With several days to reset following the All-Star break and no games until Thursday, it’s time to look back and evaluate the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season to date.
With 46 games played, we’re just beyond the midway point of the season with Tampa Bay currently sitting in second in the Atlantic division, just three points back of Florida. The Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference have proven to be a juggernaut this season and the two-time defending champs have shown no signs of letting up this year.
The last two seasons have shown that the Lightning have very little to prove over the course of the regular season. With the belief of just making it to the playoffs and going from there, it would be reasonable to get complacent over the grueling course of the season. Tampa Bay has been among the top teams all season long and look poised for another deep run this spring despite significant turnover this past offseason.
Midseason MVP: It would be completely reasonable for Andrei Vasilevskiy to be the team’s MVP every single season, if not the entire league. However, it is impossible to look past the bounce back season that Steven Stamkos has had. He has looked as healthy as he has in years and his contributions have earned him a spot among the contenders for the league’s most valuable player.
Stamkos’ season has been amplified by the long-term absences of Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. It has been several years since Stamkos has been counted on the be the top guy offensively for Tampa Bay, but he has been money on the scoresheet and helping the team win. Stamkos currently leads the team in goals and points and is on pace for the fifth 90+ point season of his career and first since 2018-19.
Wherever the Lightning end up at the end of the regular season, they will have to look back on the contributions of Stamkos in the first half of the season as being a huge factor in keeping pace among the NHL’s best.
Biggest Surprise: Corey Perry
The expectations were not sky high for the 36-year-old veteran in his first year in Tampa. It even took nearly 20 games for Perry to record his first goal with his new club. Ever since then, Perry has gained a ton of confidence and has been finding the scoresheet regularly, including multiple late game tying goals with the net empty.
His 12 goals on the year are his highest mark since the 2017-18 season in Anaheim and we are only 46 games in. Perry was not brought in to light up the lamp. He was brought in for his presence, especially in the playoffs, being one of those players to drag you into and through the fight. Every bit of offense beyond what he has already provided would be considered a bonus.
Biggest Disappointment: The Powerplay
Tampa Bay’s powerplay was an absolute work of art in the 2021 playoffs. When they get the puck snapping with the talent they have, there is very little you can do to stop it. This year, the Lightning’s powerplay comes in around the middle of the pack at about 20% conversion rate. At full health, Tampa’s powerplay is often among the top three to five teams during the season but find themselves at 15th overall so far.
The biggest factor has been health. The absences of Point and Kucherov have certainly slowed the powerplay down a bit. Nobody in the league quite has the creativity and vision that Nikita Kucherov has from the right circle on the powerplay. With him hopefully the rest of the way, expect the Lightning powerplay to continue to rise.
What Lies Ahead?
Tampa Bay is about to enter a rather light portion of this schedule with just three games in the next two weeks. This will provide a great opportunity for bodies to be refreshed before entering the true dog days of the season and what looks to be an all-out war for playoff positioning.
A big date to look ahead for is the NHL’s trade deadline on March 21st. GM Julien BriseBois has downplayed talks of Tampa Bay adding anything at the deadline. With the current salary cap circumstances facing them, the Lightning are unlikely to make any moves of note unless they are to lose somebody from the current roster. Money in = money out.
BriseBois has been creative in the past while navigating the cap and a move cannot be ruled out despite his talks of this being a quiet deadline. But with teams expected to bulk up around Tampa Bay, this could lead to an increased urgency for the Lightning to make a move to keep up with everybody around them amongst the arms race.
In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at potential moves the Lightning could be looking to make as well as the hoops they may have to jump through in order to make them.