October 25, 2017 | 4:15pm ET
By Hannah Spraker
ANAHEIM, CA -- Sparks have been flying in Tampa Bay and it would
appear that Nikita Kucherov is leading the charge. I could go on and
on with the puns... In all seriousness, though, everyone is left in
awe of this team right now.
I picked them to win the Stanley Cup last year, but once Steven
Stamkos and Tyler Johnson became injured, that train left, and they
missed the playoffs. Now, an energized roster is sending shock waves
through the NHL to start the season (told ya!).
So what makes this team so dangerous? Simply put: their depth -- and
This guy is the epitome of every hockey player’s envy, and if you play
fantasy and you snagged him, smart move. I live for the slow motion
replays of a Kucherov snipe. Personally, I think he is one of the most
dynamic players and has the best release in the game when you match it
with his accuracy; a goaltender’s worst nightmare.
Already 17 points on the season, 11 of which are goals in only 10
games, joining Mario Lemieux as the only two players in NHL history to
score in all of the first seven games of the season. The guy is one
fire, on a nine-game point streak, and building a strong case to be an
NHL All-Star, and throwing his name in the hat for the Hart.
The fact that Steven Stamkos and Kucherov are playing together on that
top line says it all. This year I chose Pittsburgh for the three-peat
-- yes fire away naysayers -- but I think Tampa is going to give the
Pens a serious run for their money. Stamkos looks like he hasn’t
skipped a beat and he is on pace to have one hell of a season. The
Lightning is a Stanley Cup team when they are healthy, no doubt -- but
the key is why.
We hear it said time and time again that the League is changing and
evolving, a copycat league, etc. This is true, the NHL is definitely a
skater’s league now where speed absolutely kills, but what we
continually see in Stanley Cup championship teams are rosters that can
roll four lines -- every single night. That is exactly what Tampa
possesses right now.
Look at Montreal. They have the greatest goaltender in the world and
are not off to a great start and have a huge gap down the middle. Look
at Edmonton, Connor McDavid and not much to show for it at the moment,
and many have them winning the Cup this year. Yes, we are only a
handful of games into the season, and while we expect teams like
Edmonton to pick up the pace, I don’t expect Tampa Bay to slow down.
Vladimir Namestnikov, Stamkos and Kucherov. Talk about a powerhouse
top line. Last season, prior to Stamkos’ injury, this line was doing
some damage and now they’re even better.
Watching these guy play just even in these first few games is exciting
and exactly the style of hockey that fans and media alike want to see.
Stamkos staying healthy is going to be extremely important in keeping
that dynamic duo alive this season, and by the looks of it he’s good
to go and firing on all cylinders. As long and the injury train
doesn’t stop in Tampa for too long this season, I expect Tampa’s goal
horn to haunt the dreams of some teams around the league.
Tampa’s forward corps is “on point,” for lack of a better phrase, and
Brayden Point deserves a bit of the limelight here. The 21-year-old is
playing with the big boys and third in points on this team (4 goals 7
assists already), and in just a mere 78 total NHL games, he’s managed
to rake in 51 points. Keep an eye on this kid, he’s going places.
When you have guys like Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and
Chris Kunitz scattered across your other three lines, you’re doing
alright. When you look at all of the individual players of this team
and what they can do -- you can really see how finely tailored this
roster is. They have all the pieces of a well oiled machine up front,
it is just a matter of staying healthy.
Looking on the blueline, the first guy you think of is Victor Hedman,
right? Well, that’s typically true, but the name that has been
circling recently is Dan Girardi. Now there has been a great deal of
criticism of the 33-year-old NYR buyout, and yeah he’s not the best
defenseman, but perhaps he’s doing exactly what they brought him in to
There is something that Girardi has certainly caught my eye with, his
willingness to throw his body in front of a shot. He is still making
himself serviceable and it is not going unnoticed -- Head Coach Jon
Cooper sings his praises of leadership.
“You really appreciate him being in your locker room,” Cooper told FOX
Sports. “When you have a guy like (rookie defenseman Mikhail)
Sergachev... he can go to guys like Girardi, but Girardi goes to him.
The other thing is his willingness to sacrifice his body for the
betterment of the team.”
In terms of Tampa’s blueline, sure they aren’t the strongest in the
League, but I definitely think they are underrated and can be killer
on the penalty kill.
Between the pipes, Andrei Vasilevskiy is no Carey Price, no one is,
but Vasilevskiy is a guy who is going to go in every night, make some
big saves for this team, and stand on his head when he has to. Vasy
has been incredibly dialed in and risen to the occasion of No.1 since
Ben Bishop was dealt. He’s a young goaltender, only 23, but I wouldn’t
be surprised to see him win a Vezina in the next few years.
Everyone knew Vasilevskiy was the future of the franchise, but I don’t
think anyone expected him to be lights out to start.
The guys on the blueline need to help him out a bit, the defense is a
tad shaky and their goaltender has had to bail them out a little bit
more than they’d like, but from top to bottom this roster has the
makings of a Stanley Cup Championship.
As fun as it is to watch a McDavid and a Price, those players, as
amazing as they are, do not make a team. They can certainly keep you
in the discussion, you can’t dismiss the best players in the world and
what they can do, but they can’t win Cups on their own. The amount of
talent and depth in every corner of Tampa is just a recipe for
success. Special teams could use some fine tuning, and it is still
early in the season, but overall the way they are playing has fantasy
players offer trades like candy, Tampa fans rejoicing, and visiting
No doubt all eyes are glued to this team right now and especially that
top line. Oh, and Nikita Kucherov is going to have over a 50 goal
season, 100 point season. Calling it now.
Hannah Spraker is the Anaheim Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.