Five questions heading into Lightning training camp

Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) heads to the bench while on the ice with the team at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon on Tuesday. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) heads to the bench while on the ice with the team at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon on Tuesday. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published September 12 2018

TAMPA — Is this the season the Lightning wins the Stanley Cup? That's the burning question for the Lightning.

But there are others to answer first as the Lightning reports to training camp Thursday — 112 days since it was eliminated in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final by the eventual champion Capitals.

Who is in charge?

With Tuesday's stunning news that Steve Yzerman is stepping away from his duties as everyday general manager, is the Lightning a ship without a captain?

Not at all.

The Lightning's camp should be smooth sailing with new general manager Julien BriseBois and coach Jon Cooper running the show. The two men have loads of hockey experience and an excellent business relationship going back to the minor leagues.

"It was a rewarding experience," Cooper said about working for BriseBois in the minors. "He has spent eight fantastic years with Steve. Julien is a sponge and he learned from the best, and now he's going to get his chance to shine."

It needs to be noted just how heavily involved BriseBois has been in decision-making with the Lightning over the past few years. This isn't some outsider coming in and having to learn where the office vending machines and rest rooms are located. He knows the players and details of the organization as well as anyone.

For Cooper, this is his sixth training camp with Tampa Bay. He knows what he's doing.

There aren't any contract issues to deal with and, really, not many roster spots up for grabs.

All this isn't to say Yzerman won't be missed, but training camp isn't going to be impacted by new leadership.

Is everyone healthy?

Pretty much, with one exception.

Veteran forward Ryan Callahan had shoulder surgery in May and was initially expected to miss about five months. That time frame would keep him out the first month of the season with a possible return around the first of November.

But Callahan has been working out in Brandon with teammates and, just watching him skate and shoot, he doesn't appear to have any restrictions.

Now that doesn't necessarily change his return date. It's one thing to skate around with teammates in a practice setting. It's another to be taking and dishing out hard checks in the corners against opponents with bad intentions.

The Lightning certainly is going to be cautious with Callahan. Better to be safe than have him return too soon and end up missing more time than necessary. But, still, don't be surprised if Callahan is back before Nov. 1.

Is there a kid to keep an eye on?

Cal Foote,the first-round pick (14th overall) of the 2017 draft, is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenseman and the son of former NHL standout Adam Foote. Cal, who turns 20 in December, finished last season with a cup of coffee in the American Hockey League.

It's probably too much to ask that he makes a serious run at a roster spot with the Lightning. He might make his NHL debut at some point this season, but look for him to start the season in the AHL. That's because the defense is top-heavy. That leads to the next question.

How is the defense shaping up?

The Lightning's top four defensemen are among hockey's best. That includes Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman and Mikhail Sergachev, who is coming off a superb rookie season with the Lightning. Then there's Braydon Coburn, whose game seemed to improve during the playoffs last season, and Dan Girardi, the veteran who adjusted to fewer minutes than usual and still provided even better play than expected last season.

That means, disappointingly, young defensemen Slater Keoekkoek and Jake Dotchin are still looking to crack the lineup consistently. It was expected those two would be regular contributors by now. Both could use a really strong camp, but even then there might not be a regular spot for them. This is a huge camp for both.

Erik Karlsson?

Oh, one more defenseman to think about: Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. Is he going to be traded or what? There were rumors over the summer that he would be and that the Lightning was the favorite to get him. He's still in Ottawa. The Ottawa Sun reported this week that it still thinks Karlsson is going to be dealt, but it's going to take a mighty big package to get him.

The Lightning would love to get in on the Karlsson sweepstakes, but isn't going to give away too much (such as Brayden Point) to get him. But if Karlsson is, indeed, on the block, expect to hear Tampa Bay in the rumors.

That could be BriseBois' first big test as a GM.