The Tampa Bay Lightning's success as an offensive juggernaut has had other clubs trying to capture that same kind of success ever since they went all the way to the Cup Final in 2015. You can see that blueprint unfolding across the Eastern Conference.
That flare for goal-scoring only took them so far, however -- and we all know how last year turned out. This year's focus on bringing in steady veterans to complement the exciting core has paid off in the form of a Stanley Cup Final berth.
While former general manager Steve Yzerman's fingerprints are all over this team, current GM Julien BriseBois didn't simply inherit this club -- as assistant GM throughout Yzerman's tenure, he had a huge hand in every part of this roster. Now front and centre, we're about to find out if his adjustments over this past year will result in a Stanley Cup for a club who's been on the brink ever since that trip to the Final five years ago.
DRAFTED & DEVELOPED
Forwards Mathieu Joseph (2015, fourth round, 120th overall), Mitchell Stephens (2012, second round, 33rd overall), and Alexander Volkov (2017, second round, 48th overall) were brought into the bubble in a depth capacity role, but when you look at the team's top six (minus the sidelined Stamkos), none are first-rounders and all are a testament to the Lightning's ability to draft and develop strong talent. Most are products of Yzerman's draft board, but BriseBois should get plenty of credit here, too -- while he inherited this team when Yzerman resigned in September 2018, he was part of Yzerman's staff as assistant GM and oversaw the recruitment and development of so many of today's stars who came through the AHL's Syracuse Crunch.
Anthony Cirelli, Centre
Drafted: 2015, third round, 72nd overall
Cirelli, a success story for all other late bloomers to learn from, is yet another example of that mid-round draft success of Yzerman and the development chops of BriseBois. The RFA-to-be has got a nose for the net and is as clutch as they come.
Anthony Cirelli has scored:
- 2015 Memorial Cup overtime clinching goal
- 2017 OHL Championship overtime clinching goal
- 2020 Eastern Conference championship overtime clinching goal
—Lauren Kelly(@laurkelly24) September 18, 2020
Brayden Point, Centre
Drafted: 2014, third round, 79th overall
Looking at this roster, second- and third-round steals are this team's bread and butter. Just imagine being a GM today and seeing Point still on the board in Round 3...
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Goalie
Drafted: 2012, first round, 19th overall
It took him just two seasons after getting drafted to get his first taste of the NHL, and two more after that to take over the starter's job from former teammate -- and now opponent -- Ben Bishop.
Cedric Paquette, Centre
Drafted: 2012, fourth round, 101st overall
The fourth-round fourth-liner has been especially quiet this post-season. Feels like a contender for this year’s unlikely hero, no? It would seem fitting.
Nikita Kucherov, Right wing
Drafted: 2011, second round, 58th overall
Last year's Hart Trophy winner is a steal in the second round. That he's the No. 1 line's lowest draft pick is a testament to Yzerman's (and his scouting staff's) draft-season chops.
Ondrej Palat, Left wing
Drafted: 2011, seventh round, 208th overall
Three picks later, and he would’ve been that year’s Mr. Irrelevant. Put alongside Point and Kucherov on Tampa’s lethal top line, he’s anything but.
(Fun fact: With Steven Stamkos sidelined, there are no first-round picks in the Lightning’s top six.)
Victor Hedman, Defence
Drafted: 2009, first round, 2nd overall
Brian Lawton’s tenure at the helm of Tampa Bay was short, but fortuitous in that it brought the club its No. 1 rearguard in Hedman.
Here’s a neat storyline for this Cup Final: Before Rick Bowness joined Dallas as an assistant (and then interim head coach), he was part of Jon Cooper’s staff in Tampa Bay. There, Bowness oversaw the club’s defence – which of course included Hedman, who achieved career-high stats across the board in his first season under Bowness, and credits the longtime bench boss with being able to get his game to the next level.
Steven Stamkos, Centre
Drafted: 2008, first round, first overall
The captain is one of just two players on this roster, along with Alex Killorn, drafted by former GM Jay Feaster. Stamkos was Feaster’s parting gift to the franchise, as the longtime executive left his post on July 11, 2008 – just a few weeks after that year’s draft.
Including Hedman, he’s one of just three members of this year’s team not drafted by either Yzeman or BriseBois.
Alex Killorn, Left wing
Drafted: 2007, third round, 77th overall
He’s the longest-tenured Tampa teammate, as one of three players predating Yzerman and BriseBois’ time. His career is also a true testament to patience – six years passed between the forward getting the draft call and getting the call-up to the NHL, developing in the NCAA with Harvard and in the AHL under BriseBois’ guidance.
