Tampa Bay Lightning will head into the 2020/21 NHL season with a target on their backs having won the Stanley Cup last time around.
Lightning’s 2-0 victory over Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the finals ended a frustrating wait to win ice hockey’s greatest prize.
They had been widely rated as one of the best teams in the league over the past few years but had been unable to get the job done in the play-offs.
Lightning are one of the favorites by 888 sports betting provider to retain the Stanley Cup, but history suggests they may find it difficult to achieve the feat. We assess whether they can go back-to-back.
Victory Disproves ‘Chokers’ Theory
Tampa Bay’s success this season was the perfect response to the critics who branded them as chokers after being swept 4-0 by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 play-offs.
Lightning were the first winners of the President’s Trophy (awarded to the team with the best regular-season record) to exit the post-season in this manner.
They had the previous form for bottling it on the biggest stage, most notably when they lost three consecutive games to the Chicago Blackhawks after going 2-1 up in the 2014/15 finals.
Blowing 3-2 leads in the Eastern Conference finals in 2016 and 2018 were other black marks against the team, but they finally gained redemption in 2020.
History Against Tampa Bay
It is often said that retaining a championship is more challenging than winning it in the first place and that is certainly the case where the NHL is concerned.
Since the Stanley Cup was dedicated to the NHL’s top team for the 1926/27 season, only seven franchises have successfully defended their title.
Back-to-back wins have proved hard to come by during the 21st century, with only the Pittsburgh Penguins achieving the feat in 2016 and 2017.
Detroit Red Wings were the last team before the Penguins to go back-to-back (1997 & 1998), highlighting the difficulty of the task faced by Tampa Bay next season.
Salary Cap Makes Things Difficult
Although Lightning will head into the new season with almost all of their key players signed to long-term deals, their current salary cap status will make it difficult to add quality to their roster.
Lightning sit just $2.895 million below the NHL’s wage cap and currently have only 18 players under contract for the upcoming campaign.
They also have to resolve the future of two of the most talented restricted free agents to contend with – Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli.
Their attempt to get Tyler Johnson off the wage bill through waivers fell flat and leaves Lightning with a major conundrum to resolve ahead of the new season.
Core Players Give Lightning a Chance
In order for Lightning to strengthen their roster, a good player will need to be sacrificed, but the individual must not be one of their core unit.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman are irreplaceable right now, and their presence gives Lightning the chance to retain the title.
In some respects, they have the same characteristics as the core players that helped the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cups between 2010 and 2015.
If Lightning can retain the services of its key players, they will be a strong contender when the play-offs come around.
Western Conference Gearing Up to Challenge
The Western Conference has found success difficult to come by in recent times, with St Louis Blues the only team to break the Eastern dominance in the last five seasons.
Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche are amongst the bookies’ favourites to challenge for the title, and both teams should be firmly in the mix.
The Knights have made it to either the Conference final or Stanley Cup final in two of their first three seasons, so know what it takes to put themselves into contention.
Many pundits are tipping Avalanche for success in 2021, and if net minders Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer avoid injury they will be dangerous.
Dangers Abound in the Eastern Conference
Lightning’s hopes of retaining the Stanley Cup are complicated even further by the strength of the opposition in the Eastern Conference.
Boston Bruins are sure to be highly competitive, but Tampa Bay’s biggest threat may come from the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals won the Cup two years ago and finished last season just two points behind the Lightning in the standings with one fewer game played.
Alexander Ovechkin will undoubtedly be eager to add another Stanley Cup to his CV, and they may emerge as the main rivals to Lightning.
Tampa Bay Lightning 2020/21 Season Prediction: With a strong core unit, Lightning will fancy their chances of retaining the Stanley Cup. However, history is firmly against them and they likely to come up short in their quest.