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Stanley Cup Champions: How the Tampa Bay Lightning Built Their Cup Winning Team

The Tampa Bay Lightning came out victorious in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, winning back-to-back titles after defeating the Cinderella-esque Montreal Canadiens squad 1-0 in Game 5. With few holes in their lineup, Tampa was able to accomplish a feat that only one team (the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2016 and 2017) has been able to do in the salary cap era (2005-present). How did the Tampa Bay Lightning manage to secure their second championship in as many years? Much of it involves building their group of players through savvy drafting, smart trades, and a handful of shrewd free agent pickups. Let’s take a look at how the 2021 Stanley Cup Champions were assembled.

Much of Tampa’s core was built through drafting; specifically, their usual top six forwards were all homegrown talents selected by the Lightning in the NHL Entry Draft. They found mid-round gems in winger Nikita Kucherov (2011 second round), center Brayden Point (2014 third round), winger Alex Killorn (2007 third round), and center Anthony Cirelli (2015 third round). Depth player Ross Colton, who scored the Cup-winning goal in Game 5, was also a well-developed mid-round selection (2016 fourth round). Additionally, they were able to pull off a draft steal by selecting winger Ondrej Palat in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Draft. The Lightning also needed a bit of draft lottery luck in order to nab two of their cornerstone players. In 2008, they won the draft lottery, selecting their future captain Steven Stamkos first overall. The following year, they won the second overall pick, and chose future Norris-winning defenseman Victor Hedman. Finally, this year’s Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP and 2019 Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was also a first round selection, going nineteenth overall to Tampa Bay. 

The Lightning were also able to add key players via trades, many of them trade deadline deals. Depth forwards Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow were both acquired at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline; Coleman from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for prospect Nolan Foote and a first round pick, and Goodrow (and a third round pick) from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for minor leaguer Anthony Greco and a first round pick. On the back end, five out of Tampa’s six defensemen were acquired via trades. Erik Cernak was a part of the 2017 Trade Deadline deal that sent goaltender Ben Bishop (and a fifth round pick) to the Los Angeles Kings; Cernak, then a defensive prospect, was sent to Tampa Bay alongside goaltender Peter Budaj and a seventh round pick. 

Young defensive star Mikael Sergachev was sent from the Montreal Canadiens to Tampa Bay for forward Jonathan Drouin, whose failure to report to the Lightning’s AHL affiliate resulted in an indefinite suspension from the team. Ryan McDonagh, whom coach Jon Cooper described as a “masterful defender,” was traded, along with forward JT Miller (later traded to the Vancouver Canucks by Tampa), to the Tampa Bay Lightning from the New York Rangers during the 2018 Deadline in exchange for Libor Hájek, Brett Howden, Vladislav Namestnikov, a first round pick, and a conditional second round pick. Depth defenders Jan Rutta (2019 mid season acquisition: Slater Koekkoek and a fifth for Chicago’s Rutta and a seventh) and David Savard (2021 Deadline pickup: Savard in a three way deal that resulted in the Lightning sending a first and second round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets) were also acquired via trade.

Finally, the Lightning also added a few players via free agency: two by the way of undrafted free agency (Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson), and one by the way of unrestricted free agency (Pat Maroon). All three played important depth roles on the team.

With a combination of excellent amateur scouting, astute negotiating skills, and smart signings, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to successfully defend their title and win the 2021 Stanley Cup. Now, as the offseason kicks off, they’ll look to continue their league dominance with more deft moves, and hopefully, build another Stanley Cup Champion.

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