Last year’s first-round exit is what hockey nightmares are made of. This year’s trade targets -- Coleman and Goodrow -- show a focus on bringing in grit and depth. And while they weren't the flashiest of deals, the Lightning's place in the Stanley Cup Final shows they're key parts of the puzzle.
Blake Coleman, Centre/Right wing
Acquired: Feb. 2020, from Devils
This deal, which saw forward prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick in either 2020 or 2021 sent to New Jersey in return, looked good at the deadline as Coleman was a strong candidate to head to a contending club. The deal looks even better now that the Lightning have gotten all the way to the Stanley Cup Final with the help of the gritty, skilled, depth forward who's got another affordable year on his deal after this year.
Barclay Goodrow, Left wing
Acquired: Feb. 2020, from Sharks
Was it a bit surprising that Goodrow garnered a first-round pick? Yup. But if the depth forward can keep contributing en route to a Stanley Cup? Totally worth it.
Jan Rutta, Defence
Acquired: Jan. 2019, from Chicago
A depth piece on this roster, Rutta has appeared in just one game this post-season.
Ryan McDonagh, Defence
Acquired: Feb. 2018, from Rangers
Tampa Bay’s rental at the 2018 trade deadline gelled so well in his new Florida home, the former Rangers captain signed on long-term a few months later.
Carter Verhaeghe, Centre
Acquired: July 2017, from Islanders
Being traded from the Islanders to the Lightning in exchange for goalie Kristers Gudlevskis in 2017 was just one step in what has been a long journey to the NHL for the forward — a journey that took him from the ECHL to now the highest level of the NHL.
Mikhail Sergachev, Defence
Acquired: June 2017, from Canadiens
Trading an unhappy Jonathan Drouin for a recently-drafted defenceman full of potential feels like one of Yzerman’s biggest trade-floor wins from his days as GM.
Erik Cernak, Defence
Acquired: Feb. 2017, from Kings
The second-pairing rearguard was part of the return from L.A. when goaltender Bishop was rented out to the Kings at the deadline.
Braydon Coburn, Defence
Acquired: March 2015, from Philadelphia
Yzerman has been known for some strong trade market moves, but this one doesn’t look great in hindsight. Tampa paid a steep price for Coburn back in 2015, sending Radko Gudas and the Lightning’s first- and third-round picks to Philadelphia in exchange for the rearguard.
Picking up undersized, undrafted free agent forwards like Tyler Johnson (2011) and Yanni Gourde (2014) felt like Yzerman's calling card.
Signing veterans to short-term, risk-free, rebound contracts to complement the club's strong core might turn out to be that of BriseBois. Just like this year's trade targets, BriseBois' savvy, short-term deals to bring in veterans searching for a rebound have yielded strong results.
Zach Bogosian, Defence
Signed: Feb. 24, 2020 (one year, $1.3M)
A smart veteran signing after having his contract terminated by Buffalo, Bogosian’s strong play with Tampa Bay – his first playoff experience, no less – looks really good right now.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Defence
Signed: Aug. 2019 (one year, $1.75M)
Three years ago, Shattenkirk landed in New York on a four-year deal worth $6.65 million per season as one of the top UFAs on the market. After being bought out last August, Tampa Bay picked him up on a smart, mutually beneficial pact that has revived his career and paid off for the Lightning, too.
Pat Maroon, Left wing
Signed: Aug. 2019 (1 year, $900,000)
The big power forward and hometown hero with last year's Blues is proof that every teams needs a little old-school on the roster.
Curtis McElhinney, Goalie
Signed: July 1, 2019 (two years, $2.6M)
He was one of the best stories out of Carolina’s Cinderella run in last year’s playoffs, and a strong insurance policy with Tampa this time around. Money well spent.
Scott Wedgewood, Goalie
Signed: July 1, 2019 (one year, 700,000)
The affordable depth option hasn't played since signing with the club, but as we learn (and re-learn every playoffs), you can never have too much insurance in net.
Luke Schenn, Defence
Signed: July 1, 2019 (one year, $700,000)
Schenn is another example of players being picked up by Tampa Bay on low-cost, risk-free deals aimed at setting players up for a career revival. One of the first-round picks on this club (taken fifth overall by Toronto in 2008), Schenn is now an affordable depth forward with the Lightning and a complementary piece to this fast group.