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.
Heard some whispers a couple of days ago that it was a distinct possibility and posted as much last night but today, former Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Mike Smith has signed with the Phoenix Coyotes for a reported two years and $4 million, reuniting with head coach Dave Tippett, who he played under in Dallas years ago.
There was communication between Smith’s representation and Tampa Bay about a return but that possibility ended when the Bolts locked up former Blue Jacket Mathieu Garon to back up Dwayne Roloson earlier in the day.
With the Coyotes, Smith will form a tandem with holdover Jason Labarbera, with former Phoenix number one Ilya Bryzgalov now off to Philadelphia, and should get every opportunity to seize the starting job out of camp. His run in Tampa Bay will be remembered for a series of unfortunate events, from injury to demotion, to re-call waivers and a dramatic late-season resurgence capped by clutch playoff performances before the Bolts ultimately fell to Boston.
Can one’s thoughts be anything but scattered at this time of year?
I mean, hell, just look at Jaromir Jagr, who apparently disappeared off the face of the planet just when everyone was expecting him back in Pittsburgh. (How no one aside from myself has implicated the infamous Deven Dark in his apparent abduction to this point is beyond me. I mean, have you heard anything from “The NHL Guardians” since All-Star Weekend? Well… Have you?)
Aside from that, here’s a look at what else is burning up my remaining brain cells at the moment:
***I suppose I ought to start in my own neck of the woods and right about now, there’s no appropriate topic to kick that off other than what the wittiest members of the Twitterverse have dubbed either #Stamkosteria or #Stammergeddon. That Steven Stamkos has yet to be inked to a new deal by the Tampa Bay Lightning, with restricted free agency, oh, a little over 15 hours away, is neither cause for a panic attack nor a sure sign of the end of the world (chew on that, Mayans pointing to the NHL12 cover). However, with each passing minute (okay, maybe with each passing hour?) the situation becomes a little bit less comfortable, I guess we can say, for everyone involved.
All I can add to whatever you’ve read
everywhere else is that I’ve crunched numbers from every angle and no matter what, at this point, I see the Lightning as having to make some significant residual move or another after Stamkos is retained (and I most certainly do believe that, one way or another, that will still be the end result) not so much to fit everyone in under next season’s salary cap but to do so with some flexibility for both the long and the short term.
As the start of free agency nears, hockey folks everywhere will scour the rosters of all 30 NHL clubs, trying to identify potential holes to be filled or positions in need of an upgrade through the madness that begins on July 1st. It’s only natural – and it’s a fun part of being a hockey fan.
Who do I want my team to target? Which players make sense? How can my team get better in a hurry?
If and when any of the prognostications yielded through that process become reality, Average Joe Fan Guy gets to channel his inner Barry Horowitz, pat himself on the back and incense his pals with the ever-gratifying “Told ya so!”
Unfortunately, more often than not, from the fan’s perspective, free agency wish lists and the off-the-wall lineup projections that come with them lead to eventual disappointment. You can plug holes in your lineup in EA’s annual NHL video game release at the touch of a button. In the real world, getting Brad Richards to sign in Phoenix isn’t quite that easy.
There are some factors that flaw the dream scenario process from the start, of course. Namely, Average Joe Fan Guy tends to forget about the business side of things that makes replacing an exiting veteran with a more cost-efficient youngster and other moves of that nature a necessity. So, when the Sean Bergenheims of the world appear to be on the cusp of leaving a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, it would be wise to hold off on automatically looking to fill the void with any of the bigger-ticket veteran names that might be out there. Instead, welcome an up-and-comer like Blair Jones, recently re-upped himself here in Tampa, to an expanded role with the big club and hope that he can meet the demands of that challenge.
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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Every year around this time, in writing this very piece, I usually begin with something along the lines of, “I swore I’d never make playoff predictions again.” For starters, everybody does it and I usually try my best to steer clear of being just like the rest of ‘em. But more than that, my repeated attempts to avoid postseason prognostication stem from my overwhelming lack of accuracy in years past. (The postseason underachievers of the world have drawn my ire time and again. San Jose, you still top my poop list for that reason.)
But worse than my failure to pick a set of winners that resembles anything close to accuracy is my perennial failure to avoid picking altogether.
Something always draws me in.
And now, I realize, I’m powerless to fight it. I’ll make my picks here today, do so again round after round and I’ll do it again next year (and the year after that, and so on and so forth). Might as well be honest with myself…
This year, the allure is in the series that will remain my primary focus, Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh. I have to admit, it’s still a bit surreal to see the hometown Bolts actually in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After the last two seasons of uncertainty, four seasons overall since their last playoff game and even despite the regular season success they managed early and often this year, the fact that exit medicals and getaway interviews haven’t already been conducted is still a bit of a walk through bizzarro-world for me. Better get over that, I suppose… The Lightning certainly aren’t thinking that way.
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My latest collection of thoughts and opinion on recent events in the hockey world (tied together, of course, by less-than-nothing). In short, a little of this, a little of that and maybe even some of the other…
Three-Pointers Risk Diminished Integrity of the Standings
As the NHL GMs meet this week in Boca Raton, much of their agenda will focus on player safety – and rightfully so. Headshots, blindside hits and concussions will dominate their discussions.
But something not on the agenda this week that has been eating at the integrity of the standings in each conference since the lockout is the existence of the “loser point” in the all-too common three-point game – and, frankly, it’s beyond time to reconsider the way team standings are configured once again.
I won’t go railroading against the shootout again today. There seems no point in that anymore anyway, as it is here to stay, the way I understand things. The more valid argument instead is far simpler: The return of two points – and only two – on the line for each and every regular season game. The way things are now, which essentially rewards mediocrity and runs the risk of skewing the standings in such a way that deserving teams might be penalized through no fault of their own, is unacceptable.
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Many of us were looking at tonight’s tilt with the visiting Phoenix Coyotes as a good measuring stick for the Tampa Bay Lightning after a winless week past at home.
I’d say a 7-0 start and an 8-3 finish gives them their latest in a season of consistent reminders that these boys measure up pretty darn well against just about anyone. (Score one for yourselves, of course, Detroit. Well-deserved.)
Here’s some of what was said in the winning locker room post-game Wednesday night:
Teddy Purcell, who scored his first career hat trick and was named the game’s first star:
“We weren’t happy with our last two efforts on home ice and, especially with those days off [spent as a team in Naples and Estero], we wanted to kind of reward the organization and ourselves and come out with a strong effort tonight.” - on what this win means after a relatively tough go of late.
“That was pretty cool, my first hat trick since street hockey when I was 10 or 12” - on his individual performance.