Heading into start of training camp, the Tampa Bay Lightning knew that the circumstances were a little more unusual than before, as they have a league-high 12 players participating in the World Cup of Hockey. Despite over half the active roster and head coach Jon Cooper being up in Toronto for the World Cup, the Bolts are carrying on as if it’s business as usual. In terms of expectations, they’re as high as ever following two straight deep playoff runs, and the Lightning acknowledge they need to get off to a better start this season. As far as what to expect in training camp, the players that are in town for the first week of camp know that they need to be ready to go, especially when all of the regulars return from the World Cup already in game shape.
“They’re gonna be flying, so we’ve got work to do tomorrow,” said center Brian Boyle in reference to the team’s World Cup participants. “They’ve got a leg up on us since they’ve been playing games. Games with some meaning, too. So they’re gonna be ready to go. We need to take it upon ourselves, and I’m sure Bones (associate coach Rick Bowness) will take care of that, make sure that we’re in shape and ready to battle.”
Alex Killorn also reiterated the importance of making sure the rest of the team is up to the same pace as the 12 guys that are in the World Cup.
“It’ll be kind of a different training camp,” said Killorn. “I think we’ll have to ramp it up a little bit just to get in the shape some of those guys are in.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely different,” said Tyler Johnson. “Usually any time you come to camp, you’ve got your whole team there.”
Even though the usual cast of characters isn’t going to be here for the first week or so, Johnson doesn’t seem to be too concerned about it disrupting camp at all.
“I don’t think so,” said Johnson when asked if the World Cup would cause any problems for the Lightning in camp. “I think pretty much your first week of camp is trying to get the rust off, trying to get the timing back, get the speed and everything. That’s kind of what those guys have already been doing. They’re gonna be playing at their top shape right now. They’ve had practices, they’ve had games, they don’t really need that first week. I think by the time they come back, that’s when we’re really gonna start jelling. That’s when you start to do more of your system.”
Despite the depleted regular roster, Ryan Callahan also mentioned how the expectation level hasn’t changed, but the team has to get off to a better start.
“It’s the same as before. Our main goal, you try to get back where you were. You go from the Stanley Cup Final, going into last year, we wanted to try to get back there. We were one game away from that,” said Callahan. “First and foremost, like we say every year, you gotta make the playoffs first. You see so many good teams miss the playoffs. I thought our start last year wasn’t where it needed it to be, so we gotta concentrate on that and not look too far ahead.”
General manager Steve Yzerman didn’t seem to have an issue with the timing of the World Cup, believing it will work out to the Lightning’s benefit and that the players involved will come into camp already in game shape and ready to go.
“I think it’s fine for the players. The timing of the event was a good time for it,” said Yzerman. “Gets them back once the tournament is over, still gives them enough time to take a breather before the start of the regular season. They’ve been skating harder, they’ve been playing games. A preseason game is different than a regular season game, and a World Cup game is probably different than a regular season game as well, so again, I think they’re at an advantage.”
A popular topic of conversation throughout the Tampa Bay area this offseason among Lightning fans has been the status of star winger Nikita Kucherov, a restricted free agent who is still without a new contract. When pressed about the issue, Yzerman didn’t reveal the status of the negotiations, but did say that they were working on a deal.
“We want Kuch signed, and we want Nikita Nesterov signed, those are our two remaining players that aren’t signed. We’re going to continue to work towards reaching an agreement,” said Yzerman. “We’re in constant contact with Nikita’s representatives and we’ll continue to do that, and hopefully sooner than later, we can reach an agreement on a contract.”