The Bolts took massive steps backwards and forwards this season. Formerly a powerhouse team landing in the Stanley Cup finals against the Blackhawks, this team will certainly make pushes towards a wild card or even a divisional spot in the Eastern Conference. But it wasn’t all bad news for the franchise as they only missed the playoffs by a single point behind the leafs, and had 42 wins on the season(2 more than the Buds might I add). Furthermore, the Bolts should make a push back into the playoffs in the 2018 season.
With a healthy Stamkos, a shining star in Kucherov and the fine wine that is Victor Hedmon, I truly believe the Bolts can make a push for the playoffs next season. With Jonathon Druin, and Tyler Johnson as the stacked young talent on the team, along with a definitive starter in Vasilevskiy the team can definitely make a push. Budaj needs a contract, and definitely earned a sizable backup role. If he isn’t resigned he will earn a contract elsewhere for under 1.5 a year. This is also indicative of the Atlantic Division which will take a step backward in the 2018 season. The Habs need to make steps towards scoring or they will continue to fall into a trap of losing games 2-1. Boston is an aging franchise, and could be a fringe team in the Atlantic. Buffalo and Detroit are a far cry from playoff teams and potentially need several more years of development and growth to even smell a wild card spot. Florida is a changing variable with young talent, but an aging goaltender. But the Bolts will capitalize next season with continued All-Star performances from Hedmon, Kucherov and hopefully Stamkos. Just as predicted Steve Yzerman is looking to stack his D core with offensive talent. As a young dynamic team a supporting D cast would further bolster an offensive juggernaut in the East. With Bishop off the books and Vasy as the locked in starter, Yzerman is looking to build from the back. A poor middle of the season ended up sewering the team late, but the potential was there. An offensive minded d-man would fit perfectly into their squad preventing those easy goals and putting in a few from a Kucherov feed. While I don’t believe they have the cap space for a Shattenkirk they definitely need to make a trade prior to the expansion to those defensive rich teams. A skilled D man would be a huge pick up from the expansion draft as some teams may desperately seek a late round pick or a fourth line prospect simply to get a return on a skilled D man. This leaves Stevie Y with a few options for a budget friendly young defenseman, that could move into a second pairing or 4th D man.
That being said, Johnson, Palat, Drouin, and Andrei Sustr are all RFA’s come July first, and need contracts from Stevie Y. I would compare Tampa to a further along Toronto Maple Leafs in this instance, albeit with a definitive All Star D man. Their offense is similarly built with small, smart talent and big grinders. Fast break, transition offenses are deadly in the league today and that is exactly what the Bolts offer. This is Tampa’s year to sneak into a wild card spot or even a divisional position. This advancement is entirely dependent on a healthy Stamkos (he ripped 60 goals, the guy needs to be on the roster) and the continued development of Drouin. You heard it here first, the Bolts make the playoffs and will take steps forward as a franchise.