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.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Scratching Koekkoek Takes One of the Lightning's Better Defenders Out of the Lineup

Per Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, there will be no lineup changes for the Tampa Bay Lightning for tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils aside from a goaltending switch.  That means that 22-year-old Slater Koekkoek, the team's first round pick from the 2012 draft, will once again find himself on popcorn duty.

The good new for the Lightning is that they don't have a history of scratching supremely talented young players who have proven that they are ready to contribute at hockey's highest level.  They don't have a history of driving those players to the brink, resulting in a showdown between player and management.  They don't have a history of needing a magic breakfast meeting to smooth things over, either.

Oh, right.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Making Dollars (and Cents) of Kucherov's Three-Year Contract

The Tampa Bay Lightning announced yesterday that Nikita Kucherov has signed a three-year deal, confirmed by Bob McKenzie as being worth $4.766M per season:
The deal, which keeps Kucherov in Bolts blue while the team works to get its "cap house" in order, was signed just in time for Number-86 to be in the lineup for Thursday's season opener against the Detroit Red Wings.

Monday, 10 October 2016

REPORT: Kucherov, Lightning Getting Close to a Deal

After months of radio silence, it sounds like a deal between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nikita Kucherov is getting close.  Per TSN's Bob McKenzie:
If there's one thing the hockey world knows about Bob, it's that he won't go live with that sort of report unless he has a substantive reason to do so.  In short, there is tremendous reason for optimism if you're a fan of Kucherov and the Lightning.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Point's Preseason Play Provides Lightning with Reason for Optimism

As the clock continues to tick on the NHL's preseason, Nikita Kucherov remains without a contract.  One of the big questions for the Tampa Bay Lightning right now is who can and will step up to serve as a "replacement" for the dynamic Russian should the need arise.  If preseason play is any indication, Brayden Point appears poised to do the job well.

The general consensus heading into camp was that Cory Conacher would fit the role, having performed at a high level with the Lightning's top players in the past.  That much was made clear by Lightning Assistant GM Julien BriseBois, who framed Conacher's situation as follows:
If the plan is for him to be up with the Lightning all year anyways, it just makes sense to slide him into Kucherov's spot until Kucherov signs on the dotted line, right?  Even if Conacher isn't the offensive dynamo and everyday NHL player he appeared to be during his original stint with the Lightning, him taking a short-term tour of duty playing in a familiar top-six setting likely can't turn into a disaster.