Tag:Tampa Bay Lightning
Posted on: August 29, 2011 2:26 pm
Edited on: August 29, 2011 2:59 pm
 

Eastern Conference spots seem set for some time

By Brian Stubits

Sometimes simple and obvious things just hit you. Things you had realized before but for some reason they jump to your attention again. It tends to happen a lot more often during the lazy hockey days of summer.

That's exactly what happened when I began to think about the makeup of hockey markets/organizations, particularly in the Eastern Conference. What popped into my head was the fact that the contenders this season are likely to be the same as they were last season, and for the most part the same they were the season before that. And it's likely they will remain the contenders for the season after next, too.

At that moment I realized the NHL is starting to resemble the NBA in a way. And that's not good. One of the biggest reasons the NBA is in a lockout that seems to have no end in sight (Ken Berger and the Eye on Basketball guys have that covered) is the very issue that only a handful of teams enter every season with a chance to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Everybody's favorite stat about the (lack of) parity in the NBA is the simple fact that since 1984, only eight different organizations have won the championship. That's eight teams in 28 seasons.

Now look at the Eastern Conference in hockey. The Capitals have been atop their division for four straight seasons. The Penguins and Flyers are perennial contenders. Same goes for the Bruins while the Rangers, Canadiens and Sabres are regulars in the 5-8 range in the standings.

Of course that leaves teams like the Islanders (four-year playoff drought), Maple Leafs (six-year drought), Jets/Thrashers (one appearance in franchise history), Hurricanes (perennial contender for first runnerup these days) and the Panthers (10-year drought) to fend at the bottom.

So where do these teams fit? When you have a team like the Islanders seeming ready to step up and compete for the playoffs, who are they going to surpass? The Eastern Conference is full of traditional hockey markets in the American northeast and Canada, big markets either in hockey-crazy cities and ones with rich histories. The West has a few of those as well -- namely Vancouver, Detroit and Chicago -- but not as many as the East.

But have a look at the chart below detailing the past four seasons. Five teams have made the playoffs in each of those seasons and four teams have failed to advance beyond the regular season even once.

Last four seasons
Team Average finish (Eastern Conference) Playoff appearances 2011-12 payroll (capgeek.com)
Capitals 1.75 4 $65,190,128
Penguins 3.5 4 $62,737,500
Bruins 4.5 4 $56,682,976
Flyers 5 4 $64,124,761
Devils 5 3 $58,429,167
Canadiens 5.75 4 $59,770,510
Rangers 7.25 3 $62,935,334
Sabres 7.5 2 $67,895,357
Hurricanes 8.75 1 $49,775,000
Senators 9 2 $51,845,834
Lightning 11.5 1 $59,326,083
Maple Leafs 12.25 0 $59,115,000
Jets/Thrashers 12.25 0 $48,284,166
Panthers 12.25 0 $49,882,042
Islanders 13.75 0 $45,970,166

You get the feeling that at least five spots are locks in the East this year with two more almost assuredly the same. In the lock category you start with four of the five teams that have been staples: The Capitals, Penguins, Flyers and Bruins. Add in the up-and-coming Lightning for good measure. Hard to imagine any of those five not making it this season. In the next two spots I think you can add the Rangers and Sabres. With new owner Terry Pegula, the Sabres seem destined to become another playoff regular. These are teams that all improved (or in the case of Boston, didn't have to improve, but more or less stay in tact after winning the Stanley Cup) and were already playoff caliber.

By my stellar mathematical abilities, that leaves one spot essentially up for grabs. Among the group fighting for it will be the Canadiens (the other team to make it each of the past four seasons), Devils and, well, the rest of the conference. Outside of the Senators who are building for a few years from now and maybe the Jets, every team in the conference looks to be better now then they were at the end of last season.

And here's the thing: I don't see how it will be easy to unseat these teams at the top of the conference. Sure, you will have the occasional team slipping through like the Lightning. To extend the analogy back to the NBA, that's like the Oklahoma City Thunder building after years of struggle to a competitive level. But they still have to fight through the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs, all of which are almost guaranteed to be in the hunt. It's hard to imagine a time when the Lakers won't be contenders, and when they have been (post-Shaquille O'Neal) they rebuilt in a hurry and won the title shortly thereafter.

