Hockey

Sometimes your aimless speculation turns into reality. You should probably just accept the good fortune that makes you look prescient instead of questioning the randomness of the fates.

Yesterday, Mike Babcock was fired, which started a flicker that could turn into a full out flame of wondering and soon rumors that he could find his way to Chicago. If the Hawks were to fall on their face at any point this season and miss the playoffs by a huge margin, Jeremy Colliton‘s position would certainly be awkward if not untenable. Babcock’s name has cache, would command respect immediately from the main vets in the room (three of whom have played for him at the Olympic level), and at least provide a floor of professionalism and structure.

It would also be the wrong move.

We broke down why it would be on the podcast, so let’s shift the focus. We’ve had a lot of fun with Jon Cooper around here (a lot of fun), but what that doesn’t change is that he’s a very good coach. Perhaps the leader in the “Not A Moron” category in our binary system of rating coaches around the league.

The Lightning have never finished with less than 94 points under his watch, now in its 7th season. The one year they missed the playoffs, Steven Stamkos played just 17 games, Ben Bishop was hurt as well and Andrei Vasilevskiy was making his first foray into being a starter. And they still gathered 94 points. He was the captain on the ship that gobbled up 128 points last year.

Moreover, Cooper has been able to integrate and develop a wave of young talent to turn the Lightning into a power. First it was the Triplets of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat, with the middle guy there becoming an MVP. Of late it’s been Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde and Mikhail Sergachev and Eric Cernak. He knows how to put people in the places they will have the best chance of succeeding. And he plays an up-tempo, get up the ice style that meshes with what the NHL is these days.

Mike Babcock does none of these things.

However, Babs’s name will carry more weight because of the trophy cabinet, a mark Cooper has yet to make. Two conference finals, a Final appearance, and all were lost to modern dynasties by the tightest of margins (yes, it’s a stretch to call the Caps that, but their decade-spanning stay atop their division certainly makes them one of the teams of the era). No other coach around is matching that aside from Mike Sullivan in Pittsburgh of late, aside from one Joel Quenneville.

Which you might think would make it pure fantasy that Cooper could even get fired, let alone come to Chicago. But is it? Along with that record-breaking season last year comes the weight of the embarrassing first-round collapse. And as the malaise from that has carried over into this season, one wonders how much the pressure is already ramping up. The enduring image of Cooper at the moment are his exclamations of “This is our chance!” during Game 4 in Columbus last year when an offsides challenge had canceled out a Jackets goal.

Really? You had the greatest team of the modern era, or at least the best regular season, and this is what you need to get past a team 35 points behind you in the standings? Clearly, it wasn’t their chance.

Cooper has to wear that, though there isn’t anything a coach is going to do about a goalie who puts up an .856 SV% over four games. Still, the Lightning seemed to freeze in the headlights after a Game 1 loss.

Which isn’t fair, because Cooper has playoff success on his resume, which means he’s instilled a confidence and fight in his team before. Couldn’t it just be an anomaly?

Still, this Lightning team is now as Cup-or-bust as it gets. And sitting second-last in the Atlantic probably isn’t what the front office had in mind when they basically held the line on personnel this summer (as they should have). Could they get itchy? Could they conclude something broke last spring and only a new voice will snap the players over that hurdle? Not so outlandish, is it?

Should it happen, the Hawks should be all over Cooper. Maybe he doesn’t carry the cache of Babcock, but you know what? He’s the better coach. If you’re a Hawks fan hoping for a seismic change behind the bench, this is the one you want.

Hockey

Pat Maroon – A fine fourth liner, and yet he’ll get to wear the label of “the final ingredient” because he happened to be on the Blues last year and from St. Louis. Oh sure, he scored the goal that beat the Stars, a team that took the Blues to seven games even though they couldn’t actually score. And after their first round debacle, the Lightning felt they were missing something, which actually was a goalie who didn’t spend all four games sneezing bending himself into a pretzel but they thought was some goof on the fourth line. What happens if the Bolts go out early again? Does Maroon lose his magic?

Cedric Paquette – Remember when this dingleberry couldn’t wait to suck up all the press about how he was the ultimate pest in Game 3 of the ’15 Final because he had one good game? Yeah, well, Toews ate his heart the rest of the series and the Lightning scored two more goals. Never heard from him again.

Kirk ShattenKevin – Because the Hawks could have had him for the same song the Bolts got him, and they needed his mobility more than Tampa did. But that would take actual vision, and not clogging up your blue line with multi-year deals for the likes of Olli Maatta.

Hockey

Whoops.

