It’s the house that Steve Yzerman and Julien BriseBois built.Blue and white walls line the interior, 27 Stanley Cup-winning jerseys hang in the closet, and Lord Stanley himself is the best kind of centerpiece on the dining room table.It’s a winning look from the inside out. And the breeze feels nice, too, coming through a wide-open window.But will it last?After taking home the Cup at the end of an unprecedented season, the Lightning’s opportunity to win was believed to be narrowing.Just days after the celebrations in Tampa, some of the team’s core players were the subject of trade rumors, the result of a tight $81.5 million cap. Three key players were set to become restricted free agents.With some smart decisions and a little luck, the Lightning managed to keep most of their championship team together and retained a young core (re-signing restricted free-agent center Anthony Cirelli and defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak), but they didn’t get under the salary cap.Tampa Bay was able to overspend but still become cap compliant by putting last season’s leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov (hip), on long-term injury reserve and acquiring dead contracts that also could be used to become cap compliant through the LTIR process.The Lightning found a way this year, but next year it won’t be as easy.For now, the Lightning’s Stanley Cup window — which has been wide open the past five seasons — can remain that way a bit longer. Which begs the questions: Can the Lightning repeat as champions? And how many more shots will this group get at the Cup?“Coming back here, it feels nice to be back with the group you just won (the Cup) with,” veteran forward Pat Maroon said, “because you know the faces, you know the group, you know the core.”Maroon, who won a Cup with the Blues in 2019, signed a one-year deal with the Lightning in free agency the following summer. After winning a second Cup this past season with the Lightning, he signed a two-year deal in the fall to return to Tampa Bay.Maroon is one of 20 returning players after the Lightning lost forwards Carter Verhaeghe and Cedric Paquette and defensemen Zach Bogosian, Braydon Coburn and Kevin Shattenkirk during the offseason.It’s no secret that Kucherov’s injury bailed the Lightning out of a difficult situation.“Make no mistake, we’d love to have Kuch on the ice. Obviously, (he’s) one of the best players in the world,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “But under the circumstances, he needed to do what he needed to do, and that allowed us some breathing room for guys to stay and hopefully still be a huge part of this team that we expect them to be.”The Lightning showed some foresight last season, knowing they would be in this situation. They traded center J.T. Miller to Vancouver during the 2019 draft.Before Kucherov’s injury, the Lightning tried to further mitigate the situation by finding a new home for veteran forward Tyler Johnson. While that didn’t happen, holding on to Johnson while remaining cap compliant doesn’t appear to be a long-term possibility, so the Spokane, Wash., native could be a candidate for Seattle in the expansion draft.The Lightning weren’t the only team strapped for cash this season. Ten of the 31 teams have $0 in projected cap space, per CapFriendly. On Friday, the Athletic ’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Anaheim had placed nine players on waivers, Colorado eight and Carolina seven.The Lightning are projected to be $3.5 million over the cap next season, which could stay at the current $81.5 million due to the lingering pandemic.Currently, the Lightning are locked into numerous long-term contracts. Five players (defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forwards Maroon, Johnson, Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat) have no trade clauses — one (forward Alex Killorn) has a modified no-trade clause — and another three (Stamkos, Kucherov and defenseman Victor Hedman) have no-move clauses.The big names — Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy — are locked up until at least 2024-25.The Lightning players who become unrestricted free agents this upcoming offseason — goaltender Curtis McElhinney, forwards Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow and defenseman Luke Schenn — are part of the team’s depth, contributing when the core isn’t performing to its capabilities.The first real core player who will enter unrestricted free agency will be Palat in 2022-23, when the winger will be 31 years old. Cirelli, Sergachev and Cernak are locked up until 2023-24, around the time they’ll be in their prime and looking for a bridge contract as restricted free agents.To see how quickly things can change, look no further than the Blackhawks.After winning three Cups in six years between 2010-15, Chicago has not advanced beyond the first round, twice missing the playoffs altogether.Like the Lightning, the Blackhawks’ sublime talent kept them in contention for years. But cap issues hit the team hard following the 2014-15 season.General manager Stan Bowman had to re-sign core players such as center Jonathan Toews, winger Patrick Kane, goaltender Corey Crawford, and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and those long-term deals limited their roster flexibility in coming years.While injuries and unexpected retirements also played a role, cap issues and the subsequent aging and regression of its core have taken the team out of contention. A once wide-open window is now latched shut.So far, savvy front-office moves — and the fortuitous timing of Kucherov’s injury — have allowed the Lightning to hold on to their talent and avoid a similar fate, to the consternation of their opponents.But that window won’t stay open forever.“It means a lot for us,” Hedman said. “We look at it as another chance to go win a championship.” Contact Mari Faiello at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow @faiello_mari.