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NHL - US Sports: Can Tampa Bay Lightning regain the Stanley Cup?

After having their three-peat dream shattered by the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final, coach Jon Cooper and Captain Steven Stamkos vowed the Tampa Bay Lightning would be back to re-capture their crown in 2022/23.

Much has changed since then and the task won't be an easy one, but can they do it? The Lightning are currently +1000 to add another Stanley Cup to their roll of honour, with the Avalanche priced at +425.

Coaching changes

If the Lightning are to re-gain the Stanley Cup, they will need to do it with a different face behind the bench.

In a somewhat strange turn of events, Derek Lalonde left his position as assistant coach of the Lightning following four seasons, replacing Jeff Blashill as head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.

Blashill was then later announced as taking over from Lalonde on Jon Cooper's coaching staff in Tampa Bay. The 48-year-old offers seven years' experience of coaching the Red Wings, during which he compiled a 204-261-72 record.

Blashill joins Rob Zettler and Jeff Halpern alongside Cooper, but there has also been much interest in the latter, who like Lalonde has served four seasons with the franchise.

Core motivated to bounce back

Echoing his Captain's words following the defeat to the Avalanche, superstar netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy said the Lightning "aren't done".

And whilst the salary cap means some of the group won't be around to support the quest, the core which won a spectacular 11 straight playoff series' remains in-tact and clearly more motivated than ever.

Stamkos, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Victor Hedman and Brayden Point headline a group which will also consist of Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli and Nick Paul, who have all signed long-term contract extensions with the franchise.

Before this seasons Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, Vasilevskiy and the Lightning had won 17 games following a loss in the playoffs.

After playing, and winning so many playoff games over the past three years, coach Cooper admitted his team "ran out of steam" against the Avalanche.

But yet they still made it to a third straight Final and pushed the Avalanche to six games.

Hope for better health

Several players endured significant injuries through the recent playoff campaign for the Lightning.

This included having Point, their top goal-scorer in each of the past two post-seasons, be ruled out for almost the entirety after he suffered a tear to his quad in Game 7 of Round 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Nikita Kucherov and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had MCL sprains, Cirelli, Paul and Corey Perry shoulder/AC joint sprains and Brandon Hagel a fractured foot to name but a few.

Cooper said it was "mind boggling" what he players endured and played through in their bid to three-peat.

Given better health for the Lightning next season, there's little reason to think they won't be a major contender again.

Palat departure a big blow

A major contributor to their recent success, Ondrej Palat, has chosen to move on to the New Jersey Devils and his departure will be sorely felt, particularly as they try to re-gain the title in the post-season.

In 628 regular season games, 31-year-old Palat amassed 423 points (143 goals, 280 assists) and an excellent plus-147 rating.

It was in the playoffs, though, where Palat shone the most, scoring 94 points (48 goals, 46 assists) in 138 games. 12 of his goals were game winners, the most by any player in franchise history.

Along with Palat, the Lightning will also go into next season without defensemen Ryan McDonagh, who was traded to the Nashville Predators, as well as Jan Rutta, who signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Replenishing the edges

General Manager Julien BriseBois has again had to replenish around the edges of the Lightning's core, and replace the departing trio.

Defenceman Philippe Myers was acquired from the Predators and defence pair Ian Cole and Haydn Fleury have joined the team as free agents to add to the Lightning's defence.

Forward Vladislav Namestnikov has also returned for a second stint with the team after he was drafted by the Lightning in 2011 and later traded in the deal which brought McDonagh to the franchise in 2018.

Last season, BriseBois lost Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Yanni Gourde, but replaced the depth well with Paul, Perry and Hagel.

Therefore, albeit difficult to see important pieces of their championship teams leave, it shouldn't be too much of a concern for the Lightning, especially under the guidance of arguably the league's best coach in Cooper.

Cooper remains hungry

After a remarkable ten years in the job, an Eastern Conference championship in his second season, a record-breaking regular season in 2019, back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021 and four total Stanley Cup Final appearances, coach Cooper remains hungry for more success which spells trouble for the rest of the NHL.

The longest tenured coach in the league, Cooper has the second-best points percentage in NHL history among coaches with at least 500 regular season games, and his outstanding mark of .650 is not far off the legendary Scotty Bowman .657.

If anyone can lead the Lightning back to the top of the mountain, it's the 54-year-old.

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