That ended up being the theme for the Bolts last season. They took a historically good season and a historically good individual season from Nikita Kucherov and dumped in straight into the toilet like tainted Taco Bell in four games. In some ways, it makes them more unique than if they’d just won the Cup. But that will be of little solace to them and their fans. Which makes this season something of a revenge tour. Most likely, they’ll dial back in the regular season a touch, which should be still more than good enough to win this division. And no judgements can be made until the postseason starts. But the thing with the Lightning is they don’t have some record of being playoff chokers. They’ve been to the conference final twice, a Final once all in the last four seasons. Perhaps they should have beaten the Caps in that conference final, with a Game 7 at home, but it was hardly the magnitude of an upset that last year was. They may be running out of chances.

2018-2019

62-16-4  128 points (1st in Metro, lost in 1st round)

3.89 GF/G (1st)  2.80 GA/G (7th)  +72 GD

51.5 CF% (9th)  52.6 xGF% (8th)

29.2 PP% (1st)  85.0 PK% (1st)

Goalies: A microcosm of the entire team, no opinions are going to be formed about Andrei Vasilevskiy in the regular season. We know he’s almost certainly going to put up Vezina-numbers then. He’s been over .920 in both of his seasons as starter, and .925 at evens. Unless something truly broke in the playoffs, the Lightning have no questions here.

But when April rolls around, so do all those questions. Vas-manian Devil here was simply awful in the first round, putting up an .856 over four games against Columbus. No, he didn’t have a lot of help, but when the Lightning needed a save, he didn’t provide one. This followed him somewhat falling apart in that Game 7 the previous season, so we know there are gremlins jumping around his skull in the spring. And that label dogs you until you prove it untrue. Vas is going to have to wait six months to make things right.

He’ll be backed up by Curtis McElhinney, who is about as solid in that role as you can ask. He had a brief hot streak with the Canes last year before ceding to Peter Mrazek, and was solid as a backup in Toronto the previous two seasons to the point where the unwashed rabble amongst Leafs fans (read: all of them) were pining for him last season. The Lightning won’t want to turn things over to him for too long a stretch if something happens to Vasilevskiy, but he certainly can get them out of 20-25 games.

Defense: What might be most amazing about the Lightning’s season last year is that this defense isn’t all that impressive. And it’s still not. Victor Hedman is one of the best around and certainly cures a lot of ills. But Anton Stralman started to age last year, and they replaced him this time around with a couple fliers in Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Schenn. You could see where in heavily sheltered shift, and the Bolts can do that for him, Kirk ShattenKevin could be a find. Mikhail Sergachev had a rough go in the playoffs, but still has all the promise in the world and should get second-pairing time now.

Erik Cernak‘s play landed Slater Koekkoek here, so you can thank him for that. But Braydon Coburn is still here for reasons no one can explain. Ryan McDonagh is past it too, though Hedman covers up for a lot of that. You know Rutta and Schenn suck deep pond scum. When they were put under heavy attack last year by the Jackets, you saw what happened. They’ll need a renaissance from Shattenkirk and real steps forward from Sergachev and Cernak. If they don’t get those, they’ll have to go looking.

Forwards: Then again, it might not matter thanks to this group. They still need to cram in Brayden Point to their cap situation, as he remains unsigned. Until he is, they’ll just have to find a way to make do with Steven Stamkos, Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson (high atop our wanted list for the Hawks), Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, and Mathieu Joseph. How will they ever manage?

The Bolts lit up the scoreboard on the power play and at evens, and with Stamkos and Kucherov on opposite wings there’s no reason the PP won’t go pinball noises again. There’s just little answer for them, especially with Hedman up top. It’s hard to match this depth, whenever Point gets back into the fold. They could ice just the forwards and Vasilevskiy and probably still be a playoff team. Hell, they should try a 4F-1D lineup at all times just to see what happens.

Predictions: If you got odds on this team to win the Cup, you should take them. I don’t think last season is anything other than a strange anomaly, and the only thing that could derail them again before the conference final is if Vasilevskiy truly does see ghosts in the postseason. Yeah, the defense is not special, but it’s got three puck-movers that it needs and all it really has to do is get the puck up to the forwards and say, “Go do shit.” And this forward group is still otherworldly. Is Kucherov going to go for 128 points again? No, probably not. But he doesn’t have to. This team, barring injury or goalies going inside-out, can sleepwalk to 110 points and the Atlantic title again. Any question about them is in the playoffs, and again, this isn’t a team that has a track record of throwing up on itself when it counts. That feels like a one-off. All systems go here.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

 

Everything Else

“How did it come to this?” Jon Cooper asked, as he removed his chaps and put on a robe, a little alarmed at the amount of scented massage oils on his hands and elsewhere. He looked out the window of his yacht, and no it wasn’t him wondering how he ended up with this curious yet staid housewife of Tampa, who not only wouldn’t leash him but didn’t even know what it was, but why he wasn’t working at the moment.

