Monday, 13 February 2017

Opinion: Cashing in on Boyle's Career-High Shooting Percentage is Smart Business

It's been a rough year for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Stuck near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the team everyone saw as a Stanley Cup contender just a few months ago is now faced with the very real prospect of being a seller at this year's trade deadline.  While things feel slightly rosier right now, thanks to a four-game point streak (3W, 1SOL), the reality of the situation is still rather bleak: Per SportsClubStats.com, as of writing time the Lightning only have an 11.5% chance of making the postseason.

Because of that unfortunate probability, the rumor mill has been rampant with speculation that GM Steve Yzerman might be willing to pull the trigger on deals as the deadline approaches.  Valtteri Filppula's name has been out there for a while, Ben Bishop is almost certainly available, and there's even been some talk about one of the triplets being a potential target for teams in advance of March 1st.  Another guy who might (read: should) be on the market?  Brian Boyle.  Things on that front kicked up a notch today:
While some fans have been reluctant to consider the possibility of trading Boyle, that report from CBC's Elliotte Friedman should change the equation.  If Steve Yzerman can turn a 32-year-old, fourth-line center on an expiring contract into a first-round pick, he'd be foolish not to.  Even if this year's entry draft isn't as strong or deep as one might like, a first-round pick is still a tremendously valuable commodity.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Memo to Drouin: "There is More Than One Net in a Rink"

We all know that Jonathan Drouin is not good defensively.  Twitter says so.

Unfortunately, things are getting worse by the day.  The offense is disappearing.  The defense is non-existent.  Drouin is suffering through the worst season of his young career.

That's it.  I said it.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

#DistantThunder: Chasing the Lightning Across Western Canada

I grew up just outside Vancouver, British Columbia.  I now live right in the heart of Edmonton, Alberta, just a few blocks away from the newly-constructed Rogers Place.  I've never called Tampa, Florida home.  I have no family connections in Tampa, or the southern United States for that matter.  So, it comes as little surprise that I've been asked the whole "How did you become a Lightning fan?" question a million times.  I wrote about that in an early blog here at The Lightning Lounge.

According to Google maps, the distance between my condo and Amalie Arena is in excess of 4,000 kilometers.  It would take approximately 42 hours to make that trek in a car, and it's basically a full-day journey by plane given that there's almost always a connecting flight involved.  The tremendous distance between my place of abode and the team I cheer for every night is what makes the Lightning's now-annual swing through Western Canada so special.  Getting down to Amalie Arena obviously isn't the easiest thing in the world for me, but walking two blocks to Rogers Place is quite literally a walk in the park(ing lot).

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Coburn's Play an Unexpected Bright Spot for the Struggling Lightning

A lot has been made over the last couple seasons of the Tampa Bay Lightning's salary cap management.  Contracts like Ryan Callahan's and Braydon Coburn's left fans puzzled, as the need for dollars to re-sign players like Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin, among others, is significant.  As much as the decision to sign Coburn to a three-year, $11.1M extension through the 2018-19 season left this blogger with a lot of question marks, his play on the ice this season has left me with anything but.  In short, he's been an unexpected bright spot for a struggling Bolts team to start the year.

To truly understand why the descriptor "unexpected" was used in that last sentence, it's important to look at some of Coburn's historical numbers, courtesy of Puckalytics.com:

In short, the trend over the past handful of seasons hasn't been pretty.  With the exception of 2013-14, Coburn has been a drag on team shot attempt share every year since 2009-10.  The thought from many when the Lightning extended Coburn was simple: Did it make sense to use finite cap space on a now 30-plus-year-old defender who hasn't been a consistent driver of shot attempts for quite some time?  Likely not.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Future is Now in the Lightning Crease

"We'll ice the lineup that gives us the best chance to win," is a common refrain among NHL coaches.  Right now, and as long as his team continues to start Ben Bishop over Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, it just isn't true for Jon Cooper's Tampa Bay Lightning.

Since he was drafted 19th overall at the 2012 draft, all the talk surrounding Vasilevskiy has been that he's "the future" in the Lightning crease.  Based on his performance thus far in 2016-17 and that of the team's current number-one guy, the future is now.

While Bishop has struggled mightily in an admittedly small sample size, Vasilevskiy has thrived.  As the Bolts continue to plod along in what should be a ripe-for-the-picking Atlantic Division, it's time for the goaltending equation to become a "What have you done for me lately?" sort of game.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Memo to Oilers Fans: Falling in Love with Kris Russell is a One-Way Trip to Heartbreak Hotel

One of the things I've noticed on my daily commute here in Edmonton is the amount of love that Oilers defenceman Kris Russell has been receiving on the airwaves - it's non-stop.  Callers and commentators alike can't stop mentioning his supposedly superb play.  And they don't stop there.  Discussing Russell's stellar play, you see, is a perfect opportunity to segue to a let's-bash-analytics fireside chat.

Unfortunately for all those who have used Russell as the shining beacon of all things anti-number, the D-man's on-ice success likely isn't all that sustainable.  While some in Edmonton are already calling for the Oilers to offer him a rich, multi-year extension, it's worth remembering that it's probably not a coincidence that he didn't get such a contract this past summer even with so many teams clamouring for rearguard help.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Making an Impact: Todd Richards and the Lightning Power Play

While Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman stole all the headlines, one of the big "gets" for the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason was assistant coach Todd Richards.  Richards, the former head coach of both the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, has been the man in charge of what can only be described as a resurgent Lightning power play.

Analyzing a team like the Lightning can sometimes be a little bit difficult, simply because talent can mask a lot of process issues.  Simply put, few teams in the league have had the ability to send out a power play unit that includes some combination of talent like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat, etc. over the past few seasons.  That type of talent can hide a truly horrendous process.  Case in point: The Lightning's man-advantage unit was ranked 14th in the league with an 18.4% conversion rate in 2014-15, despite looking absolutely horrible whenever it was out on the ice.

Eventually, luck (read: shooting percentages) dry up and process warts start to show themselves.  That's what happened last year, as the Lightning finished 2015-16 with the 28th (!) ranked power play per NHL.com.  When talent stops masking process weaknesses, things can get pretty ugly.

And that's what makes Todd Richards' impact to date so important.