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.