Everything Else

Saying goodbye to the Tampa Bay Lightning is a lot like saying goodbye to bread. Sure, they were necessary. Sure, they had flashes of being really good and noticeable. And yet it felt like everything went on around them. It’s like they were the dining room table at one of their coach’s key parties/12-hour orgies. It’s going to be used as a prop at times, it’s going to have important tools placed on it, but it’s not really where the focus is going to be.

Before the season, it was generally agreed the Lightning were the best team in the league. And really, they were. Somehow they were able to overcome the fact that Dan Girardi turned into amassed lizards like five years ago, Anton Stralman has looked like confused villain #3 in any Bond film since last season, and Braydon Coburn still has windburn from the 2010 Final. They blended kids and rookies into their already stacked lineup seamlessly, the way Jon Cooper blends peanut butter and candle wax seamlessly into his Thursday nights.

And yet pretty much from the first month on, everyone tried to find a different team to claim the favorite. We all wavered from Boston (hilarious) to Nashville to Winnipeg to Vegas to even saying fuck it the Penguins are just going to win again BECAUSE. The Lightning remained as steadfast as ever, they just couldn’t get anyone to care other than the retirees who populate the place and the extras from Magic Mike who no one told filming was over. They were the reserve prom date who had to wait for everyone else’s delusions of grandeur to pass.

As good as this team is, did it ever have any swagger? Or was that sucked up all by Cooper as he sauntered into a USF bar on a Tuesday? Did they ever look like they believed they could beat anyone and everyone? Was there ever an assuredness? It sure never seemed like it. There was no style or panache to it. It was just results. It was basically hockey Pearl Jam.

It looked like they might have captured it getting out of their division in the playoffs. But that should have been the first clue. That division. 17-5-2 against everyone who wasn’t the Bruins, which contained five teams that looked like something an untrained puppy left to its own devices for hours had gone through. Still, it should have been more.

And then the Caps showed up and said, “Hey wait a fucking minute, why is everyone out-thinking themselves here? Girardi and Coburn suck and we’re going to show everyone.” And they did. By Game 7 both looked like David Cross’ burn victim from Mr. Show. Sometimes it is as simple as it looks.

You know what might have helped? If Steven Stamkos could have managed an even-strength goal at any point in the last series, or more than one in the whole playoffs. Still, you have to say it goes nicely with his no goals in the ’15 Final at all. Quite the set. Hell of a Rick Nash impression you’ve got there, Stammer. Guess you weren’t alone. Nikita Kucherov couldn’t manage any either. So nice how you’re keeping each other company. #LinematesTilWeDie

They weren’t alone in Chateau Where The Fuck Were You? Victor Hedman spent all but one game against the Caps making love to a lawn mower, which didn’t exactly counteract the performance art for the blind that Girardi, Stralman, and Coburn were putting forth. The only d-man who looked like he wanted it was Mikhail Sergachev, and he could barely find 10 minutes per night while his coach was scrolling through Early2BedShop.com on his phone. I guess if you’re traded for Jonathan Drouin you can’t be surprised if they still treat you like Jonathan Drouin out of habit. You can’t expect a hockey coach to notice you’re a different guy.

But it’s ok, Steve Yzerman is a genius because he’s the first GM to figure out that Florida’s lack of an income tax could be like, an advantage? We’ll ignore he’s the reason that his blue line that was half-comprised by Tweedle Dumb, Tweedle Slow, and Tweedle Old was all his doing. And hey, they’re all back next year! Only J.T. Miller needs to be re-upped, just as soon as they can locate him with his other linemates after the conference final. They’re all up after that, which is good because Kucherov, Point, and Gourde are going to suck up the rest. Dance that dance, Stevie Y. Everyone will still love you. (And frankly, the fact that he could see taking the Detroit job was an utterly hopeless task alone makes him smarter than 80% of the GMs out there).

So so long, Tampa. No one has made being this good this meh since…well who knows, because all those teams are forgotten now. Much like the whole area. Miami at least has nightlife. Orlando has Disney. Jacksonville has crack. Tampa has…hang on I’ll get this. Probably not a good sign when the only movie that takes place there, the aforementioned Magic Mike, is all about how everyone wants to get the fuck out of there, huh?

