LAS VEGAS — The Golden Knights don't have to look far to find inspiration when it comes to trying to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
Vegas' problem is it can't copy what the Lightning accomplished just two seasons ago because Tampa Bay's repeat was achieved in a much different fashion than what the Knights are trying to do.
The Knights are trying to go back to back after a short offseason, following the NHL's more traditional timeline.
Tampa Bay won the 2020 Cup in the bubble in Edmonton, Alberta, in September of that year after the end of the season was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lightning's 2021 championship came after that season didn't begin until January and was reduced from 82 to 56 games.
But the Knights also have the advantage of bringing back nearly their entire roster. Reilly Smith is the only player who skated in Vegas' five-game title series victory over the Florida Panthers who isn't back. Captain Mark Stone, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Marchessault and Jack Eichel return as does goalie Adin Hill, who won 11 of 14 starts in the postseason after an injury put him in the net.
Salary-cap issues forced the Lightning to make some tough decisions, including exposing and losing Yanni Gourde to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, watching Blake Coleman depart in free agency and waiving Tyler Johnson. Tampa Bay not only overcame those losses to repeat, but almost made it three in a row, appearing in the 2022 final as well before losing to the Colorado Avalanche in six games.
“The salary cap and to a certain extent the NHL entry draft is set up to level the playing field, prop up some teams and make it harder for some teams to sustain success," Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said.
“I think (the cap) does bring a certain level of parity right now … a competitive balance that we haven’t seen before.”
As different as the situations are for Vegas and Tampa Bay, Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon said the way Lightning put together their roster hits home.
“Great top-end forwards, really strong on defense and then — not the same group for each of their two championships — but really well-defined bottom-six forwards that really help that team play to an identity," McCrimmon said. “I think that we’re constructed in a lot of respects somewhat similarly.”
Knights coach Bruce Cassidy spoke with Lightning coach Jon Cooper about what to expect after a championship, but said the two situations were too different to glean much information.
Cassidy also reached out to Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, but Colorado's injury situation last season didn't make that a perfect comparison. The Avalanche most notably lost captain Gabriel Landeskog for the entire season because of knee surgery. He will miss this season as well after another operation in May.
Cassidy can get insight from his own players who have won the Cup elsewhere as well, while assistant coach John Stevens was part of two championship runs with the Los Angeles Kings.
Ivan Barbashev was on the St. Louis Blues' 2019 championship, and then was a key late-season trade acquisition to help the Knights go all the way. The Knights signed him this offseason to a five-year, $25 million contract.
“I understand it's going to be a really difficult season, especially when everyone is going to try to play against you extra hard,” Barbashev said. “You've got to be able to turn the page. You've got to move forward. When I won a second time, it's way more fun than winning one.”
Even though a repeat champion was accomplished fairly recently, it's not a common occurrence in the NHL's salary-cap era, which began with the 2005-06 season. The Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017 are the only other team to pull it off.
So the Knights don't have recent history in their favor nor any examples they can follow. But they are the reigning champions, and the Knights have no intention of simply handing over the trophy.
“We always say we want to win the Stanley Cup, and last year was the first time in (training) camp that I said that and it actually came true," Stone said. “But here we are saying the same thing.”
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall contributed to this report.