Coming off three straight deep playoff runs, the Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2022-23’ season, hoping to go deep once again.
As they entered the New Year and beyond, it became obvious that they lacked the grit and physicality needed to beat the East’s top teams in a seven game series.
That prompted general manager Julien Brisebois to make a somewhat risky trade, acquiring gritty forward Tanner Jeannot from the Nashville Predators in exchange for defenseman Cal Foote and five draft picks over the next three years.
Jeannot struggled to adjust to the Lightning’s style of play early, but by the end of March, he looked to have settled into playing alongside Corey Perry and Pierre Edouard Bellemare on the fourth line.
He scored a goal, his first as a Bolt, in the April 1 game against the New York Islanders. That culminated in a strong week for both he and the Lightning, with three straight wins in which they physically set the tone early and played well in all phases of the game.
Unfortunately, the Lightning suffered a huge blow early in the April 6 rematch against the Islanders at UBS Arena. Jeannot got tangled up along the boards with Scott Mayfield and went down awkwardly. Mayfield then fell on top of him, so the trade deadline acquisition bore the weight of both players.
Initially, the fear was that Jeannot was done for the season. After consulting with doctors in Tampa, however, there’s a glimmer of hope. He’s considered week to week and will not be ready for Game One of the playoffs, but might play at any point after that, according to Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
While that should provide some hope, there’s no telling how effective Jeannot will be if he returns. The team has struggled to impose their will on opponents and establish themselves as a threat since his injury, resulting in three straight losses. Two of those defeats were embarrassments, while the most recent one demonstrated how much they need a healthy Jeannot on the ice.
Playoffs are a different animal. Health is paramount to a team winning the Stanley Cup or even going deep. The fact the Lightning made it to the Cup Final last year without Brayden Point was a testament to their resiliency in the face of adversity.
That isn’t the norm, though. Most times, injuries end a team’s playoff run early. Considering the Lightning’s lack of rest the past three seasons, the loss of one of their few fresh players could spell the end for a team that ten months ago came within a game of becoming a modern-day dynasty.