Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why Not Follow Up a Blockbuster Season With a Blockbuster Trade?

There are a lot of advantages to rooting for a successful hockey franchise. It’s great to watch a game knowing that your team has a chance to win. Playoff beards are fun to grow. The trading deadline is no longer about what prospects you can get, but what prospects you can give up in order to get that big name out there (and they don’t get any bigger than Antoine Vermette!). However, there is at least one diamond that loses it’s luster the more successful a team gets - the draft.

As a Lightning fan who’s been around for awhile I’ve had the pleasure of watching them draft number one overall twice (Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos), second (Victor Hedman) and number three twice( Alex Svitov and Jonathan Drouin). I was really excited for all of those drafts, and really, really happy with who they drafted - even Alex Svitov (go ahead, look at that draft and see who else was available).

High draft picks are fun, because they are filled with so much promise, so much potential.  After a miserable season fans can say, “Hey, that sucked but think how much better we’re going to be with -------”.  It makes marketing the team easier.  “Seen Stamkos” “The Michael Jordan of Hockey” - that‘s what you do with a first overall pick.  I mean, he’s a nice guy, but I don’t think you’re going to build a season ticket buying campaign around Mikko Rantanen.

So as the Lightning keep winning on the ice, the chances of drafting a dynamic, franchise player keeps getting less and less likely.  And unfortunately the chances of Conner McDavid going to Edmonton (where 1st round picks fade into obscurity) get more and more likely.  Luckily, I have a plan to solve both problems (and a third problem yet to be mentioned!)

Now, we all know that General Manager Yzerman is cool, calculating, ruthless acquirer of talent. He holds no player sacred, everyone on the roster is expendable as long as they can be used to make the team on the ice better.  Think about it. Is there anyone in the organization that you would say it 100% untouchable? He’s traded and bought out captains. He’s traded potential Calder Trophy winners and Calder Cup finalists. HE TRADED TEDDY PURCELL! In short nothing is more important than the constant improvement of the team.

So if there is any GM in the league that is willing to pull of a draft day shocker it’s Mr. Yzerman.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility that, on the eve of the draft, in a hotel room in South Florida that Mr. Yzerman picks up the phone and calls Peter Chiarelli with a Godfather deal.

For the overall number one pick, the rights to Nail Yakapov and a second round pick the Tampa Bay Lightning trade their 1st round pick , Ben Bishop, Jonathan Drouin and Matt Carle.

“Jon Cooper held a gun to his head, and Yzerman assured Chiarelli that either his brains or his signature would be on that trade sheet.”

I know I just made Jon Cooper Luca Brasi in this scenario So would that make Julien Brisebois Michael Corleone? Can we work out the cast of the Godfather with Lightning employees? Sounds like a late July post to me.

Not to dwell too deep into this fantasy scenario but, out of all of the GM’s in the league Mr. Yzerman is the one that you could see doing that, right?  Imagine what would happen if something along those lines happened in real life?  What’s the penalty for threatening another GM with death over a trade? Forfeit a season? Disband the team? Lose all of your draft picks?  Would anyone every hire Yzerman again (after his jail term of course)?  “Sure he threatened to kill someone, but that just shows his will to win!”

I almost want it to happen just to see the reaction on Twitter and the rest of the internet.  Heck, hockey might even grace Sportscenter for more than 14 seconds a day.  It would be hard to knock that story out of the news cycle.

But back to the actual trade.

Who says no to that deal? The Oilers fill two of their most glaring needs - number one goalie defense. Before you say anything about Matt Carle, can you name two defensemen better currently on their roster? He would play 20 minutes a game on that team.  Oh, and they get a pretty good player in Drouin, who if rumors are to be believed, is on the trading block.

No matter what the Oilers do, they‘re not going to get seriously better until they solve their problems between the goal pipes. Bishop, while not an elite goaltender, has proven that he is a capable number one who can steal games when his team needs him. They have enough cap room to absorb both contacts and still have room to make other moves.

Drouin finds himself on a team where he isn’t blocked by half-a-dozen other young offensive stars. He showed flashes of his ability throughout the season and despite whatever went on in the playoffs he’s going to be a good player in the league. Throw him on a line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and that could be a lot of fun to watch.

The Oilers give up on a generational player, but become a much more competitive team. It won’t spring them up into the Blackhawks/Ducks stratosphere, but it does put them on par with Colorado, San Jose and all of the other borderline playoff teams.  Plus, based on the history of Edmonton and their top picks, perhaps it’s better that the best prospect since Sidney Crosby stays as far away as possible from Oil Country.

The Lightning shed enough cap space so they can afford Stamkos without hamstringing themselves against the cap for future deals. The Triplets are going to need new deals soon and Victor Hedman’s extension doesn’t seem as long as it was when he signed it.

