(Photo Via Tampa Bay Lightning)
By Kirsten Schneider
While the Lightning was able to keep the majority of their talent this offseason, they undoubtedly lost some key players. Yanni Gourde was taken by Seattle in the expansion draft, while Tyler Johnson, Barclay Goodrow, and Mitchell Stephens, were all traded away. The Bolts did an admirable job at replacing their talents in free agency but lost Blake Coleman and David Savard in the process. Signings like Corey Perry and Zach Bogosian are going to lessen the sting, but the Lightning weren't the only team to make significant moves in an attempt to win. Some teams and players that didn’t do so well these past years may be a threat this upcoming season, and here’s why.
The Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks may have beat the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final back in 2015. However they haven’t had the best luck since then. The Hawks’ record last year was 24-25-7, and they were ranked 21st in the league. They did not make the playoffs last year. Although, this offseason, the Hawks made some shocking moves.
The Hawks acquired Vezina Trophy winner and arguably one of the best goalies in the league, Marc-Andre Fleury. His GAA last season was 1.98, and his SV% was .928. He was a great asset to the Knights, and could also help the Hawks become a better performing team. They acquired the previously mentioned Tyler Johnson, looking to get him back on the right track after a shaky last few seasons. Another helpful addition to the Hawks’ roster is defenseman Jake McCabe. Many believe he will fit well on their blue line.
The Seattle Kraken: Although the Kraken may be underestimated because they’re a new team, they could be a potent force to be reckoned with. Those who are avid watchers of hockey should know that just because they’re a new team, doesn’t mean they will underperform. Take the Vegas Golden Knights as an example.
As mentioned earlier, the Kraken drafted Yanni Gourde from the Bolts in the expansion draft, who put up 17 goals, 19 assists, and 36 points in 56 games during the 2020-21 season. The Kraken will also have one of the better goaltending duos in the NHL after drafting Chris Driedger in the expansion draft and signing Phillip Grubauer in free agency. Driedger played in 23 of a possible 56 games in the 2020-21 season and put up a .927 Sv% and 2.07 GAA. Driedger even started in Games 2 and 3 of the Lightning-Panthers first-round matchup. Grubauer was a Vezina candidate last season, putting up a .922 Sv%, a1.95 GAA, and an NHL-leading seven shutouts. Lastly, we have Mark Giordano. Giordano, aside from being a great defender, is an exceptional leader. In the 2020-21 season, he put up 9 goals, 17 assists, and 26 points. Most believe Giordano will be the Kraken’s first-ever captain and could take up a role similar to Deryk Engelland in Vegas.
The Florida Panthers: The Florida Panthers used to be a team you never had to worry about, but in the past few years, they have stepped up their game. The Lightning beat them 4-2 in the first round, but many in Bolts Nation would tell you that Florida was one of the Lightning's toughest matchups on their quest to go back-to-back.
The Panthers have become more of a physical team and have a great defensive line. The Panthers’ top scorer from 2020-21 was Jonathan Huberdeau, who put up 20 goals, 41 assists, and 61 points last season. Some of their other top players include Aleksander Barkov and former Bolt Carter Verhaeghe, who put up a combined 94 points last season. The Panthers will have Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight as their goaltending duo, who both showed flashes of brilliance in their playoff series against the Lightning.
Of course, there will be teams that have always been great competition for the Bolts, such as the Capitals and the Bruins. However, I believe with the Lightning restructuring their team and adding new talent, the team will work together to strike any obstacle that comes their way.
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