Tampa Bay Lightning 2023-24’ Season Preview

Photo Credit: Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Hockey is back in the Bay, and that brings about excitement and even some nerves.

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2023-24’ season sees change to the team’s identity after a six game first round series loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs ended their streak of three straight deep playoff runs.

With the Lightning up against the salary cap once again, general manager Julien Brisebois set to work acquiring players that fit into his vision of a younger, faster team with an element of grittiness. He needed to clear space on the roster first, so Corey Perry was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, Ross Colton went to the Colorado Avalanche, and Pat Maroon was sent to the Minnesota Wild for draft picks. Alex Killorn, Ian Cole, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare all left via free agency.

Brisebois signed Conor Sheary to a three-year contract, Luke Glendening to a two-year deal, Josh Archibald to a two-year contract (later terminated when Archibald made it clear he wouldn’t be playing hockey for unspecified reasons), Calvin de Haan for one year and Tyler Motte to a one-year deal. He also signed restricted free agent Tanner Jeannot to a contract extension.

Entering training camp, the Lightning had a few spots open up front. Austin Watson was given a pro tryout, while undrafted free agent Waltteri Merela from the Finnish league got an invite to camp. Watson parlayed his PTO into a one-year contract with the team, while all indications are that Merela made the Opening Night roster. They join Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Brandon Hagel, and Anthony Cirelli, among others.

Defensively, Victor Hedman is coming off of a down year by his standards. He’ll be paired with Nick Perbix, who is looking to build upon a solid rookie campaign. The second pairing will see rising star Mikhail Sergachev with young blueliner Darren Raddysh. After missing much of the team’s playoff games due to a concussion suffered after a blindside hit from Michael Bunting, Erik Cernak will start the season on the third pairing alongside de Haan. Haydn Fleury will be the seventh defenseman, while Zach Bogosian was placed on waivers.

The biggest question mark early on will come in net. With Andrei Vasilevskiy undergoing back surgery a few days into camp and expected to miss 8-10 weeks, Jonas Johansson is thrust into the starting role. He performed well during the preseason, but the fact he only has 35 games of NHL experience has to be a concern. Matt Tompkins is going to be his backup for the first couple of months at least, and while he was alright in the preseason, he has only one game of NHL experience in his career. There was some thought that the Bolts might try to claim a goaltender off of waivers, but that didn’t seem to be the route they chose to start things off.

All in all, the Lightning look refreshed and ready to go after a full offseason of rest. The new additions have fit in seamlessly, making many optimistic about the upcoming season despite early challenges. Playoffs are a distinct possibility, though goaltending will likely put them in a battle for one of the final Eastern Conference wild card spots.

Lauren Burg

Lauren Burg is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer for “Inside the Rink.” A lifelong Tampa Bay Area resident, she graduated from the University of South Florida’s world-renowned journalism program in December 2009. While in college, she discovered hockey and the Tampa Bay Lightning. She quickly became a passionate fan, attending many games over the years. She also experienced an All-Star game in 2018, numerous road games, and, most recently, the Bolts back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Since graduating college, she’s been working hard to combine her two loves, writing and hockey, hoping to one day make that her full-time career. In her free time, she enjoys attending sporting events (both home & road when possible), taking photos, and traveling.

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