Kevin Shattenkirk

Get ready to learn a lot about the Lightning

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With a cursory glance at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s upcoming schedule, it was tempting to predict that the team will look like a juggernaut again very soon.

After beating the Predators in overtime in an unexpectedly nasty game in Nashville, the opportunity is indeed there to enjoy some home cooking. The Lightning play:

  • Their next three games at home.
  • Seven of their next eight games in Tampa Bay.
  • Could be set for a big December overall with 10 of their next 12 games at home.

Yet, when you dig a little deeper, the situation is even more interesting because a hot streak isn’t necessarily a slam dunk for Tampa Bay. While it’s dangerous to read too much into any month in the marathon that is an NHL regular season, it’s fair to say that we should get a better idea of what kind of team the Lightning might be in 2019-20.

Bumpy start

Chalk it up to a hangover from that jarring sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets, Brayden Point limping into the early part of the season, or any other number of factors, but it’s clear that something’s been a bit off about the Lightning in 2019-20.

It wouldn’t have been reasonable to expect the Lightning to duplicate 2018-19’s regular-season magic, but it’s still jarring that, as of Dec. 4, Tampa Bay is not in a playoff position.

Now, sure, some of that is misleading. After all, the Lightning have only played in 25 games, the lowest total in the NHL. Still, a 13-9-3 record feels closer to a drizzle than a thunderstorm.

It’s a tad bit unnerving that Tampa Bay’s record is closer to “meh” than dominant when you consider that a decent number of things are going right for the Lightning.

Their power play is still humming along with a robust 29.3 percent success rate, third-best in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov isn’t on another 120-point pace, he’s still a dangerous scorer, and the Lightning are getting strong production from Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman (remarkably, 23 points in as many games), and Brayden Point. Beyond the usual suspects, they’re also seeing an even-more-revitalized-than-expected Kevin Shattenkirk (not far behind Hedman with 20 points in 25 GP), and some nice contributions from rising players like Anthony Cirelli.

The Lightning’s even-strength PDO (1.017) ranks seventh-highest in the NHL, a quick reference that indicates that they aren’t suffering from particularly terrible puck luck.

While their goaltending hasn’t been great (Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney share matching .908 save percentages), it hasn’t been a full-fledged disaster.

So … it’s fair to wonder if this Lightning team might fall closer to good than great. But, again, this stretch will tell us quite a bit about their ceiling — not everything, but quite a bit.

Another look at this home-heavy stretch

Here’s that span of 12 games, with road contests in italics:

Dec. 5: vs. Minnesota
Dec. 7: vs. San Jose
Dec. 9: vs. Islanders
Dec. 10: at Florida
Dec. 12: vs. Boston
Dec. 14: vs. Washington
Dec. 17: vs. Ottawa
Dec. 19: vs. Dallas
Dec. 21: at Washington
Dec. 23: vs. Florida
Dec. 28: vs. Montreal
Dec. 29: vs. Detroit

While the Senators and Red Wings stand as games the Lightning absolutely should win, and there are matches against teams who have been up and down (Wild, Sharks, Stars), it all looks like a set of challenges as much as this is a golden opportunity.

After all, the Lightning are only 6-4-1 so far at home this season, and that’s with that trip to Sweden mucking things up a bit.

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It’s hyperbolic to say that this is a do-or-die stretch for the Lightning, but it’s still one of the more significant spans of their season.

Consider it the equivalent to an animal storing fat for in preparation for a difficult winter. From Dec. 31 through Feb. 1, the Lightning face what could be a treacherous run of away games: four in a row to begin 2020, 12 out of 15 games on the road. While that set of opponents is softer (at least on paper), it would likely help if they entered that run on a high note.

Do you think the Lightning can take advantage of December to prove that they’re still truly among the elite, or will they continue to face peaks and valleys?

