Alexander Mogilny

via Lightning Twitter

Lightning, Kucherov finish season making serious history

2 Comments

Nikita Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning could have let up, and rested, a long time ago.

Kucherov reached the 100-point mark in February, needing just 62 games to do so. The Lightning ridiculously clinched the Presidents’ Trophy on March 18.

For weeks, and really for all of the 2018-19 season, it hasn’t just been about playing well and winning games. This has been a season where the Lightning and their star winger have been chasing history. In defeating the Boston Bruins 6-3 on Saturday, the Lightning won their 62nd game, joining the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings as the only teams to ever do so in NHL history.

There’s beautiful symmetry, too, to the Lightning finishing with 128 standings points (62-16-4) while Kucherov ended what’s easily been the best season of his career with … yes, 128 points. He generated two points on Saturday, passing Alexander Mogilny’s 127 points as the most points scored in a single season by a Russian-born player.

(Kucherov’s hit certain milestones like 70 points while the Lightning crossed that same points barrier at times this season, so the player and the team have been in lockstep with each other in generating these incredible accomplishments.)

While the record-breaking point came via a less exciting assist on an empty-netter, Kucherov’s 127th point of the season was tremendous, even if – in very Kucherov fashion – he made it look easy. This video includes both points:

The headlines will be dominated by the Lightning tying that win mark, and Kucherov setting a new record for a Russian-born skater, and rightfully so. Still, sometimes you don’t really absorb the dominance of a player or team until you really stack up the numbers and milestones, so here are some other remarkable statistics from what has been one of the greatest runs in league history.

  • The Lightning’s 128 points stand as the fourth-most in NHL history.
  • As you might expect, the Lightning’s firepower stacks up with some of the best the league’s ever seen (especially if you account for this still being an era where goals are harder to come by). Tampa Bay finished the season with 325 goals, the highest total since the Penguins scored 362 in 1995-96.
  • They only allowed 222 goals against, putting the Lightning’s goal differential at a whopping +103. That’s the best since the Senators also managed a +103 differential back in 2005-06. (It’s easy to forget how explosive those Senators teams were, for a simple reason that should make Tampa Bay gulp: Ottawa couldn’t win a Stanley Cup.)
  • Sportsnet notes that the Lightning are the first team to manage a power-play percentage at 28 percent since the Flames did it way back in 1987-88.
  • Bryan Burns of the Lightning team website points out that the Lightning are also only the second team (joining the 2005-06 Red Wings) to reach at least 30 road wins. Tampa Bay finished with 30, one behind Detroit’s 31.

There are also some interesting notes about Kucherov, as well as Steven Stamkos.

  • Kucherov’s 87 assists tie Jaromir Jagr for the most assists in a single season by a winger. Jagr collected 87 back in 1995-96.
  • With 98 points, Steven Stamkos set a new career-high. He’s really been heating up lately, too, as he has 10 goals in as many games (finishing the season with 45).

Pretty amazing all around.

Of course, some will view all of this history made as hollow if the Lightning can’t win a Stanley Cup. That seems unfair, but it’s the way sports work.

If this run goes off the rails during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, some might wonder: was it worth it to chase history? Would it have been better to rest players instead, Kucherov included? On the other hand, the Bolts would likely counter that it’s better to go into a postseason playing sharp rather than risking rust.

However the matchups finish by the end of Saturday, the Lightning are set to face a rather difficult first-round matchup in the Hurricanes or Blue Jackets. Then again, looking at their numbers, maybe it doesn’t matter who they face — in any round?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Eric Lindros’ open-and-shut case for the Hockey Hall of Fame

101 Comments

Peter Forsberg’s election to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday may have helped take care of something that should’ve happened already – make Eric Lindros’ case to be enshrined in Toronto.

The two giants of the ice are forever linked because of the June 30, 1992 trade that sent Lindros’ rights from the Quebec Nordiques to the Philadelphia Flyers. The blockbuster seven-player deal saw Lindros go to the Flyers in exchange for Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, and Philly’s 1993 first-round pick that turned into Jocelyn Thibault.

Both Lindros and Forsberg went on to have superstar careers.

Forsberg had greater team success winning the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche while Lindros made one Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1997 with the Flyers getting swept by the Detroit Red Wings. Forsberg won two Olympic gold medals in 1994 and 2006 with Sweden while Lindros won one in 2002 with Canada.

For Hockey Hall of Fame arguments, team titles are an easy way to distract from the point of the Hall of Fame. Getting elected to the Hall is based on individual success and, let’s face it, there are plenty of players who will never come close to making the Hall who have won multiple Stanley Cups.

When it came to individual accolades, their honors are similar. Both Forsberg (2003) and Lindros (1995) won Hart Trophies. Forsberg also won the Calder (1995) and Art Ross (2003). Both went to multiple All-Star Games and were season-end league all-stars as well.

