Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lightning Card of the Week - Witness the Death of the Personal Collection

That's it. I'm done. I'm throwing in the towel, stopping the fight before someone gets killed. That somebody being me. The reason – see below.

How that signature is "Brett Connolly" I have no idea

Yup, that's a Brett Connolly 2010-11 Panini Luxury Suite Relic/Auto numbered to 99 Rookie. I received it on February 27th. By sundown on March 2nd Mr. Connolly was no longer a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Following in the grand tradition of buying out Vincent Lecavalier and trading Dustin Tokarski, General Manager Steve Yzerman orchestrated a transaction to personally piss me off.

Therefore I'm done. No more new personal collections. I'm sticking with what I got, because I can't bear the responsibility of having MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV or Alex Killorn or Radko Gudas (wait what?) traded simply because I focused on him for my collection. Better to hunt for circa 2001 Lecavalier cards then have the blood of an innocent rookie on my hands.

As for the trade itself I'm not really that surprised. It was kind of expected that at some point Connolly was going to be traded. Despite being the first player drafted by Mr. Yzerman it seemed like the former Prince George Cougar was always the odd man out. The ascension of the TKO Trio kind of bumped Connolly and fellow non-personal collection forward J.T. Brown down the depth list. Once Vlad Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette joined the roster and didn't fall flat on their faces it was only a matter of time until Connolly was on his way out the door.

The return for Connolly was decent (a 2nd round pick in 2015 and a 2nd round pick in 2016) and helps Mr. Yzerman recover some of the assets that he lost in picking up Braydon Coburn at the deadline as well. Since he dealt one of his 1st round picks it was nice to get back into the 2nd round (the Lightning lost their initial pick in the round to the Rangers once they re-signed Ryan Callahan) and a chance to keep the prospect pipeline flowing into Tampa.

If the organization is going to be successful long term, they are going to have to keep drafting well. They don't have the financial resources to keep signing big name free agents in the off-season so they have to fill the roster from within. They also can't afford to constantly trade away 1st round picks for deadline acquisitions like the Penguins have been doing. So if they do trade a 1st rounder like they did for Coburn it makes sense to use a surplus asset (like young forwards) to recoup their losses.

It's interesting that Mr. Yzerman has now traded away the first three picks he made as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Connolly was his first (drafted 6th overall), Brock Beukeboom, a 3rd round pick was traded to St. Louis for Eric Brewer and Radko Gudas, also drafted in the 3rd round, was part of the deal that brought Coburn to Tampa this winter. I guess he kind of wants a do-over for that draft.

One of the few photos of Brock in a Lightning uniform and he is apparently auditioning for the Tonight Show.

Connolly was a stretch pick from the moment the Lightning called his name. While some evaluators had him as one of the top offensive talents in the draft that year, a hip injury had limited him to only 16 games during the 2009-10 season. When he was drafted everyone's favorite bald analyst Pierre Mcguire called him, “either a grand slam or a ground out”. Bob McKenzie pointed out that Connolly's right-hand, his dominant hand, had been crushed in a metal gate when he was a kid and that it “lacked structure”.

In the end, Connolly was more a less a solid double. He bounced back and forth between the AHL and the NHL, bounced back and forth between lines before finally settling as a 3rd liner who was starting to find his scoring touch having netted a career-high 12 goals in 50 games for the Lightning this year. The Bruins were looking to add his presence for a playoff run, but a broken finger suffered in practice has pretty much shut down his season.

Compare the 2010 draft to the one a year later where four of the six picks (Namestnikov, MBNK, Nikita Nestorov and Ondrej Palat) have played for the Lightning and the other two players (Adam Wilcox and Matthew Peca) are among the organization's best prospects. Now that's a pretty good draft year. In fact, in terms of games played for the organization, it's probably the best draft since the Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Dmitry Afanasenkov, Martin Cibak draft of 1998 and the players are still on their entry level deals.

One of the problems of having so much young talent on the roster is that it does make it hard to figure out which individual players to invest in be it with cards or jerseys. I did take the plunge on drop a few bucks on a Kucherov jersey just because:

A – he shoots the puck a lot
B – not many people rock the 86
C – Nikita Kucherov is a bad-ass hockey name.

However, there is no guarantee he'll be here long term. The Lightning have a crazy amount of good young forwards who adapting well to the NHL level. While that is all well and good while they are under team control, it can get a bit expensive once they hit the open market. There is no way the team is going to be able to keep all of the players that they are developing now.

As a matter of fact I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised to see another team try and snatch one of the restricted free agents from the Lightning be sending them an offer sheet. Luckily, most of the players are actually signed through next season, but the 2016-17 off-season could be very, very interesting. Killorn, Brown, Kucherov and Paquette are all RFAs that year and could garner some interest. Oh and there is also the fact that Tampa Bay could still be trying to sign some old man named Steven Stamkos in that same summer.

Those, however, are headaches for the future. For now things are looking mighty bright. While my personal collection might be lying broken on the floor at least the team playing on the ice is moving right along. And I'll move on. In fact I actually went to a card show this weekend and acquired some new cardboard. The first card I picked up (at a ½ off sticker price box):

Signature is a little better in this one.