A season after making the Stanley Cup finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning put up a valiant effort in their attempt to return. Unfortunately, they ran into the buzzsaw that was the Pittsburgh Penguins and fell in the Conference Finals. Nevertheless, I think that last season was a rousing success for them. They didn’t have Steven Stamkos throughout the playoffs due to a blood clot and now they have him locked up for 8 more seasons at a very good price. The emergence of Jonathan Drouin following a holdout also brings optimism for a return to the Cup finals. They still have some work to do figuring out parts of the roster but they’re positioned to be a contender for years to come. As expected with a contender, there are plenty of fantasy options to choose from so let’s take a look!
Going into the offseason, this looks like a situation that Steve Yzerman would solve but it’s been over a month and it’s as cloudy as ever. Ben Bishop finished as the #1 overall player last season with a 2.06 GAA, .926 sv% and 35 wins. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a top 20 player (my #2 overall goalie) if he stays in Tampa Bay for next season. The problem is that Bishop has one year remaining on his contract and the rumors are that he wants a 7 year deal that pays 7 million annually. It’s completely deserved but it would be difficult for Tampa to fit his salary under the cap. Also, because of the Vegas expansion draft next year, a trade of Andrei Vasilevskiy or Bishop was expected with the Lightning leaning towards Bishop for the financial savings plus the age factor. For now, we must proceed like Bishop is going to be in Tampa for this season in redrafts. Most of the goaltending needy teams have already made a move at this point in the offseason. If Bishop goes to say, Dallas, his ranking won’t be affected. If he went to Arizona, his value would drop immensely for this year.
If I draft Bishop early, I would be sure to handcuff him with Vasilevskiy. One, if Bishop is traded, Vasilevskiy should be a #1 fantasy goalie behind one of the best teams in the NHL. Two, Vasilevskiy will get 20+ games since the Lightning will want to make sure he can be their goalie of the future; you won’t want to miss a start from a Tampa goalie this season. Three, there’s the chance that Tampa flip flops and trades Vasilevskiy somewhere to be a starter. I absolutely love drafting Vasilevskiy in dynasties this season because there’s a guarantee he’s starting somewhere in 2017-18.
It was a rough start to the season for the Lightning’s kingpin Victor Hedman. Despite that start, Hedman finished as the #11 overall defenseman tallying 10+37 in 78 games with a +21 rating, 46 PIM, 12 STP and 180 shots. He attempted far more shots last year than he had in years past which is a great sign. Hedman is about to enter his prime and with a boost in power play points, he carries 60 point potential. He’ll be ranked right around the top 10 for defensemen easily putting him in the top 100 overall.
Hedman’s partner, Anton Stralman, is one of the most glaring cases of being a stud in real life but not having it translate to fantasy. He’s been consistent in Tampa Bay scoring in the mid to high 30’s in points with a strong plus-minus. However, he’s under 2 shots per game (by a decent margin), the penalty minutes aren’t there and his role on the power play is in question. For RCL’s, you could make as a case for Stralman to be your 5th defensemen although I’d rather take a shot on somebody with more upside. He’s better fit to pick up as an injury replacement because you know what you’re getting.
Besides the first pair, there isn’t much to choose from here. Jason Garrison used to be a strong fantasy option but his role has drastically changed in Tampa. There could be a bounceback with PP2 time so keep him on your radar but with only 11 points last season, look elsewhere in your drafts. Andrej Sustr, Braydon Coburn and Nikita Nesterov are all irrelevant outside of the deepest of leagues. If I’m taking a flier on one in a deep league, it’s Nesterov because of his age, potential PP2 time and the fact that he’s an above average PIM contributor.
I didn’t even Stamkos to be back on Tampa but here we are. The team is loaded around him and as I discussed in my Way Too Early Top 10 here, I expect Stamkos to bounce back next season. I’d be shocked if he didn’t get back over 40 goals and with his other contributions, that puts him towards the bottom of the first round.
