The Tampa Bay Lightning finished first in their division in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, yet failed to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Breaking through in the pandemic-shortened season for their second title in franchise history, there are questions surrounding several players heading into the 2020-2021 season.
Forward Anthony Cirelli is a key free agent that the Tampa Bay Lightning needs to try to sign. He scored 44 points on 16 goals in 68 games last season. In addition, defenseman Erik Cernak, who averaged nearly 21 minutes of ice time per game in the post-season, is a free agent. The problem is that the NHL salary cap has not moved from last season and not every restricted free agent can be signed. Perhaps the Lightning can sign one but retaining both may be difficult. The Tampa Bay Lightning led the league in scoring and 8th in goals against. The team must weight which player is most important to their success moving forward.
Much of the decision on whether or not Cernak is re-signed is the progression of Callan Foote. The 22-year-old defenseman has a chance to earn a spot on the roster. The Lightning have plenty of talent in the AHL affiliate Syracuse, who could all play well enough to make the team. The focus, however, appears to be on Callan Foote, a 2017 draft pick who scored 28 points last season. A further longshot to make the team, but one to watch is 2018 draft pick Alexander Green, who played collegiately at Cornell last season.
The biggest question looming over the Lightning could be whether or not Steven Stamkos will be ready for the season following multiple surgeries to repair a core muscle injury, most recently just two months ago. Stamkos has led the league in goals twice and has 422 goals over a 12-year career. Should Stamkos be at full strength and not have a chronic issue with the injury, the Lightning will continue to have strong front-line scoring.
The belief from my view is that one, but not both of Cernak and Cirelli will be retained. Callan Foote will show enough to make the roster and Stamkos will return to form after gradually increasing time on the ice as the season progresses. It won’t be easy to defend their title, but the Lightning should be poised to make another solid run at the title.