Monday, October 28, 2013

Boxing Proves It Is A Brutal Sport, Again

I don’t know when I first started watching boxing, probably sometime in college if my somewhat hazy memory is correct. I know as a kid I wasn’t into it.  My dad didn’t drag me to fights, nor did we watch much boxing on TV.

If I had to give anyone credit it would probably be Saint Leo Mike and Link. My first boxing memory (again a bit hazy) involves a Saturday night trip to the Tampa Jai Alai fronton for a Julio Cesar Chavez fight.  Thanks to BoxRec I can see the fight was against Meldrick Taylor.  As four white college kids we wisely joined in the “Viva Chavez” cheers from the largely Hispanic crowd (including a Cuban who explained the wonderful sport of jai alai to me). 

My second memory involved college kids crowded around a 13-inch color TV that somehow produced a fuzzy, but clear enough to watch showing of George Foreman beating Michael Moorer.

My first boxing argument was with Link’s freshman roommate about whether Muhammad Ali was a slugger or more of a cagey boxer.  My nascent view, based only on the iconic photo of Ali standing triumphantly over a fallen Liston, was that Ali was more about knockouts than boxing. It wasn’t until much later, after reading about and watching his mastery of the ring did I realize that Anthony might have had more of a valid argument than I was willing to concede.

Post college I was lucky enough to live in an area that was enjoying a rather successful run in professional boxing.  A young Antonio Tarver and Ronald “Winky” Wright were bringing pride to the Tampa Bay area while Roy Jones, Jr. bought a world title fight to the Ice Palace.

Winky didn't block ALL punches thrown his way. Sidenote -  I once saw him in the mall holding his wife/girlfriend's purse

I do, however, know the exact fight that turned me from a casual boxing observer to the type of fan that pays for HBO not for the movies, but for the fights (this was before they became known for their Sunday night programming.  Yes I’m old). I wish I could say it was some obscure, undercard fight between two fighters who had one great fight and then were never heard from again so I could establish my hipster boxing credentials. Alas, it was one of the most popular fights from this century.

It was the first Micky Ward/ Arturo Gatti fight. There is no doubt that it was one of the defining fights of the 2000s and the 9th round is in the top 10 of greatest rounds ever. I remember recording the rebroadcast on VHS (yup, I’m that old) and telling folks that hadn’t seen it that it was the closest thing to a “real life Rocky fight” that I had ever seen.

Gatti blocks a punch with his face.

Ward, who has been Mark Wahlberg-ed into being a better fight then he was, was a straight ahead fighter who had a tremendous left hook and willingness to walk through a rainstorm of punches to throw it. Gatti, “The Blood and Guts Warrior”, was on the wrong side of 30 and known for his wild out of the ring lifestyle and propensity to bleed more than his boxing acumen.  Needless to say, they made for excellent television.

Ward was cut in the first round and bled throughout much of the contest. Gatti would crumble to the canvas in the ninth from one of Ward’s trademarked left hooked. If you watch the fight, you can hear the unrestrained glee in Jim Lampley and Emmanuel Steward’s voices as they call the fight. They know they are watching, knowing that what they are seeing is why we as fans watch the sport.  Two guys, leaving it all in the ring, wailing away at each other with everything they have for the enjoyment of people around them.

Which brings us to Frankie Leal.  Don’t know who he is?  Neither did I until I perused Deadspin this weekend and read an excellent post by the writer/commenter known as “Iron MikeGallego”. On Saturday the 19th, Leal, a 26-year-old Mexican fighter, fought Raul Hirales.  Hirales floored Leal in the 8th round with a solid left hook to the body and a right hand that cuffed the back of Leal’s head.

Leal managed to get to his feet, but then slowly slid down the ring corner as the refs count reached eight. The young fighter looked dazed as he slumped in the corner as the ring doctor steadied his head and flashed a light in his eyes. After being taken out of the ring in a stretched he fell into a coma after the fight and three days later passed away due to traumatic brain injury. Not that it needed anymore tragedy, but Hirales and Leal were good friends outside of the ring.

