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This & That: On Smith, DiPietro vs. Johnson, Lightning Announcements, Caps’ Playoff Hopes and More

Introducing This & That. a feature set aside for those days when my brain is incapable of any smooth transition from one thought to another. Instead, a random spattering of things I’m thinking, items I meant to include elsewhere but may have forgotten and miscellaneous ramblings that may otherwise have no defined category or forum for inclusion.

(Plus, this way, I never have to use the term “hodgepodge” again.)

Off we go:

—-“If Smitty gets claimed, it’s good for him. If he doesn’t, he goes down and plays for us down there. We want to get him playing.” – Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, on recently waived netminder Mike Smith.

To the first point, absolutely. As far back as late last season, I was wondering whether or not Smith might be better off with a fresh start. Amid flashes of brilliance, Smith has struggled consistently throughout his tenure in Tampa and had all kinds of promise stifled by injuries. This year, despite unsightly statistics, some in scouting circles have seen reason for optimism in his game, giving new life to the idea that he might somehow flourish in a new situation.

Problem is, a waiver claim seems unlikely given Smith’s $2.2 million salary and overall poor performance this season. There may be teams with one goaltending need or another out there but indications are that Yzerman has explored trade options prior to the waiver move, with nothing materializing. We’ll know, one way or another, regarding a potential claim in about an hour but I suspect he’ll clear. (UPDATE: Smith cleared and was indeed assigned to AHL Norfolk.) Three goalies is one too many at the NHL level and Smith to waivers, as predicted here and on The Bolts Beat upon the acquisition of Dwayne Roloson, is now reality.

As for playing in Norfolk, with Cedrick Desjardins now seeking a second opinion on a shoulder injury that may ultimately require surgery, there’s a hole there and there are worse fates for all involved than a Smith-Dustin Tokarski tandem for the Admirals down the stretch. Tokarski had been supplanted as Norfolk’s number one but will have to step up now with Desjardins out, particularly if surgery is needed. The veteran Smith in a backup/mentor role could prove beneficial for an Admirals team gunning for a playoff berth.

Sad, though, if this is the end of the line in Tampa for Smith, as the likable netminder was thought to be the Lightning’s goaltending answer after being acquired from Dallas in the Brad Richards deal in 2008. But the waiver wire seems to be a popular end to NHL relationships these days and it looks like Smitty is the latest to join that club.

—-Oh, Rick DiPietro… There isn’t much in the way of jokes I can add to your unfortunate demise at the mighty left hand of Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson last night… Manny Pacquiao would be proud (of Johnson, of course).

Night, night, Ricky!

The Islanders 2010-11 highlight list now includes: Key injuries to Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit in training camp, the 48th death of the Lighthouse Project, a 14-game losing streak, head coach Scott Gordon’s dismissal, abysmal attendance numbers, the banishment of Islanders Point Blank/Fanhouse’s Chris Botta, the Evgeni Nabokov waiver claim that wasn’t and a one-punch knockout of their goalie-for-life. (But, hey, Matt Moulson signed a contract extension recently. Rock on.)

Now then, what did I forget?

—-If I had my druthers, the New York Jets would be taking on Green Bay in Sunday’s Super Bowl. (But I’d also be like, “What is a druther, exactly?”) Alas, the AFC Championship Game actually happened and Gang Green actually lost.

Luckily, I have a Sunday hockey game to cover, with the St. Louis Blues in town to take on the Lightning for a 3:00 matinee. That’ll make my commitment to boycott “The Big Game” this season that much easier to keep.

Still (and, no, I do not pretend to know how difficult putting together an 82-game schedule for 30 NHL franchises actually is) why any other sport is in action on Super Bowl Sunday is beyond me. I can’t imagine attendance or ratings numbers are stellar, historically, when regular season hockey goes up against the NFL’s premier event that seems to draw the interest of even the Grandma Agneses of the world these days.

