Lets talk Lightning hockey. It has been a wild ride as of late for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Back to back Conference Finals, a run at the Stanley Cup, a young new coach getting a lot of attention around the league, rookies producing on every level and yet now they find themselves barely in the playoff picture. The 2016-17 season has not been kind to the Lightning. In the off season they signed Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to a huge 8 year deal. It took a while but they finally signed Nikita Kucherov to a 3-year bridge deal. They had their goal tending in place with Ben Bishop and a solid back up in Andrei Vasilevskiy. They went into the season red hot and ready to strike.
The start of the season went well for Tampa. They looked like the team that just made back to back appearances in the Conference Finals. Then the wheels started to come off. On November 15th they lost Stamkos, again, to a leg injury and they do not expect him to return until mid-March. Then they started a revolving door of players from their AHL Affiliate in Syracuse to fill numerous holes created by injury. The injury bug has not been kind to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The latest victim, and possibly the biggest issue, Ben Bishop.
Going into this season, with the expansion draft looming next off season, the biggest question was what will the Lightning do with Ben Bishop? Bishop is a unrestricted free agent come the end of the season. Tampa has a goalie waiting in the wings in Andrei Vasilevskiy. Would Tampa trade Bishop and protect Vassy from the expansion draft? Or would they look to keep Bishop long term potentially taking salary cap space away from one of their younger players? These questions had yet to be answered when Bishop went down with an injury that would see him miss 4-6 weeks. But the answer is clear. The Tampa Bay Lightning cannot give up Ben Bishop. Since coming in to the game for the injured Bishop against Detroit on Dec 21, 2016 Andrei Vasilevskiy has a record of 4-6 with 35 goals against, 22 of which have come in his last 4 starts. He has given up 6 goals in 3 of his last 4 starts. Now, this may be due to a lack of playing or maybe it is because he just is not a number goalie in the NHL. Time will tell.
This recent surge of goals against in not just the goalies fault. The Tampa defense has been awful at best. It clearly needs an upgrade and soon.
The next big problem is the upcoming expansion draft. Tamp has said they are going to go with the classic 7-3-1 protection format (7 forwards 3 defensemen and 1 goalie). Their plan will rely heavily on the decisions of Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula. The Bolts have four players on a list of 66 guys who must be protected in the expansion draft (unless the players agree to waive them) as per the memo that the league sent to all 31 teams in November: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan.
So with Stamkos, Filppula and Callahan seeming already protected, these leaves only 4 spots remaining for them to protect Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin, Vladislav Namestnikov and J.T. Brown, among others, (Rookie Brayden Point is exempt.) They have too many forwards to protect.
If I were the Lightening this is how I would map the protection
Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Johnson
Victor Hedman, Braydon Coburn, and Andrej Sustr
With the March 1st Trade Deadline the Lightning need to do something to bolster their blue line and need to make a decision on the goaltending.