Tampa Bay has become one of the teams to beat in the NHL. They have finished in the top 3 of the Atlantic three straight seasons. Last season they finished 2nd behind the Florida club residing in Sunrise. Posting 97 points in the standings, they finished with a 46-31-5 record.
With Steven Stamkos out due to injury to begin the playoffs, I thought they were not going to be able have a deep run. Proving me wrong, they breezed past Detroit, sent the New York Islanders packing, but lost a very tight, seven game series to Pittsburgh in the Conference Finals.
The biggest question coming into the offseason was whether Stamkos would return or not. There was much speculation throughout the season where he might end up. There was also the question on whether Tampa should attempt to re-sign him, especially after proving they could win without him. The price to keep him was thought to be too high without coming at the expense of other young talent. The most popular rumor was Stamkos signing with Toronto. Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, two days before free agency, Tampa was able to re-sign Stamkos to an 8 year, $68 million contract. $8.5 million a year is a pretty good deal for a franchise player like him. Just look at guys like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom are making $10.5 million for Chicago. Sidney Crosby is making $12 million. For someone like Stamkos, $8.5 million is a steal compared to those guys.
Tampa was then able to ink out a, 8 year, $63 million deal with elite defenseman Victor Hedman. Being the other cornerstone, this was also an important move for the Lightning to make. At the same time, they re-signed goaltender Andrei Vasilevski to a three year extension. He was outstanding when Bishop went down during the postseason. He was so successful that rumblings of Bishop being traded have been hanging around.
Still in the process of working out an extension with Tampa is Nikita Kucherov. With 29 goals in 2014-2015 and 30 last season, he is becoming an elite sniper with a lethal shot. It is also necessary to re-sign him. Fortunately for Tampa, it’s said that a deal is close to being reached.
Tampa will continue to be a force in the league and contend for the Cup. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make it to the Finals once again.