The Tampa Bay Lightning joined a very exclusive club this season, becoming only the second team to become back-to-back champions in the salary cap era. Now, just as the Pittsburgh Penguins did in 2017/18, the Bolts will be aiming to achieve an unprecedented three-peat.
The Lightning feature superstars all over their lines, from arguably the best elite-tier defenseman in the league to a collection of high-powered forwards. Best of all, the core members of the team are 31 years old or younger, with captain Steven Stamkos being the oldest.
As should perhaps be expected from back-to-back champions, several of Tampa Bay’s best players are already being looked at as likely winners of the league’s most prestigious prizes in 2022.
Bolts among the Top Picks for the Cup and Vezina
Ever since choking in the 2018/19 postseason, despite putting up an immaculate regular season, the Lightning has remained primed for Stanley Cup glory. Yet, coming into each of the last two seasons, Tampa Bay has either been a joint-favorite or, more often, second-favorite to the Colorado Avalanche.
Quite possibly proving to be a good sign these days, those betting from Space Casino, for example, will find that the Lightning is, once again, rated second to the Avs at +700, with Colorado ahead at +600. Being given a better chance of landing the top spot among their peers, however, is Andrei Vasilevskiy in the Vezina Trophy odds.
The first goaltender to be given the Conn Smythe Trophy since Jonathan Quick in 2012 is now looked to as the favorite to take the award for the league’s top netminder. Somewhat ironically, Vasilevskiy won the award for his efforts in the crumbled 2018/19 season and has missed out in the two Cup-winning campaigns since.
Hart and James Norris Are Also in Lightning Crosshairs
One of the reasons why the Lightning was nudged back in the Stanley Cup rankings prior to last season was because of the absence of Nikita Kucherov. The Russian sniper has been pivotal to the team’s dominance but, as the Toronto Sun details, he missed the regular season following hip surgery.
Kucherov certainly made up for any lost time, leading the team with eight goals and 32 points in the postseason – some of which came while he played through a non-displaced rib fracture. Like Vasilevskiy, Kucherov claimed the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2018/19 but has been kept out by the Edmonton Oilers’ superstars since.
If one player can be looked to as the team’s rock – and perhaps the shining example of what’s needed for a very good team to become an elite team – it’d be Victor Hedman. The towering Swedish defenseman is mobile, a great puck-mover, physical, and often contributes to the scoring.
In terms of season awards, Hedman hit the peak in 2017/18, landing the James Norris Memorial Trophy. Since then, Mark Giordano, Roman Josi, and Adam Fox have claimed the prize. Still, reporting from Tampa Bay Times indicates that he’s been a finalist for five straight seasons. Should he avoid injury, it’s almost inevitable that he’ll make it six-in-a-row, being a top contender alongside the favored Cale Makar or Adam Fox.
Despite being one of the hardest hit by the Seattle Kraken’s expansion picks, losing Yanni Gourde to the draft, this Bolts roster is still incredibly strong. So, its stars and the team should be aiming for the biggest prizes in 2021/22.