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Shattenkirk finds perfect fit in new role with Lightning

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There were four days between the Rangers buying out the final two years of Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract and the Lightning signing the 30-year-old defenseman to a one-year deal. Despite how swift his fortunes changed, there was a period of anger and frustration at not being able to make the “hometown boy returns” story work out.

Shattenkirk hails from New Rochelle, N.Y., which is about 20 miles outside of New York City. When he became an unrestricted free agent in 2017, it was clear that the Rangers would be atop his preferred destinations list. He would sign a four-year, $26.6 million deal to head home, but nothing went right during his two-season stop in the Big Apple.

During training camp in 2017 Shattenkirk suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee, an injury that would bother him during his entire tenure in New York. He played only 46 games in 2017-18, with surgery ending his season that January. Last season he managed to get into 73 games, but it was clear he wasn’t himself. He scored only two goals and recorded 28 points and was healthy scratched while trying to fight through the knee issue.

When the Rangers made the buyout official on August 1, he felt plenty of emotions.

“On a personal level, for not being able to make it work from my end, and when a team makes that decision you want to prove them wrong,” Shattenkirk told NBC Sports on Monday. 

Shattenkirk was at a low point and began to question himself. But then the phone started to ring. Considering he’d been bought out, a team looking to add to its blue line wouldn’t need to shell out major bucks to sign him, and would be banking on a bounce-back season from the now-healthy defenseman. It was a rollercoaster few days, but the interest level from other NHL teams helped restore his confidence.

“All of a sudden you start to realize that there are a lot of teams out there that could use you and may value you,” he said. “In my mind, it was something I was able to move through pretty quickly and it allowed me to focus on the season again. I was pretty driven this summer to have a big bounce-back season regardless of where I was. I think being able to know I was coming to Tampa and being on this calibre of a team, I wanted to make sure I was ready to go when the time training camp started.”

The knee injury is in the past now and the results show it. Shattenkirk, who’s been mostly paired with Victor Hedman, is third on the Lightning in minutes played, averaging 20:30 a night, and he’s tied for fourth on the team in points with seven, which includes four goals. The pressures of having to perform in your hometown or having to play like a No. 1 defenseman and produce on a regular basis is absent now in Tampa.

“There’s a lot of guys who are above me in that role and it just allows me to fit in to my role perfectly,” he said. “It’s been comforting, it’s been nice to be here. Great group of guys, great fans, and I think they all appreciate for what I bring to the table. It’s up to me to not try to be more than they need me to be.”

Shattenkirk spent this past summer training in Connecticut with Ben Prentiss, who has worked with NHLers James van Riemsdyk, Jonathan Quick, Cam Atkinson, Charlie McAvoy, and Jack Eichel, among many others. He also focused on edge work in his skating with skills coach Erik Nates, whom Shattenkirk has used in the past.

“When you have an injury like [my knee], you tend to overcompensate and you don’t realize you’re losing a lot in your stride,” he said. “I had a lot of bad habits in there I needed to break. It helped me out tremendously.”

A healthy Shattenkirk returns to New York City Tuesday night for the first time as a member of the Lightning. Because Tampa’s games this week are at the Rangers, Devils, and Islanders, family and friends in the area won’t descend upon one specific game, they’ll instead spread out among the three, and others will be watching from Mustang Harry’s, a sports bar not far from Madison Square Garden.

It remains to be seen what kind of salute the Rangers have in store for Shattenkirk. The defenseman said he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he would receive from the Garden faithful, but knowing the area as well as he does, he’s ready for anything.

“I had a great time playing there. They were very supportive of me and obviously knowing what I was going through,” he said. “But it’s New York, and if you don’t perform in New York they have something to say about it. I’m sure there’ll be a couple of boo birds out [Tuesday] night, but that’s New York, and that’s something I’m accustomed to growing up there and being a New York fan. In a way, it’ll probably make me laugh a little bit on the inside, but that’s how you’ve got to approach it and we’ll see how it goes.”

