Play Fantasy Use your Fantasy skills to win Cash Prizes. Join or start a league today. Play Now
 
Tag:Martin St. Louis
Posted on: February 26, 2012 10:19 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 10:34 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Stars, Wild get comeback wins

By Brian Stubits

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

1. Dallas Stars

Talk about a huge two points. The Stars were down 2-0 to the NHL-best Vancouver Canucks, down 2-1 with less than a minute to play in Dallas. Insert Mike Ribeiro with the tying goal and the Stars had themselves a point. Dallas then picked up the second point on a Loui Eriksson tally in overtime.

They went from picking up nothing to gaining a huge two points. That moved them out of the logjam that is the race for eighth in the Western Conference and into a playoff spot by their lonesome. It also brings Dallas to within three points of the Pacific Division-leading Phoenix Coyotes. And yet this team is still on the fence about buying or selling?

As an extra note, saw this on the Stars broadcast during the game. Going back to 2006, the Canucks were 183-3-12 when leading over two periods. Make that 183-3-13.

[Related: Stars 3, Canucks 2 (OT)]

2. Minnesota Wild

Unlike the eighth seed race in the East where nobody seems to be able to step up and take it, the West is getting carnivorous, in a good way. The Wild, absolutely having to beat the San Jose Sharks to keep any hope of staying in the race alive pulled off their own late comeback.

When Brent Burns slapped home the go-ahead goal with less than 10 minutes left against his old team in his old barn, you had the feeling that it was going to be the dagger. The all-too painful dagger based on the circumstances.

Then Matt Cullen tied it up with his third goal in the last four games. OK, a point is looking good. Unless Jed Ortmeyer tips one in for his first goal in almost two calendar years. Seriously, it was his first goal since March of 2010. Granted, it was only 22 games, but still. Talk about timing.

The task is still tough, especially with every team in the Pacific Division deciding it wants to catch fire right now except for the Sharks, but they remain at that magical five-point mark behind in the race for the playoffs.

[Related: Wild 4, Sharks 3] | McLellan OK after scary incident

3. Robin Lehner, Ottawa Senators

When Craig Anderson went down for an undetermined amount of time, people wondered if the Sens weren't going to fall like a rock. They've been riding Anderson hard all season long.

Well that precipitated the recalling of Lehner from the AHL and he responded well. Particularly on the day that the Sens went out and acquired another goaltender who presumably is going to be getting playing time down the stretch in Ben Bishop.

The Islanders might have scored three in the loss, but don't read too much into it from Lehner's end. He was good enough to make a good impression.

[Related: Senators 5, Islanders 3 | Sens get Bishop from St. Louis]

4. Martin St. Louis

He gets the award as the top performer of the day with his hat trick for the Lightning in their win over the Devils in New Jersey. It was his second trick this season, in fact.

With Florida's win, the Lightning didn't gain any traction in the Southeast race and are still eight points out. But what it tells you is that the Lightning are going to be one aggressive spoiler down the stretch. They have been playing much better of late but it's likely going to prove to be too little too late. That doesn't mean they won't have an impact on the rest of the playoff race.

[Related: Lightning 4, Devils 3]

Losers

1. Southeast Division chasers

The Florida Panthers began the day already tied for first place in the division and they had games in hand on the chasing Jets and Capitals. For the second straight night, the rest of the division was able to get excited to see Florida down 2-0 in the game. And for the second straight night, the Panthers overcame that 2-0 deficit to pull out two points against the Montreal Canadiens.

After being honored pregame for becoming the Panthers franchise's all-time games played record holder, Stephen Weiss took the celebration two steps further, potting two scores as the Panthers dominated after giving up the second goal and won really going away, 4-2.

They became the last division leader to hit 70 points to move two points up on the Jets, three on the Caps. They still have played three fewer than Winnipeg and one less than Washington. This is why those games in hand can be so big, but only if you convert them into points.

[Related: Panthers 4, Canadiens 2]

2. Chicago Blackhawks

For the first time in 40 chances, the Blackhawks finally scored a power-play goal. It came from Patrick Kane, who has struggled himself to score this season, no less. That was pretty much the end of the good news.

The Ducks got the benefit of the doubt when Andrew Cogliano was awarded a goal after a very long review where it appeared he might have kicked the puck in. Did he hit it with his stick? It looked like he could have, but there was no indisputable proof that Cogliano legally played it after or not. Still, Cogliano was given the game-tying goal and Anaheim went on for the win.

