Sunday, 22 October 2017

Slater Koekkoek is Knocking on Opportunity's Door

The Tampa Bay Lightning are reaping the rewards of giving consistent opportunity to a young defenseman who was taken inside the top-10 at the NHL draft.  Mikhail Sergachev has been a huge breath of fresh air for a Bolts defense that was built upon a foundation of more questions than answers heading into the 2017-18 campaign.  What the team has learned with Sergachev is that, if you give a talented young player the chance and are willing to forgive the occasional mistake, the rewards can be plentiful.  The prudent move now is to apply that experience to the treatment of Slater Koekkoek.

That TLL is pro-Koekkoek will come as no surprise to long-time readers, as evidenced here and here.  The fact of the matter is that a competent NHL team shouldn't take a player 10th overall at the draft and have him sit in no-man's-land during the prime of his career.  It's true that Koekkoek doesn't have an overtly strong resume behind him, but it's also true that to have experience on a resume you need playing time.  It's the age old tale of needing a job to get experience but needing experience to get the job.  Faulting Koekkoek for not having a resume to this point is not particularly fair.  The better thing to do is question whether or not Koekkoek has done anything that should dissuade the coaching staff from giving him that first taste of a REAL opportunity.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Three Things: Lightning vs. Penguins

A perfect game. 27 up, 27 do... Wrong sport, but Saturday night's game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins was hockey's equivalent of perfection.  From top to bottom, the Lightning were excellent.  Here are three things that caught my eye:

Thing #1: Gourde gets rewarded.

Obviously lots of things have bounced right for the Lightning to start this season, as evidenced by their now 7-1-1 record.  While players like Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Andrei Vasilevskiy have dominated headlines since the season's start, it's impossible to understate the contributions that Yanni Gourde has made for the team.  His tenacity and speed on the forecheck since puck drop on night one have been undeniable; players around him have benefited, as evidenced by his positive relative Corsi rating and astronomical relative goals-for percentage (10.65%).

Far from a household name heading into the 2017-18 campaign, Gourde had done so much prior to Saturday's contest without being rewarded with a goal of his own.  That all changed with 0.1 (!) seconds remaining in the first period:
Well deserved.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Russian Fire Extinguishers

It's fair to say that Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper's seat was a little bit hot to start the 2017-18 campaign.  After all, he was the man behind the bench last season as a team once pegged as a Stanley Cup contender crashed head-first into an early golf season.  That kind of disappointment will always put pressure on the coach in pro sports.

Thankfully for Cooper, his Bolts are off to a fantastic start this year.  With a 2-0 shutout victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets now in hand, Tampa sits at a healthy 6-1-1 in the standings.  That's good enough to put them in first place in the Atlantic Division.  So, that fire on the coach's seat?  It's gone now.

Some might point to the fact that the roster is healthy now and suggest that Cooper's systems were never really a problem last year.  Some might suggest that the coach made tweaks that are paying off for his club.  The reality of the situation would indicate that neither of those things are true.  Instead, Cooper has been the recipient of a tremendous amount of help from two Russian fire extinguishers.  The Lightning aren't doing anything particularly well to start the season from a pure Xs and Os perspective, but rather are the beneficiaries of timely goaltending performances from Andrei Vasilevskiy and out-of-this-world offensive production from Nikita Kucherov.  It is those two things that have masked some very serious weaknesses in team performance, the same weaknesses that led to early morning tee times in April.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Three Things: Lightning @ Devils

Welcome to another season of semi-regular Tampa Bay Lightning coverage here at The Lightning Lounge.  With tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils being the first game of the season that I've had a chance to watch from start to finish, I wanted to launch a new 'recap' blog series: Three Things.

The premise is simple.  I watch the game and write about three things that caught my eye.  This short-form blog type will hopefully allow me to post more frequently during the course of the year.  And, with everyone and their dog watching games live or following along via Twitter, I'm not particularly convinced that there's tremendous demand for a standard play-by-play game recap, anyways.

Without further ado, here are tonight's Three Things.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Do Lightning fans undervalue Alex Killorn's production?

Arguably the most polarizing player in Bolts Nation these days is Alex Killorn.  One half of the fan base sees his consistent 40-ish point seasons and concludes that he's a sound second-line option for the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the other half looks at his $4.45M cap hit and thinks the team should be getting more production and fewer cold streaks.  It's a debate that raged all year long, and it got me thinking: What is pure point production like Killorn's worth in today's NHL?

I think many fans, myself included, are guilty of evaluating production in the context of the post-2004 lockout salary cap situation.  $7.5M per season, to me, still sounds like an elite player's salary, but recent history has shown us that it just isn't the case anymore.  The standard has been 'revised' by contracts like Connor McDavid's, Anze Kopitar's, Patrick Kane's, and even Steven Stamkos's.  What used to be the going rate for a superstar player is now the salary for a very good player.  What used to be the salary for a very good player is now the salary of an above average player... and so on, and so on.

The impact of this, of course, is that a player like Alex Killorn, who might have gone for $X on the market a few years ago, is now going to $X+$Y today.  So, back to the questions at hand: What is production like Killorn's worth in the modern NHL?  Is Killorn overpaid by the Lightning?  Do fans undervalue his offensive contributions?

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Opinion: The Lightning's Fortunes will Sink or Swim with Braydon Coburn in 2017-18

There are a lot of questions heading into the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2017-18 campaign.  After two lengthy playoff runs in 2015 and 2016, the team missed the playoffs last spring thanks in large part to some unfortunate injury luck and a string of lackluster play early in the year.  It’s thus clear why many keen observers are wondering exactly which version of the Lightning we will see this year.  Will it be the one that looks like a Stanley Cup contender, or will it be the one that belongs on the upper-half of the draft board?  Time will tell.

Making things even more uncertain are the moves that were made during the offseason.  On paper, the roster really isn’t any stronger than it was to start 2016-17.  It’s the same cast of characters, less Jonathan Drouin and Ben Bishop, with a dose of Dan Girardi thrown into the fold.  You can make a very strong argument that the roster is actually worse now than it was at this time last year.  The x-factor, of course, is health.  Keeping Steven Stamkos et al healthy this year could mean a big boost, but it’s also true that most of the Lightning’s woes last year were on the defensive side of the puck, where their top guys remained relatively healthy.

So, with all that in mind, what are the keys to the Lightning’s success this year?  Everybody obviously expects big things from Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy, but plenty of teams in recent history have shown that it’s difficult to make a big run without depth.  Especially on defense, where Tampa struggled so mightily last year.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Brain Fart: Lightning Sign Girardi to Two-Year Contract

The Tampa Bay Lightning signed Dan Girardi, the former New York Rangers defenseman, to a two-year contract worth an average of $3M per season this morning.  In doing so, they have acquired a defenseman who simply isn't capable of keeping up in today's game, and was bought out in New York as a result.

When you look at Girardi's signing in a vacuum, it is what it is.  It's a bad contract for a now-bad player, but those get dished out in the NHL all the time these days.  Where things get confusing specific to the Lightning is that, just last week, the team gave up Nikita Gusev's rights, a second-round pick, and a fourth-round pick so they could unload Jason Garrison's contract.  This move was presumably made to open up a spot for one of the kids to play, such as a Slater Koekkoek or Mikhail Sergachev.  Instead, the Lightning chose to give up those assets to get rid of Garrison so that they could fill the spot with a worse player and an extra year of term: