And there it is. Amidst swirling NHL trade rumors which have engulfed most of the league, the NHL did something that many skeptics said was impossible. The NHL playoffs were completed without a single positive test, and the Stanley Cup was not only awarded, but it was a celebrated tournament full of emotion and heroic performances. For everyone who Tweeted that it couldn’t be done, and everyone who angrily reacted that it wasn’t worth it, last night was a crowning achievement. The Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup champions. Finally.
And as one of a few U.S. journalists allowed into the country to cover the Toronto games, I can say first hand that it was a tightly controlled, well-oiled machine. The setup was extraordinary.
Five years after Tampa Bay arrived on the national scene as the upstart kids and took to the mat the grizzled veteran Chicago Blackhawks, who were in their third Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning’s stage was set for a long run of Stanley Cup success.
I’m going to detail the Lightning’s cap management, as today’s Dan’s Daily is more of a blog, but first, all of the other hockey news and NHL trade rumor stuff you come for:
NHL Rumors, Chatter, and Penguins Trade Talk
Potential Pittsburgh Penguins trade chatter: The Ottawa Senators are indeed goalie shopping. BUT… they don’t necessarily want their next starting goalie to hang around forever. They have a lot of options, including Penguins goalie Matt Murray, though that could cost one of their first-round picks. (Ottawa Sun)
Here’s one the NHL trade rumors missed: The Vegas Golden Knights acquired Dylan Sikura for Brandon Pirri (Vegas Hockey Now)
What will the Pittsburgh Penguins lines look like next season? Where will Jake Guentzel play, and what about Jack Johnson? We have a pretty good idea… for now (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)
And in case you missed the weekend analysis. Here are the two Penguins who must step forward to fill Patric Hornqvist’s role (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)
Detroit Red Wings GM Stever Yzerman confirmed Trevor Daley would not be back with Detroit. (MLive)
Yes, I had the same thought as you, but the Penguins have no room at the Inn, for now.
Now, back to the Stanley Cup Champions.
The fates derailed what could have been years of dominance, as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals stole the Lightning’s thunder (full pun intended). However, Tampa Bay stayed relevant with deft salary cap management, drafting, and player development. They won without overhauls in the salary cap era.
In a way, it was very much like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who don’t make big splashes often. Tampa Bay didn’t give up their future to win now.
Before Tampa Bay could get back to the Stanley Cup Final, the Penguins found the fountain of youth. And the Washington Capitals slew the dragon of playoff failure and the dragon of the Penguins, which seemed to send them home every spring.
Tampa Bay was within a goal of going to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, but couldn’t escape the Penguins suffocating forecheck pressure. In 2017, the Lightning assumed the regular season was merely a prelude but fell asleep and missed the playoffs.
In 2018, the uber-talented sunbelt dwellers lost to Washington in their second Eastern Conference Final. For Tampa Bay, it was also another Game 7, ECF loss. In 2019, Tampa Bay stormed the NHL, won the President’s Trophy, but was hastily bounced from the playoffs via a four-game sweep by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
I say hello, and you say goodbye. So much promise was gone in a week.
But Tampa Bay staid the course.
There wasn’t a blowup or retool. They kept adding good players on the cheap and adding young players in shrewd trades.
Kevin Shattenkirk signed in Tampa Bay for less than $2 million after New York bought out his $7 million AAV deal. Tampa Bay also added to the blueline anchored by Victor Hedman on Feb. 26, 2018. Tampa Bay acquired Ryan McDonagh with J. T. Miller for Libor Hájek, Brett Howden, Vladislav Namestnikov, a first-round pick the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (Nils Lundkvist), and a conditional second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
That was a huge trade win for the Lightning, and McDonagh is still a fixture for Tampa Bay. Remember the Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin trade that followed the Drouin soap opera in Tampa Bay? Even third-pairing defenseman Erik Cernak was a prospect who the Lightning acquired when they dumped pending UFA Ben Bishop to LA a few years ago.
From GM Steve Yzerman, who did a masterful job building the team beginning in 2010, and with new GM Julien BriseBois, the organization has stealthily guided the team.
The Lightning has homegrown talent who weren’t top-five draft picks. They surrounded top end picks like Steve Stamkos (1st overall, 2008) and Victor Hedman (2nd overall, 2009) with developed top-end talent:
- Brayden Point was a third-round pick in 2014.
- Ondrej Palat was seventh-rounder in 2008.
- Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov was a second-round pick in 2011.
- Yanni Gourde was an undrafted free agent in 2016.
- Alex Killorn was a third-round pick in 2007.
- Tyler Johnson was an undrafted free agent in 2011.
- Anthony Cirelli became a Bolt in Round 3, 2015.
Tampa Bay has also kept their first-round pick more often than not. The Lightning had top picks in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2019. Andrei Vasilevskiy was the 2012 first-round pick (19th overall).
That is the most shocking thing to me. Tampa kept adding talent without flinging their first round picks like diner service. But the deeper picks put Tampa Bay over the top.
Like everyone else, BriseBois and the Lightning will be in salary cap hell. They have about $5 million to re-sign too many players, including integral cogs Sergachev, Cirelli, Cernak, and Shattenkirk. Their salary cap brilliance will probably come to an end. The flat cap and the lack of playoff revenues for the last two seasons could land the Lightning on the long list of teams with an internal cap below the actual salary cap, too.
But oh, what a treat it was. The NHL did it. The Tampa Bay Lightning finally did it.