Once again the best time of year has rolled around, the NHL season is starting and the defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning look to make a run to defend their title. This season looks a bit different and will feel different from past seasons, but the NHL has done a marvelous job finding safe ways to play the greatest game on earth while we continue through the covid 19 pandemic.
Things are a tad different. The Bolts are in a brand-new division with some familiar faces like in-state rivals Florida Panthers while others like their Stanley Cup opponent Dallas Stars are new regulars that should produce some excellent games.
Tampa Bay will play the Panthers, Stars, Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and the Columbus Blue Jackets eight times each this season. All 56 Regular season games will be inner division only as a way to limit exposure border travel and exposure to the coronavirus.
Tampa as well as all teams will have to adjust to changes. As we saw during football season games will be postponed and rescheduled undoubtedly making things difficult for the players to keep momentum in a season where teams can’t afford to have losing streaks. While in years past losing 8 of 10 games during part of the season wasn’t necessarily a death sentence it will be this season with only 56 games to play. Every win is that much more important. Teams that are able to adjust and keep themselves grounded will succeed more than a stacked team thrown off by the turbulent changes of the pandemic. The Bolts are already feeling the effects as the first two games after opening night against the 2020 Stanley Cup foes Dallas Stars originally scheduled for january 17th and january 19th have been postponed due to an outbreak of covid-19 within the Stars organization.
The Lightning are set to kick off their season against the Chicago Blackhawks January 13th at 8pm. Due to the announcement released january 9th by amalie arena that they would not be allowing fans in, a change from the initial limited attendance around 4000 fans, at the time of writing this article, the team has not decided if they will raise their championship banner tonight or wait for a time where fans could experience it. The show goes on, the game will be played as scheduled. The defending Champions are gonna be missing a few familiar faces. Nikita Kucherov was placed on long term IR and will miss the entire regular season with hip surgery. Long time stays Cedric Pauggette and Brayden Coburn were shipped out to Ottawa and Kevin Shattinkirk and Zach Bogosian signed with Anaheim and Toronto respectively. But aside from those losses the championship teams remain largely intact. Lightning GM Julien Briseboys made some brilliant moves allowing the bolts to keep Tyler Johnson and also sign rising stars Brayden Point, Mikahel Sergachev and Anythony cirelli. The Lightning also retained depth skill players like Pat Maroon, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow.
Tampa looks to be the third team since 1990 to repeat Stanley Cup titles after Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991-1992 & 2016-2017 and the Detroit red wings in 1997-1998. The team is perhaps the toughest mentally after enduring the bubble life, isolated from family, staying in the fight for 3 months to win the greatest trophy in sports. They are still a very deep team. Having plenty of offensive weapons, solid defense, solid goaltending and keeping the gritty toughness that was lacking in their 2019 sweep to the Columbus Blue Jackets and 2018 conference final loss to the Washington Capitals. They also have veteran presences like Ryan McDonagh to help the younger players adjust to the NHL style of play. Depth and mental toughness win titles. Tampa Bay has both in spades. While Kucherov is out for the season, Captain Steven Stamkos makes his much anticipated return from injury. It’s important to note that Kucherov will be eligible to return from long term IR for the playoffs.. Tampa Bay will look to shock the league once again in this unique season.