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.