The bad news for the Ducks, the teams that were in action that they're chasing each won. That's why it's so hard for them to overcome this deficit. Despite a big win over Chicago, they remained six points out of the playoffs.

Light-hearted moment of the night

We're adding this section tonight just to share this video from the Canucks-Stars game and coach Alain Vigneault cracking up uncontrollably on the bench.

Kevin Bieksa is seen giving a good chuckle too. Apparently it was in response to Vernon Fiddler's awesome Bieksa impression.

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

Posted on: February 12, 2012 11:13 pm
 

Downie sets Bolts mark with 2 goals in 11 seconds

By Brian Stubits

The Tampa Bay Lightning franchise isn't that old, so franchise records aren't always the most impressive at this point. The storied history isn't exactly storied.

But two goals from one player in 11 seconds? That's good for any franchise.

So considering the team we're talking about here, it had to be Steven Stamkos right? Or maybe Vincent Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis? Try Steve Downie.

Downie is known more for his pest-like ways and fighting, but he's not completely new to the scoring thing. He does have 11 on the season after Sunday's outburst.

But still, you're not used to seeing Downie going on a scoring spree even if it is against the Penguins' backup goaltender Brent Johnson.

Of course, Johnson was pretty tough the other 59:49 of the game, not allowing a goal all that time.

The previous franchise record for Tampa Bay was 16 seconds, pulled off by Jason Weimer back in 1997.

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

Posted on: January 26, 2012 11:38 am
Edited on: January 26, 2012 5:08 pm
 

What would all-Quebec team look like for Habs?

By Brian Stubits

Go back a few weeks when Randy Cunneyworth's "hiring" in Montreal was all the rage. Literally, rage. It led to organized protests against the Canadiens organization, not just Cunneyworth (although that was the impetus).

Those who didn't support Cunneyworth's hiring because he doesn't speak French were upset not only with the Cunneyworth promotion, but what they called the entire Anglicization of the Montreal Canadiens, Quebec's only team since the Nordiques became the Avalanche.

The list of complaints went beyond the coach not speaking French, however. Here is what the Canadian Press reported about the protests.

Protesters also complained the music played at the Bell Centre is in English, that announcements are in both languages and that the team has few francophone players.

I laughed when I first saw that. Would the people of Quebec rather have a team of Francophones that stink than a team of Anglophones that wins (of course they have neither right now)?

So that got me to thinking: What would an all French-speaking, Quebec-born team look like? I wanted to take a look and see how good of a team I could put together, keeping salary cap restraints in mind. (Hey folks, it's the All-Star break, just having some fun here.) Consider this my own All-Star fantasy draft.

Let's just get right to it, shall we?

Head coach

Alain Vigneault is the guy. The Quebec City native has actually tried coaching the Canadiens before, making the playoffs only once from 1997-2001. He was fired midseason in the 2000-01 campaign. But he's found success since moving on to Vancouver, winning the Jack Adams once and coming in as a finalist in 2011 (he was also a finalist in 2000 with the Habs). A return trip to Montreal will hopefully go better this time.

Goaltenders

Marc-Andre Fleury, Jean-Sebastien Giguere get the nod here. Now this is a position where I have a lot of choices. Fleury I think is a pretty clear starter based partly on his age, but for the second spot there are a lot of veterans: Giguere, Martin Brodeur, Jose Theodore, Martin Biron, Mathieu Garon and Jonathan Bernier. They can stop pucks in Quebec, that's pretty clear.

In terms of salary, Fleury takes up $5 million, Giguere only $1.25. So $6.25 million in goal is a decent price to pay, but not bad.

Robidas has spent time in Montreal already. (Getty Images)

Defensemen

I'm going with (in no particular pairing order) Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Francois Beauchemin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Stephane Robidas and Marc-Andre Gragnani. Letang leads the scoring punch while Bergeron, Beauchemin and to an extent Vlasic adding some more points. Defensively, Vlasic and Beauchemin highlight a pretty good two-way corps. But if anybody goes down, it gets thin after that.

As a whole, the defensemen don't cost that much. Beauchemin ($3.8 million), Letang ($3.5 million), Robidas ($3.3 million), Vlasic ($3.1 million), Bergeron ($1 million) and Gragnani (550,000) come in at a total of $15.25 million.

Center

Now this is a group of guys I like: Patrice Bergeron, Danny Briere, David Desharnais and Maxime Talbot. You'll notice one pretty big omission here and that's Vincent Lecavalier, but that $10 million per year is too big of a burden, I don't know how the Lightning do it. But I still have two guys who can score, arguably the best defensive center in the game, a young and promising player in Desharnais and a solid worker in Talbot.