—-Still trying to get behind the new Lightning uniform/logo rollout (still haven’t seen the new threads up close either – I’ll request as much soon) but the organization’s other major announcements this week – owner Jeff Vinik’s $10-million pledge to the Lightning Foundation and a $35-million renovation project for the St. Pete Times Forum are huge victories for the franchise and for the community. Vinik’s pledge to make the Bolts a world class organization upon taking over has come to life methodically in his short time as owner and his commitment to the arena and the Tampa Bay area this week takes that immeasurable steps further.

I love the idea of knocking out 28 lower suites to provide fans strolling through the concourse a look to the ice and the plans for a party deck overlooking downtown Tampa will make for an enhanced fan experience. (Plus, dubbing this a “Margarita Deck”, as the artist’s rendering does, will please those in attendance for more than just a hockey game.)

image
Mrs. JJ is surely in this crowd somewhere.

—-As evidenced during All-Star Weekend in Raleigh, Jeff Skinner truly is a rock star in his new home. At some point, though, I’d have to think he’ll want to squash the Justin Bieber comparisons (if not squash Bieber himself, that is). I mean, come on…

—-When do we get an update on The Guardians? Because I watched in person as Deven Dark captured most of them from the RBC Center and I’m starting to get concerned. The official web site provides me no comfort either, as “The Hurricane” (who saved the day – I think? – simply by showing up on Sunday) is the only Guardian listed as “active”. The Bruin, the Capital, the Flame, the King, the Lightning, the Penguin, the Shark, the Star and the Wild are in “inactive”/“powered down” status and the rest of the league’s new superheroes are tagged with “unable to locate” alerts.

Little help here?

—-Finally today, is it possible that the Washington Capitals could miss the playoffs? Talent alone will probably ensure that they at least qualify. But I’d say there’s plenty of reason for concern with this bunch. Currently fifth in the Eastern Conference (where I’m sure the league would just love them to stay, what with Pittsburgh sitting in fourth and all), the Caps have eight points on ninth place Carolina but their fellow Southeasterners have a game in hand, proved last year to be capable of a late-season push against all odds and, riding high after All-Star Weekend, hockey-crazed Raleigh is prepared to back their boys in full force for the latter part of the regular season schedule.

Again, almost certainly, Washington will muster up enough from this point forward to be part of the post-season contingency but what’s more likely now down the stretch: a battle for their playoff lives or making a run at Tampa Bay for the Southeast crown?

I know where I’m leaning, having seen these two teams play as much as I have this year.

One thing the Lightning have had going for them this season is an uncanny ability to avoid sustained losing streaks. Tampa Bay has lost three straight twice and two straight three times, picking up three “loser points” in those stretches combined, while the Caps have dropped a trio in succession three times now (currently in the midst of just that), back-to-backs once and were severely hampered by a December swoon of eight consecutive losses.

During their lulls, Washington has managed six points but what may be even more concerning is the fact that, somehow, this team that has long been labeled an offensive dynamo has been shut out seven times already and is in the lower half of the league, in terms of goal-scoring. To put the shutout total in perspective, New Jersey, last in all the league in goals-for, has only been blanked four times.

While I was in Raleigh, I brought up the Capitals several times with many others from throughout the hockey world and one of the remarks that came up in almost every conversation was that this is a team that just doesn’t seem to have “it” anymore, for whatever reason – a very non-specific observation, yes, but doesn’t just that go miles toward describing Washington, if you’ve watched them play at all this year?

After the Bolts were beaten by the Caps by a combined total of 12-3 in their first two meetings this season, I wrote that Tampa Bay was still clearly an also-ran in the Southeast Division. Much has changed since then, with the Lightning now five points up on Washington in that race.

Maybe the Capitals will finally get things figured out down the stretch and return to prominence but time for that is running out and they haven’t shown much to suggest it’s coming.

If I’m picking a Southeast winner right now, I’m keeping things just as simple as possible and going with the club that’s had “it” all year long. At this point, without a doubt, that team is right here in Tampa.

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
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Filed in: NHL Teams, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, NHL Talk, NHL Business of Hockey, Non-NHL Hockey, Minor League, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: brent+johnson, cedrick+desjardins, dwayne+roloson, jeff+skinner, mike+smith, nhl+guardians, rick+dipietro, steve+yzerman

Comments

John W.'s avatar

Any word on when MAB is going to get the callup?  I know the Bolts were saying after the ASB, but I’ve been looking and can’t find anything about him in the last week or 2.