And that’s how most of Tampa will spend the next month or two, because God knows there’s nothing else to do there. How did the best team of the recent era go poof! before we even had time to get drunk? Move over, Leftovers, HBO is going to have a new show about a mysterious happening that no one can explain. Except the fallout will still be everyone living in Tampa or St. Pete, wondering how they got there and yet never figuring out a way to leave. Vibrant, this show will not be.

Let’s dispel the myths that will hound the Lightning through all of next year. That somehow dominating the league left them unprepared for games that meant anything. Hmmm…seems to me when you’re chasing a points and wins record, every game means something. You’re not just going through the motions. And seeing as how the last two relevant Hawks teams and the two Penguin champions basically took March off, this doesn’t hold much water (or in Cooper’s case, water-based lube). You’re professionals, almost everyone on that team was in last year’s conference final and a few before that, so to act as if they were unprepared for the playoffs is a stretch at best, an absolute falsehood at worst. It’s a foothold for the stupid.

They aren’t tough enough, that’s what every breathing-too-hard-after-three-stairs media person in Canada and in hockey will say. They lack grit. They lack heart. And Columbus doesn’t because Brandon Dubinsky yells a lot or something. Again, this is a Lightning team that’s been within no more than five wins of a Cup three times in the last five years. It must know something about advancing in the spring. Perhaps it forgot, as most residents of the area tend to with a lot of things. Or wish they could. Perhaps it’s contagious.

No, eventually, between planning his next swingers’ club outings to Tampa’s one cocktail lounge, Cooper will come to realize he just got out-coached, and his goalie barfed up a poltergeist or two. The Bolts still wanted to weave their pretty passing patterns through an amped-up and moved-up trap of Columbus. They wanted to Quenneville, when Quenneville hockey was shown to not work anymore three years ago. And it was especially silly with a battered and then absent Victor Hedman, and Mikhail Sergachev’s legs more and more covered by his own urine. Out and up was the order of the day, which is also what they tell you to be aware of when walking into Cooper’s office.

Even that doesn’t explain it all, not as much as Vasilevskiy’s .855 SV% for the series does. Whatever plan you have or the opponent has doesn’t matter much when your goalie looks like Gumby in the freezer. Pair that with Game 7 last year against the Caps, and suddenly there’s a lot of baggage in the young man’s head. Baggage he can’t do much about until next spring. Makes for a fun follow-up season, with no questions at every stop or anything.

In the end, it might be nothing more than the perfect storm of a bad week, a goalie slump, an injury or two, and every opponent getting hot. The thing with hockey is that it defies explanation a lot of the time, and trying to stab the smoke of reason it has is what lands organizations in bigger trouble than it already was.

The questions now of course will be do the Lightning panic and change things in search of the more and more nebulous “grit and heart and fire and passion and FAARRRRRTTTT?” Are players who are considered to have snuffed it on the big stage this past week all contenders to be moved along? Could there be something wrong with a group that put up the best regular season in recent memory? That’s a pretty tidy list, consisting only of Stamkos, Kucherov, Palat, Vasilevskiy, Sergachev, Point, Johnson, and Hedman. Should be easy to move all of them along, no?

Luckily the GM who was hailed a genius for trying to reconstruct the 2014 Rangers blue line isn’t around anymore, so he can’t be hurled overboard. Then again, it was his replacement who actively sought Jan Rutta, so there must be some kind of gas leak in the GM office at Amalie Arena that causes one to see a blue line as a place for surrealism. Seriously, Braydon Coburn, Rutta, and Ryan Callahan played playoff games in 2019. When you have to absolutely play at high speed, the first or second call probably shouldn’t go out to Dan Girardi or Ryan McDonagh. Maybe it’s not all that mysterious?

You know how this goes. Tampa could easily hold everything together, win next year at a canter, and then this flop will be cited as their rallying cry and inspiration among the champagne and confetti. It can be the chip on the shoulder everyone seems convinced you have to have to succeed in April and May. Hockey is nothing if not filled with people angry at figments, or their struggle to cope in the every day world.

But that will be just another Cup win. What the Lighting have done here is truly unique. Never happened before, in fact. A Cup win next spring just adds you to the list. Here you stand alone. It’s all yours. Everyone will remember this one. Which is just about the only thing memorable to happen to Tampa, ever. They say the Bucs won a Super Bowl once, after they got to play a team too stupid to change its signals to avoid detection from their old coach who just happened to be on the other sideline. All that got us were Hooters ads and some of the most awkward exchanges on Sportscenter ever seen with confused and impatient college kids. And that’s saying something. Still, I don’t believe it actually happened. I know it didn’t matter if it did.