I’ve watched the fight (there is a link in the Deadspin article) and what stands out to me is how routine the fight was to watch.  For eight rounds the two fighters went toe-to-toe fighting close rounds. While I had Hirales well ahead on points (thanks to a 6th round knockdown) each round was pretty close.

If you were to watch the fight without knowing the morbid outcome you would be hard pressed to believe that Leal suffered life-ending trauma during the fight.  Contrast it to the vicious shots that were landed throughout the entire Gatti/Ward fight.  There is a moment in the 5th round where Gatti has his hands down and Ward absolutely tees off with a three-shot combination that lands flush.  Gatti looks dazed but doesn’t go down.

Throughout the eight rounds last Saturday there are plenty of clean shots that land, but no “smoking gun” punch that one can directly point to exact moment that doomed Leal. Therein lies the problem.  In a sport where the object is to physically beat a person to the point where he is incapacitated for at least 10 seconds, where is the line drawn when enough is enough?

Leal popped up from his knock down in the 6th with no issue in fact he looked more troubled by an earlier low blow that caught him flush on the cup. During the fatal knockout sequence Leal is hurt by a body shot, then a flurry of punches drive him from the corner. As he starts to fall, Hirales clipped him on the back of the head with a “rabbit punch”. It was unintentional, caused by Leal’s falling body, but he got up briefly before his body gave up and he collapsed to the mat.

Could Leal’s life have been saved?  Possibly. It took several minutes for the medical team to get into the ring, get the stretcher to the ring and get Leal out of the arena and on his way to the hospital.  In March of 2012 Leal had also been stretchered out of the ring after being knocked out by Evgeny Gradovich. However, those factors took place outside of the ring. Unfortunately, if you look at just the in-ring action there isn’t much that could have been done to prevent his death.

It’s a testament to how far boxing has fallen from the limelight that Leal’s death isn’t drawing more national attention.  If a football player died last Sunday from severe head trauma the sports world have gone apoplectic. The talking heads would be stroking out while expressing their outrage. There would be talk of cancelling games and government investigations. Yet, in boxing the beat goes on.  

That is the face of a man with ill intentions.

On Saturday, Gennady Golovkin, the hardest-hitting middleweight that no one knows about, will take on Curtis Stevens in New York City. Undoubtedly there will be a 10 bell count in his memory and then after some thoughtful words Golovkin will go on his way to trying to knock out Stevens to the delight of the HBO crowd. The scene will be repeated in November when Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios trade power shots with each other in what could be the most entertaining fight of the year. 

In the Deadspin post, the writer refers to the Leal/Hirales fight as “ugly”. It's really the one point that I disagree with him on. Unfortunately, upon watching it didn’t seem ugly to me, it seemed all too normal. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Steven Stamkos - Ridiculously Un-Photogenic Hockey Card Guy

For some reason the Tampa Bay Lightning have four days between games.  That means either I have to write about something else (yeah, missed the Ravens game again) or come up with something vaguely related to hockey but not based on anything directly game related.

So that means another hockey card post.  I guess I could have gone another way and written about the government shutdown and its long term effects on education, defense and overall trust in government, but then you would know that someone had hijacked my blog.  Politics or in-depth insight into something that actually means something in the world?  C’mon.

Instead of all that rigmarole let’s talk about Steven Stamkos and young Steven’s goal face.  Not sure what I’m talking about?  Neither was I until about five days ago. 

As I mentioned in my last post I was jonsing for some new cards, so along with box of Rookie Anthology, I bid on a twelve card Stamkos lot on eBay.  I won. Yea!  A couple of days ago I received the package in the mail and flipped through the twelve new Stamkos cards (along with a couple of extra Lightning cards the seller threw in.  Thoughtful sellers are truly the blessed among us).

It’s always fun to get new cards in the mail.  Not only does it fulfill that deep desire to complete things, but there is also fun in noticing the details of the cards.  Things like different action shots, different uniforms, background details (empty seats, random players, etc) are always fun to look for.