That's what I'm seeing for the Eastern Conference, that kind of perennial favorite similarity. It makes sense, obviously. The best free agents will want to go to the best teams in the best hockey cities and the biggest pay checks. That's to be expected. And that's a huge reason why these teams are able to stay above the equator. It doesn't hurt to have the infrastructures they all have at their disposal, too. From fan support to smart organizational minds and moves, they win more often than not. Success begets success. It's no coincidence that these are also the teams most heavily featured on national TV.

Let's look at the Capitals. Owner Ted Leonsis has been mentioned his 10-to-15-year plan ... not a plan that calls for 10-to-15 years to win the Cup (although it's starting to look that way) but instead to keep the Caps a Cup contender for that time. And because Washington D.C. has shown itself to be a strong hockey market and is appealing to free agents, it's easy to see how the Caps can sustain that. You have a young Alexander Ovechkin on your roster? Lock him up! Just throw a 13-year contract in front of one of the sport's best players and he's aboard for the long haul. Try and do the same when you're in Tampa Bay and you have a situation where you are only able to secure Steven Stamkos for five seasons.

The reasons are obvious, much the same as the Yankees in baseball (and now the Red Sox). You can pen each of those teams into the playoffs before the season even starts and you are most likely going to be right. But this isn't supposed to happen in hockey, not with a supposedly game-evening hard salary cap. It's just the inherent advantages are too tough for a lot of teams to compete with. Essentially, the margin for error is razor thin for the lesser markets/organizations.

Toronto is the exception (sorry Leafs fans) to the big-market success model. It is probably the best hockey market in the NHL, has an incredibly devoted fan base and has not been afraid to spend. But even the Leafs are struggling these days to break that glass ceiling and butt their way into the playoffs. They couldn't beat out the Rangers for Brad Richards' services in free agency.

Now this is why they play the game. You can't lock in these teams to the playoffs. After all, who saw that Devils season coming last year? You still have to earn your way into the postseason. But if you are a fan of one of the bottom-feeders in the East, I'd suggest you cool your jets. The East's upper echelon is pretty well full of NHL aristocrats. The competition will be better and the spots will likely be more fiercely fought for, but it will be hard to break through.

In the West you can hear the mid-level teams saying "welcome to our world."

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: August 17, 2011 10:01 pm
Edited on: August 17, 2011 10:09 pm
 

New OT, short-handed rules talk of RDO Camp Day 1

By Brian Stubits

Day 1 of the NHL Research and Development Camp, or Camp Shanny as everybody likes to call it, is in the books. It's a time testing, tweaking and experimentation while general managers also get an up-close look at some of next year's draft prospects -- where GMs came away impressed with the defensemen.

Brendan Shanahan, getting settled into his new role as the NHL's next master disciplinarian, is running the show again this year as the league tries out a few ideas, some that will hit, some that will miss.

"This is research and development, it's what many companies do, what many corporations do," Shanahan said after the session. "It's what we do. It's not a knee-jerk reaction to anything we feel is wrong with the game.

"One of the things, maybe a misconception, was that we had to go out and test 30 new things. Quite honestly there were about 20 things that were repeating because we needed to get more information, more data. We love the way the game is being played by our players. We think the game is an entertaining game for the fans and we think it's a great time to study it. If for any reason, a year, two years, three years, four years down the road we see some trend that we don't like, we're going to have many of information to back it up."

Perhaps the most talked-about testing item after the first day was the suggestion to the overtime rules. It's no secret that the shootout debate has divided fans, with many feeling it ruins the game while others enjoy games having a clear winner and loser. To try and alleviate the argument of shootouts, one proposal is to lengthen overtime to seven minutes, going to 3-on-3 after four minutes.

"A couple of years ago we thought too many games were being undecided in overtime," Shanahan said. "Without changing many of the rules, that seemed to straighten itself out last year. This isn't about any sort of knee-jerk reaction, this is about being pro-active."

"I think it's certainly interesting to get to the 3-on-3," Blues GM Doug Armstrong told NHL.com. "I think if we want less games ending in the shootout, it's certainly an avenue we should explore, going right to the 3-on-3 and eliminate the 4-on-4."

But Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was singing a different tune.