No, this should go on all the signs. Next to Magic Mike and the reasons for not going to Rays games which consist only of, “Well, it’s over there.” (which would have made Tampa the perfect landing spot for the White Sox, come to think of it)

“Welcome to Tampa, the site of the only Presidents’ Trophy Winner to belch themselves inside-out in less than a week.” Now that’s something. They’ll come from miles to see that…or to avoid whichever machete-wielding neighbor escaped his basement dungeon that day in some podunk Florida town. Either or.

Goodnight, Tampa Bay Lightning. You are history. No, literally, you are. An accomplishment, a touchstone, a benchmark. No one else can say that this spring. Just make you take extra care to knock on Cooper’s door this summer. He’s got a lot to work out.

 

 

Everything Else

As the Lightning sit on the precipice tonight, I haven’t been able to shake this stat ESPN presented on Sunday night when they went down 3-0:

This would seem an excellent time for me to get on my European soccer high horse and proclaim it to be superior because it has no playoffs (at least in a league season), and thus excellence is always rewarded. But let’s save that for another time (you know I’m going to at some point though). It’s just the most curious thing.

All of those teams are considered some kind of footnote, or shrouded in what came before and after, or an outright failure. If you were asked what was the best all-time regular season record in baseball, you’d probably remember the Mariners just because of Ichiro. But it would take you a second. And if you were asked the best baseball team of all-time, you’d probably refer to an “era” of the Yankees in the late 90s, without picking one out individually. And none of them managed the 108 wins the Red Sox did last year. There isn’t one that sticks out.  You wouldn’t say the Mariners of 2001, but factually they are.

The Patriots’ “failure” gets shrouded in that they won three Super Bowls before that and then three after that. So their 16 wins just join a list of secondary yet impressive accomplishments, somewhere above their run of AFC East titles. They also did something unique, in that no team has won six Super Bowls in what you’d call one stretch. The Steelers are broken up between the 70s and then a couple more recently. And yet shouldn’t the 16-0 stand out more? We haven’t seen it since, and we might not see it again (until the Bears this year of course, my frent). But it doesn’t, because it didn’t come with the crown on top.

The Warriors are almost certainly the greatest team ever to play (sorry Jordan fans, but deep in your heart you know it’s true), and even after last night they’re going to waltz to their fourth title in five years and probably barely breathe hard to do so. Yet everyone still tries to beat them over the head with 2016, even though they did something no team has done and it took the greatest player of all-time (this time I’m not apologizing to Bulls fans) at the peak of his powers to thwart them at the absolute final hurdle. And yet for me, the 73 wins is what I’ll remember, but most don’t or even use it as a cudgel. That’s the team that wowed you on a nightly basis instead of bored you with their efficient greatness.

It’s even murkier in hockey, where the best team rarely wins. Of course, thanks to the goofy standings system, it’s hard to discern clearly who the best team is most of the time. Not this year, obviously, and look how that’s going. If you’d asked me the best team I’d seen or best team of the NHL’s history, again I’d probably wave at an era of Wings teams in the 90s or Canadiens in the 70s, without one sticking out. When the Hawks won their first Cup, they were third in the league that year standings-wise. Their third Cup saw them finish third in their own division. And yet no one points it out because of course, they won their last game. And they knew as well as anyone else that seeding didn’t really matter to them that much.

Only the ’13 team is seen as an all-conquering force that scorched the Earth behind it, and even that’s derided a bit because it was only a 48-game season. And it’s hard to think of another team that comes close to that label. The Penguins didn’t win their own division in their last two Cup runs. The Caps did, but that was mostly considered a footnote or outright fluke as no one else was any good in that division. The Kings never did either. Are we really going all the way back to ’13? ’10 before that? The ’08 Wings? And even the latter is considered something flat because they only had the one out of three or four truly great teams.

I suppose that’s the oddity of North American sports. Hell, people my age probably remember the 103-win Giants that didn’t even make the playoffs in 1993 than we do most champs (I have a certain friend who is going to murder me for mentioning that). Never mind that the ’93 Braves and their 104 wins were then stomach-punched by the drunk and hairy Phillies at the first jump. Did you immediately remember that the Jays won the Series that year?

So it’s kind of funny to me that teams like the Warriors now, one or two other NBA teams, the Hawks teams of a few years ago or Penguins now or whoever else get shit for taking some regular season games off. All of them have the scars of great teams that didn’t win, whose regular season accomplishments are labeled meaningless, and yet when they put the playoffs and titles over everything else they’re “cheating the fans.” It’s an impossible needle to thread.

I can’t help but think sports have become to binary. You either won the title or you failed, no matter if you did something literally no one else had done before. After all, the regular season is the largest sample we have of what teams are, and sometimes historic accomplishments are wiped away or dismissed because of a bad week? Seems strange.

