Jonathan Bernier doesn’t get too much action thanks to Jonathan Quick being so brilliant, but when he gets to start he’s finding ways to impress. You can just ask St. Louis’ Patrik Berglund about that as Bernier robbed Berglund as he streaked to the net courtesy of a great pass by Vladimir Sobotka.
Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.
“All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:
Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.
If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.
For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.
That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.
Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.
This is part of Lightning day at PHT …
For one thing, Toews and Kane were playing out the final years of their entry-level contracts. Those CBA-powered savings gave the Blackhawks a surplus of players who would eventually be too expensive to retain, most notably Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell.
That fantastic group never faced elimination during an overpowering run to the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Thanks to deft maneuvering by GM Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks were able to reload and put together other strong supporting casts even after big losses, and that could be a profound lesson for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It might be tempting for the Bolts to merely keep their window open as long as possible. Instead, they should take a big swing in 2016-17 and then trust management to recover from any fallout.
Bishop’s expiring contract
The safe move would be to trade away some of the expiring contracts on Tampa Bay’s roster instead of risking getting nothing when they leave.
Many believe that Ben Bishop is on his way out. With one year left on a contract that carries about a $6 million cap hit and Andrei Vasilevskiy getting the Jake Allen-style “you’re the man” extension, it seems like a matter of time.
Keeping Bishop around for one more season might just pay off, though.
For one thing, Vasilevskiy’s shown signs of brilliance, yet his current NHL numbers aren’t overwhelmingly strong. Bishop, meanwhile, kept the Bolts afloat during some tough times in 2015-16.
Even if the Lightning feel like Vasy is the guy, what if he gets hurt? They’ve already seen goalies get injured at inopportune times, and the reigning champion Penguins provide another reminder.
(For more on the Bishop situation, click here.)
Win low, worry later
That said, the Lightning may want to identify their own Byfugliens and Ladds and go for broke in 2016-17. Let’s not forget how close they were to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance even with Stamkos on the shelf.
It’s tough to imagine the Bolts managing to keep all of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine many opponents managing to contain an attack that features Stamkos, Johnson, Palat, Drouin and other dangerous attackers.
(Plus, another year of evaluation would give Yzerman time to determine who is truly a core member.)
It’s a challenging situation, but the Lightning easily rank alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and maybe a few other select teams as the cream of the East crop.
They’re positioned to jostle with the elites for some time, but why not take their best shot in 2016-17 and then make the best of things later on?
Sometimes the difference between really good and truly great comes down to having the courage to make these tough calls.
This is part of Lightning day at PHT …
What a difference a year makes.
Last summer, Tyler Johnson was such a huge part of the Tampa Bay Lightning, more than a few people believed that he could ease the pain of possibly losing Steven Stamkos to free agency. He tied Stamkos for the team lead in scoring (72 points) and topped all Lightning players with 23 playoff points during their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.
The 2015-16 regular season was a bumpy one for Johnson … in some ways literally.
Health was a major obstacle for Johnson, starting with the hangover from a wrist injury he suffered during Tampa Bay’s magic run.
Even afterward, there were moments of pain. Sometimes it came down to flat-out bad luck:
Other times, there were questionable hits:
It wasn’t until late in the regular season that Johnson seemed to feel himself, as he noted to the Tampa Bay Tribune.
“I feel I’ve got the speed back, got everything I can do,” Johnson said. “I’m actually mentally there, not worried about other things …”
He’ll have some things to worry about in 2016-17.
The Lightning handed out a ton of money this off-season, locking up Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn and Andrei Vasilevskiy to lengthy deals. They still need to sort out a contract for Nikita Kucherov, a talented forward who rose while Johnson stumbled.
Fair or not, Johnson must prove that he’s a core member of the Lightning
He made a strong argument in his own favor once he was healthy, generating 17 points in 17 playoff games as the Lightning made it to within one game of another Stanley Cup Final appearance despite missing Stamkos.
Still, Johnson faces a fork in the road. Ben Bishop either needs a new deal or (most likely) a trade to a team that will make him “the guy.” Ondrej Palat likely won’t be the easiest player for Tampa Bay to re-sign, either.
Few players could gain or lose more money with one season of play than Tyler Johnson. He can prove that 2015-16 was derailed by bad luck or allow injury concerns to linger.
Millions are on the line, and those personal goals may very well help Johnson drive the Lightning to another deep run.
For all we know, he could also find himself driving out of town.
It’s no secret that Canada’s been on a strong run at the international level, and it’s no surprise that they’re considered the favorites heading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Seriously, just look at the B Team put together by The Hockey News’ Mike Brophy; even with the strange hook of having to go around the under-23 North American team, that group would be one of the top contenders if it existed.
The real fun is judging how Bovada’s odds fall with the other leading nations. Is Russia given too great a chance considering some recent struggles when facing the best of the best? Did that odd little under-23 team not get enough love?
Here are the odds Bovada released on Monday:
World Cup of Hockey 2016 Champion
North America U23 16/1
Czech Republic 22/1
Team Europe 33/1