Naturally this is costing me some cash here. Briere ($6.5 million) is costly, then add Bergeron ($5 million) before getting a little reprieve with Talbot ($1.75 million) and Desharnais ($850,000). In total, they take up $14.1 million.

Right wing

OK, I take it back about center. This is where my team is really loaded. Check out this lineup of Martin St. Louis, Jason Pominville, P.A. Parenteau and Alex Burrows. That's some serious scoring ability on the wing. I didn't have room for Maxim Lapierre or Pascal Dupuis at this position, but more on them later.

As you'd expect, this is the most expensive per-player corps on the team. St. Louis commands a cool $5.625 million, Pominville takes $5.3 million, Burrows costs $2 million and Parenteau a very reasonable $1.25 million. Total bill: $14.175 million.

Left wing

Here we have an Achilles' heel. The lineup we could toss out is Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Alex Tanguay, David Perron and Guillaume Latendresse, but that's an awfully risky group of players. Each of Bouchard, Perron and Latendresse have dealt with concussions while Tanguay has been suffering with a neck strain. So to add a little stability, I'm going to convert Dupuis to the left side and leave out Bouchard -- more expensive than Latendresse.

The good news is this group doesn't cost a whole lot. Tanguay ($3.5 million), Latendresse ($2.5 million), Perron ($2.15 million) and Dupuis ($1.5 million) run up a bill of $9.65 million.

Scratches

Since he didn't make the list at right wing, Lapierre is going to serve as our daily scratch. But really he's likely going to be playing a lot at left wing with the injury potential. What he also gives is a physical presence. He's at least not averse to dropping the gloves, having five fights this season for Vancouver. Maybe we could try and talk Georges Laraque to coming back and serving the enforcer role, but undoubtedly sitting in press row most nights.

Lapierre comes in at an even $1 million.

Overall

The total salary for this team checks in at $60.425 million, giving our GM (we'll just keep Pierre Gauthier) a little room to maneuver or sign maybe another defenseman that would likely sit in the press box most nights.

Moreover, the top prospect in the system would have to be Jonathan Huberdeau, the player who went third overall to Florida in the last NHL Draft. He's likely to be in the NHL next season and right now projects to be a center but he can also play on the wing, so he could help out with the weaker left side.

In the end, it's actually a much better team than I thought it could be. It might be a little lacking in the physical department, but the team has a lot of ingredients: It has some big-time scorers (seriously, a top two lines of Tanguay-Bergeron-St. Louis and Perron-Briere-Pominville isn't bad at all), it has some agitators (I'm looking at you, Burrows and Lapierre), is good defensively and I think it's solid in net.

And don't forget, everybody speaks French!

More from Eye on Hockey

Yes there were protesters in Montreal
Quebec group unhappy with Cunneyworth hire
Owner: Bilingual coach is important

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

Posted on: January 17, 2012 11:17 am
 

While Lightning sink, Stamkos continues to rise

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- In case you have forgotten, Steven Stamkos is still good. Really, really good.

You don't hear a whole lot about him these days because the Tampa Bay Lightning aren't setting the league on fire again this season. In fact, they're the only ones getting torched. Last season they were battling for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, this season they currently had the last spot thanks to what is currently a seven-game losing streak.

In one of his Pucks & Numbers segments earlier this season, my colleague Adam Gretz broke down the Lightning's struggles this year and while everybody wants to point the finger at the defense and goaltending (it's way subpar, so that's fair) neither was good last season either. The difference is the scoring is down.

Maybe this helps to put it in perspective. Now Stamkos is the best scorer going in the NHL right now, but his 30 goals represent nearly 1/4 of the Lightning's 121-goal total. That's not a whole lot of help. Here we are in January and only three players have double-digit goals for Tampa Bay and one of them, Martin St. Louis, barely qualifies with 10.

To put it another way, he is being asked to carry a massive amount of the Lightning's offensive load. For somebody who is still shy of his 22nd birthday, that's asking a lot. But that's not a workload that Stamkos isn't willing to bear.

"I always put pressure on myself as an offensive guy," Stamkos told CBSSports.com "If you ask Vinny [Vincent Lecavalier] or Marty [St. Louis], they feel the same way. Guys expect us to produce, we expect the penalty kill guys to do well on the penalty kill, our goalies to stop the puck and our defensemen to shut the other team down. Everybody has a role and for me, I want to produce and help our team win. I probably put the most pressure on myself to do that."