 

 

Everything Else

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SCHEDULE: Game 1 Friday, Game 2 Sunday, Game 3 Tuesday, Game 4 Thursday

They’ve broken through. After more than a decade in the Ovechkin Era, and repeated attempts to run head-first (sometimes literally) through the forcefield between the second round and the conference final, the Caps finally found the weak point and got into the back half of the journey toward the Cup. Good for them, Ovie certainly deserves it. Seems a shame it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a very long stay, because they’re going to find an unholy machine waiting for them.

Goalies: Before this whole thing started, we said it might be better for Braden Holtby, who’s not ever really been a playoff dog except for last season, to come in and be the white knight to bail out Barry Trotz and the Caps after trying Phillip Grubauer in the first two games against the Jackets. That didn’t work, this did work, and now Holtby is playing awfully well. He only gave up 13 goals in the six games against the Pens, but then again he wasn’t asked to do all that much. The Caps only gave up more than 25 shots twice in six games, and that’s just about the best they can do. Holtby isn’t going to have a full-out meltdown with that kind of workload, but sadly that workload is probably going to get a whole lot heavier in this round.

You could say Vasilevskiy has had even less to do. He only had to face one player in the first round in Taylor Hall. He only had to face one line in the second round against the Bruins, and after Game 1 he gave up only seven goals in their four wins. He only saw over 30 shots once in those four wins, but the Lightning can probably hold the Caps to the same kind of output which certainly isn’t the case vice versa. Neither Holtby or Vasilevskiy have been here before so we have no idea how they’ll react. When this is all over, I doubt it’ll be because of either goalie primarily.

Defense: The Caps defense in the second round was basically what it was all season. John Carlson scores a ton on the power play, some at evens, and then they kind of turtle well enough to keep the other side from tearing the walls down. Orlov and Niskanen have been more than just useful, and basically nullified Crosby and Guentzel when the last series got decided. They’ll get the Stamkos and Kucherov assignment you’d think as often as possible, and based on how the last series ended the Caps are probably going to send their stall out to help them as much as possible with a trapping style that’s going to make you really understand Ibsen and welcome the void into your life.

I’m still not totally convinced by the Lightning’s defense, but because it hasn’t been seriously tested, and the Caps are likely to play this very conservatively, I don’t know that I have to be. Hedman might be enough, and will see plenty of Ovechkin with McDonagh you would think. Or if they wanted to play a funny joke they could throw McDonagh and Girardi at Ovie’s line just like the Rangers did and it always seemed to work even though everything tells you it shouldn’t. Also, Dan Girardi sucks. Anton Stralman isn’t much better these days as he gets older, but he’s enough. What the Bolts do have that the Caps don’t is a young, third-pairing bum-slayer in Mikhail Sergachev who has run wild most of these playoffs. That is when he’s played which really has been barely at all. Cooper needs to let this guy off the hook because the Caps will not have an answer and they’re probably going to need all the neutral zone busters they can find as the Caps dig trenches and set up barbed wire there.

Forwards: Even if the Caps were fully healthy, this is where the Lightning have the biggest advantage. And Backstrom and Burakovsky are not healthy. If they could not make the bell for an elimination game against the Penguins, only Washington’s Sisyphusian boulder they finally got up the hill, you have to imagine they’re really hurt. They’ll suit up at some point in this series, though Backstrom’s status for Game 1 is up in the air. Without him, this team is really just one line, and we saw what the Bolts did to a one-line team the last round. Lars Eller is great and all but he’s not enough. Especially when Tom Wilson is assuredly going to give away a couple dumbass power plays to the Lightning by trying to eat someone’s face in a bid to one-up Marchand or something.

We derided Swingin’ Jon Cooper’s choice to send Brayden Point and Palat and Johnson out against Boston’s main threat after Game 1. They spent the rest of the series giving that line a swirly. That goes with Stamkos and Kucherov and Miller (who’s been great) on the top line. Killorn and Gourde are a very decent third line. Basically, the Lightning are two to three times deeper than the Caps, and there just isn’t much they can do about it.

