Don’t Overreact to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Quick Exit
By: Ryan Kiray (@RyanK_THG)
The Montreal Canadiens recently completed a four game drubbing of the Tampa Bay Lightning, ending their first round playoff series without a loss to show. The Canadiens’ performance thus far has been impressive, and enough to inspire confidence in the team this season and beyond. For the Lightning, on the other hand, many an observer will question the state of the organization; such reactions are natural when a team bows out of a playoff season without a single win. However, those observers ought to step back from the ledge; there is no need to overanalyze the Lightning or their playoff loss.
In the more immediate sense, the Lightning managed to keep the games close. Three of the four games between the two teams were decided by a single goal, and while Steven Stamkos did not exactly dazzle, a point per game is nothing to scoff at. More to the point, they managed to keep the games close without their starting goaltender. Anders Lindback struggled, at times looking only slightly less porous than a colander. There is no way to sugarcoat the lack of production from Tampa Bay’s top six, but to be frank Tampa Bay has not yet assembled enough pieces for expectations of a deep run to be reasonable.
That, above everything else, is the single biggest reason that there is no need to overreact to Tampa Bay’s playoff loss; the Lightning, despite having several key pieces in place in the form of generational talent Stamkos, solid upstart goaltender Ben Bishop, and steady two-way defenseman Victor Hedman, are not all the way through their rebuild. With Ryan Malone out of the Lightning lineup indefinitely, the Bolts have only four true top six forwards in the fold, and assuming Ryan Callahan does not fold on his ridiculous contract demands, will have only three heading into free agency this season. In (fairly) recent years, Steve Yzerman has added a few key players, most notably Valtteri Filppula, but there have been holes in the Lightning lineup for a number of years dating back to the team’s previous administration.
In short, the Lightning are a team that is admittedly nearing the end of a rebuilding phase, but has not yet totally achieved the status of a true contender. They were missing their starting goaltender, and ran into a team for which the stars appear to be aligning. There is no need to panic now. Going forward, the Lightning have north of $20 million to play with this offseason, and get Sami Salo’s salary off the books as a bonus. The third and fourth lines are in for quite a retooling, but it is far easier to reconstruct a third line than a first; while the Lightning do, as noted above, have a shortage of scoring line forwards, assuming the rest of the roster is filled out appropriately Stamkos can cover a few deficiencies where scoring is concerned. $20 million is quite a bit of cash to play with, and it is not as though the Lightning have many major holes to plug. That space can go a long way in the years to come.
It is easy to panic after a quick playoff exit. However, it is important to view Tampa Bay’s playoff performance in context. Beset by difficulties and not yet completely resurgent, the Lightning’s best-case scenario heading into this playoffs probably did not lie farther ahead than the conference semifinals. With space to spare and a number of key pieces in place, the Lightning have a manageable path back to the deep rounds of the playoffs. They should not yet have been expected to reach the end of that path, and are not in a position that will prohibit them from reaching it in the future. Take a deep breath. Everything will be fine.