After having their three-peat dream ended by the Colorado Avalanche last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning vowed to strike back in 2022/23.
The Lightning will have revenge on their minds and they are +1000 to re-claim the Stanley Cup from their conquerors.
|What||NHL Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||7th October 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||ESPN+, Star+, NHL.TV & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100
The Lightning became just the eighth franchise in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup back-to-back in 2020 and 2021 but ultimately fell short of becoming the first team since the New York Islanders in 1980-83 to do it three times with a six-game defeat to the Avalanche.
Coach Jon Cooper revealed an extensive list of injuries to his side after the Finals defeat, including to stars Brayden Point (quad tear) and Nikita Kucherov (MCL sprain), saying what they were willing to sacrifice was "mind-boggling" in the pursuit of that three-peat.
That commitment to success is what drove Cooper's men to 11 straight playoff series victories and immediately following the Final defeat, Captain Steven Stamkos stated their intent on immediately winning back the crown.
Led by 32-year-old Stamkos, the Lightning core have been clear in their message that they aren't satisfied with the success that they have already enjoyed together.
This includes forwards Kucherov and Point, plus Anthony Cirelli, defenceman Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev and star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
All have played a major role in the Lightning's recent success, not least with Point leading the playoffs for goals in 2020 and 21, and Kucherov for points. Hedman won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the post-season in 2020 and Vasilevskiy in 2021.
Before losing the record in the Eastern Conference Final, Vasilevskiy and the Lightning were an incredible 18-0 following a loss in the playoffs since 2020. In those games, the 28-year-old had a draw-dropping .942 save-percentage and 1.47 goals-against-average and five shut-outs.
In order to re-sign Sergachev, Cirellin and dependable blue-liner Erik Cernak to new long-term contracts and stay within the NHL salary cap, the Lightning were forced to say goodbye to two stalwarts from their cup-winning teams, forward Ondrej Palat and defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
Palat, who holds the Lightning record for most game-winning goals in the playoffs (12) signed as a free-agent with the New Jersey Devils and McDonagh, who was second on the Lightning in average ice time during the playoffs (22.26) was traded to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Philippe Myers and forward prospect Grant Mismash.
The Lightning also lost defenceman Jan Rutta, who signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins meaning additional responsibility and opportunity for 24-year-old Sergachev to establish himself in Tampa Bay's top-four.
31-year-old Palat led the Lightning with 11 goals in the playoffs last season. In the regular season he had 18 goals, 31 assists for 49 points in 77 games and his void will hope to be filled by 29-year-old Vladislav Namestnikov, signed to a one-year deal from Dallas Stars.
Namestnikov was a first-round (27th overall pick) of the Lightning in 2011, playing with them from 2013 to 2018 before being traded.
He returns on the back of a 30-point season (16 goals, 14 assists) in 75 games with the Detroit Red Wings and Stars.
The Lightning also expect big things from forward pair Brandon Hagel and Nicholas Paul, each acquired before the NHL Trade Deadline last season, and now signed to long-term deals.
Hagel had seven points (four goals, three assists) in 22 regular season games for Tampa Bay after being acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks and six points (two goals, four assists) in 23 playoff games.
He had 21 goals in 55 games with the Blackhawks before the trade, scoring form which the Lightning expect him to be able to replicate.
Paul scored 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 21 regular season games after being acquired from Ottawa Senators and nine points (five goals, four assists) in 23 playoff games.
That included both goals in a 2-1 Game 7 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round and two goals in the Stanley Cup Final series.
The salary cap has hurt the strength of the Lightning, losing several key championship pieces over the past two off-seasons.
However, General Manager Julien BriseBois has proven his ability to replenish the depth adequately, replacing Black Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Yanni Gourde with Paul, Hagel and Corey Perry last season and now he must hope Namestnikov can fill the huge hole left by Palat.
However, with a proven core committed to having further success together, as long as the Lightning can stay healthy, BriseBois will be confident that the Lightning can challenge for several more years yet.