2010-11 NHL season preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

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boucherandyzerman.jpgLast season: (34-36-12, 80 points, 4th in Southeast Division, 12th in Eastern Conference) The Lightning have been a mess more or less since they won the Stanley Cup before the lockout. Almost universally bad personnel and front office decisions will do that to you. Really, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos were the only bright spots of last season, although many will point out that changing their owner, GM and coach might be the real ‘highlight.’

Head coach: They say that Guy Boucher is bringing in a system quite unlike anything Lightning players have ever seen … whatever that means. All I know is that he can’t be much worse than Rick Tocchet and that the scar on his face makes him look a villain from a James Bond film. These are good things.

Key departures: G Antero Niittymaki, F Alex Tanguay, F Zenon Konopka, F Todd Fedoruk, D Andrej Mezaros, D Matt Walker, D Kurtis Foster. Few teams can match the Lightning when it comes to year-by-year turnover. The good news is, this summer resembles cleaning house compared to the ‘re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’ type moves in previous years. They might miss Foster’s booming slapper a bit, though.

Key arrivals: G Dan Ellis, F Simon Gagne, D Pavel Kubina, D Brett Clark, F Sean Bergenheim, D Dominic Moore. Ellis is a slight upgrade over Niittymaki while Gagne is a considerable upgrade over Tanguay — if he can stay healthy. Actually, Kubina’s a step up from Meszaros, too. Just a bunch of shrewd moves by new general manager Steve Yzerman.

Thumbnail image for lecavalierwithnewteammates.jpgUnder pressure: When you make the kind of coin that Vincent Lecavalier does, you better produce. He’ll always be under a lot of pressure in Tampa Bay, but when you consider that Stamkos could rake in big bucks as his contract expires this season, Lecavalier needs to justify his very expensive existence. If the French-Canadian talent can make it happen this season, Tampa Bay might turn some heads sooner than some expect.

Protecting the house: Neither new addition Ellis nor Mike Smith are going to take the world by storm, but they’re both competent goalies. On the negative side, Smith is injury-prone while Ellis is unproven as a starter. I like the duo, but they’ll need some solid defense to shine.

Tampa Bay’s defense is a lot like its goalies: solid but unspectacular. Victor Hedman struggled in his first season, but he should be a special player one day. Mattias Ohlund is getting a little long in the tooth, but he’s a solid trooper. Kubina and Clark are nice additions as well. Boucher’s system will have a big impact on the quality of this group, but this could be the best group they’ve had in quite some time (even if that’s not saying much).

If nothing else, the Lightning should allow less than the putrid 260 goals they gave up last season.

Top line we’d like to see: Stamkos-Lecavalier-St. Louis. This trio boasts a speedy playmaker (St. Louis), a true gunslinger (Stamkos) and an elite center (Lecavalier). Tampa Bay would be wise to split Stamkos and Lecavalier for the sake of depth scoring, but if it needs a goal, this could be a great combo.

Oh captain, my captain: Lecavalier’s been the (admittedly pretty) face of the franchise since the team’s former owner called him the ‘Michael Jordan’ of hockey, even if he hasn’t always been the captain. I wonder if St. Louis might be a better choice, though, since he consistently produces while Lecavalier is decidedly up-and-down.

Street fighting man: If ridding themselves of last season’s leader Konopka wasn’t enough, the team openly states that it has an anti-fighting policy. Considering that Southeast Division is getting tougher (at least in Florida and Atlanta), that might be a minor concern.

Best-case scenario: Let’s not forget that the Lightning boasts top-level forwards that can compare to any in the NHL. Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, Gagne, Ryan Malone and Steve Downie are a pretty imposing group. Winning a Cup seems a little ridiculous, though, but what about a run to the Eastern Conference finals?

danellistbl.jpgWorst-case scenario: Boucher’s system doesn’t work out. Smith gets injured and Ellis has a new set of ‘Dan Ellis Problems’ (namely, letting in too many goals). Lecavalier flounders, Stamkos regresses, St. Louis shows his age and Gagne gets hurt for half the season while their defense fails miserably. The team finishes well enough that they don’t get a good draft pick, but low enough that they miss the playoffs.