With the Stamkos one detail emerged card after card. The slick-scoring center has some weird looks on his face.  In fact, he’s the complete opposite of Ridiculously Photogenic Marathon Guy.  For example
Stamkos’ 2012-13 Upper Deck card:

Now enhance:

That’s umm an interesting face, Steven.  Surely this was just a result of the odd camera angle, the rest of his cards feature a slightly less deranged picture of Stamkos, right?
2012-13 SP Authentic:


OK. (Bonus points for the solid lettuce flowing out of the helmet)
2012-13 UD Ice


Ok, maybe Upper Deck has issues with Stamkos.  Maybe Panini will be kinder
2013-14 Prizm


Nope. The huge visor doesn’t help either. Next?

2011-12 NHL Player of the Day


I’m going to say he’s just tremendously focused on the puck.  Then again he has scored 10 points in 8 games and 396 points in 381 games so if it works him I guess I’m cool with it. A few more for your viewing pleasure.  Bonus points* if you know what sets they are from.

*Bonus points are valid for absolutely nothing.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ravens Lose a Close One So I'll Rip Some Hockey Cards

I just realized that it has been almost three months since I’ve posted anything about hockey/baseball cards.  For a blog that receives the bulk of its web traffic from the Sports Card Blogroll that is damn near unacceptable. So consider the schneid officially off and enjoy a “retro” hockey break.

Last week I managed to get four out of five days off from the hotel.  Not only that, but The Duchess was also out of town for most of that break.  So what does a middle age guy with days off and a quasi-bachelor weekend do in Chicago with his time?  Well, this guy works on his hockey card collection.  Yup, multiple hours of updating photos on Zistle and organizing trades.  Woo-hoo.

One of the drawbacks of organizing the chaos and getting cards sorted and put away is the desire to buy new cards to sort and catalog. Unfortunately, the new Upper Deck (double rookie class!) isn’t coming out for a few more weeks.  And while I do have an income these days, the fiscal wallet squeezing from my unemployed days still looms over my purchasing habits.

However, the urge to buy was too great to be satiated by a value pack from Target, especially once I received the weekly specials email from Dave and Adams.  So, I went online card shopping.  After perusing the bargain isle I decided on a box that offered at least four hits for under 50 bucks. Not a bad value.  So here we go with The Hopeful Chase Box Break Review of:

2011-12 Panini Rookie Anthology

Ten packs, five cards per pack with 2 autographs and 2 relic cards “guaranteed” along with a BONUS back that contained an auto or relic.  So umm….why not just advertise five hits?

Anyway, I left the bonus pack till last and got to ripping. 

Base cards:

I must say they are pretty clean looking cards.  The simple white background with angled borders focuses attention on the player photo.  I like that the borders coincide with the team colors. It makes for a well put together card that feels and looks a little like SP Authentic.  With only 100 base cards, putting together a full set hopefully won’t be too difficult.

Non fancy inserts

Each pack featured an insert of some sort.  Anthology gets its name by incorporating inserts from other Panini sets. At least I’m pretty sure that is where the name comes from. Sprinkled among the base set were inserts from Crown Royale, Pinnacle, Certified, Contenders and Luxury Suite.


All of my rookies were inserts – with four of them being Pinnacle Dufex inserts. Excuse me, I mean Nufex inserts:

Out of the four I guess Louis Leblanc is the best of the lot.  At least he’s not playing in Germany or Finland. I’m not a fan of the Nufex cards, just a little too busy and hard to make out details.  Some folks love ‘em, though.  Go figure.

Calder Candidate

Serial numbered out of 999.  That’s nice.  Mike Murphy is a number one goalie… Charlotte. With Cam Ward still stopping pucks and Justin Peters as his heir apparent it would probably behoove Murphy to find a new organization (I hear Edmonton could use a goalie).

Rookie Royalty:

I’m a sucker for die cut cards, especially ones that look like a crown.  The player could have been better, as Kytner is currently playing in the Czech League after appearing in one NHL game in his career.

The Hits

Leaf Certified Freshman Signature Brett Bulmer.  I’m watching the Lightning play the Wild as I type this up.  Bulmer is not playing.  At least not for the MINNESOTA Wild. He’s apparently he’s toiling for the Iowa Wild these days (2 goals in 2 games – maybe he’ll get a call up).

