Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Quick Thoughts on Andrej Sustr's "Prove It" Extension

The Tampa Bay Lightning announced today that they have re-signed defenseman Andrej Sustr to a two-year contract extension worth a total of $2.9-million.  The towering defender played in 72 regular season games and 26 playoff games for the Lightning this season; he scored one goal and added 14 assists during that span of contests.

Almost immediately following the announcement, reaction started pouring in from all corners of Bolts Nation.  People weren't thrilled.  Sustr, by all accounts, had a fairly rough year for Tampa Bay.  Neither the 'eye test' nor the numbers paint a picture of a guy who could be trusted to play top-six minutes for a Stanley Cup-contending team.  He was the brunt of an endless barrage of criticism, especially as the season wore on.  His playoffs, when paired almost exclusively with Matt Carle, were an unmitigated disaster.  Giveaways, untimely errors, and bad reads made his play on the bottom pairing an adventure on too many shifts.  In short, Sustr likely wasn't writing home to mom about his play in 2014-15.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Ryan Callahan, Mitchell Stephens, and Playing It Safe at the Draft

Since Steve Yzerman took over the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2010, the team's focus at the NHL entry draft has seemingly been on skill, skill, and more skill.  That changed a bit this season.  Instead, the focus was on two-way, lower-ceiling players who have that magic 'grit' factor.  The Lightning didn't really swing for the fences with their picks (Dennis Yan might be the exception), but instead went for guys who they view as likely to turn pro as bottom/middle-six forwards.  Some commentators championed this 'safe' strategy, but a quick look at historical trends suggest that it might not be so safe at all.

The "tougher to play against" narrative is something that has been mentioned time and time again with reference to this team over the last year or two, so it didn't come as a total surprise to see Yzerman & Co. select players who might fit that bill in the future.  Still, it's a marked shift in the way the team has done business at the draft historically.  The player who sums up this contrast the best is probably Mitchell Stephens.

Tampa Bay traded out of the first round on Saturday by dealing the 28th overall pick to the New York Islanders for picks #33 and #72.  With so much talent and skill left on the board at the time, the deal made a ton of sense.  The Lightning were going to get a really good player at No. 33, and add a mid-third round pick in the process.  That's smart management.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Examining Jonathan Drouin's Potential for Growth

One of the things that seemed to stun the hockey world this year was the way Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper used rookie forward Jonathan Drouin.  Drouin, the team's third overall pick in 2013, played 70 games during the regular season, but was relegated to 'popcorn duty' (i.e. the press box) for most of the playoffs.  People were confounded.  Why wasn't a guy with that much talent and that much playmaking ability stapled to Steven Stamkos's wing all year long?  The answer seemingly lies in Cooper's development philosophy.  Simply, young players have to pay their dues.

The example bloggers and fans used to highlight and exemplify that point about Cooper's philosophy was Nikita Kucherov.  Kucherov, like Drouin, is young and bursting with talent.  He debuted with Tampa Bay two seasons ago, and played 52 regular season games and two playoff games before being scratched in favor of B.J. Crombeen (yikes).  That's not unlike Drouin, who played 70 regular season games this year for the team before being scratched in favor of guys like Brenden Morrow and Cedric Paquette during the playoffs.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Gwozdecky's Departure Creates an Opportunity for Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning announced earlier today that Assistant Coach George Gwozdecky, who joined the team in 2013, will be leaving to pursue other opportunities.  The team's success with Gwozdecky serving as a member of the coaching staff speaks for itself, so it's almost impossible not to wish him the absolute best as he moves on to whatever is next.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Defending Steven Stamkos' Performance in the Stanley Cup Final

There’s been a lot of talk over the last few days about Steven Stamkos’ scoring (or lack thereof) in the Stanley Cup Final.  The Tampa Bay Lightning captain didn’t score a single goal in the series with Chicago, and wound up with only one assist on his stat line.  People have been quick to criticize that level of production, but a casual look at the numbers suggests that said criticism is misplaced.

When dealing with a six-game sample size, it’s hard to draw a ton of conclusions from the goals and assists columns.  A string of good luck can make a player look great, while a run of bad luck can make a player look completely impotent.  Shooting percentage and save percentage, two largely variable statistics, can completely change the optics of a small sample.  That’s what we saw with Stamkos in the Stanley Cup Final.  He ran into a hot goalie, and wasn’t very lucky.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Say No to Morrow

One of the things to come out at yesterday’s Tampa Bay Lightning media availability was Brenden Morrow saying that he has a desire to play another season.  The veteran forward, who just completed his first year with Tampa, indicated that he would like to give it another go.  He’s reached two Stanley Cup Finals in his career, but has yet to drink from the Cup itself. 