"I prefer 4-on-4," Yzerman told NHL.com. "I'd like to keep 4-on-4. If we're going to extend it, keep it at 4-on-4. Three-on-three is not enough players on the ice, in my opinion."

The other big-discussion piece involved the removal of icing during man-down situations. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, on the bench, decided to take that as an opportunity to explore.

Knowing the other team couldn't launch the puck the length of the ice, he pulled his own goalie to create a 6-on-4 situation. I can't imagine you would see that during the season (unless it's late in the game) as the danger of the opposing team getting the puck out of the zone is at least slim. But in Camp Shanny? Why not?

Wouldn't you know it, Bylsma's team did surrender a goal at that time when a player fell down, allowing the other squad, coached by Phoenix Coyotes head man Dave Tippett, to score.

"I was really interested in this session that when a team is short-handed they can't ice the puck," Shanahan said. "I'd like to see more of that ... the coaches were curious about and wanted to play around with. That was a good one."

This is one of the proposed rules I am not a big fan of. I understand the concept of the penalty being something a team should suffer for, but I think it handicaps them too much. I would expect power play numbers to increase significantly and my feeling it's too strong of a change. But that's why they test it.

Finally, one of the other items under examination is the reduced goal and the use of a green line to detect if the puck completely crossed the goal line. Dan Craig takes a closer look at the smaller net in this video.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: August 17, 2011 4:11 pm
Edited on: August 18, 2011 9:09 am
 

More EA Sports legends: Roenick, Roy, Yzerman

NHL12

By: Adam Gretz

Last week EA Sports announced the first three players that will be included in the NHL '12 legends feature, and they were Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque and Chris Chelios. On Wednesday a few more names were revealed, including Patrick Roy, who appears to be the only goaltender among the nine legends, Steve Yzerman and, yes, Jeremy Roenick. It also appears that former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Borje Salming will be in the game, even though his name hasn't officially been announced (he appeared in a video featuring Yzerman).

The announcement of Roenick comes just one day after he showed up in a video reenacting the classic Swingers scene that included his dominating appearance in earlier versions of the EA Sports hockey games. I suggested Roenick last week not knowing he was actually going to be included (and yes, I am happy he's included).

The selection of Roy is probably expected, and it's not really a shock to see Yzerman included as well (the trailer even shows him a Tampa Bay Lightning uniform skating next to Steven Stamkos). The surprising name appears to be Salming. He was an excellent player for the Maple Leafs in the 1970s and 80s, and was probably one of the first European players to become a star in the NHL. He's a Hockey Hall of Famer (class of 1996) and had four straight seasons with at least 71 points between 1976 and 1980, so it's not like he wasn't an important player, or an outstanding one. But it's still a surprising addition. Heck, if you told me a former Maple Leafs player from Sweden was going to be in the game, Salming wouldn't have been my first guess (that would have been Mats Sundin).

Check out the trailer featuring Roenick and Roy over at EA Sports. There are still two more legends to be named.

Photo: EA Sports

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: August 5, 2011 10:37 am
 

Daily Skate: Case against Osgood; Isles jersey?

By Brian Stubits

NOT OSGOOD ENOUGH: The debate will go on as long as we don't have anything more meaningful to discuss. (OK, that's a lie, we've had much more meaningful things, but we digress.) Is Chris Osgood worthy of a place in the Hall of Fame? Here's a submission from a Red Wings fan arguing why Osgood should NOT be inducted. I always like seeing a fan trying his/her best to be impartial and arguing against their team. In this case, Osgood is truly as close to a tossup as you will find and you can make the argument either way.

ISLES THIRD JERSEY?: The blog over at Puck Daddy got wind yesterday of a possible third jersey for next season for the New York Islanders. As you might have noticed, alternates have become all the rage, a nice way for teams to sell additional jerseys. The sweater features a lot of black with blue and orange piping. The team later said that the mockup was one of the versions being considered but no final decision was made. I am clearly in the minority based on the onslaught of bad reactions the team received for it, but I don't mind them.

BOLTS PROSPECT HURT: Perhaps the Lightning's top prospect, Brett Connolly was hurt in a game on Thursday, having to be helped off the ice according to TSN's Ryan Rishaug, who says that it looked like a leg injury, and not a very good one.

