After dominating the league throughout the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the overwhelming favourite. What happened next can only be described as one of the most surprising and disappointing playoff performances of all time. The Lightning were swept out of the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets, thanks in large part to an otherworldly performance from Sergei Bobrovsky in goal.
It was a sober reminder that no team is immune to a cold streak and a hot goaltender. Tampa Bay spent their prolonged off-season maintaining their roster as opposed to improving it. General Manager Julien BriseBois wasted no time, quickly signing depth defender Braydon Coburn to a two-year, $1.7M AAV contract extension in mid-June. The Coburn signing didn’t receive a lot of attention, but it was important considering the Lightning were set to lose Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi in free agency. Then, with Bobrovsky’s round-one performance still fresh in his memory, BriseBois turned his attention to goal. The Lightning signed goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to an eight-year contract extension with an AAV of $9.5M. Vasilevskiy will still carry a $3.5M cap hit this year before his new contract kicks in for the 2020-21 season.
With Vasilevskiy, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov all locked up long-term, Brayden Point was the only piece of the Lightning’s core in need of a new contract. With Tampa Bay having nowhere near the cap room necessary to sign Point long-term, the two sides began to a focus on a shorter bridge deal. On September 23, just over a week away from opening night in the NHL, Tampa Bay announced they had signed Point to a three-year, $20.25M contract. The $6.75M cap-hit was a steal in comparison to some of the other premier RFAs, but the length sets Point up for a massive payday in three years.
On top of doing an incredibly efficient job of keeping his core together, BriseBois also did a nice job of rounding out the roster in the off-season. Forward Patrick Maroon and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk were brought in on a pair of one-year contracts. Maroon is fresh off winning a Stanley Cup with the Blues and should slot in nicely to Tampa’s bottom-six. Shattenkirk should do well in a sheltered role on the blue-line, and it gives the Lightning another option on the man advantage should they run into injury trouble again this season. We saw last year that playoff success is anything but a guarantee, but Tampa Bay is poised to have another dominant regular season.
The Lightning have arguably the strongest group of forwards in the NHL. Point established himself as an elite player last season, capable of driving play and production in all situations. You can expect Kucherov to jump back and forward between Stamkos and Point’s wings all season. Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Yanni Gourde are most likely to fill the remaining three spots in the top-six. Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, and Mathieu Joseph formed an incredibly effective third line last season. Look for their production to increase this year as Cirelli and Joseph continue to improve.
Nikita Kucherov (RW)
- — Considering all the depth there is at centre in fantasy hockey, Kucherov should be the unanimous first-overall pick in standard leagues. While last year’s 128-point effort will be almost impossible to repeat, Kucherov is a lock to top 100 points in 2019-20 for the third straight season. While he might not register 48 power-play points again this year, the man advantage will continue to be a steady source of production for Kucherov. His on-ice SH% and personal SH% were, as you would expect, slightly high last year, but Kucherov’s immense skill level means he’s more than capable of continuing to post above-average conversion rates. Connor McDavid’s production could rival that of Kucherov’s this season, but the lack of depth on the wings gives Kucherov a clear edge over McDavid in terms of fantasy value.
Steven Stamkos (C)
- — Stamkos is a point-per-game player in his own right, but last year we saw Kucherov take Stamkos’ production to the next level. He scored 43 goals and added 53 assists for a career-high of 98 points across a full 82 games. Stamkos might not play the full season with Kucherov on his wing, but his presence on Tampa’s dominant power-play gives his production an incredibly sturdy floor. He is a bona fide first-round pick in fantasy hockey, but the extreme depth at his position means there a few wingers you should target ahead of him.
Brayden Point (C)
- — After exploding for 41 goals and 51 assists last season, Point is one of the more obvious regression candidates this season. His 92-point campaign came on the backs of an 11.1 on-ice SH% and a 21.5 personal SH%. Yes, playing for the Lightning means his on-ice SH% is bound to look a little inflated, but the 21.5 SH% is going to come down. He will need to improve his shot volume if he wants to get back to 40 goals, and the lone-centre eligibility puts another dent into his value. He’s getting drafted a little too early for my liking, but at least he’s got a contract.
Tyler Johnson (LW/RW)
- — Although the quality of his linemates couldn’t get much better, Johnson was rather fortunate to score 29 goals last season. He registered just 163 shots on goal but was able to score on 17.8% of them. That number will almost certainly go down this year, and it’s unlikely Johnson will see a growth in ice time, so I wouldn’t expect his shot volume to improve, either. A lack of assists leaves him with very little upside. The dual-wing eligibility is nice, but I’d only consider rostering him in deeper leagues.
Yanni Gourde (LW/RW)
- — His production took a predictable nosedive from the 64 points he put up in 2017-18, but Gourde was still able to score 22 times last year. He did that while registering just 130 shots on goal, not exactly a reliable recipe for scoring 20 goals. Like Johnson, Gourde’s SH% seems destined to take a hit this year, and there’s no reason to assume an increase in shot volume is coming.
Anthony Cirelli (C)
- — Cirelli could offer some value in deeper leagues after scoring 19 goals and adding 20 assists a year ago. His ice-time could seemingly see a small bump from the 14:51 he averaged last season. He is a proven play driver at 5v5 and has flashed some offensive upside, but the centre position is far too deep to give him any consideration in standard leagues.