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will call Lightning-Rangers from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Patrick Sharp.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Under-drafted players who could help your team

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Welcome to the first adds/drops column of the 2019-20 NHL season. Every Monday, we’re going to recommend players that you might want to consider letting go of or putting on your fantasy hockey team in standard Yahoo leagues.

Given that we’re still in the preseason though, we’re going to do something a little different. This week, we’ve highlighted some players taken in less than 60% of Yahoo drafts who I think have a good chance of becoming meaningful producers this season.  Not all of these players are ones who should be added right away, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on.

[Ready for the season? Get the Rotoworld Draft Guide]

Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks (LW/RW, Drafted: 56%) – In a summer where many RFAs were fighting to redefine the market, Labanc wasted little time in agreeing to a one-year, $1 million contract. It’s an awfully low price after scoring 17 goals and 56 points in 82 games, but it signals a willingness to bet on himself. If he comes up big this season, he’ll be due for a massive raise, especially given that he’ll have arbitration rights. He won’t lack for motivation and at the age of 23, he should be able to continue to trend upwards.

Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils (C, Drafted: 24%) – Not all first overall picks are created equal. Hischier was the top pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, but he didn’t come with the fanfare of Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews before him and the Devils’ latest first overall pick, Jack Hughes, is already looking like a bigger piece of the franchise’s future. All the same, Hischier does have untapped potential going into his third NHL campaign and with the Devils’ offense looking much deeper than it has in recent years, he should have more to work with too.

Nikita Gusev, New Jersey Devils (LW, Drafted: 20%) – Gusev is one of the most interesting X-Factors going into the 2019-20 campaign. If you looked at his KHL statistics alone, you’d be wondering if he was a potential superstar.  He had 17 goals and 82 points in 62 games with St. Petersburg SKA last season. To put that in perspective, Artemi Panarin had 62 points in 54 games with St. Petersburgh in his last season before his 77-point rookie showing with Chicago.  That said, KHL success doesn’t always translate directly into the NHL. Just ask Vadim Shipachyov or Ilya Kovalchuk. They were both stars with St. Petersburgh too, but Shipachyov’s NHL stint ended up including a goal in just three games while Kovalchuk was at best a mixed bag in his NHL comeback attempt. Still, there is certainly potential here and it seems like Gusev will get a chance to prove himself, likely as a mainstay on the Devils’ second line. Plus, for what it’s worth, he’s looked good so far in the preseason with two goals and four points in three games.

Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay Lightning (D, Drafted: 16%) – There’s no question that Shattenkirk’s tenure with the Rangers was a major disappointment and his stock has understandably tanked as a result. He’s still just 30-years-old though, so a comeback isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. He’s getting a fresh start with Tampa Bay and has plenty of motivation after being bought out over the summer. “This is obviously an important year for me to show everyone I’m back to my old self and prove that I can be a player in this League again,” Shattenkirk said via NHL.com.

Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins (G, Drafted: 13%) – If you’re not happy with your goaltending situation, you might want to take a long look at Halak. Obviously he’s not the starter in Boston and that’s not expected to change, but he’s likely to get far more work than your typical backup. He made 37 starts last season and that helped keep Tuukka Rask fresh for the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bruins use Halak regularly again this season and he should often be solid when he is used.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld.]

Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs (RW, Drafted: 10%) – This is more of a short-term pickup and even then, Kapanen is someone you want to keep an eye on during training camp rather than grab right away. He’s likely to spend most of the season as a third liner, but Zach Hyman will miss about a month of the regular season with a knee injury so that’s created a top-six opening that Kapanen is a favorite to fill. He’s been getting a chance alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner so far.