He's doing his part more than admirably. As mentioned, he leads the league with 30 goals (clear of the pack by six goals, mind you). He was a no-brainer to be the Lightning's All-Star selection this season. Frankly, there were not any exciting options after Stamkos anyway.

He has been the lone beacon of light in an otherwise dark Lightning season. Expectations were raised significantly after last season when the Bolts were one game away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final, taking the Boston Bruins to the limit in a Game 7. Those haven't been met, to put it mildly.

"It's frustrating right now," Stamkos said. "We don't doubt anybody's character in this room and their desire to win. There's been too many of those this year where we deserved to win and we didn't."

His team St. Louis echoed those sentiments from his stall right next to Stamkos'.

"We've lost six in a row. It's normal to feel the way we do," St. Louis said. "But you got to get ready for the next game, you know? You have to get ready for the next game, you can't feel sorry for yourself. There's still 40, 39 or whatever games left. A lot can happen. If you just give in right now it's going to be a long year."

Their head coach, Guy Boucher, was not long ago seen as the best young coach in the league after his rookie season last year. Funny how perceptions change when the breaks don't go your way.

"There's years where everything works and there are years where things don't work out," said Boucher, the longest-tenured coach in the Southeast at a year and a half. "You see where you are when things don't work out so much. I think circumstances have been tough for us but players have been dealing with it with a lot of class and they've been very resilient. Never quit, we always come back.

"What's tough is that we're just not getting the breaks. It's been like that for a long time, that's the story of our season. We've got injuries and more injuries, adversity and adversity and the breaks just are not coming at all."

The frustration in the locker room is palpable. It's been evident on the ice too. In Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, some of it boiled over for Lecavalier, who was given a misconduct after throwing a punch to Evgeni Malkin's face in a scrum for what Lecavalier felt was a shot at his knees.

In Friday's 4-3 loss to the Capitals, the frustration even showed for Stamkos, normally a pretty reserved guy on the ice. He took exception to a hit from Troy Brouwer on St. Louis that sent the Lightning captain into the boards. It only drew a two-minute minor for interference, but it drew more ire from Stamkos, who came flying in to smash Brouwer into the boards and then start throwing haymakers.

I admit I had to double-check to see it was No. 91 (Stamkos) instead of No. 9 Steve Downie, a guy who isn't a stranger to mixing it up, his fight earlier in the game with Karl Alzner a testament to that. But it was Stammer alright.

"Stick up for your teammates; that's the way I was brought up," Stamkos said. "Everyone on this team, it's a team mentality. Everyone would probably do that for Marty as well."

"Marty's his buddy, Marty's the guy that groomed him," Boucher said. "Anybody who sees Marty get something like that is going to jump in ... I'm proud of him. We stick together. It's like marriage. They ask you through thick and thin, the answer is always yes. But when the tough comes how do you react? We stick together, that's how it is through adversity."

And through that adversity Stamkos has only gotten better. He's on pace to break his own career high of 51 goals but is below his career-best 91-point pace with only 20 assists so far. But he can't assist on his own goals, to state the obvious.

Here's a sign of how much Stamkos is growing as a scorer. His power play goals are way down this season, obviously meaning that he's doing a lot more scoring at even strength. Last season he scored 17 on the man advantage, 24 two seasons ago -- almost half of his season total. But this season's power play goals represent only 1/6 of his scores thus far.

You could look at that the other way and point to his power play numbers being down, but this is a team that has struggled to get the power play right for a while. That tends to happen when you are missing some of your top defensemen. Sagging power play numbers could get to some players and leave them lagging in the confidence department.

But not Stamkos, who is only getting better, even if there's little publicity about it.

"You just try to get better as a player each and every year," Stamkos said. "You try to be more of a complete player each and every year. It's my fourth year now. I've learned a lot in this league. I got the opportunity to go far in the playoffs last year and I figured what hockey is all about. It's made me a better player. I just want to stay consistent and help this team win.

"It's not fun right now the position we're in, but I'm just doing everything I can to improve and help our team win."

He might not be having much fun, but he is getting more fun to watch by the year.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 28, 2011 5:05 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2011 5:21 pm
 

What happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning?



Pucks and Numbers:
a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look what has gone wrong for the Tampa Bay Lightning.


By: Adam Gretz


It was less than a year ago that the Tampa Bay Lightning were a 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 from representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Thirty-five games into the 2011-12 season and Tampa Bay finds itself in 13th place in the conference, six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. As we talked about last week, that's already a deficit that is dangerously close to being too much to overcome at this point in the season, especially with five teams ahead of them for the last playoff spot.