Draft Year Combos Devin Setoguchi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic

I’ve been eyeing the Vinny Lecavalier/ David Legwand version of this card for a few years now. I like the concept and the execution.  Two white swatches are kind of meh, but overall a nice card.  I think I know someonewho might enjoy this card.

Rookie Rivalry Tomas Kubalik/Ryan Ellis

Another nice dual relic card.  I’m not a big fan of the layout, if they went horizontal with this look I think it would be a little more aesthetically pleasing.

Rookie Treasures

Another card with multiple pieces of sweater on it rounds out my 4 guaranteed hits.  Panini slapped a sticker autograph on the bottom which makes up for them yet another two white swatches.  Is it me or does Da Costa look like he just saw a ghost?

I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t expecting much out of the bonus pack.  I’m usually not that lucky.  I was thinking that it would be a nice card of some guy that I had kind of heard of, but was playing in the KHL these days.  Instead I got this…..

Three colors!
Numbered to 99!
Someone I’ve heard of!
A name that is really hard to spell!

Look it’s hard to have a “perfect” hockey card.  However, the only reason I would knock points off of this card is that it is a sticker autograph. If this was hand-signed I might have to put this in the Perfect Card Hall of Fame.

Even with the slight blemish, this card really made my day.  Not sure what I’m going to do with it yet.

Overall this was a fun break.  I think Dave and Adam has boxes for about $47 online. Even with 2011-12 not being the strongest of rookie classes it’s still a fun box to rip.  I’ll probably be getting another one and seeing if I can put the base set together….or get enough dupes to send some out for TTM autographs.
Anyone else rip this one back in the day?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

So I Went To A Hockey Game

I was recently accused of having a “Costanza Wallet” which isn’t even true.  Other than a few loyalty cards, old lotto tickets, and expired bus passes my wallet contains the bare essentials needed to get through a day in the city.  Well, the bare essentials and this:

A real ticket purchased from a real scalper!

That would be a ticket stub from the last game I attended at the Ice Palace before I moved to Chicago three years ago. I don’t remember much of the game (for some reason I thought it was against the Islanders) but after some limited searching online it looks like the Lightning beat the Ottawa Senators 4-3 in a shootout.  The then recently acquired Teddy Purcell scored in regulation and had the only goal in the skills competition to give the Lightning their 34th win of the season.

The reason I kept that ticket stub in my wallet that night is that it felt like the end of a fan era for me.  Days after that game  I would pack up two suitcases worth of stuff and leave the Tampa Bay Area behind for a couch in my buddy’s one bedroom apartment in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago.  No longer would the hometown team be “my team”.

No longer could I just wake up, decide to go to a game, through on a Lightning sweater, shorts and sandals and make a 30 minute drive across the bay. No longer could I pay $10 to park and $15 for a ticket.  Most importantly, I could no longer watch my favorite team live 41 nights a year.

Since I had been a fan I had seen them going from being horrible, to being competitive, to Stanley Cup champions and back to being to not so good again.  I had seen the debuts of two “saviors” in Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos and way too many forgotten names. I’d participated in fan reward programs (so much free popcorn), been a season ticket holder and lived through the troubled relationship of ThunderBug and LadyBug (the only mascot who mysteriously disappeared from the face of the earth). The only thing harder than leaving them behind was living apart from The Duchess for 10 months.

It would be over three years before I saw them live again (the Lightning not The Duchess).  One thing I liked about realignment was the added bonus that every team would play each other at least once every season; meaning I would be able to see the Lightning in Chicago.  So as soon as that schedule was released I circled the date and started planning a way to get tickets.

Luckily for me I know a guy who knows a guy who can get tickets. So after a couple of months of emails, phone calls, texts, cancelled plans and time off requests myself and five co-workers ended up with these:

Suite, Suite living.

Sadly, they were all Blackhawks fans, but hey they liked hockey and a Saturday night off from work so what the heck. Besides it’s always fun hanging out in suite. Even if we have to pay for the food.

