Sunday, 29 October 2017

Could Nikita Kucherov get Connor McDavid Money?

Much has been made of the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning have forward Nikita Kucherov under contract at $4.77M per season for this year and next.  Bolts GM Steve Yzerman has been given ample credit for getting one of the game's brightest stars under contract for a fraction of his true market value.  Cornered into signing a bridge deal at the end of his entry-level contract, Kucherov had little negotiating leverage and was all but forced into signing what the team put in front of him.  The long and tense negotiation and resulting team-friendly deal almost certainly played a role in Kucherov changing agents earlier this year.

The trouble with signing Kucherov to a deal with such bountiful short-term benefits is the long-term cost.  What could have been a long-term deal with a $6-7M cap hit two summers ago is now going to be much, much worse for the Lightning.  Kucherov's continued meteoric rise to stardom means that he will be able to command a tremendous amount of wealth on his next contract.

Still, there seems to be some underlying theory in Tampa hockey circles that, because Steven Stamkos took less and signed for $8.5M per season on his deal, Kucherov will do the same and come in around that same number.  With each passing day, that idea sounds more and more ridiculous.  In a league where stars are being paid big dollars earlier and earlier in their careers, the notion that Kucherov will settle below $8.5M because someone else did seems far-fetched.  Especially after the way his last contract negotiation went.

The question, then, is this: Could Nikita Kucherov get Connor McDavid money?

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Three Things: Lightning vs. Red Wings

Able to fight off a late third period flurry, the Tampa Bay Lightning held on for a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night, thus improving their record on the year to 9-1-1.  Here are tonight's three things:

Thing #1: Keeping the Streak(s) Alive

Two Lightning players came into tonight having a chance to do something special.  Both Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov had tallied at least a single point in each of the team's first ten games; the team record is an 11-game point streak to start a season, as set by Martin St. Louis.

Both players tied the record tonight, with Stamkos scoring a key third period goal and Kucherov scoring a goal of his own plus an assist.  They'll have a chance to set a new mark in franchise history on Saturday against a very good Anaheim Ducks team.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Three Things: Lightning @ Hurricanes

While the the great majority of civilization was watching baseball, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 5-1 on Tuesday night.  The scoreboard doesn't exactly reflect the way things went, however, as the 'Canes were the better team for most of the night.  The Lightning took advantage of bounces, an empty net (x2), and their goaltender's heroics to grab the victory.  Here are tonight's three things:

Thing #1: Vasilevskiy means business.

There were some questions about Andrei Vasilevskiy's readiness to be a #1 goaltender for this team.  While the sample size is still small, those questions have seemingly been answered:
Vasy was full value for the win in tonight's game.  He stopped 31 of 32 Hurricanes shots, nearly earning himself another shutout.  As the team in front of him flailed around and allowed flurries of activity in the defensive zone, Vasilevskiy stood tall and gave the group a shot at victory.

He leads the league in wins, sits top-5 in save percentage, and is T1 in shutouts.  Diving a little bit deeper, using Corsica.Hockey as a guide, it's clear that Vasilevskiy has been a big reason behind the Lightning's early success.  Prior to the inclusion of tonight's game's stats, Vasilevskiy was sitting amongst the top-10 in goals saved above average at five-on-five, and second overall in cumulative "star" rating.  He's doing the work of an elite goaltender at a relative fraction of the cost.

Questions?  Answered.

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:

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Tuesday's Tampa Recap: New Threads + A Pending Side Deal

On the new jerseys...

The big happening in the National Hockey League today was the reveal of the new Adidas jerseys that will be sported starting in 2017-18.  All teams underwent a makeover, with most deciding to go with minor tweaks rather than a major overhaul.  The Tampa Bay Lightning's, as an example, will remain almost exactly the same:
With the exception of the laces being gone on the neckline, Tampa's look won't change much when the squad hits the ice this Fall.  The naked eye won't tell you that this jersey has a crest that is 46% lighter than the old crest, nor will the naked eye tell you that the new threads are 133% more permeable than the previous Reebok jerseys.  The Lightning have something that works, and they've largely stuck to it.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Lightning, Peter Budaj Agree to Terms on a Two-Year Extension

The Tampa Bay Lightning took care of a minor housekeeping item today.  As per TSN's Bob McKenzie, the Bolts have a two-year agreement in place with backup goaltender Peter Budaj:
Budaj, 34, finished the season with Tampa Bay last year after being acquired as part of the deal that sent Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings.  In seven appearances with the Lightning, the veteran netminder posted a 3-1-0 record, 2.80 goals-against average, and .898 save percentage.  The numbers don't exactly jump off the page as superb or worthy of a multi-year deal, but Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is obviously hoping that Budaj can recapture some of the magic that saw him lead the Kings for most of the 2016-17 campaign.  What the Bolts are hoping to avoid, though, is the sort of goaltending that saw Budaj become a fringe NHLer during 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Koekkoek, Dotchin Exposed as Lightning Elect to Protect Coburn