James Neal, Edmonton Oilers (LW/RW, Drafted: 8%) – Calgary signed Neal to a five-year, $28.75 million contract over in the summer of 2018 and that ended up being a disaster. How bad was it? So bad that swapping Neal for Milan Lucic and his albatross contract actually made sense to Calgary. Neal had just seven goals and 19 points in 63 games while averaging a career-low 14:57 minutes last season, but Edmonton will give him every opportunity to bounce back. The Oilers are desperate for secondary scoring to complement McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Neal might be able to fit in better than he did with the Flames. He’s far from a safe bet, but there are far worse gambles out there.

Corey Perry, Dallas Stars (RW, Drafted: 5%) – Perry can’t seem to catch a break. After being bought out by Anaheim over the summer, his comeback attempt has already been delayed due to a broken foot. That said, there is still reason to pay attention to him. What I really want to know is how he’s going to do with a healthy knee – something he hasn’t had in years.  Keep in mind that after he suffered a torn meniscus during a preseason game in 2018 and needed surgery as a result, it was decided to take that opportunity to also repair a MCL injury that he had been dealing with for years. Because he missed a large chunk of 2018-19 and played in a limited role when he did return, it’s still not clear how he’d perform if he were fully healthy.  Perhaps we’ll get the answer to that in Dallas…provided he doesn’t suffer any other setbacks.

Ryan Dzingel, Carolina Hurricanes (LW/RW, Drafted: 4%) – Dzingel took a big step forward last season with 26 goals and 56 points in 78 games, but he was passed over in the early rush of UFA contracts. That worked to the Hurricanes’ advantage though as they were able to scoop him up to an affordable two-year, $6.75 million contract. The Hurricanes are a pretty interesting team this season and Dzingel is well positioned to play a significant top-six role there. Keep an eye on him during training camp and the early part of the season because it will be interesting to see who his linemates are. They might end up being Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter, which would obviously be a pretty promising situation for Dzingel.

Alexander Nylander, Chicago Blackhawks (LW/RW, Drafted: <2%) – Nylander was taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, but through three seasons as part of the Sabres’ organization, he only appeared in 19 NHL games.  Chicago acquired him over the summer and there’s potentially a huge opportunity for him with the Blackhawks. There’s an opening on the top line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews that Nylander has been auditioning for. If he gets it, then he’ll definitely be worth taking a chance on in standard leagues.

Typically I’ll also be recommending players to drop in this column.  I’ll hold off on doing that this week because it’s too early to write anyone off.  I will say that there are some very obvious risky players who are being taken relatively early in fantasy drafts.  Mikko Rantanen (Avg. Draft Position: 24.2), Patrik Laine (42.3), Brayden Point (46.8), Dustin Byfuglien (56.2), Matthew Tkachuk (60.1), and Kyle Connor (115.7) all haven’t participated in training camp yet.  They’re out with the exception of Byfuglien, who isn’t with the team for personal reasons and is reportedly considering retirement.

Odds are their absence isn’t news to you, but it’s still worth repeating that missing training camp can hurt a player’s production during the regular season and the more time they miss, the bigger the impact will be even after they do return.  Drafting any of those players at this time is a big gamble and if you haven’t had your draft yet, then you’ll want to seriously consider avoiding them despite how good they can be under normal circumstances.  That of course changes if any of their situations are resolved in the next few days.

If you’re on the hunt for rankings, projections, strategy and advice on how to dominate your drafts, check out the all-new Rotoworld NHL Draft Guide. Now mobile-optimized with a new look and feel, it’s never been easier to take our award-winning advice with you to your drafts for that extra competitive edge! Click here to learn more!

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Previewing the 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Worse, and objectively, with far fewer former Rangers. It’s tough to shake the impression that the Lightning’s fixation on Rangers was an Yzerman thing, as Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, J.T. Miller, Ryan Callahan are all out.

Some losses hurt more than others, of course, and some change was inevitable. Really, the biggest omission would be Brayden Point if he misses any regular season games waiting for a new contract.

Also, the Lightning did mitigate some of their losses with another former Ranger: Kevin Shattenkirk. The Bolts lost some firepower this offseason, but still made savvy moves, especially if Curtis McElhinney continues to be a diamond in the rough as a strong veteran backup goalie.

