This is a cautionary tale. It is meant to serve as a reminder that nothing is guaranteed in the NHL, and to show that even one of the best teams of this decade is susceptible to a season just like the Golden Knights are experiencing right now. Unfortunately, this tale’s happy ending came three seasons after the year we’re going to discuss in this article.
The team under the microscope is the 2016-17 Tampa Bay Lightning.
Just one year prior the Bolts had reached the Conference Finals where they were dispatched in seven games by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The year before, Tampa played in the Cup Final where they were outclassed by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Coming into 16-17, expectations were high, very high. Tampa was the third favorite to win the Cup in the betting odds and were expected to eclipse 100 points with ease.
The season began well as the Lightning ripped off five wins in their first six games and racked up a 12-7-1 record over their first 20 games. They were sitting in 2nd place in the division and cruising along just like years prior.
Then, the injury bug hit.
Within a 10 game span. Captain Steven Stamkos was lost for four months with a knee injury, stallwart defenseman Anton Stralman went down with an upper-body injury, and Ryan Callahan was lost with a lower body injury.
Over the next few months, Tampa saw Brian Boyle, Jason Garrison, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Cedric Paquette, Vlad Namestnikov, and Ben Bishop all miss games. By the end of the year, no team lost more money from the salary cap to injuries on the season than the Lightning.
As they soldiered on, their play suffered. Tampa went a miserable 10-18-5 during the meat of the season which had them within one point of dead last in the Eastern Conference standings on February 1st.
Following the season, Tampa Bay radio announcer Dave Mishkin chronicled the year in an extended article on the team’s website. Here are a few snippets.