With Bishop and his $5.95 million cap hit safely north of the border the Bolts also clear up a bit of their goaltending logjam.  Andrei Vasilevskiy looks like he can handle the NHL.  Yes, that’s based on a small sample size, but Mr. Yzerman isn’t afraid to take a risk or two. Adam Wilcox can’t stay in college forever and he will move up the depth chart quickly once he turns pro.

As for Yakopov? Well, maybe he clicks with a few more Russians on the team or Mr. Yzerman flips him for draft picks.

Remember that third problem I mentioned earlier?  McDavid could be the solution to it.  It’s the problem that we as Lightning fans have tried to downplay. We really, really don’t want to think about it this year, but it does linger in the back of our brains like a spider egg.

What if Steven Stamkos really does want to play for Toronto?  What if, come 2016, he basically thanks us for the support but goes to play for his hometown team? Can I really blame him?  Can any of us? After all, when we’re growing up and dreaming of playing in the big leagues, be it baseball, hockey, football or soccer, don’t we dream of playing for our favorite team.  I remember those days in high school when I thought a 76-mph fastball and a questionable work ethic would get me to the majors I didn’t dream of playing for Cleveland or Houston.  I wanted to take the mound in Camden Yards.

So can we begrudge Stamkos if, having completed his indentured servitude to the Lightning, wants to go home and play for the Leafs?  Sure, we can be pissed, but he‘s earned that right.  In a perfect world the Lightning would make a deal for McDavid, re-sign Stamkos and create a Florida hockey empire. This isn’t a perfect world so good general managers have back up plans. Having McDavid spend a season watching Stamkos play wouldn’t be a bad back up plan.

The good news for Mr. Yzerman is that the doesn’t have to be exclusive to Edmonton. Buffalo’s deadline purge left them without a franchise goalie as well  and Jack Eichel wouldn’t be a bad plan C. They could even stuff him back in college for another year without losing too much offense on the main club.

Having done a quick search of the 2017 draft eligible players, it doesn’t look like there is the once-in-a-generation player available so striking this year would make a lot of sense. It’s also in keeping with the way Mr. Yzerman operates, always with an eye on the future. He keeps control of his salary cap, keeps the team flush with young talent and arguably makes the team better.

I know this isn’t going to happen.  In fact this whole post is nothing more than an extended (E4) rumor.  Isn’t that what this time of year is all about?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Quick Primer For Those Jumping On The Bandwagon

Hi there. You may be here because someone on a podcast mentioned me as someone who wrote about the Lightning. You might be here because you’re a Blackhawks fan who wants to learn more about the Lightning. Or, as someone who likes to root for an underdog you’re jumped aboard the Tampa Bay Lightning bandwagon.

I don’t care why you’re here, I’m just glad you showed up. Below is a breakdown of all the members of the Lightning that you might see on the ice during the next couple of weeks. But let me also be your guide for following the team from Hockey Bay, USA. Some things to know:
  1. We as a fan base have been around for a while. Believe it or not the Tampa Bay Lightning have been around for over 20 years. We’ve even won a Stanley Cup! Honest, look it up. We know what icing is (and not the kind that’s on a cake).
  2. We embrace being a non-traditional market. Trust me there is nothing, and I mean nothing better than hanging out at the beach all day and then going to a hockey game in shorts and flip-flops. Do we do things different? Yes, but we still love hockey just as much as Wayne-O from Schaumberg.
  3. The ticket ban/ jersey policy is stupid. We know it. The only people that are upset are people who aren’t going to fly to Tampa to go or are going on a press pass. Tickets weren’t even an issue since the initial run sold out within hours.
  4. We know there will be a lot of Hawks fans in the crowd. Lots of those folks retire down and keep their allegiance to Chicago. That’s cool, when I’m old and frail I don’t want to have to put up with Chicago winters either. Thanks for spending your money at Amalie Arena.
  5. Chicago has an awesome tradition with the National Anthem. We have real-life lightning in the building. I say it’s a tie.
  6. Bolts is ok. Ning is not. Not ever. Don’t do it. Not even to be ironic.

Why should you root for the Lightning? Well everyone loves an underdog. And the Lightning are an underdog in Vegas and in the media. Everyone seems to think the Hawks are going to roll. My favorite is, “Man I hope the Hawks win in 6 so that they FINALLY get to clinch the Cup at home.”

Yes, on paper the Hawks are a deeper team. Johnny Toews is super awesome. Patrick Kane is a stickhandling genius. Duncan Keith has harnessed the secret of perpetual energy.  But they also have Corey Crawford in net. I don’t think he’s horrible, but he is inconsistent. The Lightning have waded through a hot goalie in Petr Mrazek, a Vezina goalie in Carey Price and a king in Henrik Lundqvist. I'm sure they are quite happy to face Stanley Cup winner Corey Crawford.

