Monday, June 30, 2014

Steve Yzerman Opens Up For Free Agency Frenzy

With just a couple of phone calls General Manager Steve Yzerman managed to wash away the one solid trade Brian Lawton made for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Catching the league (and fans) unawares, Mr. Yzerman traded pass-happy forward Teddy Purcell to the Edmonton Oilers for Sam Gagner. He then flipped Gagner to the Arizona Coyotes (that's gonna take awhile to feel right) along with BJ Crombeen for a 6th round pick in 2015. For dessert he then traded everyone's favorite Alaskan Nate Thompson to the Anaheim Ducks for two more draft picks in 2015 (4th and 7th round).

The rapid succession of moves made clear a few things:

A: Steve Yzerman cares not for your deadlines or your sleep.
B. The Lightning scouting department will be working overtime this season.
C. Mr. Yzerman cleared over $6 million in cap space and the team is poised to be a big player once the July 1st Free Agent debacle begins.
D. Or not.

Lets not kid ourselves. This year's free agent market isn't exactly overflowing with sexy names. I don't see Mr. Yzerman clearing cap room to bring in Jarome Iginla or Martin Havlat. And Paul Stastny, while the marquee name on the list, doesn't exactly address a need for the team right now. That's not saying the general manager won't sign someone (after all he didn't tip his hand with the Valterri Filppula signing last year), it's not likely that all of the cap room will be spent on July 1st.

I also don't foresee any 2004 Stanley Cup reunion tours in the near future. Brad Richards, Dan Boyle, Nik Khabibulin, and Corey Sarich are all free agents while Philly is supposedly shopping Vincent Lecavalier. As big of a fan of nostalgia as I am, I don't see any of those players skating in Tampa anytime soon.

Most likely the team with use the space to fill in depth on the bottom two lines. So I wouldn't be surprised to see them sign a player along the lines of Dominic Moore or Marcel Goc. Heck, Steve Downie is out there and affordable. If we're talking reunions why not bring back The Little Ball of Fury?

Luckily free agency isn't the only route open. The Lightning have cap room and extra draft picks to deal. That makes them very enticing trade partners for some teams that might find themselves hamstrung by a $69 million salary cap. For instance. with only about $700,000 in wiggle room and his two stars contemplating $10 million a year contracts perhaps Stan Bowman might be willing to listen on an offer for Nick Hjalmarsson and his $4.1 million cap hit.

The Flyers gave Andrew McDonald lots and lots of money this off-season. As of yet they haven't been able to trade him to Columbus quite yet (as they do with most of their other failed investments) so they're feeling the cap squeeze. Would Luke Schenn make the Lightning better on the blue-line? I doubt it would make it worse.

Of course, all talks of trades are based on various players waiving their no-trade clauses, but if you're a player being shopped wouldn't Tampa be an intriguing destination? Never mind the “no state income tax” hoopla. I'm talking about joining a team that is legitimately poised to be a serious contender for the next few years. Already there have been a few “hey the Lightning are going to be really, really good” stories pop up among the national media, confirming what we've already realized. When compared to other organizations Tampa is becoming a desired destination.

Let's not forget one lingering, dirty background detail. There is a certain former member of the Sarnia Sting who is going to need a new contract soon.  It ain't gonna come cheap. Especially once Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane set the new bars for supremely talented goal scorers.

Monday night's Trade-a-palooza was just the opening salvo in what will probably be Mr. Yzerman's busiest off-season. It's also one of his most important as he looks to add the missing elements that can build on last season's success without destroying the foundation that has took him a few years to build.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Lightning Card of the Week Returns!

Finally, it is time to return from yet another self-imposed writing hiatus. This one dragged on a bit longer than normal and featured a couple of posts that died before they had a chance to live. Lucky for you I am feeling rejuvenated and raring to go again. Of course I have no idea what to write about so I'll kick it off by leaning on a semi-regular crutch – The Lightning Card of the Week!

A once regular feature that has been mothballed (much like boxing coverage and Through The Mail posts) due to sheer laziness I figure it's a good way to keep writing with the lull between the end of the season for the Bolts and the upcoming draft/free-agency season. Let's see what the box of hockey cards has in it:

A 2001-02 Upper Deck Tantalizing Tandems Vincent Lecavalier/ Brad Richards insert.

Look at those two – so young, so unaware of their careers would take them (they haven't even starred in “The Punisher” yet. Just two kids from Canada having fun playing hockey in Tampa. When the card was issued Vincent had finished his third full season in the NHL, scoring 20 goals in the regular season for the second year in a row (a streak that would continue for 12 seasons) and was the youngest player to ever be named captain of a NHL team (Sidney Crosby and Gabriel Landeskog have since stolen that accolade).

Richards was the dynamic rookie who had lead the team in scoring in his first full season and finished second in the Calder Trophy race. This was the year that the original “Big Three” of Lecavalier, Richards and a young cast-off from Calgary named Marty St. Louis played together for the first time. The nucleus of the 2004 Stanley Cup team was born that year.

On the back of the card, the copy writers for Upper Deck wrote that “Tampa Bay will look to young and talented centers Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier to ignite the offense” and that the team was “hoping to be one of the most improved teams in the NHL in 2001-02”.

The Lightning did improve their record in 2001-02 by winning three more games over the year before. Oddly enough their offense actually decreased year-to-year. The 2000-01 squad scored 201 goals while the 01-02 team only scored 178. While Richards submitted numbers that were almost a carbon copy of the year before, Lecavalier struggled as he only scored 37 points under the burden of the captaincy.

The notable change was on their defense as the 00-01 defensive corps surrendered an unconscionable 280 goals (which is what happens when Kevin Weekes, Dan Cloutier, Wade Flaherty and Dieter Kochan occupy time in the crease). The next season would be the first full season for the enigmatic Russian Nikolai Khabibulin. With the “Bulin Wall” in net only 219 pucks would cross the Lightning goal line.

Richards and Lecavalier were both fresh-faced 20-year-olds when this card was first inserted its mylar wrapper. Over a decade later, they are now gray-haired veterans wearing uniforms for other teams. Richards, reunited with St. Louis in New York is currently battling for another Stanley Cup. Quite a turnaround from a year ago where he was a leading candidate to be bought out after being benched in the playoffs. Lecavalier fell victim to the amnesty buyout sword in Tampa and struggled through another injury-plagued season in Philadelphia. He did, however, knock off a bevy of career accomplishments by scoring his 400th career goal, his 500th career assist and 900th career point during the 2013-14 season.

As for me, I was living the good life in 2001-02. I had just bought my truck (man I miss that truck) and was still living in a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Largo, Florida. I was working at the Super Happy Fun Company making more money than I should have while not saving anywhere near enough. My game-day attire probably would have been shorts, sandals and a Lightning name-less third jersey (the one with the lightning bolts down the sleeves). Tickets to games were unbelievably cheap. So cheap that scalping them wasn't necessary. I'm pretty sure I was single.....yup definitely single.