After reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, the Tampa Bay Lightning made another deep run this postseason before being bounced in the Eastern Conference Final by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Raw Charge's John Fontana is our special guest today as we take a look at what the Florida Panthers cross-state rival has been up to this summer.
What are your thoughts on the Bolts' performance during 2015-16 in a tidy nutshell?
There was difficulty and inconsistency in '15-'16 during regular-season play. The club played with aches and pains and weren't so consistent. Sometimes they shined like what the club is capable of and other times they struggled because of limitations brought on by ailments... Yet when the team reached the playoffs, even without their most prized possession in Steven Stamkos (who was out due to blood clot removal surgery and recovery) the team played and competed like it's capable of. Tampa Bay came up one win short of a Stanley Cup Finals berth. They overcame to get that far, and they did one heck of a job in the process.
What was the team's best offseason move thus far?
Oddly, it was standing pat. Re-signing Steven Stamkos just before he hit general free agency was the big move (overshadowed in the press by the Subban and Hall trades that afternoon), with Victor Hedman's re-signing happening a few days later. Free agency though? How about bringing back a system cog in Cory Conacher (who played in Europe last season)? That's a depth move where cost and character and chemistry all contribute.
...and that's why standing-pat seems like the club's best move.
What departure will hurt the Lightning the most?
Arguable. One could say that it's actually a minor league loss in Mike Angelidis, who has been with the Lightning organization and influential on the player-development side of things with the club's AHL affiliate over the years. The most noteworthy "loss" on the NHL side was defenseman Matthew Carle, who struggled and drew criticism most of last season... He wasn't a true loss as he was bought-out by the Lightning.
Jonathan Marchessault being lost to the Panthers might be the one that rings most in the coming years. While many know of him seeing bottom-6 playing time with Tampa Bay, he was a scoring forward able to hold steady in the top-6 in the AHL who reminded this writer of Martin St. Louis and his early play with the Bolts... Given the right opportunity, Marchessault could break out. It's up to him though to raise his game from AHL-level play to NHL caliber.
What prospect is most likely to crack the lineup and make an impact?
2012 1st round draft pick Slater Koekkoek looks to have a chief opportunity for full-time play at the NHL level with Matt Carle's departure as well as Koekkoek's own proven ability over time. Koekkoek has only played 12 regular season games in Tampa Bay in his career thus far, scoring a lone point. He played in 10 playoff games with the Lightning last spring.
Realistically, what would constitute a successful 2016-17 campaign?
This is actually a tricky thing. I'd like to just say a strong performance and a playoff berth/run to continue Lightning success in a consistent fashion (Tampa Bay has made the playoffs three years in a row and gone deep in the playoff the past two years)... Others expectations are vaulted because the Bolts have gone deep both years, coming up short though. Last year, a local columnist here in Tampa Bay crowed before the season that 2015-16 was "Cup or Bust". Now, after viability for so long and media hoopla over the retentions of Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, the mentality of success only existing with a championship will likely spread further among a segment of the fan base.