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The Lightning lineup: an early-August theory

The NHL season starts in two months. What might Tampa Bay’s lineup look like when it gets here?
A month out from the start of training camp, what might the Lightning's lineup look like? DIRK SHADD   |   Times
A month out from the start of training camp, what might the Lightning's lineup look like? DIRK SHADD | Times
Published Aug. 8, 2019
Updated Aug. 9, 2019

TAMPA — Putting together a lineup is like doing a jigsaw puzzle, except it’s a puzzle in which the pieces are in flux and there are multiple solutions.

The Lightning don’t often overhaul their lineup, but they make many little changes throughout a season. Early August is too early to determine a depth chart for this season, and offseason theories about it will change. But we can put together a lineup.

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The front end

Tampa Bay’s 23-man roster right now doesn’t look too different at forward from last season. Ryan Callahan (back disease) and J.T. Miller (trade) are gone, but the former was in and out of the lineup last season. The Lightning hasn’t signed an NHL forward since free agency began.

They haven’t re-signed restricted free agents Brayden Point and Adam Erne yet, but those contracts will likely be in place by the time training camp begins in September (prospects camp starts Sept. 6; the first preseason game is Sept. 17).

The Lightning have resisted the temptation to rush prospects, a mistake other teams have made.

Carter Verhaeghe, 24, re-signed on a one-year, two-way contract in July. After two years of leading AHL Syracuse in points per game, he has earned a chance to make the Lightning roster. He could make it out of camp, like Mathieu Joseph did a year ago. Verhaeghe must clear waivers if the Lightning don’t think he’s ready and send him to Syracuse. His offensive talent could tempt a team with less depth.

Cory Conacher, 29, was buried in the AHL last year and has never played a full season in the NHL. Bouncing back and forth has meant little consistency for Conacher. With a season spent mostly with Syracuse last year, he trailed only Verhaeghe in assists with the Crunch.

Danick Martel spent most of last season with the Lightning after being claimed on waivers in September but played only nine games. Coach Jon Cooper praised Martel when he did play, particularly the energy he brought to the fourth line.

The departures of Callahan and Miller leave two spots open, but if the Lightning carry eight defensemen, that could leave Conacher, Verhaeghe and Martel battling for one spot.

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The blue line

The Lightning have a log jam among defensemen. Unrestricted free agents Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman won’t be back. Tampa Bay has brought in Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Schenn in free agency, and re-signed Jan Rutta and Braydon Coburn.

Given the four core defensemen returning — Erik Cernak, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev — that gives the Lightning eight NHL defensemen. They also re-signed Dominik Masin, who must clear waivers to return to the AHL.

General manager Julien BriseBois wouldn’t mind carrying eight defensemen, but that would mean only one forward scratch; most teams like to have two.

Cernak, Hedman, McDonagh and Sergachev aren’t going anywhere. Their pairings could change, but that’s the likely Lightning top four. Coburn and Shattenkirk also will be in the NHL.

Schenn and Rutta could compete for the No. 7 role if the Lightning don’t want to keep eight. Schenn is a veteran who has played for five teams in the past four seasons and spent time in the AHL last season while with the Ducks and Canucks. Rutta joined the Lightning midway through the 2018-19 season after playing in 23 games for the Blackhawks. He saw action in 14 games with Tampa Bay and played in all four Lightning playoff games.

Contact Lightning beat writer Diana C. Nearhos at and follow @dianacnearhos.


  1. Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) gets beaten by a shot from Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov (86) as Lightning's Steven Stamkos (91) looks on during first-period NHL hockey game action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. [JOHN WOODS  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay pours on the goals with seven total, including two from Nikita Kucherov.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn (2) celebrates his goal, the first of the game, along with right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) and center Tyler Johnson (9) beating New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) during first period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Tampa Bay also reassigned Alex Volkov to AHL Syracuse as Pat Maroon returned to the lineup.
  3. Minnesota Wild's Zach Parise (11) tries to control the puck the puck against Tampa Bay Lightning's Jan Rutta (44) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay falls off a recent trend of strong defense and lets Minnesota dictate the game.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper watches from the bench as his team plays against the Minnesota Wild during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN  |  AP]
    Even if the play is erased by an earlier offsides, the penalty still must be served.
  5. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) in the tunnel before heading out to the ice for warms ups before taking on the New York Rangers at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Tampa.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Playing in Minnesota is special for McDonagh, who grew up 12 miles from St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
  6. Canada's Geneviève Lacasse (31) blocks a shot by United States' Kendall Coyne Schofield (26) during the third period of a rivalry series women's hockey game in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) [MICHAEL DWYER  |  AP]
    Teams representing the United States and Canada will play a 3-on-3 scrimmage as part of the festivities in St. Louis next week.
  7. TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 14: (Editor's Note: Image was digitally altered)  The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Los Angeles Kings fathers, brothers and mentors during the Kings' annual team trip at Amalie Arena on January 14, 2020 in Tampa. (Photo by Casey Brooke Lawson/NHLI via Getty Images) [CASEY BROOKE LAWSON  |  NHLI via Getty Images]
    The Kings are the latest team to bring their annual trip to Tampa. The Capitals and Senators have also done so this year.
  8. Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Alexander Volkov (92) before Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Kings. [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
    Also, Kings’ Jonathan Quick takes a Steven Stamkos one-timer up high.
  9. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) on the ice against the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 7. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Journal: Plus the perfect kill ended, celebrating Gasparilla early, a four-on-four overtime.
  10. Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrates his goal along with defenseman Victor Hedman (77) after beating Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) to tie the score at 3. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Tampa Bay gives up the first two goals, responds with two more all within seven minutes.