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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
Published Aug. 8
Updated Aug. 9

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. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) waits his turn during drills on the first day on the ice at the beginning of training camp at the Ice Sports Forum. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Tampa Bay doesn’t have many roster spots available, but the positions within the lineup are still taking shape.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jimmy Huntington (47) takes a bite out of his stick blade while taking with goaltending coach Frantz Jean on the first day on the ice at the beginning of training camp. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Tampa Bay has had success with undrafted players like Tyler Johnson and Alex Barre-Boulet.
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning's Cory Conacher (89) looks to pass the puck with Carolina Hurricanes' Clark Bishop (64) reaching in during the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game, in Raleigh, N.C, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. KARL B DEBLAKER  |  AP
    Tampa Bay falls into the same penalty trap as first game: way too many. Preseason isn’t off to an ideal start.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning players on the first day on the ice at the beginning of training camp at the Ice Sports Forum on September 13, 2019 in Brandon, FL. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Tampa Bay’s training camp roster is reduced by six.
  5. Cal Foote (left) and his brother Nolan will play for the Lightning in a preseason game tonight. It's a moment they've long anticipated. Tampa Bay Times
    The brothers will play together as Nolan gets his first preseason game on Wednesday.
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) looks for an open teammate during the first day of HL hockey training camp Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, in Brandon, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP
    Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Schenn will make their Lightning debuts against Carolina on Wednesday night.
  7. Tampa Bay Lightning center Mitchell Stephens (67) defends against Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce (22) who challenges in the Tampa Bay zone during the first period of the preseason game on Tuesday, September 17, 2019, between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes at Amalie Arena in Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    There were flashes of promise, like good play from Mitchell Stephens, but not a great showing for Tampa Bay
  8. Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper gives direction during drills on the first day on the ice at the beginning of training camp. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    In the first four games of the preseason, Lightning coach Jon Cooper wants to see how prospects have developed.
  9. At 23 years old, Tampa Bay forward Brayden Point already has 91 career NHL goals, including 41 last season. Now that his entry level contract has expired, Point is looking for a big payday but the Lightning has salary cap issues. CHRIS O'MEARA | AP Photo CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP
    John Romano: History says restricted free agents almost always stay put, and there’s too much at stake for Tampa Bay to allow this impasse to go on.
  10. The Tampa Bay Lightning has tapped Cigar City Brewing to bring its Jai Alai, Guayabera, and Florida Cracker beers to Amalie Arena as the team’s official craft beer partner. (Photo via Tampa Bay Lightning) Tampa Bay Lightning
    Cigar City also will move its popular annual Hunahpu’s Beer Festival to Amalie Arena starting next March.