A lot has changed in the three season since I last saw the boys in blue lace them up:

There has been a lockout
There has been an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals
There has been two coaching changes
There has been one uniform change
There has been a captain change
Neither goalie on the Lightning roster on that night in April is still with the team
Neither are the goalies that replaced those goalies
Of the six defenseman that suited up for the Lightning on that warm night in April only one, Victor Hedman, is still really with the team.
Steven Stamkos has scored approximately 562 goals since then
Teddy Purcell has opted to pass rather than shoot 876 times since then
I’ve been to two Stanley Cup parades since then
Oh and I got married some time in between the two games (love ya babe!)

Heck even the jersey I wore to the game has changed.  Gone was the replica Lecavalier third jersey (retired because I was able to get him to autograph it) and in it’s place a Chinese knockoff Stamkos home jersey (with tie-down strap!)  What can I say, I don’t make the big bucks to buy a real jersey and this one looks pretty good (better than the knockoff Hawks jersey that CM Punk wore on RAW a couple of weeks ago).

One thing dawned on me when I was in the cab heading to the bar to meet the other guys - this would be the first time I wore an opposing team’s jersey into a building on game day.  Now, Chicago isn’t Oakland or Philadelphia when it comes to opposing fans, but in the back of my mind there was the lingering thought of trouble.  You never know what can happen when alcohol and manufactured team pride mix.

That being said, all of the Blackhawk fans I did interact with were exceptionally cool.  I guess they’ve gotten over the 7-3 thrashing Chris Kontos and the boys laid on them back in 1992.  Or it was because there wasn’t enough of us to make them care (I believe I saw five other Lightning sweaters the entire night, all of them Stamkos). Or, having won two Stanley Cups in three years, they have the benevolent grace of a ruling dynasty.

Most of the abuse I took was from my friends, “I can’t believe you’re wearing that sh*t” was a common refrain.  The Lightning not getting a shot on net in the first period didn’t exactly help the cause.  After the Lightning stormed back to win in a shoot out (with newly acquired Valtteri Filppula scoring - the circle is complete!) I was worried about a little post game abuse, but the only interaction we had after the game was with a gentleman ranting about a woman’s rather large chest area and her being offended that people were staring at it.  It was quite the emphatic rant that ended with gentleman puking in the streets (Sweet Home Chicago!)

Along with post game puking there are a few difference in seeing a game in Chicago and seeing one in Tampa.  As I mentioned, I only saw about five people wearing opposing colors.  Looking out into the arena is like looking into a sea of red.  Tampa is an underrated hockey town, but it is a transplant hockey town.  One of the guys I was talking to was amazed when I told him stories of the Ice Palace being swarmed by Montreal, Toronto, Philadelphia and, yes, Chicago fans.

Crappy cell phone pictures are the BEST pictures!

The National Anthem.  If you ever get a chance to experience it live in the United Center do it.  It is amazing how loud the crowd gets for what is essence a meaningless game in October.  I can’t imagine what it sounds like during the playoffs.

Between period intermission.  Yes, in Tampa they bring out Pee Wee hockey players to have a quick scrimmage.  In Chicago, they brought the little tykes out to have a obstacle relay race.  I remarked to my neighbor that there is no way they could find 12 youngsters in Tampa that could jump over an elevated hockey stick without killing themselves.*

The weather.  Yes we all had a good laugh at the Hockey Paradise video, but wearing shorts and sandals to a hockey game is awesome.  It sure beats parkas and knitted caps.  That didn’t apply to Saturday’s game where our unseasonably warm weather had it in the 70s with on and off thunderstorms.

Prices.  Yeah for what I paid to see the Lightning on Saturday I could have probably gone to 5 games in Tampa.  I can’t even imagine how much they charge for parking (thank you public transportation!) in Chicago.  If any of your friends in Tampa ever bitch about high ticket prices, please smack them in the face for me.

It was great seeing the Lightning skate live again.  As I tell all non-fans, among the major sports hockey is truly the one that is better live than on TV.  So good that I’ll be keeping an eye on the rest of the schedule and possibly planning a trip to Detroit or Columbus or Minnesota or St. Louis to see them again.  If you’re watching at home look for the old guy in the knock off Stamkos jersey and Orioles hat.