When you look at the raw statistics and personal achievements between Lindros and Forsberg, suddenly things look a lot closer:

Forsberg:  (14 seasons – 708 GP)  249 G  636 A  885 PTS  690 PIM 1.250 PPG (points per-game)

Lindros:    (13 seasons – 760 GP)  372 G  493 A  865 PTS  1,398 PIM  1.138 PPG

Forsberg’s points per game total is eighth best all-time trailing Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Sidney Crosby, Bobby Orr, Marcel Dionne, and Peter Stastny. He was a no-brainer Hall of Famer whether you loved him or hated him or wanted to hold his history of foot injuries against him.

source: Getty ImagesWhile Lindros’ PPG total pales in comparison, put that into perspective of how great Forsberg’s play was. Lindros’ PPG total is 19th best all-time. The next 11 players behind Lindros on that list are all in the Hall of Fame. Of those between Forsberg and Lindros, Kent Nilsson is the only one who isn’t currently playing that’s not in the Hall (Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr are still going strong).

Forsberg was rightly considered a no-brainer to make the Hall of Fame yet this was Lindros’ fifth turn on the ballot. Next year’s vote won’t be any easier for Lindros to crack through.

Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and Alex Kovalev will be eligible for the first time and join a growing group of worthy candidates to be enshrined. Lidstrom will be a unanimous selection with Fedorov being arguably close to that as well.

That means Lindros will be fighting for recognition amongst other guys with gaudy numbers like Phil Housley, Alexander Mogilny, and Dave Andreychuk or those with brilliant international careers like Sergei Makarov.

There shouldn’t be a way for others, aside from Lidstrom, to make as strong of a claim to make the Hall of Fame next year as Lindros. Now with Forsberg earning his own spot in history, it’s time for the Hall of Fame committee to open the doors for “Big E.”

Pavel Bure to consider running Sochi KHL expansion team

10 Comments

One of the upsides for Sochi getting the Olympic Games was what it would do for them after the events are over. One thing that’s seemingly going to happen is they’ll be getting a KHL expansion team and they may have a superstar to run it.

According to agent Darryl Wolski, Hockey Hall of Famer Pavel Bure is considering being the man to run the new franchise. The new team would begin play in 2014-2015.

Bure has been the face of the potential Sochi franchise since it was announced they would be getting a team. A story from Ria Novosti in September got his thoughts on being an executive of the franchise.

“I have experience and understanding of what needs to be done,” said Bure. “I saw what was done in Los Angeles, California, where it was hard to make the Kings popular, because they had Lakers [NBA team] that were winning everything. But look at them now: the team already took the Stanley Cup and their arena is always full.”

Being a former superstar player has helped out others in landing jobs in the KHL. Sergei Fedorov is the GM of CSKA and Alexander Mogilny is the GM of the team in Vladivostok. Seeing Bure land in Sochi would give that team an immediate boost of credibility.

Best and worst sweaters of all-time: Buffalo Sabres

4 Comments

Things got a bit ugly sweater-wise in Buffalo for a long time. Now with Terry Pegula in charge and owning the team, the Sabres throwback look is as apropos as it gets. Pegula-mania didn’t just save the Sabres from failure, it also saved everyone from seeing things get a bit too modernized with how the Sabres look on the ice.

Best: When the Sabres came to be in 1970, they arrived on the scene with a logo that became legendary in Buffalo and around the NHL for hockey fans all over. With the round logo with a charging buffalo and crisscrossing swords (sabers if you will) and a set of home and road jerseys that were perfect, it was the home whites from the mid-80s until the mid-90s that grabbed your attention the most.

With the blue and gold shoulder yoke with the Sabres logo on the shoulders on top of the big logo on the front, when you saw the Sabres at home, it was a thing of beauty, especially with Pat Lafontaine and Alexander Mogilny doing their thing. No offense to the French Connection line of the 70s, of course.

Worst: If you didn’t think I was going to use this to pick on the “Buffaslug” uniforms that came about after the 2004-2005 lockout, you’re crazy. Buffalo wanted to get back to wearing blue and gold again after their era of going red and black with the “snarling goat” buffalo head logo but wanted to do so with a modern design. Bad move.

The Sabres new logo was too silly and really easy to make fun of. The “Buffaslug” was born and while it looked more like a hairpiece for Barney Rubble, the uniforms were equally stupidly designed with waves of color streaking through it and the number on the upper front right side of the jersey. Call it what you will, but most of all it was a comedy of errors that stuck around for just four seasons before they went full on for the modernized throwback look thanks to massive outrage from the fans in Buffalo and across the league.

Dark Ages: The Sabres were another team to go all in on changing to black and while they saw their biggest success with the black and red re-design from 1996-2006 ultimately making the Stanley Cup finals in 1999 on the back of Dominik Hasek, it was a design that never really felt right. Sure selling merch in black and red was good for a short while in the 1990s, it was a look that never really fit the team. Sometimes following fashion trends isn’t the greatest idea around.

Assessment: The Sabres modernized throwbacks to their original look was a pleasant relief after the Buffaslug years. There’s nothing to really get worked up about with their new duds. Sure the number on the front of the jersey still looks awkward and the gray patches underneath the arms make it look like the players have a major sweating problem, but the overall look of the team is perfect.

The old logo with added gray highlights elsewhere on an old style yet modern jersey looks fantastic. With Terry Pegula owning the team now, the turn-back-the-clock style makes even more sense now as he’s perhaps the biggest Sabres fan around. Things work out for a reason sometimes.