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NHL - Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-19 season preview, rankings, projections, bold predictions, playoff chances

ESPN.com | Updated: 2018-09-28 00:02:52

With the 2018-19 season fast approaching, we're running snapshots of all 31 NHL teams, including point total projections, positional previews, best- and worst-case scenarios and more.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are a popular pick to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final. Here's how they get there.


How they finished in 2017-18: 54-23-5 (113 points), Finished third in NHL, first in the Atlantic Division

Everything that went wrong in 2016-17 went right for the Lightning last season. Nikita Kucherov leveled up to a 100-point season. Steven Stamkos was healthy, scoring 86 points in 78 games. Andrei Vasilevskiy took over the crease and proved himself to be a quality No. 1 netminder. Victor Hedman won the Norris Trophy. GM Steve Yzerman added defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller in a deadline coup. They eliminated the Devils and Bruins in five games ... and then lost to the Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. And then Yzerman stepped down three months later, with Julien BriseBois taking over as GM.

Over/under projected point total (per the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook): 106.5

Best-case scenario: Yzerman's meticulous roster building is rewarded with a Stanley Cup ... before half the defense and the "advisor" himself could be out the door.

Worst-case scenario: Tampa Bay dominates the regular season (yet again) and looks like a powerhouse entering the playoffs (yet again). And then they just fizzle, for no reason, and the talent exodus begins next summer.

Forward overview: Kucherov and Stamkos were one the NHL's most dominating duos, with a combined 186 points on the season. J.T. Miller joined their line after coming over from the Rangers and added a nice bit of north/south play. The Lightning were anything but a one-line team, getting significant contributions from Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat. A deep, talented group with elite players at the top. NHL rank: 1st

Defense overview: Hedman finally won his first Norris in a season that saw him score 63 points and play 25:51 per game. Then, at the deadline, the rich got richer: Ryan McDonagh, a top pairing defenseman for the Rangers, was added to a mix that already included the steady Anton Stralman, brilliant young Mikhail Sergachev, Brayden Coburn and McDonagh's former teammate Dan Girardi. The deepest 'D' corps in the East. NHL rank: 6th

Goalie overview: Take away one mediocre stretch late in the season, and Vasilevskiy might have won the Vezina in his first year as a starter. It was a proof-of-concept season for him as a starter, and there's room for improvement. Louis Domingue is the backup. NHL rank: 4th

Special teams: Powered by 15 power-play goals from Stamkos, the Lightning were third in the NHL on the power play at 23.9 percent. The penalty kill, however, needs improvement: They were 28th at 76.1 percent, and were 10th in the league in times shorthanded (268).

Pipeline overview: The lack of a true A-level prospect hurts the Lightning's ranking, but they have a series of players who could develop into role players. Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph have been developing well in the AHL, and both Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh still showcase some offensive upside. Cal Foote continues to trend in the right direction to play a more substantial role on the team's blue line in the future. Read more -- Chris Peters

Fantasy nugget: Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde caught the league by surprise last season with 68 and 64 points, respectively. This season, everyone knows the Bolts are deeper than the combination of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov on the top line. I'd take the under on matching their point totals for this coming season but not by a lot. This duo showed plenty of chemistry and consistency on the ice, and they get a huge boost to their standard-league value through plus/minus. Read more -- Sean Allen

Coach on the hot seat? Since taking over the Lightning in 2013, Jon Cooper is 243-143-40 with a 36-28 playoff record. He's already gotten them to one Stanley Cup Final, and they've come within a victory of reaching it again twice. One of the best.

Bold prediction: The Lightning make the Stanley Cup Final by defeating their conference finals opponent in six games.

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