Quick side note.  After the game we were walking to the parking lot and Bobby Hull was signing autographs.  I did not get one since I already have one, but standing next to the scrum was a Blackhawks official with a Stanley Cup ring. He let us see it.  Holy Jumpin' was it awesomely large.  If I had thought about it I would have asked to take a picture.

*Don’t shoot me - I know that youth hockey is alive and well in the Tampa Bay area, but c’mon it’s not like in the north.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Only a Game Behind - The 2013-14 Lightning Preview

All too familiar last season

Before we get rolling on this season preview that I’ve put off for two weeks, let me get something off my chest.  It has become glaringly apparent that not only does General Manager Steve Yzerman read this blog, he is basing his personnel decisions on who I choose to collect.  Let’s take a look at some of his roster moves since I’ve started posting my personal collection:

1. February 2013 - The Lightning trade newest member of The Hopeful Chase Collection Dustin Tokarski for Cedrick Desjardins
Owning the card doomed his career

2. July 2013 - Mr. Yzerman bites the bullet and buys out the largest contract in the history of the Tampa Bay Lightning. A contract signed by the original member of The Collection - Vincent Lecavalier

3. September 2013 - The only remaining member of The Collection, Brett Connolly, is sent to Syracuse to start the season.

Seriously, Mr. Yzerman, this is no way to run an organization.

Now to the real reason why you’re all gathered around the glowing computer monitor - my preview of the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Lightning. This year brings a lot of change to Hockey Bay, USA.  New captain, new division, semi-new coach and a few new rules.  After doing some reading, crunching the numbers (namely the heights of players) and watching the first game of the season I can firmly state that I have absolutely no idea how this team is going to do in the upcoming season.

How’s that for going out on a limb? Look, there are just too many unknown factors.

 The last two seasons, with roughly the same roster I thought that the Lightning would battle for a spot in the playoff race. Instead, the only race they were involved with was the one for the overall number one draft pick (two races they also lost).  Their most glaring weakness, the inability to keep the puck out of the net was addressed by……skipping a blue chip d-man in the draft and signing a two-way forward for a skoosh too much money.

Mr. Yzerman has picked his goaltending hill to die on.  Granted with Anders Lindback at 6’6” and Ben Bishop at 6’7” it’s an extremely tall hill, but you have to wonder if he spent any restless nights pondering a one-year contract for free agent Tim Thomas as an insurance policy.  The tandem has cost the team Corey Conacher, a 4th round pick, two 2nd round picks and a 3rd round pick.  Oh and the rights to Sebastien Caron. That’s quite a haul.

Bishop seemed to have a slightly better play of it in the pre-season posting a .903 save percentage to Lindback’s .884, but it was the Swedish net minder who got the call to start the season against the Boston Bruins.

It’s a given that the duo will be splitting starts this season until one grabs the reigns and makes the job their own. If I had to choose which one, I’d lean to Ben Bishop.  He just seems to be a bit more fundamentally sound .  Plus, Lindback seems to struggle at times controlling the puck, especially with his glove hand.  Too many pucks seem to bounce out of his glove on what should be relatively easy saves.

Standing in front of the net minders and helping them clear the pucks away will be a semi-revamped blueline. Mr. Yzerman decided to promote from within, with Syracuse players Radko Gudas, Mark Barberio and Andrej Sustr all suiting up for the first game.  They’re joined by Eric Brewer (steady and one-year closer to the end of his contract), Matthew Carle (should provide some offense from the blueline), Sami Salo (steady when healthy) and the emerging Victor Hedman.

I sincerely feel that this will be the year Victor Hedman and Norris Trophy are whispered about in the same sentence. Five years into his career and things are starting to come together for the Big Swede.  He has the size to control the puck in the defensive size and the skating ability to smoothly transition from offense to defense. By the time the season is over, he should be the undisputed leader of the defense.

Sustr was a bit of surprise member of the roster, not based on how he played in the preseason, but for the fact that the 22 year-old (same age as Hedman!) has less than one-year of experience in professional hockey. For an organization that seems hesitant to rush their prospects to the NHL, its seems out of the norm for them not to give him more “seasoning” in the AHL.

