Tampa Bay Lightning: Puck Daddy’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview

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Tampa Bay Lightning: Puck Daddy’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview
Tampa Bay Lightning: Puck Daddy’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview

(The 2015-16 NHL season is nearly upon us! Why bother watching this team? What will make or break the season? Find out as we preview all 30 teams as camps begin!)

Last Season 

50-24-8, 108 points, No. 2 seed in Atlantic Division 

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2014-15 Season, In One Tweet

Did They Get Better, Worse Or Are They About The Same?

Pretty much the same, maybe a little better with the subbing out of Brenden Morrow (unsigned) with Erik Condra (3-year, $3.75 million deal). That should help them remain a top-5 possession club.

Condra posted 23 points in 68 games last season with the Ottawa Senators and is buds with Tampa head coach Jon Cooper (he was an usher at the coach’s wedding). He’ll be the younger, more productive replacement for the 36-year old Morrow.

Compared to the team that lost Game 6 to the Chicago Blackhawks in June, the Lightning will have a healthy Tyler Johnson (wrist) and Ben Bishop (groin) to start the season. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a little more Jonathan Drouin.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Five Most Fascinating Players

1. Steven Stamkos, F

As of Sept. 5, Stamkos has yet to sign an extension with the Lightning. He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, but with the way owner Jeff Vinik has helped finance Tampa’s re-birth as a hockey market, there shouldn’t be any worry here for Bolts fans. Of course, should this issue linger into the start of the 2015-16 campaign, will the questions serve as an early-season distraction for the captain and his mates? 

2. Ben Bishop, G

Bishop came up huge for the Lightning in their march to the Stanley Cup Final. But a torn groin in Game 2 affected him for the remainder of the series, including forcing him to sit out Game 4. He starts the first season of a two-year, $11.9 million extension signed last summer. He’s made at least 60 starts in each of the past two seasons, but will he cede time to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who filled in for him during the Final (and is now out 2-3 months)? And is this the beginning of a transition period for the Lightning goaltending situation? 

3. Jonathan Drouin, F

Many projected the 22-year old winger as the 2015 Calder Trophy winner and proved to be dead wrong after Drouin struggled offensively scoring four goals and 32 points in 70 games. He played only six playoff games, finding himself a consistent healthy scratch, which also prompted rumors of conflict with Cooper during the Final. With all that behind him, can his play earn him a consistent spot in the lineup? 

4. The Triplets

It’s hard to talk about one of the Triplets without mentioning all three. The line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov introduced themselves to the hockey world with by posting 31 goals and 61 points in 26 playoff games last season. They’re no longer unknown commodities and teams will key in on shutting them down. How will handle the additional attention?

5. Victor Hedman, D

The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs were not Hedman’s “coming out party” like many stories promoted last spring. The 24-year old Swedish blueliner was already playing at an elite level and could have challenged for the Norris Trophy if not for a broken finger in October which cost him a month out of the lineup. Another strong season and he could find himself in Vegas next June.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Potentially The Best Thing About This Team

The goals will continue to come for the franchise that lead the NHL in that category with 262 last season. It will only be bolstered if Drouin is able to contibute on a regular basis. With little turnover and similar coaching, their possession stats will help them be a Cup challenger yet again.

Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team

For all the offensive talent Tampa has, you would think the power play would be better than the 18-percent mark its hovered around for the last few seasons. Only Stamkos (13) and Callahan (10) hit double digits in power play markers last season. 

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Dream 3-on-3 OT Group

Do you go straight Triplets or use a defenseman with Stamkos, Filppula and Hedman? There are so many potential 3-on-3 combinations for Cooper to choose from it’s almost unfair.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)

One. All Cooper has done in his career as a hockey coach is win, no matter the level. He’s guided the Lightning to the playoffs in each of his first two full season behind the bench and reached a Stanley Cup Final. It’s a relatively young group he’s guiding and they’ve quickly grown together and found success.

Awkward Old School Video Break

David Letterman was smitten with Manon Rheaume in 1992.

Their Best Case Scenario Is …

Stamkos breaks the bank before the season, the Triplets keep scoring and Bishop plays Vezina caliber, all leading to another deep playoff run in Spring 2016, perhaps this time ending with a silver cup being raised. 

Their Nightmare Scenario Is …

Stamkos doesn’t sign and it becomes a saga; the Triplets regress and the defense outside of the Hedman-Stralman pairing can’t stop a thing. Stanley Cup runners-up hangover?

Prediction

First in the Atlantic, challengers for the Presidents’ Trophy. Well-coach, well-stocked, elite top defensive pairing, solid goaltending depth. Would it be a shock to see the Lightning playing into June yet again?

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