Saturday, October 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning’s summer might already be over, and that’s okay

So here we are, right in the middle one of the most jittery offseasons in Lightning history.

Bet the boys can hardly sit still waiting for the start of next season. That's what happens when you come this close to getting to the Stanley Cup final. That's what happens when you've crossed everything off your to-do list except, "Win Stanley Cup.''

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In the meantime, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has been hard at work, re-signing defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller to deals that will keep them in Tampa Bay uniforms for years to come.

Still, it's what the Lightning has not done that has become the topic of the summer.

The Lightning did not sign John Tavares, even though it was in the running for hockey's hottest free agent. He's headed to Toronto.

The Lightning also has not traded for star defenseman Erik Karlsson, who appears on his way out of Ottawa. It's rumored that Tampa Bay is in the mix and it's possible the Lightning gets him. But it would probably take too much (Brayden Point for starters?) and eat up too much salary to land him.

And if that's the case then the rest of the summer could be pretty quiet in these parts. Other than replacing veteran fourth-liner Chris Kunitz and adding a little low-cost depth, the Lightning isn't going to do much else. Don't expect any big splashes.

Which begs some questions:

Is that okay? Will that be enough? Can the Lightning win the Cup with this team?

The answers, in exact order, are yes, yes and yes.

If the Lightning doesn't make another move this offseason it still is in great shape to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Not only next season, but seasons to come.

And that's important to remember, that this is a long-term strategy. Yzerman's goal has always been for the Lightning to get good and then stay good. He needs only to look at his old organization, the Red Wings, for the blueprint. Detroit made the playoffs every season from 1991 to 2016. Yzerman would love to start Tampa Bay off on a playoff run of 25 consecutive seasons.

For now, the Lightning is set up for a solid streak.

The team is still young. Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, McDonagh and Miller are signed long-term. The Lightning should have the adequate cap space to eventually sign Point, Nikita Kucherov, Mikhail Sergachev and, best of all, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for years to come. There are a bunch of promising kids coming, including former first-round pick Cal Foote, who will be a top-four defenseman some day.

Bottom line: this thing is setting up nicely. Now. Two years from now. Five years from now.

Now, that's no guarantee the Lightning will win the Stanley Cup. A Cup is really, really hard to win, as we've seen the past several years here in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning easily could have won three already with this current group. It literally was only a few goals away from doing just that.

But the fact remains that the Lightning has not won a Stanley Cup and every season that goes by turns the pressure up even more. And it won't be easy in the rugged Eastern Conference. The Caps are the defending champs. The Penguins and Bruins are still loaded. And the up-and-coming Leafs just got way better with the addition of Tavares.

The instinct for Tampa Bay might be to go all-in now. Maybe the Lightning could've thrown too much money at Tavares. Maybe it could give up too much to get Karlsson. And getting one or both of those players might have helped Tampa Bay's chances of winning the Cup next season, but it would have hurt the chances down the road.

Why leverage your future to win now when you already have a team that is ready to win now?

That appears to be Yzerman's thinking.

Yes, it was interested in Tavares, but only to a point. Yes, it is interested in Karlsson, but only at a certain price.

So the Lightning will move forward with pretty much what it already has.

And that is good enough.

Only one thing remains: getting to the start of next season already.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.

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