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Stanley Cup champion Lightning ace final exam on ‘final day of faculty’

TAMPA, Fla — With the clock ticking on their time collectively, the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning talked about what they already knew was their final Stanley Cup run as a bunch.

They talked about it halfway via the playoffs. They talked about it on the verge of reaching the final. Changes had been coming, so captain Steven Stamkos and his teammates advised one another, “Let’s take advantage of this opportunity.”

Tampa Bay did simply that in successful the championship again to again, and gamers and coaches celebrated in a vogue befitting the top of an period. Coach Jon Cooper stated it felt like “the last day of school” and the Lightning aced their final exam earlier than inevitable modifications break them aside.

“This team, knowing that we’re probably not going to be together, this was the end of a special group for two years,” Cooper stated. “Who knows what’s going to happen here, but I think that was a huge motivator for our group.”

It took an odd sequence of occasions to maintain the Lightning collectively this season. Longtime ahead Tyler Johnson was put on waivers final fall when it appeared like they wanted to clear wage cap area, and normal supervisor Julien BriseBois paid the value of a second-round decide to dump wage in late December.

Then star ahead Nikita Kucherov found he wanted hip surgical procedure, the rehab of which might trigger him to overlook the whole 56-game common season that was squeezed into 4 months. It was a serious loss but additionally one which allowed Tampa Bay to stash his $9.5 million cap hit on long-term injured reserve and put a playoff-worthy staff on the ice.

Salary cap gymnastics additionally allowed Tampa Bay so as to add David Savard on the commerce deadline, and the rugged defenseman who had by no means gained all of it earlier than arrange rookie Ross Colton’s successful objective within the Cup clincher Wednesday evening.

It had all bounced the fitting approach for the Lightning.

“I don’t see the circumstances of what happened last year happening again,” Cooper stated through the final. “I know the players don’t see that.”

Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, the 2020 commerce deadline pickups who had been so necessary in these two titles, are virtually actually gone as unrestricted free brokers. The Lightning may lose Johnson, veteran ahead Alex Killorn, savvy defenseman Ryan McDonagh or one other necessary participant within the Seattle growth draft. Playoff main goal-scorer Brayden Point wants a brand new contract extension together with his deal up subsequent summer season.

Add to that the truth of the cap remaining flat at $81.5 million as a result of of pandemic income losses throughout the league, and there’s little cushion for a contender even this deep to pony as much as convey the band again collectively.

Minutes after parading the Stanley Cup across the ice at Amalie Arena, Stamkos stated he and his teammates knew that is likely to be the final sport the group ever performs collectively. The Lightning actually made probably the most of it as simply the second staff to repeat because the cap period started in 2005.

“No matter what happens from here on out, this group is going to be etched in history forever,” Stamkos stated. “We’re back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. That doesn’t happen very often.”

It’s now as much as BriseBois to handle Tampa Bay’s impending breakup. After buying and selling first-, second- and fourth-round picks within the draft this yr and second- and third-rounders subsequent yr as half of loading as much as win now, the following steps will probably be painful and should include a drop within the standings.

Still, there may be purpose to imagine Tampa Bay will probably be perennial playoff contenders for years to come back and with loads of expertise so as to add a fourth championship.

Kucherov — who joined Mario Lemieux as the one gamers to guide two consecutive postseasons in scoring — is signed via 2026. Norris Trophy finalist defenseman and 2020 playoff MVP Victor Hedman is signed via 2025 and Stamkos via 2024.

The most necessary piece of the long run is goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s underneath contract via 2028. He gained the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after by no means shedding back-to-back video games and posting a shutout to shut out every spherical.

“When he locks in, he is remarkable to watch,” Cooper stated. “I can’t believe how he shuts the door in the biggest games of his career.”

Tampa Bay might have Vasilevskiy to convey his peak playoff type to the common season. That’s the type of evolution Jonathan Quick went via with the Los Angeles Kings after successful the Cup twice in three seasons, and Vasilevskiy appears as much as the problem of placing Tampa Bay on his shoulders.

“He doesn’t want people next to him to say he’s the best because he wants to prove it,” Kucherov stated. “But I know he’s the best.”

The Lightning the previous two years might need been one of the best the NHL can provide in a cap world, even with an expiration date on a run of success that features three journeys to the final and 5 to the semifinals previously seven years.

Cigar in hand, Cooper didn’t wish to speak about subsequent season but. 

“Let’s be honest: We’ve been knocking at the door for so many years,” he stated. “To be able to do it back-to-back, it kind of cements this group as, well, they’re special.”

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