Then again, maybe that’s what makes it special. We have this slog of a regular season in every sport, find out who the best is, and then ask them to survive this pressurized crucible right after it. It makes for a better story at times when these teams fall.

Still, it does make it feel pointless. We spent six months or more being wowed by all of these teams, having it proven they were five steps ahead of everyone else. And then it’s gone. So why did we bother? If those results don’t mean anything, why have them? On the other side, if the playoffs were just a confirmation of what we’d seen, there wouldn’t be much drama (the current complaint about recent NBA playoffs, which is easy to understand). Doesn’t seem to hurt the NBA’s popularity though.

I’m on the side of always rooting for greatness, for things I haven’t seen before. The Warriors winning four of five and 73 games in the one they didn’t is the kind of thing I’ll remember forever. Hell, it was only two days ago a lot of us were willing the greatest golfer of all-time to another victory, because he does things we hadn’t seen before. At least where I’m not emotionally involved, that is (so you can fuck off with all your City remarks, Hess).

Maybe it’s just a quirk. And yet we keep racking these up.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE: Game 1 Wednesday 6pm, Game 2 Friday 6pm, Game 3 Sunday 6pm, Game 4 April 16th 6pm

This is what happens when you’re the best—you get the first-round match-up that should be a breeze. There are of course reasons why it may not be a total incineration, but not only are the Lightning far and away the best team in the league, they’ve also been particularly adept at fucking with the Blue Jackets. I think we all know how this ends, but for the sake of argument, let’s take a closer look:

Goalies: It’s strange to start off saying Sergei Bobrovsky isn’t the better goalie in a match-up, but here we are. And in fact that’s not totally fair—Bob is still plenty good and is the most important player on the team (Panarin devotees, calm down). Aside from the loss to Boston a few days ago, he hasn’t had a game with a save percentage below .920 since mid-March, and he went 7-1 the last two weeks including throwing three shutouts. But those weren’t against the Ning. In fact, two came against non-playoff teams.

The issue isn’t just if Bobrovsky is talented enough to handle the Lightning’s obscene scoring ability—he could definitely make a run at that in a vacuum—but it’s whether he can do so despite getting rattled by this team this year and also if he can do so in the playoffs, where he’s typically struggled. Maybe if it were a more suspect goalie on the other side of the ice one would say yes, but Andrei Vasilevskiy is not suspect. Not only is his playoff record stronger (.919 SV%, 2.68 GAA vs. Bob’s .891 and 3.49), but he’s been outstanding his last couple games to boot (2-0, .944 SV% in April) without any of the drama that Bob & Co. have been dealing with to make it into the playoffs. Throw in the fact that getting pulled against Tampa back in January led to a tantrum from Bob and some resulting scratches, and it doesn’t bode well for Columbus. Yes, Bobrovsky can always steal a game and certainly gives you a chance on any given night, but with Vasilevskiy in goal there’s not much room for error.

Defense: The big news for the Lightning is that Victor Hedman is practicing, but if he’ll play or what level of brown brain he may have are still open questions. None of their other defensemen’s possession numbers are going to blow you away, and it’s been known all season that their defense isn’t otherworldly, but it doesn’t have to be thanks to the fact that their offense is. Remember, this team is actually playing Jan Rutta right now so that should tell you something.

But are the Jackets really any better? They give up fewer shots per game, and their PK is tied with the Lightning for best in the league (85%). So there’s certainly a case to be made, but it’s the quality of the offense they’re facing that’s going to make the difference. Can Zach Werenski and Seth Jones really handle either of the top two Tampa lines? You’d be forgiven for being skeptical. In their three games this season, no one could. The Jackets gave up 17 goals to the Lightning and it’s not like Tampa’s gotten worse over that time.

Forwards: Here’s where the Lightning are at their most ridiculous. You already know—the speed, the scoring ability, Kucherov with 128 points, Stamkos and Point with 98 and 92, respectively, yada yada yada. They’re fucking good. But what about so many Hawks fans’ wet dream, Artemi Panarin, with his 87 points? Sure, fine, whatever, but the Jackets just don’t have the scoring depth the Lightning have. No one does. The top line of Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois are no bums or anything, and their numbers bear that out just fine (55 CF%, 57 GF%, 55.8 HDCF%), but there’s just not enough beyond them.

Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel have done basically jack shit since coming to Columbus, and sure, Oliver Bjorkstrand is on a streak right now with goals in nine of his last 10 games and a total of 23, but if that top line on the Jackets is shut down, they don’t have anyone to answer with. And once the record gets really lopsided and Panarin and Bob start thinking about that Florida sunshine and lack of income tax, their give-a-shit meters might just float away with their thoughts.

Prediction: I’m going to be very generous here and say that Bob steals one for the Jackets. Maybe Hedman can’t go, maybe the Lightning defense shits the bed a little too much, and maybe Panarin’s line has a big night. But they won’t get much more than one, so they better enjoy it. Lightning in 5.

Everything Else

By now you know I like to do this at certain points throughout the year. It’s no secret I think the NHL standings system is stupid, and actually a conspiracy to give most every team at least the appearance of competitiveness. Almost everyone can be over or near .500, when in reality they’re nowhere close. The loser-point is a crime. So let’s see what’s really going on. There are two ways I like to do it. One is to relegate both overtime wins and losses to mere ties, and this way we can see who is winning games in regulation. The second is to go with a 3-2-1-0 system, where any game won in overtime or shootout is two points, and one lost in that fashion is one point.

So first, the standings as they are:

Atlantic Division GP W L OL PTS
Tampa Bay Lightning 66 50 12 4 104
Boston Bruins 65 39 17 9 87
Toronto Maple Leafs 65 40 21 4 84
Montreal Canadiens 66 35 24 7 77
Buffalo Sabres 65 30 27 8 68
Florida Panthers 65 28 26 11 67
Detroit Red Wings 65 23 33 9 55
Ottawa Senators 66 23 38 5 51
Metropolitan Division GP W L OL PTS
Washington Capitals 66 38 21 7 83
New York Islanders 65 37 21 7 81
Carolina Hurricanes 65 36 23 6 78
Pittsburgh Penguins 65 34 22 9 77
Columbus Blue Jackets 65 36 26 3 75
Philadelphia Flyers 66 32 26 8 72
New York Rangers 65 27 27 11 65
New Jersey Devils 66 25 33 8 58
Central Division GP W L OL PTS
Winnipeg Jets 65 39 22 4 82
Nashville Predators 68 38 25 5 81
St. Louis Blues 65 34 25 6 74
Dallas Stars 65 33 27 5 71
Minnesota Wild 66 32 27 7 71
Colorado Avalanche 66 28 26 12 68
Chicago Blackhawks 66 27 30 9 63
Pacific Division GP W L OL PTS
Calgary Flames 65 41 17 7 89
San Jose Sharks 66 39 19 8 86
Vegas Golden Knights 67 36 26 5 77
Arizona Coyotes 65 32 28 5 69
Edmonton Oilers 65 28 30 7 63
Vancouver Canucks 66 27 30 9 63
Anaheim Ducks 66 25 32 9 59
Los Angeles Kings 65 24 33 8 56

Now, the one with only ties and no OT results:

Atlantic Division GP W REG W L OTW OL PTS
Tampa Bay Lightning 66 50 44 12 6 4 98
Boston Bruins 65 39 32 17 7 9 80
Toronto Maple Leafs 65 40 34 21 6 4 78
Montreal Canadiens 66 35 31 24 4 7 73
Buffalo Sabres 65 30 23 27 7 8 61
Florida Panthers 65 28 21 26 7 11 60
Detroit Red Wings 65 23 16 33 7 9 48
Ottawa Senators 66 23 18 38 5 5 46
Metropolitan Division GP W REG W L OTW OL PTS
Washington Capitals 66 38 33 21 5 7 78
New York Islanders 65 37 32 21 5 7 76
Carolina Hurricanes 65 36 32 23 4 6 74
Pittsburgh Penguins 65 34 30 22 4 9 73
Columbus Blue Jackets 65 36 28 26 8 3 67
Philadelphia Flyers 66 32 27 26 5 8 67
New York Rangers 65 27 26 27 1 11 64
New Jersey Devils 66 25 22 33 3 8 55
Central Division GP W REG W L OTW OL PTS
Winnipeg Jets 65 39 33 22 6 4 76
Nashville Predators 68 38 33 25 5 5 76
St. Louis Blues 65 34 29 25 5 6 69
Minnesota Wild 66 32 29 27 3 7 68
Colorado Avalanche 66 28 27 26 1 12 67
Dallas Stars 65 33 27 27 6 5 65
Chicago Blackhawks 66 27 19 30 8 9 55
Pacific Division GP W REG W L OTW OL PTS
Calgary Flames 65 41 36 17 5 7 84
San Jose Sharks 66 39 33 19 6 8 80
Vegas Golden Knights 67 36 32 26 4 5 73
Arizona Coyotes 65 32 27 28 5 5 64
Vancouver Canucks 66 27 22 30 5 9 58
Edmonton Oilers 65 28 22 30 6 7 57
Anaheim Ducks 66 25 21 32 4 9 55
Los Angeles Kings 65 24 19 33 5 8 51

As you can see, not that much changes, but there are some. One, the Jackets would be completely adrift in the Metro, and really the playoffs altogether. The Hurricanes would be in with a real shout of winning the Metro as well. The Lightning wouldn’t have a prayer of catching the ’77 Canadiens. Dallas would fall behind the Wild and Avalanche, and the Hawks would be hopelessly marooned to the bottom of the Central, with their 19 regulation wins being third-worst in the league. Arizona would barely be hanging on in the playoff race.

Now with the 3-2-1-0 system:

Atlantic Division GP W REG W L OTW OL PTS
Tampa Bay Lightning 66 50 44 12 6 4 148
Boston Bruins 65 39 32 17 7 9 119
Toronto Maple Leafs 65 40 34 21 6 4 118
Montreal Canadiens 66 35 31 24 4 7 108
Buffalo Sabres 65 30 23 27 7 8 91
Florida Panthers 65 28 21 26 7 11 88
Detroit Red Wings 65 23 16 33 7 9 71
Ottawa Senators 66 23 18 38 5 5 69
Metropolitan Division GP W REG W L OTW OL PTS
Washington Capitals 66 38 33 21 5 7 116
New York Islanders 65 37 32 21 5 7 113
Carolina Hurricanes 65 36 32 23 4 6 110
Pittsburgh Penguins 65 34 30 22 4 9 107
Columbus Blue Jackets 65 36 28 26 8 3 103
Philadelphia Flyers 66 32 27 26 5 8 99
New York Rangers 65 27 26 27 1 11 91
New Jersey Devils 66 25 22 33 3 8 80
Central Division GP W REG W L OTW OL PTS
Winnipeg Jets 65 39 33 22 6 4 115
Nashville Predators 68 38 33 25 5 5 114
St. Louis Blues 65 34 29 25 5 6 103
Minnesota Wild 66 32 29 27 3 7 100
Colorado Avalanche 66 28 27 26 1 12 95
Dallas Stars 65 33 27 27 6 5 98
Chicago Blackhawks 66 27 19 30 8 9 82
Pacific Division GP W REG W L OTW OL PTS
Calgary Flames 65 41 36 17 5 7 125
San Jose Sharks 66 39 33 19 6 8 119
Vegas Golden Knights 67 36 32 26 4 5 109
Arizona Coyotes 65 32 27 28 5 5 96
Vancouver Canucks 66 27 22 30 5 9 85
Edmonton Oilers 65 28 22 30 6 7 85
Anaheim Ducks 66 25 21 32 4 9 80
Los Angeles Kings 65 24 19 33 5 8 75

Differences here: No one is within 23 points of the Lightning. The Wings and Senators have a firm grasp on the top two spots in the lottery. Again, Carolina has a real shot at a division crown. The Coyotes have a real shout at a playoff spot.

The changes aren’t that big, but there are some that teams and fanbases would notice.

Everything Else

It’s rather fascinating to look at the state of these two teams now three years and some change after they matched up in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning were an ascending team at that time and a lot of people seemed to think they might end up being the next kind of team to have an Era like the Blackhawks had. It hasn’t happened for the Lightning in the postseason obviously, but they’ve remained one of the better teams in the NHL since then while the Hawks now find themselves closer to the cellar than the ceiling.

With the amount of young talent the Lightning have, it’s not exactly surprising they’re second in the league in points right now. They’ve built their team extremely well around their core stars in Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman while also supplementing the whole deal with really talented depth – hey, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? They made what now looks like one of the smartest trades in recent memory to get Mikhael Sergachev from the Habs, and then got aggressive in adding good veterans along the way as well. They’ve made the absolute most of their situation as they look to win a Cup in what looks like a really wide open window for them.

But perhaps their greatest and no doubt the most surprising find has been Yanni Gourde, who I promise you is not some random pumpkin-themed comic book villain. If you’re reading this and thinking “who the hell is Yanni Gourde?” you are probably not alone. As a 25-year old rookie, Gourde came out of absolutely nowhere last year to post 64 points (25G, 39A) in 82 games last year and solidified himself as one of the Bolts’ key depth contributors. This year he’s gotten off to an even better start to the season with 21 points (9G, 12A) in 22 games, and he just signed a huge, six-year extension in Tampa with an AAV of $5.167MM. It’s not often you see that kind of rise from guys with just 22 games of NHL experience before they hit 25-years-old.

The thing that feels so weird about Gourde is that all of his success just seems so unsustainable, and yet he’s sustained it. He shot 18.4% last year and is shooting 19.6% this year. On his entire career he’s at 18.9% shooting. That’s basically a goal for every five shots he takes, which just doesn’t make any damn sense. Mike Bossy is one the best goal scorers in NHL history, and he shot 21.2% for his career. Gourde’s own teammate Stamkos is one of the best modern goal scorers, and he’s shot just 16.4% on his career. Alex Fucking Ovechkin is probably gonna end up as the best goal scorer ever, and he’s shot just 12.5% on his career (though he does shoot more than most). Gourde’s conversion rate isn’t just high – it’s almost unprecedented in the modern age.