Strengths: With Point, Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos, the Lightning deploy some of the most powerful offensive players in the NHL, and Victor Hedman provides elite offense from the backend. They’ve also done a marvelous job unearthing overlooked talents to buttress those more obvious stars, with Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph being the latest examples. It’s pretty easy to see why Miller was expendable, even beyond cap reasons.

The Lightning also figure to have a dependable, if not outright fantastic, goalie duo in Andrei Vasilevskiy and McElhinney.

Weaknesses: That said, there have been times when Vasilevskiy has been a bit overrated, although last season’s Vezina win was fair enough.

 

The Lightning remain a bit weak on the right side of their defense, and some would argue that this team is too small to stand up to the rigors of the playoffs. I’m more concerned with the former issue than the latter, personally speaking.

Generally, you have to strain a bit to emphasize the negative with this team, though.

[MORE: Cooper under pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Jon Cooper is one of the NHL’s brighter coaches, but he’s not perfect. Could he have settled the Lightning down during that sweep, particularly to maybe keep Kucherov from losing his cool and get suspended? Either way, expectations are high, and blame will skyrocket if the Lightning fall short again. Let’s put it at a seven.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Sergachev, Shattenkirk, and Point.

Remember when people constantly teased the Canadiens about the Sergachev – Jonathan Drouin trade? That mockery has died down as Sergachev’s been brought along slowly in Tampa Bay. Could this be a year of big progress for a defenseman with intriguing offensive skills?

Shattenkirk was a flop for the Rangers, but deserves something of a mulligan for at least 2017-18, when he clearly wasn’t healthy. If handled properly, he could be a budget boon for the Lightning; that said, his potential for defensive lapses could also make it awkward to hang with Cooper.

Whether Point enters the season with a contract or finds his negotiations linger into when the games count, there will be more eyes on him than ever.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs, and lofty expectations for a deep run.

Frankly, I’d argue that the Lightning should have been more aggressive in resting their stars when it was abundantly clear that they were about 20 steps ahead of everyone else. If they’re in a similar position in 2019-20, maybe they’ll try that out? For many, anything less than a Stanley Cup win will be perceived as a failure for the Lightning. Few teams carry such expectations, but then again, few teams are this loaded in an age of salary cap parity.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Captain Couture; Blues ready to defend Cup

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Logan Couture is the new captain of the San Jose Sharks. [NBC Bay Area]

• Time for the St. Louis Blues to “charge back up the hill” and defend the Stanley Cup. [Post-Dispatch]

Blake Wheeler on how the Winnipeg Jets’ pursuit of the Stanley Cup affected him: “I was disappointed for the first time in myself after last year not because we didn’t win the Stanley Cup. I lost touch with myself as a dad, as a husband, first and foremost, because I invested so much into trying to win. Everyone was talking about this is our year to win and I felt like we had a real opportunity to win and when I was home, that’s where I was – I was trying to win the Stanley Cup.” [TSN]

• Why the Mitch Marner contract drama isn’t as complicated as it seems. [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland is in no rush to trade Jesse Puljujarvi until he gets the right offer. [Edmonton Journal]

Loui Eriksson says his comments that he and Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green don’t get along were “overblown.” [Vancouver Sun]

• Bruce Boudreau and his players are confident the Minnesota Wild can pull off a turnaround this season. [Star Tribune]

• How Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrick Maroon can play positive roles on the Tampa Bay Lightning power play. [Raw Charge]

• Great read on Detroit Red Wings prospect Jalen Smereck and his complicated relationship with hockey and home. [The Score]

• Brady Keeper became the first member of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation to sign an NHL contract last season with the Florida Panthers. He’s confident heading into his first training camp. [NHL.com]

• No matter what happens this season is a win-win for the New York Rangers. [Gotham Sports Network]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.