The Detroit Red Wings find themselves back in familiar territory this season–returning to the Atlantic Division after a brief return to the Central last year. While fans will be watching for Detroit to take another step forward this season, it’s going to certainly have its challenges in a loaded division that features Cup contenders and the current back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion.
We split the Atlantic into two previews with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Florida Panthers starting us out.
We’ll start with the defending champions–back to back– whose architect we all know well.
The Tampa Bay Lightning
Record Last Season: 36-17-3
Playoff Result: Won Stanley Cup
Expectations this season: Win a third straight Stanley Cup
What to expect heading into the season:
Every Red Wings fan looks at Tampa and wonders if Steve Yzerman can replicate his feat in Detroit. Of course, there are many differences which have been chronicled here previously, but what’s been built is damn impressive. All that remains is whether or not Tampa can become the first team in nearly 40 years to win a third consecutive title.
I don’t think it’s a long shot at all–though Tampa did lose a couple pieces in Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde.
We talked to Danny Bennett of Bolts by the Bay who answered a few questions we had about the Lightning and whether that third consecutive Cup could happen.
OT: There’s a lot of fans watching to see what Tampa will do this season. Let’s face it, you’re all thinking about it (who wouldn’t be) and there’s a good chance for it, right?
Danny: Of course, we’re thinking about it. But you have to be realistic at the same time- the circumstances are different than the previous two seasons. It’s a long, grueling season and anything can happen. Who knows, maybe [Nikita] Kucherov gets surgery on his other hip and we can sign another superstar and make a another deep playoff run? All kidding aside, losing Yanni [Gourde] and even [Tyler] Johnson hurt but keeping the nucleus of the team together was vital. We still have the best goalie in the world as well.
OT: The team is still pretty deep though. Who do you think carries the team again this season?
Danny: It will be interesting to see if Andrei Vasilevskiy can continue his momentum into this season. He’s quietly, or not quietly depending who you talk to, put together a heck of a career resume accumulating stats that are on pace- or even ahead of some of the all-time greats. Brayden Point got his big payday, so we expect big things from him down here in Tampa. I would really love to see the playoff version of Point that we’ve grown accustomed to in the regular season.
OT: Fans in Detroit absolutely believe Steve Yzerman will deliver a championship caliber team like he did in Tampa (though he left a season before they finally won it all). How do you think Yzerman has done so far in Detroit? (And admit it, you miss him just a little bit).
Danny: Yzerman set this franchise on the path for success, and we have, of course, witnessed it. It is a shame that he wasn’t part of the organization for at least the first one, but he laid the groundwork.
I genuinely believe that he built the team for long-term success, and Julien BriseBois has, so far, shown that he is more than capable of taking the reins and continuing the winning culture that has become a part of the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise. There’s no doubt in my mind that Stevie Y will be able to get the storied Detroit Red Wings back on the right path, and as a hockey fan- I welcome it.