Prediction: The Caps have to gum this up as much as possible. They cannot run with the Lightning in any fashion. They don’t have the depth at forward. They’ll get outscored. So they’ll have to make everything 2-1 and hope Holtby goes nuclear or Vasilevskiy goes blind. They’re counting on Ovechkin or Oshie getting really hot, but if neither do they just don’t have the goals. The Lightning have the guns and they have the numbers. Crash before my eyes…Lightning in 5. 

Everything Else

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While the Penguins and Capitals take part in what is almost a rote annual exercise at this point elsewhere in the East, since the Bruins made it clear they had their shit together this year around Thanksgiving, this has been the de facto conference final that they and the Lightning have been on a collision course for. And it’s sure to provide some of the most entertaining hockey of the post-season.

Everything Else

There’s little point in talking about anyone else on the Islanders right now than John Tavares and whether he will stay on Long Island (whenever the Isles actually get there) or flea to much, much greener pastures this summer. In his hands he’ll hold the futures and presents of two franchises, with the power to change the dynamic of a division or conference as well.

Money isn’t going to be an issue. The Islanders certainly have to be prepared to throw $12 million or more a year at Tavares, whatever the limit is when the new cap is set. If the cap does reach $82 million as has been suggested  you could even chuck somewhere around $16 million per year at Tavares if you were so inclined. That might be a bit much, but Connor McDavid’s $12.5 million hit is probably the target, if not starting point. And just about everyone will offer that who’s going to chase Tavares. And it could be a crowded field.

So we’ll start with the case for Tavares to stay. And you can throw that loyalty crap out the window. Players want to cash in and they want to win, and while Tavares may like his teammates and grown attached to whichever community the Isles are playing in this week, it’s just not going to be that big of a factor.

So what is? Well, the Islanders do have a new home locked up, at Belmont Park. This should be better received by their fans on the Island, as it’s still accessible by the same train that goes to Brooklyn but is still on the Island, which appears to be a big deal for them. The problem is it’s three seasons away, and in the meantime the Islanders appear poised to split their home games between Barclays Center and a refurbished, if not tiny, Nassau Coliseum (where they come to see ’em). This not ideal, but it might not be the headache you imagine. The Islanders’ practice facility is still in Nassau Co., and hence the players had to make the same trip in for games that their fans found to be such a headache. Cutting out half of those trips is probably something that the players will like. Still, it’s something of a vagabond team for three seasons, and that might not appeal at all.

As for the team, there’s hope. With a rise in the cap and a clearing out of some deadweight like Nikolai Kulemin, Calvin de Haan and his missing capital letter, Jaro Halak, maybe Thomas Hickey and maybe a trade of a veteran or two like Clusterfuck or Casey Cizikas, the Isles should have the room to sign Tavares and keep their young-ish core of him, Barzal, Bailey, Lee, Nelson, Beauvillier around.

Couple problems there None of them are defensemen and none of them are goalies. With the Islanders having a historically (and hilariously) bad defense this year, that’s an issue. There doesn’t appear to be a ton of help on the way either, as Josh Ho-Sang and Kiefer Bellows are also forwards. The Isles are going to have to solve this from the outside, and as we’ve discussed for the Hawks, the options are not very appetizing in the least.

So who will the Islanders compete against to be the apple of JT’s eyes? About half the league at least, you’d expect. The Canadiens desperately need a #1 center and a turnaround. But they’re getting old in a hurry, and Tavares might not want to put up with all the bullshit of playing in Montreal. Really, who does? While every Leafs fan is under the impression that every Ontario born NHL-er secretly wants to come home and play for the Leafs and have Steve Simmons insult their entire family, the Leafs won’t have the space and have their own players to re-sign. Tampa has been mentioned as Tavares is close with Steven Stamkos, and if they could find a way to make it work next season they have a ton of money coming off the books in the summer of 2019. Which is nice, because they’re going to have to give Kucherov $10 million or more then. They could have even more if they moved Tyler Johnson along, and he would be a touch superfluous with the arrival of Tavares. And clearly, that team would be a favorite for a while. We’ve talked about the Hawks, who should seriously think about it. Another team that should think about it is San Jose, in that they’re going to have to move on from Thornton at some point and Couture and Pavelski are up after next season. Fuck, the Avs need another center and have all the cap space in the world. The Panthers are making noise now and if they could slot Barkov in as a #2? The Hurricanes probably don’t have the budget but are screaming out for this.  The Blues seem to be clearing the decks for something. This list could go on forever.