Hedman and Ryan McDonagh should continue to lead the way for the Lightning’s defence in 2019-20. While Hedman has more offensive upside, both players do an excellent job of controlling and driving play at 5v5. Coming into his age-21 season, it will be interesting to see if Mikhail Sergachev assumes a larger role this season. His offensive talent speaks for itself, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can handle more minutes and more difficult assignments at even strength. The opportunity is certainly there for Sergachev, as he has only Erik Cernak and Shattenkirk to compete with for ice time on the right side.
Victor Hedman (D)
- — Hedman has evolved into one of the most reliable goal scorers from the backend in the NHL. He’s registered at least ten goals in each of the last six seasons. Hedman had a noticeable drop in ice-time last season, playing a full three minutes less a game than the year before. Much of that can be contributed to lingering upper and lower-body injuries, issues that seem to be behind him now. If he can stay healthy, Hedman could easily flirt with 70 points this season. His goal-scoring ability combined with his role on the top power-play in the league gives Hedman a very stable floor.
Kevin Shattenkirk (D)
- — Shattenkirk’s fantasy value plummeted over his two seasons with the Rangers, but what better way to rebuild that value than to play with the likes of Hedman, Stamkos, and Kucherov. He is worth no more than a late-round flier in standard leagues, but there is certainly some upside here. Playing with Hedman will afford him plenty of chances at 5v5, and he could compete with Sergachev for ice-time on the second power-play unit.
Mikhail Sergachev (D)
- — Sergachev looked ready to assume a larger role this season, but Shattenkirk’s arrival suggests that might not be the case. The young defenseman will have to earn more minutes at 5v5, and will likely share the point on PP2 with the former Ranger. The upside is obvious, but I’m not convinced he’ll see anything near 20 minutes a game this season.
Ryan McDonagh (D)
- — It’s very rare to see a defenseman be fantasy relevant without power-play time, but McDonagh defied the odds last season. He scored nine times and added 37 assists last season but registered just three power-play points. He was rather fortunate to produce as much as he did last year, as evident by an 11.9 on-ice SH% and a 7.0 personal SH%. McDonagh is in line for even less power-play time this season with the acquisition of Shattenkirk, but his monstrous plus/minus might be enough to keep him relevant in standard leagues.
Vasilevskiy, the eventual Vezina Trophy winner, enjoyed a career year in 2018-19, posting a career-best .925 SV% along with a 2.40 GAA. He led the NHL with 39 victories despite only starting 53 games. He will be backed up this year by Curtis McElhinney, who signed a two-year deal with the Lightning in the off-season. McElhinney has emerged as one of the better backup goalies in the league over the last three seasons, posting a .919 SV% and a 39-24-5 record over that span.
Andrei Vasilevskiy (G)
- — The 2019 Vezina Trophy Winner is the undisputed number-one goalie in fantasy this season. Vasilevskiy is an unbelievable talent on an unbelievable team, which typically leads to elite fantasy production. He’s led the NHL in wins for the last two seasons and has proven he doesn’t even need to play a full season to do so. His splits should continue to be among the best in the league, and he’ll chip in his fair share of shutouts, too. When it comes to fantasy netminders, Vasilevskiy is in a league of his own this season.
Curtis McElhinney (G)
- — McElhinney may not be worth rostering in standard leagues, but he’ll certainly be worth spot starting whenever he does get the nod. Louis Domingue showed us last season that even the most obscure goaltenders can become fantasy relevant when they’re playing behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. There’s no reason to draft McElhinney in standard leagues, but he’ll quickly become a hot commodity should Vasilevskiy miss any more time this season.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|N. Kucherov (43)||N. Kucherov (70)||N. Kucherov (113)||S. Stamkos (17)||N. Kucherov (41)|
|S. Stamkos (37)||S. Stamkos (56)||S. Stamkos (93)||N. Kucherov (14)||S. Stamkos (37)|
|B. Point (32)||V. Hedman (46)||B. Point (73)||B. Point (12)||V. Hedman (27)|
Lightning in the DFO Top 300
- 1 — Nikita Kucherov (RW)
- 10 — Steven Stamkos (C)
- 23 — Andrei Vasilevskiy (G)
- 30 — Victor Hedman (D)
- 35 — Brayden Point (C)
- 173 — Kevin Shattenkirk (D)
- 177 — Mikhail Sergechev (D)
- 234 — Ryan McDonagh (D)
- 236 — Tyler Johnson (LW/RW)
- 245 — Yanni Gourde (LW/RW)
- 254 — Anthony Cirelli (C)
- 293 — Curtis McElhinney (G)
|1||TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING||50-24-8||108 PTS|
|3||BOSTON BRUINS||45-28-9||99 PTS|
|4||FLORIDA PANTHERS||44-29-9||97 PTS|
|5||MONTREAL CANADIENS||40-34-8||88 PTS|
|6||BUFFALO SABRES||39-36-7||85 PTS|
|7||DETROIT RED WINGS||33-40-9||75 PTS|
|8||OTTAWA SENATORS||29-44-9||67 PTS|
Despite their poor performance in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Lightning are still by far the clear-cut favourite to win the President’s Trophy, and of course, the Atlantic Division. The Maple Leafs and Bruins could potentially give the Lightning a run for their money, but there simply isn’t a more complete team in the NHL than the Lightning.