According to the beat writers who were at the availability, Morrow indicated that he really enjoyed playing with Tampa this season.  Putting two and two together, it almost seems like the 36-year-old forward wants to re-sign with the team he called home in 2014-15.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Some Thoughts on Cherry's Stamkos Rant

Don Cherry went on quite the Twitter rant about Steven Stamkos yesterday.  He questioned Jon Cooper’s usage of the star forward during the Stanley Cup Final, and then proceeded to opine about the potential for Stamkos’s departure from Tampa.  Rather than summarize, I’ll let you read the whole thing here:

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

I'm a Lightning Fan

People often ask me how I became a fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning.  It’s a legitimate question, seeing as I grew up in Vancouver and now live in Edmonton.  It would make a lot more sense (and be a lot easier) for me to be a fan of the Canucks or Oilers.  But, I’m a Bolts fan.  And I will continue to be a Bolts fan for as long as I’m around on this planet. 

Unlike so many Canadian kids, I didn’t grow up playing the game or loving the game.  It was just sort of… there.  I didn’t follow it too closely or watch every night.  It wasn’t until Todd Bertuzzi exploded for the Canucks that I started to consider myself a fan.  He was my favorite player.  He was big, mean, and he could score like few others.  His tenure as a member of the ‘West Coast Express’ line was a magical time for hockey in Vancouver, even though playoff success never found the team.

Bad Headline Writing is Bad

Journalism is an interesting business.  So many talented people write and post content that is absolutely worth reading.  Getting readers can be tough, so writers are always trying to establish their beat as the go-to place for great coverage.  One thing news outlets, both in print and online, like to use as a means of attracting people is a catchy headline.  If someone surfing the internet sees an interesting headline, said person might just click and read.

The bottom line: Exciting, risqué headlines draw in readers, and readers are good.  Sometimes, though, headline writers take things a bit too far.  Consider the following headline, which came out after the Lightning lost the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night:

Monday, 15 June 2015

It's Hard to Reach the Top of the Mountain

Over the last few days, lots of analysts have noted that the Tampa Bay Lightning are "built to get back here again" over the next few years.  Even if the Bolts don't win tonight, commentators say, it's not like they won't have a chance to win it all next year, or the year after that, or the year after that.

I hate that narrative.

Neither the Lightning nor their fans should be thinking like that in advance of tonight's Game Six at the United Center.  That sort of talk understates just how difficult it is to make a deep playoff run, and specifically a run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Memo to Vancouver: Trade Vrbata, Keep Miller, Start the Rebuild

The Vancouver Canucks are stuck in the same spot the Calgary Flames were for most of the last decade.  After making it to the Stanley Cup Final in '04, where they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Flames toiled in the Western Conference's middle tier.  They weren't good enough to contend, but they weren't bad enough to get good picks at the draft.  Calgary management's desire to ice a team that could make the playoffs, even if it wasn't a contender, ultimately resulted in a lost decade for the franchise.

That's what the Canucks are looking at right now.  They made it to the Final in '11, but haven't been close since.  First round exits are the new norm for the team that calls Vancouver home.  Management and ownership seem pretty set on icing a team that can make the postseason, even if it has no chance to win it all.  Simply, Vancouver isn't in the same league as Chicago, Anaheim, or some of the other Western Conference powerhouses.  No small retool, defined by a free agency signing here or a minor trade there, will change that.  With an aging core leading the way, the time for Vancouver to start the actual rebuild is now.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Is Talbot worth the price for the Oilers?

There was a report out earlier today that my hometown Edmonton Oilers are willing to give up the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft in exchange for New York Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot.

It’s pretty clear that Edmonton has made acquiring a number one goaltender its highest priority heading into the offseason.  That’s not really a surprise when you consider how the tandem of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth performed last year.  Still, it’s hard to imagine that any goaltender will be able to fix the Oilers’ fortunes unless they go out and get some defensive help.  Connor McDavid doesn’t play on the blue line, does he?  But, I digress.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Is Tampa's power play really inconsistent, or is it just ineffective?

The Tampa Bay Lightning went 0-for-4 on the power play in last night’s fourth game of the Stanley Cup Final.  It didn’t take long for fans and media to start thinking about what could have been.  A single goal with the man-advantage would have pushed the game into overtime, and maybe then Tampa’s speed would have been able to take advantage of a tired Chicago defense.  But, the power play units failed to score.  Tampa Bay lost 2-1.  The series is moving back to Amalie Arena tied at two.

One common theme I saw in comments following the loss was a sense of disbelief with regards to the power play’s “inconsistency.”  People were left wondering how it could be so bad, then so good, then so bad again.  I’ve put ‘inconsistency’ in quotation marks because I don’t believe that Tampa’s power play is inconsistent at all.  Rather, I’ll use this blog to argue that it’s been bad the whole time.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Stanley Cup Final Bolstering Victor Hedman's Norris Credentials

One of the things that has been most interesting to watch during this Stanley Cup Final (aside from the hockey) is the way the national media has started to see Victor Hedman for what he is: a Norris-caliber defenseman.  Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper even went as far to say that this series has been 77's coming out party.  I'd politely disagree with the coach and argue that Hedman has been this good for a while, but that's a blog for another day.