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2021 Atlantic Preview Series: Death, Taxes, and the Lightning staying good

Somehow they just won’t die. So the B’s are going to have to take the fight to them.

Tampa Bay Lightning Victory Rally & Boat Parade Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning:

Last Season Record: Won the cup

Last Season Point total: 75 points (3rd in Central Division)

Key Leaves: Curtis McElhinney, Anders Nilsson, Luke Schenn, Blake Coleman, David Savard, Brent Seabrook,

Key Additions: Zach Bogosian, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Brent Seabrook, Brian Elliott, Corey Perry,

I should despise the Lightning. I really should. But I can’t. Not really.

They haven’t quite risen to the level of bile I have reserved for other teams with far more deserving targets. I just can’t force myself to get mad at them in the way I have vitriol of Montreal (instilled), Toronto (Learned), or Chicago (absolutely fucking earned). And frankly I really should; they’ve been the hard “no” to the Bruins every so often in the postseason, their players run the gamut between unfairly talented and petulantly whiny, they don’t have any tax that would get in the way of signing spectacular deals for their unfairly talented players, and their fanbase, in spite of having now won two cups in a row, can be unusually defensive of a team that by all accounts really doesn’t need it.

Yeah, they went into cap shenanigans to get a fresh Kucherov out of the deal, but that injury wasn’t fake. They otherwise completely washed the stink of losing to Columbus clean out by playing teams that play like Columbus over and over and washing them. And guess what? They did it again by acquiring a dead contract so they could add some guys.

It doesn’t matter if “rules” of the game’s roster building matter to fans, the people who run the game don’t really care, and the Lightning capitalized on that. And you almost have to admire a team so single-mindedly dedicated to the concept of winning at the expense of everything else, including the respect of the opponent.

...Wait, is this what it was like for the rest of the NFL and the Patriots?

In any case, much of what made the Lightning Cup champions in 2020 and 2021 are still here, even if they lost a ton of people. Vasilevskiy didn’t have to go, Kucherov didn’t have to go, Point didn’t have to go either. Their strong wing isn’t going anywhere, and arguably they got better dropping Tyler Johnson’s contract at the door, and Pat Maroon’s still here, they even doubled down on his brand of hockey for his line, as they picked up Pierre Edouard Bellemare and Corey “got kicked out of the Winter Classic for being a dipshit” Perry. If nothing else, this team will be a nightmare to play against at all phases of the game; that is a forward corps you really don’t want to take a shift off on, if only for your own safety’s sake.

Further, their defense didn’t exactly collapse in on itself either. Their left side is still as strong as it’s ever been. Maybe their right side is a little heavy on the big boys who aren’t that good at getting the puck out, but otherwise I’d call it a perfectly useful six players to get to the playoffs with. Probably not division leading, that’s still Boston’s thing, but good enough. If there’s anything that might sink the Lightning it’s likely an injury to that vaunted offense of theirs and especially to Victor Hedman; without the ridiculous amount of depth they previously had, they might be forced to actually interact with the mortal teams of the NHL on their terms for a change. It probably won’t be for long, but hey, that can be enough to win games!

Hell, they tend to start slow as a team, maybe the other hopefuls can pile up enough points to shut them out of contention by January!

Regardless, A team in blue and white unfortunately remains the bar of excellence for the league. And let’s make this abundantly clear; they gotta actually play the Lightning instead of trying to bully them. You can’t hit your way out of playing the Lightning on their terms. They showed that they don’t care. They played the Islanders the Islanders way to prove it. For the most part, they dictate the terms of the game right now. The Bruins are going to have to play every game against them like it’s going to kill them. Because if history holds, a meeting between these two in the playoffs is all but inevitable.

And I really, really hope the B’s are ready for it by then.

HOT TAEK: The ATF raids Amalie Arena before the playoffs, forcing them to abdicate their spot in the playoffs.