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Tampa Bay Lightning open another title defense with a different look, feel to a new identity







by Erik Erlendsson |  @Erik_Erlendsson |  Like us on Facebook
October 11, 2021

TAMPA – Part of last season’s Tampa Bay Lightning marketing campaign featured a commercial of a handful of players saying, “Nope” or “Not us” and even a “Nyet” as the camera zoomed in on them.

At the end if it, head coach Jon Cooper dramatically steps away from a white board and says, “We didn’t win the Stanley Cup, that was last year’s team” and he walks off camera.

Those words might have been a slogan to rally behind when the 2020-21 season started.

As the Tampa Bay Lightning get set to raise another banner and embark on another season as the defending Stanley Cup champion, that marketing mantra rings true.

It’s a new year. It’s a new season. There are new players. And, eventually, they will need to find a new team identity because last year’s team had a different feel than what the Lightning will put on the ice this year.

But just like any other year, that new identity will develop in time.

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The biggest storyline surrounding the Tampa Bay Lightning before the season starts is the losses the Lightning suffered during the offseason.

Six players from the group that dressed for the clinching Game 5 victory against Montreal on July 7 left the team over the summer. It’s the price to pay for winning a championship in the salary cap era. You can’t keep everybody.

Yanni Gourde was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Barclay Goodrow was dealt to the New York Rangers before he hit the free agent market. Blake Coleman signed with the Calgary Flames. Tyler Johnson was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. Curtis McElhinney retired from the game.

That’s a 30-percent turnover on the roster that will dress against the Pittsburgh Penguins to open the 2021-22 season. It’s not an insignificant number.

When the Lightning reported for training camp to start the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign, there were only three players (Kevin Shattenkirk, Cedric Paquette and Zach Bogosian) from the team that beat Dallas on September 28 not with the team when the season opened on January 13 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

This season, four of the five vacated spots on the team scheduled to dress opening night are filled from outside sources – Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Zach Bogosian and Brian Elliott) The other spots will be filled by a rookie who has never appeared in an NHL game, which based on practice on Monday, will be Taylor Raddysh, although Boris Katchouk filled the other open roster spot and he has the same NHL experience as Raddysh.

In a nutshell, what it all means is that, well, as the marketing slogan suggested, that was last year’s team. This is this year’s team.

And with the entire Identity Line of Gourde, Coleman and Goodrow – who started virtually every single period of playoff hockey the past two postseasons – there is an altered identity to be found.

“Our organization, the way we play and the way we go about things, we have our own identity, of what we are, we know what we are,” Cooper said. “Now, how we go about that, and pieces of the puzzle that we put together to apply that is a little bit different. And that’s always the challenge in every year.”

Part of establishing that different feel is by bringing in some players who fit the mold of how the team plays and what the team is looking for. Bellemare and Perry bring that type of hard-to-play-against mentality the team looks for, particularly in the bottom six group of forwards. 

But it’s the mix that’s different.

There are new players to integrate. There are new combinations to look at. There are new roles to define.

Even something as simple as who starts the third period when up by a goal. Or who are the “closers” in the final minute, a role that Barclay Goodrow took on last year along with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn, particularly in the playoffs.

A championship team is not born on opening night, but rather built and forged through the trials and tribulations of the season. In a lot of ways, the regular season is the dress rehearsal. The playoffs are a four-act performance.

“You look at our team, we have a very good team and a lot of guys are still coming back,” said Bogosian, who was with the team for the 2020 playoffs and returned after one season in Toronto. “We’re all aware, the guys have left, what they brought to the team, that third line kind of grit  and sandpaper. So it’s pretty easy to pinpoint that that’s something that we need guys to play like and step up. But I just think every year  is different. There’s gonna be ups and downs, there’s gonna be challenges, it’s going to be adversity. But I think our group is just built for that. They’ve shown that over the last two years.”

One of the players that will be in the center of that new look, literally, will be Ross Colton.

The Cup-clinching goal scorer rose up the chart with his early season play in Syracuse before making his NHL debut a month into the season. And slowly he started to grow as the season went on to the point where his play demanded he stay in the lineup on a nightly basis. In the playoffs, he moved up the lines when Goodrow missed the first five games of the postseason. Then when Goodrow returned, Colton stayed in the lineup all the way through the clinching game of the Cup Final, when he provided the heroics on the scoresheet.

Now, he has an expanded role in centering the third line that will include Mathieu Joseph and Corey Perry, at least to start. It’s a void Colton knows needs to be filled.

“It’s tough to see those guys go because they were like the engine for our team, they brought energy every night,” Colton said. “We kind of know that  some of us are going to have to step up in that that spot. They played key minutes so it’s definitely an opportunity for me and an opportunity for some other guys that are gonna have to step up for sure.”

And that’s where the new identity comes into play. Because nobody on this roster is replacing Gourde. Nobody is replacing Goodrow. Nobody is replacing Coleman. Nobody is replacing Johnson.

Colton can’t assume the role of Gourde thinking he has to be Gourde. Colton has to be Ross Colton, and find a way he can bring his on-ice personality to the role and not what Gourde did.

“I just got to worry about playing my game,” Colton said. “Coop’s said to me and kind of just worry about yourself and do what you can do, you’re here for a reason. We kind of know what we have to we got to get pucks in deep, we have to play hard and establish a forecheck (and) bring energy and be physical. I’m not gonna replace those guys but we can play similar games.”

Bellemare and Perry come in and give the team some of the veteran presence lost in the offseason. Raddysh and Katchok need to find their spots, which will develop as they play.

Colton has a bit of a leg up in stepping into an expanded role because of what he went through last season, moving up and down the lines, getting a feel for how his game fits in with the team identity, and in turn help form that new identity.

“The one thing about Ross was he fit right in,” Cooper said. “Ross filled the gap (in moving up in the early playoffs) and was outstanding for us. So he’s got a great lot of great elements to his game. He can play that gritty game ,he can put the puck in the net. So it’s great to have in our arsenal and somebody that’s no he’s not going to be Yanni Gourde, but he’s fitting in to that slot in the in the lineup and so far it’s been, it’s been great.”

The adaption will be different. The team is different. The look is different.

But, there are many familiar elements, as well, that will help guide them along the way.

“We’ve really hit a threshold here with this team that it’s all business,” Cooper said. “These guys know what they’re doing and it’s just integrating new guys in.”



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