Everything Else

For most of our existence, we’ve done our best to mock Steve Yzerman’s reign as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The scars of damage inflicted during his playing days do not heal so fast, or at all, dear friends. We simply wouldn’t relent. And as the Lightning struggled at times, we laughed and pointed and mocked. It was made even better at Red Wings fans cried their usual rivers of tears and motor oil (all of which they dump in Flint) that Yzerman was allowed to leave Detroit at all.

And yet, here we are, and Yzerman is leading the best team in the league at the moment and almost certainly the Cup favorite. And they were that before the season. And we have to admit…hang with us here…this isn’t going to be easy…

Steve Yzerman is pretty good at his job.

His drafting record is among the best you’ll find. The first one in 2010 didn’t go so well, but did provide two NHL-ers in Brett Connolly and Radko Gudas, even if the latter should be sitting in front of a parole board/firing squad at the moment. The following year netted the Bolts Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov, and Ondrej Palat. The following year saw Slater Koekkoek, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Cedric Pacquette, and Jake Dotchin. 2013 brought Jonathan Drouin, which turned into Mikhail Sergachev. Brayden Point was taken in 2014. That’s 12 players that either are on this team now, have contributed heavily in the past, or were turned into pieces that are contributing now. And in Kucherov he’s got a potential Hart Trophy winner.

Yes, Yzerman inherited Stamkos and Hedman, which are the two big building blocks and any GM should be rated on the the foundational pieces he brings in. But certainly Kucherov and Palat are building blocks as well. Sergachev may well turn into one.

Yes, Yzerman has had a blind spot on his blue line, where contracts have been handed out to Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, Jason Garrison, and one or two other overgrown sloths with gloves. That’s been balanced this year by Sergachev and Anton Stralman a few years ago. It clearly hasn’t killed them.

Where Yzerman’s real creativity has come in has been dancing around the salary cap. “CAPOCALYPSE!” has been predicted for the Lightning for a few years now, and it just hasn’t materialized. The big piece was convincing Steven Stamkos that the no-state-income-tax in Florida would benefit him greatly, even if his salary wasn’t as high as it would have been in New York or Toronto or Montreal. Stamkos on pace for 120 points at $8.5 million sure seems value now. Tyler Johnson’s $5 million a season might be a bit of an overreach, but hardly scandalous. Same with Alex Killorn’s $4.4, though the fact that runs from here until President’s Warren’s swearing-in might be an issue.

What’s more is that the Lightning have two or three years more to this window that’s already seen them get to a Final and a Game 7 Conference Final. Kucherov is due new paper after next season, and considering the numbers he’s putting up he could ask for something in the $10 million range. Certainly in the Stamkos range, even if he will be only a restricted free agent. But that same offseason will see the Lightning clear Stralman, Coburn, and Girardi off the books. Only Namestnikov is due an extension after this season of any player who matters. Even if Kucherov needs the moon Yzerman will have $11 million or so to play with to give to him if need be. That doesn’t even factor in whatever raise the cap will have by then.

All told, the Lightning should get a run of four or five, maybe six, years at the top of the league. That’s about the maximum anyone gets in a cap world. You can’t argue.

Of course, this kills us. The orchestrator of so many of our nightmares running a team the way we’d like to see one run. It never ends, the horrors never leave, the pain is always present.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Game #21 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups

 

Everything Else

George is a contributor to RawCharge.com. You can follow him on Twitter @GeoFitz4. 