OVIE DITCHES CCM: Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin made an off-ice move this week, changing his apparel company from CCM to Bauer. Too bad, I guess it means the end of the crazy Ovechkin commercials that CCM was running like this one.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: August 1, 2011 8:43 am
 

Daily Skate: Islanders big day

By: Adam Gretz

IT'S VOTE DAY FOR THE Islanders It's August 1 and that means it's a huge day for the future of the New York Islanders franchise. Today is the day Nassau County residents will vote on whether or not to pass a referendum that would fund a new arena for the storied franchise. Their two closest rivals, the Rangers and Devils, have already spoken out in favor of the deal, and the Islanders PR blitz has been on for quite a while. Chris Botta at Islanders Point Blank reviews the all of the pluses and minuses of everything that's gone on, and offers a prediction on what will happen when the polls close at 9 PM.

TAMPA BAY'S 'BE THE TICKET' PROMOTION The Tampa Bay Lightning are running a Facebook promotion that will give their fans an opportunity to have their face on a ticket stub for a game during the 2010-11 season. The folks at Raw Charge have some thoughts on the promotion, and if you're a Lightning fan that wants to have the opportunity to have your mug on a ticket stub, here's where to go.

MORE ON WEBER'S ARBITRATION So far this summer every potential arbitration case has been avoided due to the team and player coming to an agreement. In the case of Shea Weber, that doesn't appear as if it's going to happen, so both sides are preparing for Tuesday's hearing. Is Weber, the Predators' All-Star level defenseman, only looking for a one-year deal instead of two? That's what Dirk Hoag at On The Forecheck looks at after a since-deleted Tweet from TSN's Ryan Rishaug suggested Weber was only looking for a one-year deal.

WINNIPEG: THE HOCKEY SONG And now for something completely random, and perhaps even a little ridiciulous, here's a gentlemen that goes by the name of Sugar Free Leonard welcoming the return of the Winnipeg Jets through song. We give him credit for putting himself out there. Video via Puck Daddy:


For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: July 28, 2011 10:35 am
 

Daily Skate: Preds, Weber prepare for arbitration

By Brian Stubits

ALWAYS BE PREPARED: Even though all other arbitration hearings haven't come to fruition so far (not counting Chris Campoli, who the Blackhawks decided to walk away from well before), Shea Weber and the Predators are both preparing for their battle (the Tennesseean). The chances still are good that a deal will be reached in time, but the sides maintain they aren't close right now. The arbitration meeting is set for Tuesday, Aug. 2, so expect things to stay at a stalemate until Monday. If they still go to arbitration, then Nashville has to take whatever award Weber gets since it filed for arbitration and it will only be a one- or two-year deal. You can see why the Preds would love to handle this on their own.

PITTSBURGH IS ON THE CLOCK? No site has been selected for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft yet, but Pittsburgh has stepped to the front of the table as the leader (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). The city's main foe appears to be the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last year the draft was held in Minnesota. But that's not all the Penguins are up to in the middle of the summer. The team is also going to unveil a Mario Lemieux statue outside of the arena at some point before then. Certainly a worthy gesture.

GETTING WITH THE TIMES FORUM: Steven Stamkos got the most money from Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, but a close second is the St. Pete Times Forum. The team's new owner Jeff Vinik is serious about rebuilding the franchise, and one of those steps is rebuilding the arena. The Forum is in the process of receiving a $35 million facelift (St. Petersburg Times) to the arena which will feature a whole bunch of new and interesting aspects. You know the pirate ship at Tampa's football stadium? Well the Lightning are looking for something similar as far as a recognizable destination goes. The way team CEO Tod Leiweke put it: "we felt the building in some ways needed a soul."

BACKUP BLUE: When free agency began, the Blues got in the action by signing former Senators goaltender Brian Elliott. It wasn't long after that they re-signed massive (literally) prospect Ben Bishop to the same exact two-way contract as Elliott. Now the two are primed for a camp battle for the same spot. Pro Hockey Talk takes a look at the backup battle and notes its importance considering Jaroslav Halak played a career high in games last season and it was just 57. The backup will certainly be relied upon.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: July 20, 2011 11:59 am
Edited on: July 21, 2011 11:59 am
 

Bolts' Purcell, Coyotes' Korpikoski avoid arbiter

By Brian Stubits

Make that two arbitrations hearings avoided.

