Standing still can be better than the alternative. While any improvement the Tampa Bay Lightning see will have to come from within after their quiet summer, they also haven’t endured any major losses.
Chicago was the oddsmaker’s favorites to repeat in mid-June, but since then the Blackhawks have parted ways with Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, Brandon Saad, and Johnny Oduya. To be fair, Chicago has also gotten some noteworthy additions like Artem Anisimov and they have some promising youngsters that might help fill the gaps like Artemy Panarin and Marko Dano.
Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the Blackhawks have made some considerable sacrifices this summer in the name of cap compliance and that’s without talking about the elephant in the room.
Tampa Bay finished two wins shy of Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final, so has the uncertainty created by Chicago’s turnover at least made the Blackhawks not quite as good of a bet as the Lightning?
Of course, even if you’re inclined to say that Tampa Bay is now in a better position than Chicago, that’s not the end of the debate. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens have strong teams led by elite goaltenders and either one is capable of having a standout season. Then there’s the Anaheim Ducks, which came closer to eliminating Chicago than Tampa Bay and the St. Louis Blues, which has fielded a great team for years, but hasn’t been able to put it all together once the playoffs start — yet.
You could bet on a Los Angeles Kings comeback or the Pittsburgh Penguins’ overwhelming squads with Phil Kessel joining Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Even then we haven’t covered all the teams that can legitimately claim to be serious contenders going into the season.
But this isn’t about who could win the Cup, it’s who has the best chance of doing so, even if it is by a narrow margin in a large field. Is Tampa Bay that team?
Back in 2013, the last time the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final, their leading playoff scorers were, in order, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchard, Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, and Johnny Boychuk.
Of those 10 players, only four — Krejci, Bergeron, Chara and Marchand — remain on the roster. And Chara is 38 years old now.
Add to the fact Dougie Hamilton is gone too, plus the fact the Bruins missed the playoffs last year, and it’s no surprise that many feel their Cup window has closed.
But you won’t hear new GM Don Sweeney say that. Not with youngsters like Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, and Alex Khokhlachev up front. And not after picking up 27-year-old Matt Beleskey in free agency.
Remember that the NHL is a young man’s league. Teams that aren’t constantly refreshing their lineups are teams that get into trouble.
“I don’t think it’s a rebuild. We didn’t strip this down,” Sweeney said in June, per NHL.com. “We have a tremendous core group of guys that are going to obviously carry an even heavier load here in the short term while these other kids can come in and start to take footing.”
Does Tyler Seguin represent a “new breed” of NHL players? Maybe, but he really just wants to emulate other sports stars like Lebron James. (Sportsnet)
Talk about direct nightmare fuel: Johan Franzen presented Gustav Nyquist with this custom bedspread on Instagram:
The caption is even better, though.
Hey Nyquist, I know you been sad ever since your dad signed for Toronto so I had these custom bed sheets made for u so u always can be close to him #detroit #detroitredwings #babcock #nyquist #separationanxiety #nhl
Amazingly, that’s not the most jarring Red Wings-related image featured in this Morning Skate, at least if you follow this link to what they might wear at their next outdoor game. Maybe they won’t actually look like this? /Holds out hope for humanity (Sports Logos)
As Coyotes fans will tell you, it wasn’t exactly wedded bliss last season, as Smith struggled to a 14-42-5 record with a .904 save percentage. Among goalies with at least 40 starts, only two — Kari Lehtonen and Ben Scrivens — had a lower save percentage than that.
Goaltending was a major reason the Coyotes finished 29th overall, just two points better than the dreadful Buffalo Sabres, and it left GM Don Maloney to deflect some of the blame away from the 33-year-old Smith.
“I think [next season] we’ll play better defense in front of (Smith), which is important,” Maloney said, per NHL.com. “I think we’ll have a better structure in front of Mike so he doesn’t feel like he has to be all-world every night and he can just do his thing.”
To be fair to Smith, he did post considerably better numbers in the latter stages of the season. He then gained even more confidence at the 2015 World Championships, as his solid play helped Canada win gold.
“It reiterates that I’m a pretty good goalie,” he said. “It’s been a tough year mentally on me. Physically, I got a good handle on that, but I think mentally, going into the summer knowing that I’ve played some pretty good hockey now for three months or so, I think it’s important.”
Smith will be backed up next season by Anders Lindback. Considering the Coyotes will be Lindback’s fifth NHL team since 2010, it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll perform. In 2014-15, he struggled badly with the Stars before playing considerably better for the Sabres.
PHT Morning Skate: Versteeg shows off his dance moves at Setoguchi’s wedding