For teams in opposite conferences and different scenarios, the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning share more than you would think.
The St. Louis Blues have had a good amount of dominance against the Tampa Bay Lightning in recent times. That becomes more impressive when you realize the Lightning are only a season removed from playing in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Lightning have a dynamic offense with some big time names. For whatever reason, the Blues have had their number both defensively and in terms of picking up wins.
The Blues and Lightning, or St. Louis and Tampa in some cases, have had a connection over the years, though it wasn’t anything they intended.
Jon Cooper, the fantastic coach of the Lightning got his name noticed in St. Louis. He coached the St. Louis Bandits to back-to-back NAHL Robertson Cups.
Ben Bishop got his start in hockey with the Blues. He now holds rule in the crease in Tampa.
Eric Brewer was the captain of the Blues until he got dealt to Tampa, where he spent parts of five seasons. BJ Crombeen, Pat Jablonski, Marc Bergevin, Jim Campbell, Adam Creighton, Craig Janney, Basil McRae, Brendan Morrow, Rich Sutter, Stephane Richer, Cory Stillman and several others played for both teams.
Oddly, the team that has only existed since 1992 has had more success in the grand sense. While the Blues have been to more finals in their history, Tampa has been to the finals twice in this century and won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04.
The Blues are still playing catch up in terms of recent success, but they are definitely getting there.
The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t have any notable departures or arrivals. So, we’ll focus on the amazing job that Steve Yzerman did as a general manager both during the year and the offseason.
Despite Tampa Bay finishing second in the Atlantic Division with 97 points, they had a lot of ups and downs. They had injury issues with Bishop and the entire Jonathan Drouin saga.
Yzerman stood firm with Drouin and basically told him to stop being a baby and man up. Drouin spent some time in the minor leagues while he was pouting, but finally dropped his trade demands and was one of the Lightning’s best players in the playoffs.
There were whispers of a potential Drouin for Kevin Shattenkirk trade when all that was going on. Given the way Drouin played in the spring, Blues fans were kicking things since the deal didn’t happen.
Stevie Y also massaged his goaltending situation. After a strong playoff run, he rewarded Andrei Vasilevskiy with a new contract.
However, instead of doing the expected and sending Bishop packing, he hung on to both for added insurance. If nothing else, Bishop may prove valuable at the trade deadline.
Last, and perhaps most important, Yzerman did the unthinkable and managed to keep Steve Stamkos on the team. Almost all the pundits thought Stamkos was a lock to go to Toronto or even Detroit.
Yzerman worked his magic and got Stamkos to stay for a “discount”. I use quotes because he still got paid over $8 million per season, but he could have had around ten.
Top defenseman, Victor Hedman was also thought to be out the door. Instead, Yzerman found the money to give him a good raise as well.
The astonishing thing is, according to GeneralFanager, Tampa Bay is still well under the cap. They have as much as $6 million still to use. That’s plenty of money left to sign Nikita Kucherov, if he wants to stay.
If Kucherov stays, then the Lightning are almost a playoff lock, with a chance to regain their spot at the top of the division. Barring significant injuries during the year, they are likely to be one of the beter teams in the Eastern Conference.
A couple more wins or overtime games and the Lightning could have been the fifth team with 100 points in the conference. Not much has happened to suggest they can’t attain that this season.
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Their biggest question will be in goal, but it’s a good problem to have. Vasilevskiy played well enough to claim the starting spot if Cooper wants to give it to him, but Bishop is a clear NHL number one as well.
In the chance Kucherov does not stay, then things take a turn. There’s basically no way to replace a 30 goal scorer on such short notice.
Drouin will have higher numbers with a full season, but even then that’s a lot of production lost.
As long as Kucherov signs, though, Tampa Bay will be a handful for most defenses.
As mentioned, the Blues have had really good success against the Lightning. Even during their surge to the top of the Eastern Conference lately, St. Louis has not lost a game to Tampa since 2013-14 and they still split the series then.
The Blues have the edge in the series 23-11-3. Even more impressive, the Blues have won 82.4% of their home games and also 52.5% on the road.
St. Louis took both games in 2015-16. They won 2-0 at home and 2-1 in the Sunshine state.
St. Louis will welcome the Lightning for a game on Thursday, December 1. They’ll have a vrief chance to visit the beach when they have the return game on Thursday, December 22.
The Blues will look to keep their dominance going. It will be difficult with the quality goaltending and a motivated Drouin going against them.