While Hedman should be the breakout star of the defensive corps, Radko Gudas is going to be the one getting the jersey sales.  The heavily bearded Czech is tailor-made to appeal to the Tampa faithful.  A big hitter (ask Kris Versteeg) with a surprisingly deceptive shot, he should have quite the highlight reel put together by the end of the season. Heck, it started in the first game with his terrific open ice hit on old man Igninla.

Scoring shouldn’t be a problem for a team (pay no attention to the one goal scored against a shaky Tuukka Rask and the two failed 5-on-3 power plays) that finished third in goals per game last season.  Even with the loss of Lecavalier, the Bolts should be able to score enough to stay with any team in the league.

Down the middle they are quite strong.  Steven Stamkos is now the undisputed number one center on the team and he played like one posting seven points in four preseason games.  The removal of Lecavalier also eliminates the temptation to shuffle Marty St. Louis from line to line, giving Stamkos two permanent line mates for the first time in his career.  Well, at least until Ryan Malone gets hurt.

The second line drops off a bit in offense, but should be more responsible defensively. Valtteri Filppula, Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn all have the potential to score 20 goals this season even with Purcell looking to pass the puck 99.6% of the time.  Filppula with spend the next 80 games being compared to Lecavalier, but any drop off in offense will be made up with his defensive skills.  A have no idea what a Fenwick* is, but Filppula posted a +11 against the Bruins and that sounds pretty damn good.

A new wrinkle on the season is a third line that should posit some problems for opposing coaches when it comes to defense.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of a team that kept basically an all-rookie line together to start a season.  Tyler Johnson will lead the team in face-off wins and challenge St. Louis for the most times opposing announcers use the phrase “undersized”. Richard Panik will continue to annoy Detroit fans to an unreasonable degree (not sure if I’ve ever seen such Twitter-hatred for a player in an AHL final) and chip in enough goals to make this line a little dangerous. Ondrej Palat, I don’t know too much about so I’ll defer to the experts at BoltProspects:

“All he does is score [I like that]….. The common knock on Palat is that he’s more of a perimeter player and plays even smaller than he already is [Teddy Purcell 2.0?]”

Nate Thompson returns to center the fourth-line with Bash Brothers BJ Crombeen and PC Labrie. I have a feeling that, much like last year, it will seem like they spend an ungodly amount of time in the offensive zone without scoring a lot of goals.  Not that it’s a bad thing.  Their job is to grind time off the clock until Stamkos and Co are rested and ready to come back out on the ice.

This years team has a much different feel to the one that took the ice last April. The expectations are low (ESPN Power Poll ranks the Lightning 28th, TSN has them at 21st) and the competition is tougher (playing Boston, Ottawa, Detroit and Montreal isn’t like playing Carolina, Florida and Washington), but I think the Lightning will surprise a few folks. Not sure they’re in the playoff race, but I don’t think they are drafting in the top 10.

When it’s all said and done they finish fifth in the Atlantic Division.

Justin G.’s Lightning Award Predictions:

Steven Stamkos Award for Most Goals - Steven Stamkos
Marty St. Louis Award for Most Points - Stamkos
Cory Cross Award for Best Defensive Player - Victor Hedman
Darren Puppa Award for Best Goaltender - Ben Bishop
Sergei Gusev Award for Rookie of the Year - Tyler Johnson

Tim Taylor Unsung Hero Award - Sami Salo
JT Brown MidSeason Callup of the Year Award- Brett Connolly
Sheldon Keefe Biggest Undersized Player Award - Marty St. Louis
Mattias Ohlund Most Games Listed with an undisclosed Body Injury Award- Ryan Malone
Corey Conacher Can’t Believe He Got Ttraded at the Deadline Award - Nikita Nesterov
First Rookie Card That I Buy - Alex Killorn
Player That Gets The Shaft Because I Collect Him - JT Brown

*Fenwick is a relatively new stat that measures the even strength shot differential (not counting blocked shots)while a player is on ice. Some consider it a better indicator of a player’s impact than traditional stats such as +/-.