte, Luke Glendening, Tanner Jeannot, and Mikey Eyssimont were not added to the roster to sit back in the defensive zone and block shots or break up passes. They are on the team to hound the puck in the offensive third of the ice, battle for the puck in the corners, and keep as much action away from their goaltender as they possibly can.

This year’s version of the Lightning is younger and faster than last year’s. While they may not be as prolific offensively as they were over the last couple of seasons, the hope, heck, the need, is for them to be better defensively. That starts in their own zone with clean breakouts and defending the front of their crease, but if they can disrupt the other team from even entering the zone, it will take pressure off of the defense and make Johansson’s job a lot easier in net.

With the way the lines appear to be set up, the first line with Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point (along with the power play) will be asked to do the heavy lifting on offense. The other three lines have the potential to chip in, but their number one role will be to wear out their opponents by constantly hounding the puck.

The Big Guys Bring Big Guy Energy

It’s going to be on Stamkos and Co. on the top line and power play to convert their chances. To win games they’re going to have to be the ones putting up multiple point nights and matching the production they had last year. While the aging curves may have begun the descent for a few of them, they haven’t hit the roller coaster-steep side of the decline just yet. Kucherov can still be counted on for 100+ points, Stamkos for 30+ goals, and Point for 90 points and 40+ goals.

Defensively, the time off this summer should be good for Victor Hedman as well. It’s no secret that last year wasn’t his best year, however, he is in a good spot to bounce back. The emergence of Mikhail Sergachev as a future number one defenseman will lessen the workload Hedman has to face on a nightly basis and allow him a few easier match-ups over the course of the season. Yes, the Big Swede’s power play time might not be what it once was, but he’ll likely see the top penalty-killing units when he is on the ice.

That does rely on Sergachev not regressing from the progress he has made over the last two seasons. Last year he was given a chance to play as a number-one defenseman and, aside from a few mind-boggling bad passes here and there, showed the staff that he could handle the role. Keeping that progress moving forward will make everyone’s life a little easier.

Tanner Jeannot

If Jeannot can deliver on the potential that Julien BriseBois saw in him when he acquired the former Predator at the deadline, that will go a long way to providing some secondary scoring. He is a polarizing figure in the fan base, and his debut with the team last year wasn’t great in terms of goals scored or produced, but he did show that he has the ability to be effective in the system. As we’ve mentioned time and time again, it sometimes takes an offseason and a training camp for new acquisitions to get comfortable in the system and produce. Nick Paul, Blake Coleman, and Brandon Hagel all had stronger second seasons with the Bolts than they did when first picked up at the deadline.

Jeannot following in that tradition and finding a spot on the second line would not only make that line a pretty decent defensive line, but also a trio that could pot 40-50 goals at even strength.

Take Advantage of What Happens in the League

No team has ever won the Stanley Cup on pure talent alone. Somewhere along the way they had to catch a break or three. The same will go for the Lightning. Take of advantage of scheduled wins. Beat the teams that are on the the second part of a back-to-back or at the end of long road trips. Win the games against back-up goaltenders.

Stay healthy.

Just do what it takes to get to the playoffs.

Best Case Outcome

Jonas Johansson carries his preseason performance over to the regular season and keeps the team near the top of the standings until Vasilevskiy returns in mid-December. The Big Cat, healthy for the first time in a year, puts on a Vezina-level performance while facing less than 28 shots a game as the forecheck-heavy approach keeps teams out of the Lightning’s zone.

Stamkos, after announcing a four-year extension on his birthday in February, scores 45 goals while Kucherov thrusts himself into the MVP talk with a 120-point season. Jeannot scores 22, including 6 on the power play. Waltteri Merela sticks with the team all season and posts a respectable 15-goal, 39-point season.

Meanwhile, Boston implodes with the loss of their franchise icons in the offseason. Toronto struggles to find the line between truculence and dumb penalties. Buffalo shows they aren’t quite ready and fades after a strong start. The Bolts end up with the second seed in the Atlantic. They beat Florida while Toronto is upset by a surprising Ottawa team. Tampa Bay cruises in the second round and then beats the Islanders in the Eastern Conference Finals (as is tradition) before beating the Edmonton Oilers in six games in the Stanley Cup Final on a game-winning goal by midseason call-up, Gage Goncalves.



Drunk Kucherov.

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