Lightning’s electric offseason: Who starts opening night?

Following a big offseason for the Tampa Bay Lightning, with many moving parts, what will the team’s lines look like as we head into the upcoming season?

With the NHL season starting in just a little over a month, it’s time to look into the offseason changes the Tampa Bay Lightning have made amid the loss of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow. These three players made up the Lightning’s third line, giving the Lightning some of the best depth in the NHL. They were also a big part of the success in both the 2020 and 2021 postseason, where they helped the Lightning win back-to-back Stanley Cups. The trio put up 11 goals and 24 points in 23 postseason games and was a big reason why the Lightning defeated Montreal Canadiens in 5 games in the Stanley Cup Final.

This offseason, This offseason, Tampa Bay made some key moves, with re-signing Brayden Point and Ross Colton, keeping their top prospects with cheap contracts, making room in the salary cap with some intelligent trades, and letting some players walk in free agency. With more space in the salary cap,  made free agency moves to replace the depth lost during the offseason.

The Lightning added some familiar faces back to their roster, with Andrej Sustr and Zach Bogosian returning returning on low-risk deals. Zach Bogosian won a cup with Tampa in 2020, and Andrej Sustr played for Tampa from 2012-2018 before signing with Anaheim in the 2018 offseason on a one-year deal.

Tampa desperately needed a reliable backup goaltender, and they got that with the addition of Brian Elliott, who played 30 games for Philadelphia last season. Despite his age, Despite his age, Elliott is a reliable goaltender and is an improvement from Curtis McElhinney, who struggled last season after dealing with injuries. With a reliable backup goaltender, if Andrei Vasilevskiy were to get injured, it helps Tampa stay strong, even without their top goaltender.

The Lightning made sure to take care of the loss of their entire third line by adding some key depth players in Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Perry, a solid 3rd line right-winger who helped Montreal make it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. He played for Anaheim for 14 seasons before signing with the Dallas Stars in free agency, where he made it to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, where they lost in 6 games. The following season, he went to Montreal and again made the Stanley Cup Finals against Tampa but lost in 5 games. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a solid 4th line center which makes plenty of opportunities in the offensive zone and was recently playing for the Colorado Avalanche.

What do these signings mean for the younger players in the Tampa Bay Lightning system? As we saw last season, many young players got their opportunities to shine with the loss of Stamkos and Kucherov. Cal Foote played 35 games on the third defensive line and played very well, but still needed some development. Cal Foote is expected to start this season after the loss of Luke Schenn in free agency. Alex Barre-Boulet played 15 games for the Lightning and proved why he deserves a chance on the roster. He averaged 15:05 TOI and scored three goals in 15 games. Barre-Boulet played a brilliant offensive game and tkept the puck in the offensive zone, rarely giving it up, and we should expect to see him on the starting roster. Ross Colton, who played 30 games with nine goals and 12 points, played an excellent offensive game last season,, showed off his magical shooting skills, and quickly becamep 6 center for the stacked Lightning team. Expect to see him on opening night on the 2nd line with Killorn and Stamkos.

The Lightning also has some 4th line players who could easily make their way up to the 3rd line, most notably Mathieu Joseph, who proved his worth last season, scoring 12 goals and 19 points in  56 games. He played very well on the 4th line with Johnson and Maroon, but you should expect him to play on the 3rd line with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Barre-Boulet.

What could the lines look like on opening night?

These are the lines that I predict will start for the 2021-22 season opener for the Lightning: