It’s been a full week since last I posted and I am pleased to report that four of those seven days were planned away time spent in South Florida doing whatever it is that resembles relaxation for the parents of young children. (I think I slept less than I normally do, in all honesty, but the kids had a nice little adventure and that’s what it’s all about.)
Now, these other three days in absentia I can chalk up to the joys of real estate transactions and I suppose a little patience on my end (and yours, perhaps) is in order, as we’re only in the very beginning stages of this endeavor.
Anyway, while I was sunning it up down Panther way, the new regime at the helm of the NHL’s residents in Sunrise were busy overhauling their roster for the upcoming season, hauling in a slew of players from the free agent waters and getting involved in their second significant trade of the off-season already as well. (They did not offer me a contract, for those wondering about my real intentions… I mean, what hockey writer – at any level – would plan a family vacation that started in the evening of the very first day of free agency without an ulterior motive?)
During my time in enemy territory, as the gracious host city saw its team spare no expense in attempting to improve their on-ice fortunes (or at least meet the salary cap floor, that is), back home here in Tampa, the Lightning were getting busy on plugging some holes in their roster too. Though the big story of the summer has yet to see its final chapter written, as in a new contract for superstar forward Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman and company have been involved in the NHL’s annual silly season sparingly, with a refreshing measure of sensibility, as compared to the overspending of so many. Sure, they met with representatives for former Bolt Brad Richards – it was a given that they’d at least inquire – but with the dollar number and term that he eventually signed for with the New York Rangers, that was every bit the pipe dream from the start as I’d pegged it to be. That aside, the small ripples the Lightning have made this summer have an aim at bigger splashes down the road, in terms of eventual impact, quality and, most of all, value.
The NHL Entry Draft is one of those annual “hope springs eternal” events. If the awards show bids farewell to a season gone by, the selection process for the latest prospect crop marks the league’s transition into next year.
Just like that, every club starts anew.
Just like that, the page is turned for all.
The Boston Bruins reign as Stanley Cup champions has just begun and yet, as of tonight, even they have work to do. 29 other teams are now gunning for what they have. And for some, reshaping their franchises to make a run at hockey’s iconic chalice will start with their first overall selection tonight.
Of course, it’s been said that there aren’t any immediate game-changers to be had among this crop – and certainly not beyond a half-dozen or so prospects atop most draft boards. But the draft itself has become such an integral aspect of building a championship-caliber team, even the late round selections will be a product of weeks and months of internal debate and study on the part of a team’s decision-making hierarchy.
For other clubs, the leap from 2010-11 to 2011-12 will be aided during draft weekend by trade. This year, with the Philadelphia Flyers kicking things off with a pair of earth-rattlers a day in advance, shipping key components Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town in separate deals yesterday, the expectation is that trade activity in St. Paul could be high. As teams gear up for free agency next week, some will look to get a jump on crazy season by filling holes and altering their salary scales with a deal or two and there is a wealth of big-name talent reportedly on the trade market already.
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My initial plans for last night/this morning called for a Tampa Bay Lightning playoff-clinching column but, while the Bolts held up their end of the bargain, those pesky Carolina Hurricanes didn’t cooperate, toppling the Washington Capitals in a shootout.
Instead, I’ll toss out some quick food for thought today, stemming from a press box discussion last night as we sifted through every possible combination and computation related to clinching scenarios and tiebreakers and so on and so forth.
I’ve moaned about three-point games already this season but, as we subtracted a point from Tampa Bay’s magic number when Carolina and Washington were knotted after regulation, carried the one when the ‘Canes prevailed in the shootout, multiplied by six when the Lightning one and determined the square root of the product thereof (or, um, something), another angle of the ridiculousness of the loser point struck me.
This is just far too complicated.
“Once the playoffs come, those third periods are important. They’re all 2-1, 1-0 games, so we have to get better at them.” - Tampa Bay Lightning captain, Vincent Lecavalier, to the St. Pete Times after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Senators in Ottawa.
A telling quote, really, for a team 2-4-4 in their last 10 games, with just one win in their last nine contests that were decided by a single goal.
Lecavalier’s right, the playoffs are coming. The fifth-place Bolts are 13 points up on ninth-place Carolina, meaning it would take a monumental (almost New York Mets-like) collapse for them to miss out on the postseason.
But he’s also right about the team needing to get better in tight games. They simply haven’t been able to close teams out. What’s more concerning, perhaps, is that three of their last four losses have come to teams well out of playoff contention – Ottawa twice and the Florida Panthers. That’s not always a truthful indicator, as these teams often play much looser once they have little left to shoot for, but it isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of the Lightning as a contender at this late stage of the game either.
Hurricanes at Capitals
Washington’s lead over Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division remains at two points as the Caps host another division rival in the Carolina Hurricanes tonight, looking for their seventh straight victory.
A 5-0 blanking of the visiting Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday gave Washington their sixth win in a row and ninth in their last 11 games. Goaltender Braden Holtby, who starred in relief against Tampa Bay on Monday, earned his first career shutout against Edmonton with a 22-save performance.
With Semyon Varlamov on the mend, Michael Neuvirth steady in his place and Holtby shining of late, as The Washington Post’s Gene Wang writes, the Caps will have some tough choices ahead, in terms of who will start in goal on a nightly basis.
[Update: At it again! Although a few teams that actually don’t play in the Southeast have now made moves as well, the Panthers strike again within their own division, moving defenseman Bryan Allen to Carolina in exchange for forward Sergei Samsonov. Florida’s tearin’ it down alright and, if they didn’t simply need enough bodies to ice a full roster from this point forward, I’d wonder aloud as to whether or not they might actually try to flip Samsonov again in the next 35 minutes… -JJ]
All Southeast, all day?
So far, we’ve had two separate trades between Southeast Division clubs (Florida moving Radek Dvorak to Atlanta and Dennis Wideman to Washington) and three waiver claims, all involving – yep – teams from the Southeast.
Carolina defenseman Brett Carson was picked up by Calgary, Curtis McElhinney’s Tampa Bay Lightning career is over before it starts as he is claimed by Ottawa and the Thrashers get a little more forward help by plucking Rob Schremp from the New York Islanders.
The guess here is that the Hurricanes will get aggressive in trying to land some defense help now with Carson gone, even if that just means adding some lower level depth. Lookin’ a little thin on the back end down the organizational depth chart now.