As I wrote about here, Nikita Kucherov was amazing in the playoffs in the wake of Stamkos’ absence. 30+36 is nothing to sneeze at but at just 23 years old, I don’t think we’ve seen his peak. As I wrote in my season ending post, I think Kucherov just sneaks into the top 20 now making him a second round pick. While he only had 18 more shots on goal last year, he took 75 more attempts in 5 less games meaning his shots on goal should go up again. 30+40 is well within reason.
I was extremely high on Jonathan Drouin going into last season. For us fantasy players, it was close to a disaster as he was sent down to Syracuse and subsequently held out, resulting on him playing only 21 games for Tampa. However, Drouin broke out in the playoffs with 14 points in 17 games and over two shots per game. Now, the 21 year old will get a chance to play with Stamkos on the first line. I also think he’ll end up on the first power play unit as well making all signs point to a huge season. 60 points wouldn’t shock me in the slightest. Even if he keeps his shot rate where it was in the playoffs, it’s still below average along with below average PIM. I won’t go crazy in where I rank him but he’s going to crack my top 100.
Tyler Johnson was one of the biggest busts of last season after a breakout 2014-15. Johnson finished with 14+24 in 69 games, almost half of the point total he had two years ago. Johnson showed what he can do in the playoffs tallying a point per game in 17 games. While I don’t think he repeats 2014-15 this season, I definitely think he’s closer to that player than a 45ish point player. Johnson has moved his shot rate to average so his only downside is the mediocre PIM. He’s one of the best bounceback candidates in the league and could crack my top 50.
The third member of the Triplet line, Ondrej Palat, also took a stepback. The injuries throughout Tampa’s roster hurt Palat as his quality of linemate decreased. Additionally, Palat also missed 20 games in his own right. He actually matched his goal total with 17 but his assists were nearly cut in half dropping him to 40 points from 63. Like Johnson, I think he’s closer to 2014-15 than 2015-16. The biggest thing keeping Palat down is that he’s on the second power play unit instead of the first. His shot rate is also below average just like his penalty minutes. Palat is outside of the top 100, probably around top 150, but is a clear draft pick in the middle rounds.
Alex Killorn was one of my favorite streamers during last season and looks to be so once again. Early indications are that he’ll be on the first line with Stamkos and Drouin although that’s far from certain. Killorn put up 40 points last season which is solid with only 6 power play points. He’s an ideal streamer when you’re just looking for starts because he’s decent in all categories (outside of STP) but isn’t great at any. There’s a slight chance that Killorn becomes a hold in 12’ers if he sticks on the first line plus Stamkos and Drouin go apeshit but I’d wager against that.
Nothing against Killorn, but my personal hope is that he drops to the third line and is replaced by Vladislav Namestnikov. The Russian was bumped up to the first line for a while with all of the Tampa Bay injuries and looked the part. Despite only 4 STP on the season and a lot of time in the bottom six, he finished with 14+21 in 35 games. His penalty minutes were above average and he posted a great plus-minus. The only worry is Namestnikov’s shot rate is really poor. That said, he’s one of my favorite targets in 16’ers towards the bottom of my roster because he carries a fair amount of upside. Fifty points wouldn’t shock me.
The days of Valtteri Filppula playing in the top 6 in Tampa look to be over. Despite playing over 18 minutes a game, Filppula only had 31 points along with an abysmal shot rate. I don’t think he moves into the top 6 even with an injury so I don’t want anything to do with him this year.
Same goes with Ryan Callahan. After years being in the top 6, Big Tom Callahan’s son saw little power play time, a drop in shot rate and only 28 points. For deep leagues that count hits, he still has some value. Otherwise, just stay away.
TOP 5 PROSPECTS
1) Nikita Gusev
2) Brayden Point
3) Anthony DeAngelo
4) Brett Howden
5) Kristers Gudlevskis (I’d like to add he’s one of my favorite picks in dynasties since he should backup on a great team whenever Tampa trades Bishop or Vasilevskiy
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back tomorrow with the Atlantic Division champion Florida Panthers. As always, feel free to leave any comments or ask any questions below. Take care!