Even without their best overall player and team captain, Steven Stamkos (blood clot), for the entire 2016 postseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves just two wins away from making it back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second straight season. Along with Stamkos, the Lightning have also been forced to cope with the losses of multiple of the team’s stars at one point or another throughout the end of the regular season or during the postseason, such as Tyler Johnson (lower body injury), Victor Hedman (upper body), Anton Stralman (broken leg), and Ben Bishop (lower body injury). Despite the void of Steven Stamkos throughout the entire postseason and these other core Lightning players missing action during this playoff run, the Lighting have shown that even when depleted, they are still a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. With that said, Steven Stamkos’ contract is set to expire after the postseason, making him an unrestricted free agent and leaving the Bolts captain with a huge decision to make on his future.
How are the Lightning doing it you may ask? Well, for one, hard-hitting veteran forward Ryan Callahan’s play has been absolutely exceptional, specifically throughout the first four games of the Eastern Conference Finals against Pittsburgh. Callahan has made his presence felt in all three areas of the ice this postseason with his physicality and has been one of Tampa’s most productive forwards offensively with his puck cycling and grinding down low in the corners. Take Ryan Callahan’s offensive production and physicality out of the equation, and this is an entirely different series for Tampa against Pittsburgh.
Another reason for Tampa Bay making it as far as they have in 2016 without Steven Stamkos has been the play of Tampa’s triplets: Ondrej Palat (4 goals, 5 assists), Tyler Johnson (6 goals, 9 assists), and Nikita Kucherov (9 goals, 7 assists). Head coach Jon Cooper has flipped his lines multiple times throughout this postseason, often splitting up “the triplets,” but even while not playing together during multiple periods of time, the triplets have all managed to stay highly productive for the Tampa Bay Lightning this postseason. All three of the triplets are 25 years old or younger, and with the way they are playing, there is heavy reason for optimism for this franchise moving forward with all of the young talent that the Lightning possess. Along with the triplets producing for the Bolts, the production seen from the once AHL-demoted Jonathan Drouin (4 goals, 8 assists) has also been a pleasant surprise for Lightning fans this postseason. At times, Drouin’s turning over of the puck has cost the Lightning some scoring chances, but his time in the AHL has certainly developed him into more of a two-way player (specifically in game four of the ECF where he backchecked and broke up a Patrick Hornqvist breakaway bid).
The young talent that has already helped this Tampa Bay Lightning team to two straight deep playoff runs remains locked under contract for the long-term. It would almost seem frivolous for Steven Stamkos to leave Tampa in free agency with the situation he is in both off the ice (it’s hard to beat living in Tampa) and on the ice with the talent surrounding him. Steven Stamkos will likely get some absurd offer in free agency to go do what most Canadian kids grow up dreaming of, which is playing for (and likely being the captain of) the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nevertheless, the Tampa Bay Lightning are not only making another deep Stanley Cup Playoff run in 2016, but they are also giving Steven Stamkos every reason to stay in Tampa Bay this summer.