Tampa Bay Lightning look to expand hockey great Phil Esposito's role

espo.jpgNow, I don’t live in Canada so I might not be fully qualified to lead this discussion but that being said, there are two championship hockey bumper stickers. In one corner is the much-loved “My other car is a Zamboni.” Its opposition is the classic Boston Bruins sticker that read, “Jesus saves, but Espo scores on the rebound.”

If I were to give a front office gold star to any one organization this summer, it would go to the Tampa Bay Lightning and their shiny new GM Steve Yzerman. They keep making refreshingly competent decisions as they rapidly rebuild the moribund franchise – and while details are a bit scarce – reports indicate that they’ll try to give beloved hockey figure Phil Esposito a more prominent role with the team.

TampaBay.com’s Damian Cristodero has more.

There were no specifics given by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, just an acknowledgment Lightning founder Phil Esposito might be in line for an expanded role with the organization. And while Vinik said the final decision will be up to new CEO Tod Leiweke, Vinik sounded as if Esposito could be an asset on the community and marketing side of the organization.

“We want him involved with this team,” Vinik said this week. “We want him out in the community. We want him involved with us. He’s a great ideas person.”

Expanding Esposito’s role from his long-time gig as an analyst on radio broadcasts of Lightning home games, a job for which he has said he never has signed a contract, makes sense for an organization ready to embrace its past and make a better effort to market the team both in the St. Pete Times Forum and Tampa Bay area.

Forgive me for gushing about the job Tampa Bay is doing right now, but they keep making shrewd moves. Embracing hockey icons is a sign that an organization is savvy to public relations and the game’s rich history. Just look at the difference with the Chicago Blackhawks; in the same time that the team went from the hockey basement to its upper ranks, they also honored old greats such as Bobby Orr and Stan Mikita.

Good on Yzerman & Co. for another subtle yet smart move in an impressive initial summer.

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    Sam Gagner has been ‘a great story’ for the surprising Blue Jackets

    ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 28:  Sam Gagner #89 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates his second goal of the game for a 4-0 lead over the Anaheim Ducks during the first period at Honda Center on October 28, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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    The Columbus Blue Jackets just keep on winning, remaining one of the big surprises so far this season — provided their last two performances were against the Arizona Coyotes.

    We’ve seen the emergence of Zach Werenski. Ditto for Alexander Wennberg.

    But what about Sam Gagner? At 27 years old, he’s another interesting story on this early-season surprise of a team. Signed by the Blue Jackets at the beginning of August to a one-year contract worth only $650,000, Gagner is off to a very strong start with his new team.

    For the Blue Jackets, they have received tremendous bang for their buck with this signing.

    Gagner scored twice in Monday’s 4-1 win over the Coyotes, giving him 10 goals this season. He also had two assists. Again, this is against a young, rebuilding Arizona team, but still, Gagner has provided Columbus with additional offense, with 17 points in 23 games.

    He has already eclipsed his point total from last season, basically in half the time. He had 16 points with the Flyers — in 53 games.

    “He’s applied himself,” coach John Tortorella recently told FanRag Sports Network. “When I had him at center, for some reason, it wasn’t working. When we moved him to wing, things started happening for him. He seems more comfortable on the wing and he can play both sides, too.

    “He’s scored some big goals for us and helps us on the power play. He knows that this is probably his last kick at the can, and it’s amazing what it does for athletes [who are] thinking ‘man, this is where I’m at right now.’ I think he has done some soul-searching and to me, right now, it’s a great story.”

    He’s part of a Columbus team competing right now for top spot in the Metropolitan Division. In December.

    That’s a pretty good story, too.

    Potential No. 1 overall pick Nolan Patrick to miss World Juniors

    KELOWNA, CANADA - OCTOBER 25: Rourke Chartier #14 of Kelowna Rockets faces off against Nolan Patrick #19 of Brandon Wheat Kings during the first period on October 25, 2014 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
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    Nolan Patrick will miss the upcoming World Juniors due to an injury that has kept him out of game action since mid-October.

    Hockey Canada made the announcement Monday evening.

    Patrick is a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. He was recently named to Canada’s selection camp, however the 18-year-old forward has only played in six games with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings this season.

    He has four goals and nine points, his season reduced because of this upper-body injury. Per Hockey Canada, Patrick hasn’t been medically cleared to attend the camp, so therefor he will miss the entire tournament.

    Patrick has already missed the annual series last month between Canada and Russia. He also underwent sports hernia surgery in July.

    Related: Pre-game reading: Some advice for Nolan Patrick

    Video: Luongo denies Spooner with spectacular glove save

    SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 8: Goaltender Roberto Luongo #1 of the Florida Panthers skates prior to the game against the Calgary Flames at the BB&T Center on November 8, 2014 in Sunrise, Florida. The Flames defeated the Panthers 6-4. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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    Roberto Luongo was on his game in the first period versus the Boston Bruins on Monday.

    The Florida Panthers goalie was called upon to make 14 saves in the opening 20 minutes, and none better than this glove stop on Ryan Spooner.

    Spooner appeared to have the wide open net on a cross-ice pass, but Luongo threw up the glove in spectacular fashion to deny the Bruins forward less than three minutes into the game.

    Flyers’ Read out four weeks with reported oblique muscle pull

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 02:  Matt Read #24 of the Philadelphia Flyers takes the puck in the second period against the Ottawa Senators at the Wells Fargo Center on April 2, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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    The Philadelphia Flyers have had their share of good news lately. They’ve won five in a row and goalie Steve Mason has been solid in that span, being named on Monday the NHL’s first star for the week.

    But it hasn’t all been positive.

    Forward Matt Read is out of the lineup for at least four weeks with an upper-body injury, the Flyers announced Monday. The injury occurred during Sunday’s game against the Nashville Predators.

    It’s been reported the injury is an oblique muscle pull.

    With Read out, the Flyers have recalled Taylor Leier from the American Hockey League.

    Leier has been very productive in the minors. In 22 games this season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, he has six goals and 20 points.