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 02/03/11 at 01:10 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

John W.:

Any word on when MAB is going to get the callup?  I know the Bolts were saying after the ASB, but I’ve been looking and can’t find anything about him in the last week or 2.

We were discussing this at the game Tuesday night and thinking it would have to be relatively soon. No rush, though… He has four assists in 11 games for Norfolk.

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 02/03/11 at 01:16 PM ET

John W.'s avatar

Does he have to clear re-entry waivers when they do bring him up?  I know he had to clear waivers to go down in the first place.  If he does have to clear re-entry, would have to think some teams might take a shot at a PP specialist at only half of his $1M cap hit.

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 02/03/11 at 01:50 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

John W.:

Does he have to clear re-entry waivers when they do bring him up?

He does not.

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 02/03/11 at 02:04 PM ET

John W.'s avatar

Is that because he hasn’t played yet this year, so it’s not considered a re-entry?

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 02/03/11 at 03:25 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Yeah, I saw the upgrade announcement to the Forum and I could hardly believe the place is 15 years old.  They have so many good people with true-to-the-bone commitment to making the Bolts a superb organization.

Well done, Bolts.

Posted by SYF from Alana Blanchard's Bikinis and Surfboards on 02/03/11 at 03:26 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

John W.:

Is that because he hasn’t played yet this year, so it’s not considered a re-entry?

In this case, it’s because Bergeron is on a two-way deal and his AHL salary ($105k) is not enough to dictate re-entry waivers.

Of course, every time I answer a waiver question, I have to re-clarify something so, stay tuned (probably). smile

SYF:

They have so many good people with true-to-the-bone commitment to making the Bolts a superb organization.

They certainly are proving as much already!

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 02/03/11 at 03:37 PM ET

Avatar

Nice article JJ,

Since all the positive press about the ASG in Raleigh, what is your take on the fans up there? I have always wondered what other southeast fan bases are like. Since many hockey “elites” hate the fact that we are in a “non-traditional market”, I have always considered other SE fans as a loose ally…kind of like the enemy of my enemy is my friend type thing.

I really do appreciate the outpouring of support from Detroit fans, they seem a classy bunch.

Do you think that the improvements Mr. Vinik has announced will ultimately serve to fill the building. I understand that STHs are a lagging indicator, and that our current STH base is based upon the last 2 dreadful years…do you see 01-07 attendance returning?

Posted by warlord6 on 02/03/11 at 10:35 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

warlord6:

Since all the positive press about the ASG in Raleigh, what is your take on the fans up there?

My take is that these fans were fantastic! Rabid, passionate, loyal and proud - exactly what anyone would want in a fan base. Now then, were they putting on a show for their All-Star guests? Probably a little and I have not yet been to a regular season game at RBC (perhaps later this year). But, from everything I hear, that’s how they are all the time. They’re ranked in the 20s in attendance, I think, so that could improve but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

I really do appreciate the outpouring of support from Detroit fans, they seem a classy bunch.

Since Yzerman’s appointment, wherever my work has been, the Lightning has received nothing but positive thoughts and support via my readers from the Detroit area. I think, almost to a man, they’d like to see Tampa Bay and Stevie Y do everything short of beating their beloved Wings in the Cup Final (and if they happen to fall victim to a premature ousting, the Bolts’ bandwagon would get extra heavy).

Do you think that the improvements Mr. Vinik has announced will ultimately serve to fill the building. I understand that STHs are a lagging indicator, and that our current STH base is based upon the last 2 dreadful years…do you see 01-07 attendance returning?

In this town, I think a winner solves everything. People are starting to talk - even the casuals - as it’s been pretty hard not to notice how well they are playing. This team has some promise. I really think the playoffs (almost a foregone conclusion, at this point) will serve this area very, very well, particularly if they can win a round or two (and they certainly can).

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 02/04/11 at 12:13 PM ET

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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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