Sunday, September 12, 2021

Lightning Preview: Andrei Vasilevskiy Jersey Card

(team and product links go to sponsored Amazon products, player links go to related pages on my blog, news links go to source pages)

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: I liked doing last year's format, so I'll be doing it the same way this season as well, partly because of that but also because as a father of a toddler and a baby, I just do not have enough time to write two separate posts per day on each blog. I'll copy these on each one instead. Like last year, the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written.

Caveats: at this point, despite training camp being set to start in less than two weeks, several players haven't found a team yet, many RFAs haven't signed with their respective teams, and a few clubs are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

Key exits: Yanni Gourde (C), Blake Coleman (LW), Barclay Goodrow (RW), Tyler Johnson (C), David Savard (D), Luke Schenn (D), Curtis McElhinney (G)

Key Arrivals: Brian Elliott (G), Corey Perry (RW), Zach Bogosian (D), Pierre-Édouard Bellemare (C), Charles Hudon (C)

Top prospects: Alex Barré-Boulet (C), Roman Schmidt (D), Boris Katchouk (LW), Taylor Raddysh (RW), Simon Ryfors (C), Odeen Tutfo (C), Cal Foote (D), Hugo Alnefelt (G), Jack Finley (C), Nick Perbix (D), Dylan Duke (C), Cole Koepke (LW), Gage Goncalves (C)

I have called the Tampa Bay Lightning the "best-assembled team in the cap era", but "best team" would be just as fitting. Even past Rocket Richard Trophy winner and captain Steven Stamkos, Hart and Art Ross winner Nikita Kucherov, Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Andrei Vasilevskiy and Norris and Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman, there is still the ever-clutch antics of point-per-game player Brayden Point, two-way star Anthony Cirelli, playoff hero Alex Killorn, consistent beast Ondrej Palat, heart-and-soul grinder Pat Maroon, future Norris winner Mikhail Sergachev, All-Star Ryan McDonagh, sophomore Foote... they're like the Canadian Olympic team, they could ice two teams and still be serious contenders.

What makes their odds look good:
They are the back-to-back champions and replaced every departed player with their equivalent (at least on paper).

Question marks: They lost their entire third line (Gourde, Coleman and Goodrow), which had been essential for them last postseason - while Coleman and Goodrow also led the team with over 100 hits apiece in the regular season, followed by Schenn, with 99, who also left. But they have players lined up to replace them, both old (Perry, the returning Bogosian) and young (Barré-Boulet) and in-between (Bellemare and Hudon).

This team can withstand missing an entire season of Stamkos and win the Cup. This team can withstand missing an entire season of Kucherov and win the Cup. This team can withstand a sub-par postseason by Hedman and win the Cup. They could possibly only get challenged by losing two MVP-level players, as losing "just" one clearly still had them on top of the rest of the league. We have three more years of them being heavy contenders for the title - or until they get bored and tired of winning.

1st in the Atlantic Division.

Of course, Vasilevskiy will have a great say on whether the Bolts finish first, second (if he misses time to injury), third (if for some reason he falters and completely loses his way) or fourth (if he misses nearly the entire season due to unforeseen cicumstances), but unless the team's plane crashes altogether, Tampa will make the playoffs and be a threat to win it all again this year. The only thing standing between Tampa Bay and a third consecutive Stanley Cup is fatigue - not just accrued from the last two championship runs, but also because a lot of their best players (Vasilevskiy, Hedman, Kucherov, Palat, Point, McDonagh, possibly Stamkos) will be representing their countries in the Olympics mid-season.

You may recall my attempts at ranking Vasi with the best of the best last season, admitting he was currently the best in the world at covering the bottom-third of the net, but that he had flaws up high; in terms of "which goalie would be best playing behind the same team as his counterparts", I would likely have him second behind the Winnipeg Jets' Connor Hellebuyck with an asterix for John Gibson in that he would be capable to elevate his game to #2. Rounding out my top-five for the upcoming season are Marc-André Fleury and Jacob Markstrom, with Robin Lehner right outside. Thatcher Demko is making a strong case for consideration as well. In terms of a farther future, say five years down the line, Spencer Knight, Cayden Primeau and Devon Levi are probably the bigger names coming, ahead of Carter Hart, who I do not necessarily view as a future perennial Vezina candidate the way many pundits do.

Here is #88 sporting the Bolts' blue (home) uniform on card #GJ-AV from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

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