On the first day of scheduled arbitration hearings, the first two players reached last-minute deals to avoid the hearing process.

It started with the Coyotes and Lauri Korpikoski coming to terms on a two-year deal that Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet says is for $3.6 million. The left wing had a breakout season with the Coyotes last season, scoring 19 goals and posting 21 assists to go with a plus-17, all significantly surpassing his totals from his first two seasons in the NHL.

"We are happy to avoid arbitration and finalize a contract," Coyotes GM Don Maloney said.

A short while later, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced they avoided arbitration with Teddy Purcell, also on a two-year contract. Kypreos says that deal is worth $4.725 million. Purcell also enjoyed a breakout year last year with the Lightning, posting career highs with 17 goals and 34 assists, establishing himself as a solid second-line option for the Bolts. He also contributed in the postseason with 17 points (6-11) in 18 games.

It's not much of a surprise deals were done without the help of an intermediary. We explained yesterday how hard all the sides try to avoid actually making it to the arbitration hearing as it can be poisonous for future relations between the team and player.

The next player due up is the Rangers' Brandon Dubinsky tomorrow. It will be a bit tighter of a situation to see if they can reach a deal before the hearing.

Arbitration schedule
Date Player Team
July 20 Lauri Korpikoski (Settled: 2 years, $3.6M) Coyotes
July 20 Teddy Purcell (Settled: 2 years, $4.725M) Lightning
July 21 Brandon Dubinsky (Settled: 4 years, $16.8 million) Rangers
July 28 Josh Gorges Canadiens
July 28 Ryan Callahan Rangers
July 29 Jannik Hansen Canucks
August 2 Shea Weber Predators
August 3 Chris Campoli Blackhawks
August 3 Zach Parise Devils
August 4 Mark Fraser Devils
August 4 Blake Comeau Islanders

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.


Posted on: July 19, 2011 5:07 pm
Edited on: July 19, 2011 6:21 pm
 

Stamkos' contract compared to recent deals

By: Adam Gretz

The Steven Stamkos restricted free agency saga finally came to its expected conclusion on Tuesday afternoon when it was announced that the 21-year-old forward signed a five-year deal that will keep him in Tampa Bay through the end of the 2015-16 season. His current cap hit of $7.5 million is tied for the seventh largest number in the NHL along with Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik, and it places him behind Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal, Rick Nash and Vincent Lecavalier.

It's the first major contract for Stamkos coming off his entry level deal and compares favorably to contracts signed by other young forwards at similar points in their careers. Here's a quick look at how this deal stacks up with the NHL's other top young forwards that have signed their first major contracts in the salary cap era (ranked in order of cap hit)...

Recent Young Players and Their First Big Contract
Player Years Total Dollars Cap Hit
Alex Ovechkin 13 $124 million $9.53 million
Sidney Crosby 5 $43.5 million $8.7 million
Evgeni Malkin 5 $43.5 million $8.7 million
Steven Stamkos 5 $37.5 million $7.5 million
Anze Kopitar 7 $47.6 million $6.8 million
Nicklas Backstrom 10 $67 million $6.7 million
Paul Stastny 5 $33 million $6.6 million
Patrick Kane 5 $31.5 million $6.3 million
Jonathan Toews 5 $31.5 million $6.3 million
Phil Kessel 5 $27 million $5.4 million
Bobby Ryan 5 $25.5 million $5.1 million

Five years is a pretty common contract length, unless you're looking at the Washington Capitals, who have made sure their two best players are taken care of for the next decade (at which point they will still only be in their early 30s). The cap hit puts Stamkos slightly below players like Crosby and Ovechkin and slightly above players like Backstrom, Kane, Toews and Kopitar. And that seems fair based on the on-ice production. He's more productive than the second group and still somewhat behind the first.

The only real concern for Tampa Bay fans at this point -- and this is still years away from being an issue -- is this: Once the deal expires (and yes, we're already looking ahead to the next Stamkos free agency saga) he will be hitting the open market (as an unrestricted free agent -- and that's assuming the age for unrestricted free agency remains the same) at the age of 26, well into the prime of his career.

Salary figures via CapGeek

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @agretz on Twitter.



 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com