The Lightning could very well lose, I’m cool with that, but I have a feeling they’re going to give Chicago everything they can ask for. It will be speed vs speed. You can’t wear Duncan Keith down by pounding him physically, but you can tire him out with speed. If the Lightning get their transition game going, it will be a long, long series for the Blackhawk defense.

So time for you kids to get to know the actual players.

Tyler Johnson – I think we’ve hit peak saturation on the Tyler Johnson Love Express. One of my friends (a Blackhawks fan) mentioned that he now wants to punch him in the face. Before NBC got a hold of him, Johnson was a nice success story. Undrafted because of his size, all he does is win wherever he goes. He is the leading point scorer in the playoffs, has more speed than people (especially defensemen) think and has an innate ability to know where Ondrej Palat is at all times.

He's small, but scrappy! Photo from Associated Press

  • Bandwagon Twitter tip If he scores, Tweet something along the lines of “Tyler Johnson is good at hockey. Follow it up with #ThatLine to make Eric Erlendsson happy.

Ondrej Palat – To some (me) a story just as good as Johnson’s. The Lightning drafted him in the 7th round, 207th overall and he made it all the way to the NHL by being very good at a lot of things but great at none. While that might be the most backhandiest of compliments it is true. Nothing he does will stand out to you, but at the end of the night he walks away with a goal and an assist and a couple of nice defensive plays. He is the glue of The Triplets line.

Nikita Kucherov – If Johnson is the dynamic playmaker and Palat the steady, responsible forward, then Kucherov is the free-wheeling, hard shooting, fun guy on the line. On a team that loves making extra passes, he is the one guy with a shoot-first mentality. He is also usually on the end of the home run passes that the Lightning like to use to catch opposing teams off guard.
-Bandwagon Twitter tip – If you like to compete in John Buccigross’ OT Challenge – Kucherov is your man to pick. He has two overtime goals in the playoffs so far

Steven Stamkos – It may seem crazy that Stamkos hasn’t been mentioned until now, but that’s how dominating The Triplets have been in the postseason. Stamkos, in his first year as the captain, has been phenomenal. He scored his normal 40+ goals in the regular season, and after a small hiccup in the first round has rediscovered his scoring touch. He also shifted over to wing when Coach Cooper moved Filppula up to his line without a complaint. Gone are the days where he could only score on one-timers from the circle. He is a threat from any position now (except point on the power play – stop doing that).

Alex Killorn – He’s a Harvard man! He’s also the second member of the Lightning to score a game winning goal in the 7th game of a conference final. The first was Fredrik Modin in 2004. Killorn’s game is a lot like Modin’s, physical with a bit of skill. Like chocolate and red wine he pairs well with Stamkos. Killorn as the grinder who goes into corners winning the puck or slapping home the rebound.

Perhaps the best photo so far. By Dirk Shadd/ Tampa Bay Times. Follow him on the twitter @DirkShadd. He is awesome.

Valteri Filppula – The only person on the team that has won a Stanley Cup. Filppula moved up to the second line in place of Callahan AND displaced Stamkos as at center. The result – Stamkos scores! Very creative playmaker who can stickhandle in a phone booth.

JT Brown – Chicago fans might be more familiar with JT’s dad, Ted Brown, who was a running back with the Minnesota Vikings in the early 80s then they are with the high-energy forward. JT isn’t on the ice much, he’s only averaging 11:50 for the playoffs, but he’s all over it when he is. A fast, tenacious skater he gets to called gritty until he starts actually scoring some goals.

Ryan Callahan – Has as many goals as appendectomies this playoff season. After playing most of the season on a line with Stamkos and Killorn he has found a more defensive role in the last two rounds. He has been effective as a forechecker and still finds time on the power play uniit

Brian Boyle – Boyle was brought in to win face-offs and chew bubble gum , and he’s fresh out of Bazooka. He’s one of four forwards that’s over 50%. I don’t have any fancy stats to back up, but his line does a good job of shifting the ice and spending time in the offensive zone, he just hasn’t been able to put the puck in the net. In the regular season he did score 15 goals, but he also had someone named Jo Drouin on his line.

Brenden Morrow – The sentimental “old guy without a cup” on the team. He was signed in the off-season for…..veteran leadership? He has played alright in limited amounts but hasn’t made much of an impact overall. Therefore, he should score an overtime winner at some point during the series.