NHL expansion draft protection lists were released at 10:00am 10:30am today.  There were no surprises up front or in goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the following players being protected as per Erik Erlendsson of
  • Ryan Callahan
  • Steven Stamkos
  • Tyler Johnson
  • Nikita Kucherov
  • Alex Killorn
  • Vladislav Namestnikov
  • Ondrej Palat
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy
Where things get a little bit interesting, however, is on defense.  The general consensus within Bolts Nation was that either Jake Dotchin or Slater Koekkoek was going to be exposed, while the other would be protected alongside Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman.  Well, both Hedman and Stralman were protected as expected (duh!), but both Dotchin and Koekkoek were exposed.  The Lightning instead opted to protect Braydon Coburn, who will be 33 years old by the end of next season.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Namestnikov is the Secret Prize in the Lightning's Drouin, Sergachev Deal

The Tampa Bay Lightning sent forward Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for junior defenseman Mikhail Sergachev yesterday.  In doing so, the Bolts opened up an expansion draft protection spot that was almost certainly going to be occupied by the team's former Number-27.  If Drouin and the sort of mammoth deal he signed with the Canadiens wasn't in the long-term plans for Tampa, the timing of this trade couldn't have been better.  It will allow the team to protect Vladislav Namestnikov, a player who has the potential to be a cornerstone of the team's top six next year.

It's admittedly a little bit difficult to get overly excited about a player who potted 10 goals and 28 points last season, but Namestnikov's situation is a little bit unique.  The underlying numbers, both traditional and 'fancy', give plenty of reason for optimism.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

TRADE: Lightning Send Drouin, Conditional Sixth to Canadiens for Sergachev, Conditional Second

Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman has spoken at length this offseason about his desire to improve and solidify the team's blue line heading into the 2017-18 season.  He likely didn't do that today.  What he did do, however, was obtain one of the league's top defensive prospects, one who figures to be a mainstay on the Tampa blue line within the next couple years.  The Lightning today traded potential-star forward Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for 2016 9th overall pick, Mikhail Sergachev:
Only moments after the trade was announced, the Canadiens inked Drouin to a six-year deal worth $5.5M per season.  Sergachev, who still has another year of junior eligibility, remains on his entry-level contract:
The trade sent shockwaves through the hockey world, to say the least.  It was expected that the Lightning would do something this offseason, but this specific deal with the Canadiens wasn't on anybody's radar.  It's a move that comes with significant risk and offsetting potential rewards for both sides, so naturally the intrigue level is high.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Rumor: Lightning, Canadiens Discussing a Galchenyuk-for-Drouin Swap

Ever since the Tampa Bay Lightning shut the doors on their 2016-17 season, the hockey world has been waiting for Steve Yzerman to drop a shoe.  The general consensus has been that he will look to deal a young forward (i.e. Jonathan Drouin) for help on the blue line (e.g. Ryan Ellis, Matt Dumba, Sami Vatanen).  The assumption has always been that a simple deal of that sorts would help to propel the Bolts back to post-season contention in 2018.

As someone who is and always has been firmly on Team Drouin, I haven't been a huge fan of the idea that Tampa should trade him for a defender.  Drouin has the potential to be really, really special.  You don't trade a player of that caliber for anything but a top-pairing defender.  The Lightning don't need a top-pairing defender; they have one in Victor Hedman.  Instead, what the Lightning need is someone who can step in on a second pair and take minutes away from players like Andrej Sustr and Jason Garrison.  That's the pressing need on this roster.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Yzerman Deals Filppula to Philadelphia, Cements Himself as a Trade Wizard

Never in the history of hockey has selling felt and looked so good.  After moving on from pending free agents Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle earlier in the week, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman did the seemingly impossible when he moved Valtteri Filppula to Philadelphia in advance of Wednesday's trade deadline.  The full particulars of the trade were as follows:

To: Tampa Bay
Mark Streit

To: Philadelphia
Valtteri Filppula
2017 Fourth Round Pick
2017 Seventh Round Pick

Monday, 27 February 2017

Lightning Trade Brian Boyle to Maple Leafs

If sending Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings in a deal yesterday didn't signal to the league that the Tampa Bay Lightning are sellers, today's trade that sent Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a 2017 second-round pick and forward Byron Froese certainly should:
A pending-UFA, Boyle finishes his Lightning career having scored 41 goals and 66 points in 212 games.  Signed during the summer of 2014, Boyle was instrumental in solidifying Tampa's fourth line on its way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and Eastern Conference Final in 2016.  He had a job to do, and on most nights he did it really well.  Fans and coaches alike knew exactly what they were going to get from #11 whenever he took to the ice.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

BREAKING: Lightning Trade Goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings

The Tampa Bay Lightning are officially trade deadline sellers.  TSN's Bob McKenzie is reporting that GM Steve Yzerman has traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings:
With the Lightning mired in a down year and facing the reality of a tremendous cap crunch in the offseason, Bishop, a pending UFA, had to be moved.  The fact of the matter is that Andrei Vasilevskiy is more than capable of manning the Tampa crease, and at a fraction of the cost.  Of course, just because trading Bishop has looked like the smart thing to do for a while doesn't mean that it was ever a guarantee.  The market for goaltenders is notoriously weak, and there were other options available (read: Ryan Miller).  The fact that Yzerman was able to turn a great asset like Bishop into something, even if the return isn't of a jump-for-joy sort of quality, makes this a great day for the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.

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, 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.