It’s an awful lot of competition for New York, a team that can’t promise everything. The future is uncertain for them, and they’ll be bouncing between two arenas. Seems less and less likely the more you think about it, doesn’t it? If Tavares were to bolt, they have Barzal ready to step in as a #1 center and those forwards already mentioned. Still no defense or goalie but all the money earmarked for Tavares would be free. They might suck to high heaven next year when there’s no reasonable targets to spend it on, but hey look at the summer of 2019 and you have Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Sergei Bobrovsky all possibly on the market. It rarely works out like that but you never know.

It might not be death for the Isles, but it wouldn’t be a pleasant recovery either.

 

 

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There’s little question that the Lightning are the best team in the league. While Vegas would love to claim that and their points total says it, the Lightning are just really good instead of feasting on luck and the unprofessionalism of hockey players who apparently just discovered that Las Vegas exists or something.

What’s scary about the Lightning is that according to the metrics, there really isn’t a weak spot to find on them.

To wit: Currently, the Lightning are fourth in the league in Corsi-percentage, and fifth in expected-goals percentage. But what makes that more impressive is that it’s not a case of a few players boosting the rate, and carrying others who are dragging them down. They’re solid 1-12 at forward and 1-6 on defense. Let us go further into it.

When you look at the individual players, no player is more than two percentage points below the team rate when looking at their relative Corsi-percentage. That’s Braydon Coburn at -2.03. And no player is more than two points above the team rate relatively either, which is Andrej Sustr at +2.1.

You don’t find that with the other teams at the top of the possession marks. The Bruins see a difference of about 11 points in their relative marks, with Patrice Bergeron at the top at +6.19 and David Krejci at the bottom at -5.75. The Stars have a difference around 14 points from their bottom player relatively to their top. The Predators have a difference of 16. The Hawks, who yes are still one of the better Corsi teams in the league, have a difference of 13. There just isn’t a hole the Lightning have to cover for.

It’s the same when it comes to the types of chances they create and give up. Coburn is their worst relative expected goals player at -5.7 percentage points, while Brayden Point is their best at +2.96 percentage points. The Stars have a 16-point difference from their worst expected goals to their best. The Oilers do as well. The Canes have a 17-point one. The Bruins have a 14-point gap. There’s just nowhere to go with the Lightning.

This is about as solid as a group in this department as we’ve seen in years. Which bodes well for the spring. Even if teams are able to keep Stamkos and Kucherov quiet at even-strength, and that’s a challenge, and even if they can keep Johnson and Point on a leash behind that (getting harder), the Lightning can get you from the third and fourth lines too if they have to. That’s how teams end up on parades.

What’s scary for the rest of the Atlantic Division is that the Bolts are probably going to be able to keep this depth together for a while. Only Namestnikov requires a new deal next year of the players who matter, and he’s restricted. Sustr does as well, but that’s up to you whether that matters. Kucherov could demand 8-10 million or more in two years’ time, but Stralman, Coburn, and Girardi are off the books then as well.

We probably should get used to this.

 

