Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 01/05/11 at 01:25 PM ET
Let’s not make too much of Dwayne Roloson’s 34-save, shutout debut for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Or, maybe, come to think of it, let’s…
It was but one game but what a big game it was.
To best the division rival Washington Capitals like that, with first place at stake in a 1-0 overtime finish, with both teams playing at a feverish pace all the while and the opposing goaltender standing on his head as well… Well, that’s one hell of a debut.
But, really, what you saw on Tuesday night is what Roloson brings to the table consistently. No, not a spectacular shutout performance each night (wouldn’t that be nice?) but a workman-like approach, a battle mentality and a proven track record of giving the team in front of him a chance to win on a nightly basis. Last night, Semyon Varlamov keeping the Bolts off the scoreboard for almost 63 minutes meant Roloson had to completely shut down the formidable Capitals attack and he was up to the task. On some nights, it will mean keeping the opponent from scoring a third or fourth goal.
Whatever the situation, with Roloson, you know what you’re getting.
And this could very well turn out to be the perfect fit with limitless potential.
A little less than a month ago, it was noted here that Lightning Cup hero Nikolai Khabibulin’s post-lockout numbers (2.87 G.A.A., .903 save %) were better and more consistent than any Tampa Bay netminder’s since his departure following the Lightning’s championship – and that, most likely, the team would probably have no choice but to remain patient with Dan Ellis and Mike Smith this season and hope for the best. In acquiring Roloson, general manager Steve Yzerman’s shrewd move actually brought in a player with a better stat line since the lockout (2.82/.910), compiled almost entirely while backstopping non-playoff teams in Edmonton and on Long Island.
Roloson’s one playoff appearance in that span? The magical run for 2005-06’s Oilers, an eight seed that took the Carolina Hurricanes to a seventh game in the Stanley Cup Final before finally succumbing. Lest we forget, Roloson was struck by injury in game one of that Final and had to cede his position to backup Jussi Markkanen. Had that misfortune not fallen on Roloson, perhaps a Stanley Cup championship would be on his resume as well.
Point is, on bad teams, Roloson’s been great. In his one chance to carry a club in the postseason – a team that barely qualified for the postseason at that – he nearly took them all the way (and would have, perhaps, if not for the injury).
What he can do for a good team – at the 40-game mark, the Lightning have earned that much – will be one of the NHL’s most compelling storylines in the second half of the season.
With a share of the Eastern Conference’s top point total alongside Philadelphia and tonight’s opponent, Pittsburgh, and the stability of Dwayne Roloson now in net, it is no stretch to think that greatness for this team, right now, is within reach.
Let’s make a little sense of the Marc-Andre Bergeron signing, shall we?
Not that signing the power play specialist doesn’t make all the sense in the world at face value for the Bolts, a team with a coach in Guy Boucher who prefers to dress seven defensemen, mind you.
Rather, the process of putting Bergeron through waivers to get him to AHL Norfolk and, eventually, into playing shape after reconstructive knee surgery has some curious about the decision, particularly when, in theory, there were other options for Yzerman and company.
Inked to a two-way deal which will pay a prorated, million-dollar NHL salary and $105,000 at the AHL level, Bergeron will hit the waiver wire at noon today. If he goes unclaimed by noon tomorrow, he’ll be assigned to the Admirals until the Lightning feel he is ready.
Of course, it’s conceivable that another club would put in a claim on the 30-year-old defenseman, who spent last season in Montreal and posted 34 points in 60 games.
Nashville recently plucked forward Marek Svatos off waivers from St. Louis, where he had just signed a contract after leaving Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and there is the prevailing thought that just that scenario has made it difficult for goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to find a new NHL home.
So, why expose Bergeron to waivers to get down to Norfolk when a conditioning loan could have accomplished just that? For starters, as Yzerman explained last night to traveling reporters in Washington, the 14-day, five-game maximum limit on such a loan wouldn’t be enough time for Bergeron to be ready for NHL action. Further, on a conditioning loan, the CBA dictates that a player will continue to receive his NHL salary, so the team is saving a significant amount of money while Bergeron readies himself – an important point, especially if you consider the indefinite time period on his AHL assignment.
Some deeper thought reveals an almost ideal situation for both player and team under the circumstances by which Bergeron’s signing have taken place.
If he clears waivers and is assigned to Norfolk, as is the hope, Tampa Bay pays Bergeron a marginal dollar number to continue his rehab as property of the organization in game and practice situations with the Admirals. If and when he is deemed ready to join the big club, his AHL salary is still low enough to avoid the potential risk of re-entry waivers and, just like that, the Bolts have added the player they sought, fully-rehabbed and ready to contribute at the NHL level.
If he is claimed, another club would be taking the risk of paying Bergeron’s NHL-level salary while he plays his way into shape. For the Lightning, a team in excellent standing at present, that type of risk makes little sense. Instead, if Bergeron gets past the waiver process – the bet here is that he will – Tampa Bay can wait until the player is 100% ready and the opportunity with the Lightning is prime.
The only risk for them, in that case, is “losing” a player that they never really had in the first place anyway, which isn’t much of a risk at all.
After pulling into sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division with last night’s win in Washington, what’s at stake tonight in Pittsburgh? How about the top spot in all the Eastern Conference?
Tonight’s winner will jump past idle Philadelphia and into first overall in the East.
If you pegged that team to be the Lightning on January 5th, your name certainly isn’t Jon Jordan.
I thought the Bolts would be much-improved and I expected them to push the Capitals in the Southeast but, by even the furthest stretch of my imagination, couldn’t see this club contending for the President’s Trophy. A win tonight would have them at 55 points, right there with Vancouver and Detroit in the West, exactly half-way through their regular season schedule.
That’s a credit to the players, sure, but an even bigger pat on the back for Coach Boucher, who had every player in the Lightning room from the very beginning, has seen the club through the significant adversity of injuries and shaky goaltending and whose never satisfied approach has pushed the Bolts to this point. Undoubtedly, any midseason Jack Adams conversation simply has to include Boucher’s name.
Naturally, Boucher would be the first to tell you there’s much work to be done with the latter half of the season still to be played but, at the midway point, the true assessments begin.
And, tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning are a win away from being assessed atop the entire Eastern Conference.
Filed in: NHL Teams, Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | KK Hockey | Permalink
Tags: dan+ellis, dwayne+roloson, guy+boucher, marc-andre+bergeron, mike+smith, steve+yzerman
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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