The Tampa Bay Lightning have been an NHL franchise for just over 20 years and have made the playoffs eight times, winning one Stanley Cup, in 2004, with John Tortorella behind the bench. Last season, the Lightning totaled 108 points made it back to the Stanley Cup, but fell to the Chicago Blackhawks four games to two. After not losing any key players on last years Stanley Cup run, the Lightning were expected to be an elite Eastern Conference contender, but things don’t always work out like they’re supposed to.
To this point, the Lightning sit at sixth in the Atlantic Division, and 11th in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning’s potent offense, led by pending free agent Steven Stamkos (a lot more on him later), has been lackluster at best. Tampa Bay led the NHL in goals per game last season, averaging 3.16 per game, just ahead of the Dallas Stars. This season, the goals just haven’t been there. Tampa Bay is putting pucks behind goalies an average of 2.5 times per night, 21st in the NHL. What’s the main reason for the lack of success in the offensive zone? It has to start with the star of the team, Steven Stamkos.
Stammer is one of the best scorers in the NHL right now, if not the best. He’s had a 60 goal season, a 50+ goal season and two seasons of 40+ goals, including last year when he had 43 after finally being healthy following a gruesome leg injury that occurred in Boston (I was there, it sucked). Through 40 games this season, Stamkos has found the net just 17 times. That number certainly isn’t terrible, but for a guy who TJ picked to win the MVP this season, it’s pretty lackluster. While Stamkos has never been a good +/- player (career -7), mostly because he plays ZERO defense, but this year he’s already at -9. With that total, he’s on pace for a -18 year, certainly not an elite number.
The former first overall pick is clearly worried about his contract situation. From the beginning of the season, there have been trade rumors about whether Tampa Bay is scared to lose him, and wants to get something of value for him, as his contract runs out following this year. If Stamkos were to stay in Tampa, he could become the highest paid player in NHL history. However, Tampa Bay did trade him, regardless of his production this season, they would certainly get quite the haul for Stamkos. Maybe the biggest trade for one player since Eric Lindros was traded from the Quebec Nordiques (literally don’t know how to pronounce that word) to the Philadelphia Flyers for five players, $15 million and two draft picks. The possible free agent or trade destinations for the sniper could Toronto, because Stamkos is from Markham, which is just outside Toronto. Another destination could be Buffalo, as they’re a young, rebuilding team looking for a star to join Evander Kane, Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. But Buffalo is also looking at Patrick Kane, and I really really really don’t want to think about the Bruins going against those two for the next decade. It literally makes me cringe. The Arizona Coyotes could want a piece of Stamkos, as they have the cap space and would probably be his highest bidder. Arizona really needs to get people in their stands, and what better way to do that than with Stammer. But the hands down lead to get Stamkos has to be his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, as they’ve already expressed interest in the 26 year old center. Around this time last year, Stamkos said that he would love to stay in Tampa, but times have changed since then, and it looks as though he might be on his way out.
However, Steven Stamkos might not be the only key player that could get shown the door. A massive part in Tampa’s success last season was the growth of their young core. The “Triplets” line, featured the U-25 trio of offensive aces Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. But not to be forgotten from that list is Jonathan Drouin. Drouin was a rookie last season and played pretty well for Tampa. He had 32 points in 70 games in his first season of NHL action. The 20 year old left winger was expected by some to be a breakout star in his sophomore season. However, Drouin has fallen out of trust with head coach Jon Cooper. For some inexplicable reason, other than Cooper not like the poor kid, he has been sent down to the AHL for more ice time. This isn’t an issue of whether the kid isn’t ready, he proved something last season, this is just a matter of Jon Cooper being a POS. A few days ago, Drouin officially requested a trade from the organization. The number three overall pick in 2013 must be extremely pissed off, and I don’t blame him. I understand you need to earn respect and playing time, but as it stands, the kid has done nothing wrong. He even has the support of captain Stamkos, who as previously mentioned, is in a predicament of his own. Stamkos obviously wants to keep this kid around, because there’s no way he’s reached his peak yet. And with Tampa Bay’s relatively young roster, he can become yet another building block on a team with the talent to become a dynasty, seriously.
The Tampa Bay Lightning should honestly be contending for the Presidents Trophy. They are arguably the best team on paper in the Eastern Conference from front to back and top to bottom. But instead of taking the final step and winning a Stanley Cup after coming up short last season, they’ve taken an unprecedented step back. Veteran players like Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop have to know that playing comes before contract situations, but for the amount that he’s going to get paid, his mind is clearly in the wrong spot. Jonathan Drouin is still a young player at just 20 years of age and is still learning the ways of the NHL. And quite honestly, the Lightning would be dumb to move him because his ceiling is so high. But Jon Cooper has shown that this is his show to run, and if he doesn’t want Drouin, so be it. But as I write this final sentence, there is no doubting it, the Tampa Bay Lightning are a complete mess right now.
Cover photo via TBO.com
Stats via ESPN and NHL.com