Best record in the league, four guys averaging more than a point per game, with Stamkos nearly at two points per game. Is there anything to complain about in Bolts-land?
– Only real complaint has been the usage of Slater Koekkoek. Jon Cooper has used seven defensemen for all but a handful of games this season. This was actually something I predicted would happen earlier in the off-season. With three young defensemen, it allows Associate Head Coach Rick Bowness to  balance the ice time of the younger kids and protect them. So far, Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr have rotated in-and-out of the 7th defenseman spot. It’s been a little bit frustrating because we feel that Koekkoek has played well in the time he’s been given, while Sustr has regressed and his flaws have been more exposed than ever. Koekkoek is a smooth skater and was once looked on as a potential #3 defenseman. He had three shoulder surgeries (two on one, one on the other) before even starting his professional career and that stunted his development a bit. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor complaint.
Brayden Point is already halfway to his rookie point total from last year. What do we need to know about him?
– Recently I’ve seen some comparisons of Point to Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews. Not saying that he’s up to Toews level… yet… but he’s the kind of player that does the little things right. He’s not a master at any one thing, but he’s just a very solid all-around player that plays great defense and produces offensively. His line, with Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde on either wing, have been tasked with taking on top lines. Expect his line to be out there a lot against Toews and Saad. Point was overlooked in his draft year despite his offensive output (36-55-91 in 72GP in WHL with Moose Jaw) because of his size and some minor questions on his skating according to reports at the time. Since then, he’s picked up a couple inches and probably 15-20 pounds. That extra size and the work he has put in with renowned skating coach Barb Underhill allowed him to really bring his game to the next level. He was the first AHL-eligible professional rookie to make the Lightning out of training camp under Steve Yzerman. That’s just not something that happens with this organization anymore.
Mikhail Sergachev has 14 points and was the offseason’s big acquisition. Is he already the second puck-moving d-man the Lightning have needed behind Hedman. 
– Most definitely. The Lightning had a bit of a luxury in having three elite forwards on the roster. But they really only had one elite defenseman, as good as Anton Stralman is. Sergachev is proving to be that second player and he has more goals and points than Jonathan Drouin this season. Habs fans though will rightfully point out that Sergachev has a much better supporting cast in Tampa than he would of had in Montreal and he likely wouldn’t be producing like this north of the border. He’s a smart, charismatic kid that has a great work ethic and it comes through in the Russian interviews RawCharge has translated. He’s mostly been paired with Anton Stralman who has proven to be a great compliment to him. Stralman had career offensive seasons when he joined the Lightning but cooled off last season away from Hedman. But what he did with Hedman is the same thing he can do for Sergachev – give him a solid defensive presence that is an excellent communicator and will let him do his thing. He’s also earned his way on to the second power-play unit and has shown a knack for getting pucks on net through bodies.
How is Dan Girardi rocking positive underlying numbers when he was an utter disaster in New York?
– So, funny thing about that. @LoserPoints, our resident advanced stats experts, was just chatting with the rest of the staff about Girardi’s numbers a few days ago. With the Lightning using seven defensemen, it means that everyone is getting a chance to play with everyone else. When Girardi has been with Sergachev, he’s posted some ridiculously good numbers. With every one else, his numbers are mostly in the negative. A lot like his normal partner Braydon Coburn, he doesn’t push the pace offensively, but he has been better at limiting defensive chances for the Lightning. He’s been able to compliment Sergachev in the limited time they’ve played together and Sergachev’s offensive instincts has helped to buoy Girardi’s numbers. Girardi also mentioned in interviews before the season that last year he was slowed down by a nagging foot injury. That’s healed (though it’s only a matter of time before he’s hurt blocking a shot) and that has shown through in his positioning.
If this team doesn’t come out of the East, it will be because….?
– Injuries, particularly to Andrei Vasilevskiy or Victor Hedman. Vasilevskiy in particular is one of the big keys to this team going deep. While the offense is bound to cool off sooner or later, they do have tremendous scoring depth in the top eight forwards. There are some replacement options up front in the AHL in the form of veteran Cory Conacher and prospects Adam Erne, and Matthew Peca. The blue line is a little bit shakier, but the team could weather an injury there, maybe two. Having kept Koekkoek and Sustr, the Lightning are carrying eight NHL defensemen. In the AHL though, the depth just isn’t there. Jamie McBain is the lone defenseman with any NHL experience, though his experience is ample with over 300 games in the NHL. Beyond that, there’s one AHL veteran that could fill-in, one that is already on the bottom of the AHL line-up, a third-year pro, and then two each in their first and second years in the AHL. The goaltending depth picture did get a little bit better with a trade for Louis Domingue to replace Michael Leighton who had been struggling in the AHL. However, a pairing of Domingue and Peter Budaj doesn’t give fans the most confidence unless Domingue can return closer to what he’s shown in the past with the Coyotes.
Everything Else

Pavel Nedved is certainly more worth talking about than any of the players on this squad. Come at me.

We finish out Group A with the team almost certainly destined to be the wooden spooners of the group, the Czech Republic. It’s hard to believe now that when the Olympics first allowed the professionals to be involved, and just two years after the US had won the first World Cup, the Czechs were the ones taking home the gold medal. That’s what happens when you have the two best players at the time, one in goal in Dominik Hasek and one at forward in Jaromir Jagr (was this the last goal Jagr scored that actually mattered for anything? Discuss amongst yourselves). Sad to say, that was probably the last time the Czechs mattered on the international stage.

I’m not sure this preview has to go much further than to point out that Roman Polak is on this squad. That’s how you know it sucks deep pond scum. One day, people will figure out that Roman Polak simply can’t play. I await that day excitedly, a bottle of champagne constantly chilling in my fridge.

Everything Else

oldschool at greased lightning

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBC, CBC, TVA, WGN-AM 720
Reinventing Axl Rose: Raw Charge

A year later, the Blackhawks finally find themselves in the position they should have been in with 20 minutes to play against the Kings on June 1st. And with them, a return to the only hockey that matters. Hockey whose outcome will determine names engraved in silver, and on the Hawks’ side of the ledger, a chance at solidifying even much more than that. Standing in their way is now the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team more than comfortable at not only playing the exact game the Hawks want to and possibly even faster, but also gleefully seizing the opportunity to play the upstarts and define their own story rather than be a footnote in someone else’s.