So what has changed for Guy Boucher's team in a span of eight months, going from potential Stanley Cup team to what is currently one of the worst teams in the league?

The easy answer is goaltending, as the duo of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon has been dreadful, currently owning the second-worst team save percentage in the league, barely ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the 30th spot. The position was a major problem in the early part of last season as well, and it was covered up with a short-term band-aid thanks to general manager Steve Yzerman's New Years Day trade that landed Roloson from the New York Islanders. He ended up getting hot at the right time and helped lead the Lightning through the first two rounds of the playoffs as the team upset Pittsburgh and Washington, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against the former, and sweeping the latter in four straight games.

Entering this season the Lightning decided to stick with the 42-year-old Roloson, a risky maneuver given his age and the number of miles that were already on the tires. So far, it hasn't worked out.

While the Lightning have become synonymous with their 1-3-1 neutral zone trap and have faced their share of criticism for playing such a "boring" system (no, we haven't forgotten about this), the team has given up a ton of goals over the past season-and-a-half. A lot of that has to do with the bad goaltending, as the Lightning do a pretty good job limiting the number of shots taken by the opposition (though, they are worse in that area this season). Still, they were 21th in the NHL in terms of goals allowed last season, and after 35 games this season are 27th.

There are a couple of things working against the Lightning this season.

While the team has young Stars in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and great veteran players like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, it also has some older parts that, obviously, are now a year older than they were a year ago. Even worse, they've also been without defenseman Mattias Ohlund for the entire season, a player that handled some of the toughest minutes and assignments last season. He didn't provide any offense, but he was the go-to guy in terms of defensive assignments. His absence has not only impacted the overall depth on the team's blue line, but also forced Hedman and Eric Brewer into playing all of the tough assignments that Ohlund would have ordinarily handled.

And, of course, there is more.

Let's just look at some numbers through the first 35 games of the past two seasons:

Tampa Bay Lightning 2011-12 vs. 2010-11 Through 35 Games
Year W-L-OTL Goals For Goals Against Shots For/Game Shots All. Game PP Goals PP OPP PP %
2011-12 15-17-3 95 117 28.8 30.6 18 123 14.6%
2010-11 20-10-5 109 114 32.5 27.1 35 149 23.0%

So here we are. Lightning beat writer Erik Erlendsson has been pointing out over the past week on Twitter that the Lightning have given up nearly the same number of goals this season as they did through the same number of games last season. And he's right. But that's not necessarily a good thing because the number is way too high. And again, the Lightning had a trade in their back pocket on Jan. 1 last season that enabled the team to improve that area as the season went on. Roloson wasn't great, but he was good enough and enough of an upgrade over the alternative. He also hit the aforementioned hot streak at the right time. If the Lightning hadn't made that trade there's a good chance that playoff run never happens. Yzerman is going to need to pull off a similar move (or perhaps a bigger one, involving more of a long-term solution that isn't a player over the age of 40) to help get Tampa Bay back where it wants to be (and needs to be) in the crease if a return to the playoffs is in the team's future.

But while the goals against are nearly identical, there's a pretty large difference from one year to the next that sticks out like a sore thumb: the power play.

Both the number of power play opportunities and the frequency in which they've been able to score on the man advantage. The Lightning didn't win many games last season by keeping their opponents off the scoreboard, they won a lot of games by outscoring them in some of the highest scoring games in the league. A lot of that was the result of a power play that was pretty much unstoppable when it was on top of its game.

A year ago Tampa Bay had the sixth-best power play in the league, converting on 20 percent of its chances. This season? 25th. And even worse, it's a unit that's not generating a ton of shots when it does get an opportunity.

It's been a perfect storm for Tampa Bay this season. Some aging players, bad goaltending, the absence of the best and most reliable defensive defenseman on the team and a power play that's regressed. Basically, a little bit of everything.

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

Posted on: December 8, 2011 2:02 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2011 7:27 pm
 

Martin St. Louis out after facial/nasal fractures

By: Adam Gretz

Few players in the NHL have been as durable as Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis over the past nine years, as he's missed just two games over that stretch. He hasn't missed a game of any kind for the Lightning since the 2005-06 season, and that streak, which was one game short of 500 consecutive games, is going to come to an end on Thursday night against the New York Rangers.

From Lightning beat writer Erik Erlendsson:

"No surprise but Marty St Louis is not playing tonight, a statement regarding his status is expected from the team shortly."

Here is said statement.