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GeoFitz4 is a writer on RawCharge.com. Follow him on Twitter @GeoFitz4.
We’ll start with Victor Hedman’s injury. How bad is it and is there any fear it will linger?
When the injury happened, and I first saw a replay while sitting in the arena, I cringed. I got sick to my stomach. It did not look good. It just screamed “torn [something]” and that it would be bad. With the prognosis coming out the day after as three to six weeks, everybody in Tampa Bay let out of sigh of relief. The shorter recovery time suggests that it was more likely a sprain than something being torn. However, maybe something is torn and he’ll be able to play on it once it heals a little bit? But either which way, there’s always a worry with knee injuries for big guys that skate well. You just never know if it’s going to impact the player when he returns. So there is certainly some fear in the back of our minds, but we remain hopeful.
With the Lightning s far ahead in the conference, has there been any thought of giving key players a rest here and there?
I don’t think that that is really Jon Cooper’s style. I think for most of the players on the roster they’re going to be playing a full slate as able. The exceptions might be for some older players like Chris Kunitz, Ryan Callahan, and Braydon Coburn to help keep them fresh. And I do think that Vasilevskiy will start taking less starts as the season goes on. Louis Domingue provides some more confidence in the depth in net and that actually leads me a little bit into the next answer…
What might the Lightning look to do at the deadline?
The team may have already made it’s most important trade of the season already in acquiring Louis Domingue back in November after the Arizona Coyotes waived him. The Lightning’s third goalie at the time, Michael Leighton, had struggled for Syracuse and the Lightning gave up basically nothing to acquire Domingue by trading Leighton and AHL veteran Tye McGinn. Domingue instantly upgraded the third goaltender spot in the organization. And he may even have a chance to overtake Peter Budaj for the back-up spot. Budaj is out for a few more weeks with a lower body injury and Domingue will have this opportunity to audition for the back-up spot. Either way, the team is going to have a hard decision to make when Budaj is back and both would need waivers to go to the minors.
Other than that, I think the most likely possibility is a right handed top-four defenseman. Mike Green is the big name that’s out there that fills that role, but I don’t think the Lightning would get full value out of acquiring him. It would move Jake Dotchin to the pressbox, but Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev already have the powerplay spots locked down and the Lightning play four forwards and one D on both power play units. The only other spot that is somewhat open would be the third line right winger spot. It’s currently occupied by Cory Conacher and he’s played well there. But… if there’s an upgrade to be had there for the right price, Yzerman has to consider it.
Steven Stamkos only has five goals in his last 17. Any concern there?
Not too much worry. The Namestnikov-Stamkos-Kucherov line was the best line in the NHL for much of the first half of the season. That line stagnated a bit though and were broken up. Stamkos hasn’t quite refound his footing since then and the Lightning have been getting less power play opportunities as well. For much of the season, he’s been feasting off of assists, not goals. Coming out of the Christmas break, he made comments about wanting to shoot more. He did that in the first game out of the break with seven shots on goal, and did raise his average from 2.88 per game to 3.1 per game after the Christmas break. Even considering that, he’s a career 16.8% shooter and has four goals in the last 35 shots. With his normal shooting percentage, he should have scored five goals in that span so it’s not far off even though it’s been a little while.
If the Lightning don’t come out of the East, it will be because….?
They go into a funk at the wrong time and hit a hot team. So much of the playoffs is about getting hot at the right time as the Nashville Predators showed us last season. The Lightning came out hot for the first time in… a long time… but have hit some rough spots over the past month or so. Perhaps this is a good time for them to be going through that so that they can re-find their game now and keep it going through the end of the season and into the playoffs. The other big worry would be an injury to Andrei Vasilevskiy for pretty obvious reasons. He’s having a Vezina caliber season and losing him would be a big blow to the Lightning’s chances.

 

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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.

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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

It must’ve been a really odd season for the hockey press that is looking for any excuse to drop to their knees for Steve Yzerman. Steven Stamkos got hurt, as has kind of been his wont in recent years. Ben Bishop was bad, and then he was gone. Tyler Johnson, Valterri Filppula both missed serious chunks of time. And though there was a late charge to get into the playoffs, they missed out after back-to-back conference final-at-least appearances. How could such a thing happen to a team with a GM as genius as Stevie Y? Oh right, the blue line behind Hedman blew chunks. Well guess what? IT STILL DOES! Yzerman has kept salary cap doomsday off for another year or two at least, and the Bolts look ready to regain their place atop the East.

Tampa Bay Lightning

’16-’17 Record: 42-30-10  94 points (5th in the Flortheast)

Team Stats 5v5: 51.2 CF% (7th)  49.8 SF% (18th)  51.7 SCF% (7th)  7.3 SH% (18th)  .924 SV% (16th)