Obviously that doesn’t discredit Gourde in any way, because at this point it’s easy to think it’s just more dumb luck. This might be who he is as a scorer. Maybe he just has a shot that fools goalies better than most players, or maybe he just picks his spots really well. He’s been a brilliant addition for the Lightning, obviously, and he’s exactly the kind of sneaky good addition that high level teams tend to fall ass-backwards into. It’s not like the Blackhawks didn’t have similar lucky finds – Patrick Sharp didn’t score 20 goals until he was 25, and from that point forward he was a virtual lock to reach that benchmark. But even in Sharp’s case he never shot higher than 17.2% in a season.

Gourde is a fun player to watch, and like I said before he is a fun story. I am happy for him, and I definitely don’t want him to stop being fun and good at hockey. I am not sure that he will keep being able to score at that kind of rate, but even if he does eventually falling off a cliff in terms of shooting percentage, he’s still going to be a productive player. But at this point, he seems to be a Cinderella Story with a clock that won’t strike midnight.

Game #23 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Geofitz is a contributor at RawCharge.com. Follow him on Twitter @GeoFitz. 

How big is Vasilevskiy’s injury? Could it be something of a blessing in disguise in that he’ll be fresh come April?

Whenever you’re talking about a Vezina caliber goalie going out with an injury, it’s big. But you’re right that it is a bit of a blessing that it’s coming now rather than later in the year. The Lightning went out and got Louis Domingue as a reclamation project during last season and decided to go with him as the back-up over the older Peter Budaj. The coaching staff has been talking that they wanted to limit Vasilevskiy to around 60 starts and now they are basically forced to with this injury. One good thing is that this is a fairly easy stretch of schedule with more non-playoff teams than playoff teams on the schedule between now and when Vasilevskiy is expected to return.

Brayden Point busted out last year with 66 points, but is topping it this year. Is it just the 28% shooting percentage? Something else? And what about his contract situation in the summer?

It’s hard to see his goal totals continuing to go as they have early this year because of that unsustainable shooting percentage. But with the way he plays, it’s certainly not out of the question for him to reach 80 points and be in the Selke conversation. Patrice Bergeron obviously has that award on lock down, but in Point you’re potentially looking at the next Bergeron. As for his contract, that’s hard to say. There’s a lot of moving pieces coming up over the next two summers. Besides Point, Sergachev and Vasilevskiy will also be up for some big new contracts too. The Lightning could try to bridge him with a deal similar to what they did with Kucherov, but if he does have an 80-point season, that may be difficult. I’m confident they will get something done. Point is a team player and I don’t think this will be a Nylander situation.

Same question as Point, but about Yanni Gourde.

Yanni Gourde is quite the success story. Undrafted and unwanted. Earned an ELC with Tampa when San Jose declined to offer him one. And now he has long-term financial security. I know it’s a cliche to say this, but it’s true with Gourde; he has a motor that never stops. He is always on the go. He’s also a lot like Brendan Gallagher in that he is not afraid of going to the rough areas despite his smaller stature. That bulldog mentality has served him well and will continue to. Even if his production dips from what it was last year and what he is putting up so far this year, his contract isn’t likely to be an albatross and represents a discount on his current production level.

Deep down, they know they can’t play Dan Girardi with Hedman forever, right?

When the Lightning signed Girardi, I was pessimistic on one hand, but optimistic on the other hand. The big question was could he show himself to be more effective in a lesser role where he doesn’t have to be a #2 defenseman. His advanced stats still don’t look great, but the staff is at least keeping his minutes down. He is last in EV TOI and 5th in overall TOI among the Lightning’s defense. Hedman gets some breaks from carrying Girardi around by taking the occasional shift with Sergachev or Anton Stralman. Hedman plays two minutes more EV TOI per game than Girardi does.

Bonus Answer (No, seriously, he just gave us this. Imagine enjoying your team that much)

A couple of young rookies to keep your eye on are Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph. Cirelli got an extended cup of coffee at the end of last year and played in every playoff game for the Lightning as a rookie professional. Joseph made the team out of camp this year. Together, they’ve formed a strong third line with veteran Alex Killorn. They have some of the best advanced statistics on of any line on the team. They don’t get as much ice time as the big boys for obvious reasons, but they are always on the puck and creating chances. The trio would have more points and goals in their pockets if they had been able to find some luck earlier in the year when it seemed like they couldn’t catch a break with posts and missed shots. Cirelli is everything you could ask for in a third-line two-way center that plays a 200-foot game. Joseph is a blazer with his speed. Over and over this year, we’ve watched him get icings waved off because defensemen loafed it to the puck while he blew the doors off of them to get to the puck.

 

Game #23 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built