Keeping it real: When you consider how bad the Eastern Conference is once you get past the elite teams, the lower seeds are wide open. The Lightning can definitely earn a seventh or eighth seed simply by improving by increments. They have a potentially explosive offense, a decent defense and an OK goalie duo. Sounds like the right mix in the diluted East.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, Tampa Bay earns a 3. I’d rather give them a 2.5, because they have a lot of talent, but are far from complete. There are a ton of unknowns from this team, but I think a Lecavalier-Gagne combo could wreak havoc on second-defensive pairings

Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski

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Last summer, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter stressed that some of the club’s young prospects needed to make an impact at the NHL level.

And now it’s happening.

Following the recalls and NHL debuts of Adrian Kempe and Paul LaDue, the Kings have brought up Jonny Brodzinski from AHL Ontario, the club announced on Thursday.

Brodzinski, 23, made the AHL All-Star team this year and leads the Reign in goals, with 25 through 56 games. The former St. Could State sniper left school early two years ago to join the Kings organization, after L.A. took him in the fifth round of the ’13 draft.

As mentioned above, this recall is in lockstep with what’s developed throughout the year. Kempe, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (29th overall) in ’14 and has fared well since joining the big club, with six points in 16 games.

LaDue, 24, was a sixth-round pick in ’12 that — like Kempe and Brodzinski — fared well in the American League before getting recalled in February. LaDue has appeared in 15 games for the Kings, scoring five points while averaging 16:25 TOI per night.

Los Angeles is still technically in the playoff race, but sits eight points back of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference — with just 10 games to play. As such, the focus might now shift to giving some youngsters NHL experience.

Brodzinski will have to wait for his, however. Per LA Kings Insider, it doesn’t look like he’ll play tonight, when the Kings host the Jets at Staples.

 

 

Polak gets two games for boarding Bjorkstrand

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Roman Polak‘s hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand has drawn more than the ire of Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.

Today, the NHL announced that Polak, a defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been suspended two games for boarding Bjorkstrand Wednesday in Columbus.

In making the ruling, the league’s Department of Player Safety determined that Polak sent Bjorkstrand “violently” into the boards from behind, causing an injury. The DoPS also noted that the hit was avoidable, with the onus on Polak to “ensure that he avoids this hit entirely, or at the very least, minimizes the force of the impact.”

You can watch the full ruling below:

Wild prospect Kunin leaves Wisconsin, turns pro

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Minnesota is getting one of its prized youngsters in the mix.

Luke Kunin, the club’s first-round pick (15th overall) at last year’s draft, is leaving the University of Wisconsin following his sophomore campaign, per the Star-Tribune. Kunin will reportedly join Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa on an amateur tryout.

Kunin, 19, is coming off a pretty successful campaign. He was the first soph to captain the Badgers in over 40 years, and led the team in goals (22) and points (38). That came after he captained the U.S. to gold at the world juniors, scoring four points in seven games.

Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Kunin will play out this year in the minors, and his entry-level deal will kick in next season. That means he won’t be with the Wild at all this year — regular season or playoffs.

As mentioned, Kunin is just one of the many talented prospects Minnesota has in the fold. Russian Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden’s Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kunin’s U.S. junior teammate, Jordan Greenway, all showed extremely well at the worlds.

Hurricanes sign Finnish prospect Kuokkanen

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The Carolina Hurricanes have another talented, young Finn under contract.

The ‘Canes announced this morning that they’ve signed forward Janne Kuokkanen to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Kuokkanen was drafted in the second round, 43rd overall, in 2016. The 18-year-old is currently with the OHL’s London Knights. He finished the regular season with 26 goals and 36 assists in 60 games.

“Janne was outstanding in our rookie tournament in Traverse City in September, and stayed in North America to continue his development in the Ontario Hockey League,” said ‘Canes GM Ron Francis in a release. “He’s a smart, skilled forward and we look forward to the start of his professional career.”

The ‘Canes already have two Finnish forwards in Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.

Aho and Kuokkanen were teammates in the Karpat (Liiga) development system in Finland.