Cedric Paquette – Most coaches have “their guys”. For Coach Cooper, Paquette is his guy. He’s not flashy (only 1 goal in the post season) but he is effective. Centering the broken up 4th line his role is to create some energy which he tends to do by throwing his body around. His 41 hits is 4th on the team. He is also one of the leaders on the penalty kill. Almost 205 of his ice time has been spent killing penalties. Fittingly enough his one goal – short handed.

Vladislav Namestnikov – The young Russian has been used sparingly in the post season. His only appearance against the Rangers was in the Game 6 debacle where he replaced Paquette in the line up. Possessor of much speed he is a nice asset to have in reserve, but is probably a year away from really contributing to the line up.

Johnathan Marchessault – There is no real reason to include Marchessault in this list. If things go as planned he won’t see the ice. The fact that he has already is a bit of a mystery. When Callahan was scratched in Game 6 against the Canadiens, it wasn’t superstar rookie Jonathan Drouin who replaced him, it was Marchessault.

Jonathan Drouin – Currently MIA. The rookie suited up for 70 games in the regular season and put up a respectable 28 assists while playing mostly with Brian Boyle. He’s only appeared in 3 games in the post-season leading fans to wonder if he stole a pack of Coach Cooper’s gum.
--Bandwagon Tip – if the Lightning get shut out or lose a low scoring game feel free to complain on twitter about Morrow playing and not Drouin. Don’t forget to add #FreeDrouin at the end.

Victor Hedman – The playoffs have been the coming out party for the Big Swede. A large individual (6’6”) who plays a smaller man’s game (i.e. he doesn’t hit people) Hedman is a very fluid skater who has no problem bringing the puck up the ice on his own. Please drink every time you hear the phrase “Victor Hedman is the Lightning’s Duncan Keith”.

Anton Stralman – The rare unicorn of a player that makes the new stats and the old stats people super happy, Stralman is the steady rock of the Lightning blueline. Mr. Yzerman might have overpaid a little bit to sign him in the off-season, but it has turned out to be the best move of his tenure as GM. Not only is Stralman a pretty good player, he’s had a mentoring influence on Victor Hedman, helping him take his game to the next level.

Matt Carle – Oh Matt Carle. We, as a fan base, have complete faith that we have absolutely no idea which Matt Carle will show up on a game-to-game basis. Will it be the one who laid out Chris Kreider on a big hit and started the scoring sequence that sealed the deal in Game 7 against the Rangers or the other one. The one that turns pucks over and makes us mutter…”God damn it, Carle” while photoshopping his head on pictures of Carl from the Walking Dead. He might be Blackhawks fans’ favorite player by the end of the series.

Jason Garrison – Jason Garrison just exists. He is there. At one point in the offseason he was in Vancouver. Then, he was in Tampa. He logs about 19 unremarkable minutes a game and occasionally chips in a point here or there. He is your prototypical second pair defenseman. Oh, and with the trade of Radko Gudas he does have the best beard on the team.

Andrej Sustr – Another redwood-sized defensemen, Sustr has had his ups and downs this post-season. During the season he was a solid replacement when the blueline was decimated by injuries, but he seems to have hit a bit of a wall in the post-season. There was an infamous moment where Rick Nash bullied him off the puck to set up a goal in the Game 6 blowout and he’s also had his share of turnovers in the defensive zone. He is usually paired with Matt Carle which makes for many, many stomach-churning moments for Lightning fans.

Brayden Coburn – Hawks fans might remember Braden Coburn. After all he was on the ice when Patrick Kane scored the Cup winner in 2010. Hopefully we don’t see a repeat of that. It’s 100% legitimate to say that the Lightning wouldn’t be in the Finals without him. The knuckle-puck he fired past Petr Mrazek in Game 7 of the opening round ended up being the game winner.

Nikita Nesterov – The rookie defenseman got his shot when Coach Cooper switched to an 11-forward and 7-defensemen rotation. Since then he’s proven that he should be logging regular minutes instead of say…I don’t know….cough Matt Carle cough. He has six points in 10 post-season games and gives the Lightning another puck carrying defenseman who doesn’t need help getting out of the defensive zone.

Ben Bishop – Oh #BishPlease. Is he elite? No. Is he shaky? No. He’s just a tall sum’ bitch that can stop pucks. Sure sometimes he’ll struggle and not make it out of the first period, but he’s also the goalie that has played in two Game 7s in his career and not allowed a goal. Of the two starting goalies, he is the one most likely to steal a game. He’s also the one most likely to knock a puck into his own net.

Andrei Vasilevskiy – He’s 20 years old. He made it to the NHL after playing in the KHL for only one season. He will see time in net in this series.

I hope that you’re leaving with a little more knowledge. I also sincerely wish best of luck to the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans. If it wasn’t the Lightning they were playing I would be pulling for you. After all you put on fantastic parades.

Lightning in seven.