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis will not play tonight’s game at the New York Rangers and he is out indefinitely after suffering facial and nasal fractures at the team’s morning skate today at Madison Square Garden. St. Louis was struck in the face by a puck shot by a teammate during a practice drill.

St. Louis will return to Tampa Bay immediately and will undergo further medical examination by Lightning team physicians when swelling subsides in and around his left eye. A more detailed determination on his return to the lineup will be made at that time.

During the team's morning skate at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, St. Louis was struck near his left eye with a puck that resulted in a nasty cut and a lot of blood. He reportedly needed assistance getting to the team's bench and even stumbled on his way there.

Said head coach Guy Boucher, via Erlendsson, “We’ll see what the extent of it is, but right now it doesn’t look pretty. It just keeps on pouring. We have to prepare as if he’s not going to be available.” That was earlier Thursday. Good thing they prepared.

In 27 games this season St. Louis has scored nine goals and recorded 13 assists.

The Lightning enter Thursday's game riding a five-game losing streak and are coming off a 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday. If St. Louis can't go they're certainly going to miss his offense as they've scored more than two goals in a single game just two times over the past month.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 29, 2011 12:51 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 1:00 pm
 

Frans Nielsen: A bargain on the Island -- for now

Fn1By: Adam Gretz

This past week the folks at BusinessWeek put together a list of what they called the "smartest" spenders in sports. Simply put: the teams that spent the fewest amount of dollars per win.

In theory, it's an interesting premise, but it seemed to produce some very flawed results. For example, while the Nashville Predators topped their list, a team that definitely gets the most bang for its limited buck, some of the other teams in the top-10 included the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Thrashers, and New York Islanders. Were these teams smart about which players they signed, or were they simply not spending money on any players of any value? After all, when you think of front office efficiency the Pirates or Thrashers (now the Jets) probably aren't the first teams that come to mind.

The Islanders, on the other hand, are a little more intriguing. At least potentially.

A team in transition, stuck in a rebuild that's been going on for about five years now, The Islanders are probably not quite ready to return to the postseason this year. But they are building something interesting on Long Island, and do have quite a few bargains on their roster for this year and in the future. The quartet of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson, for example, are all signed through at least the 2013-14 season for a combined cap commitment of just around $14 million. I've said this before, but for all of the criticisms the Islanders front office has taken for handing out bad contracts in the past, those look to be examples of very smart spending going forward.

One of the often times most overlooked members of this Islanders team, and perhaps one of their biggest bargains this season at a cap hit of $525,000, the lowest on the team, is Frans Nielsen, their checking center that finished in the top-six in voting for the Selke Trophy last season as one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL. It's not uncommon for him to be one of their best players on any given night.

Usually playing on a line between the speedy Grabner and Okposo, Islanders coach Jack Capuano seems to use the trio in somewhat of a defensive role and more often than not sends them out there against the other teams top lines whenever he has a chance, especially during home games when his team has the last line change before faceoffs.

So far this season Nielsen's line has drawn regular assignments against players like Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi from Minnesota, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan from the Rangers, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos from the Lightning, and Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg from the Panthers. Through the first eight games of the season the Islanders have allowed 14 goals during 5-on-5 play, and Nielsen has been on the ice for just three of them (two of them were scored by Stamkos in separate games, the other was a goal scored by Brandon Prust during a 5-2 Islanders win). If you're a believer in plus/minus, he's finished as a plus-player in each of the past two year on a team that's been outscored by 35 and 42 goals during the season while playing against the other teams best players.

Following a 3-2 shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Capuano told me he was probably their best player on the ice that night. It was a game that saw him score a goal, create two chances on two different penalty kills, block three shots, record a takeaway and win a couple of defensive zone faceoffs. And that's pretty much just another day at the office for him.

"He's played a strong game throughout the year for us," said Capuano. "Obviously the numbers haven't been there but he's been pretty strong for us."

He also referred to Nielsen as "dominant" and commented on how he's always positionally sound when he doesn't have the puck.

With one of the smallest salary cap hits in the NHL this season, Nielsen is a tremendous bargain for the Islanders, but that could soon change as he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency following this season. And there should be no shortage of teams lining up to give him the rather large pay raise he's earned over the past three years if something doesn't get worked out with the Islanders. There's a ton of value in a matchup center that can chip in around 40 points (while playing a defensive role and being put into mostly defensive situations) and play Selke-caliber defense.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 11, 2011 3:40 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2011 10:36 am
 

The Lightning: The East's (again) quiet contender

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- Let me take you back to last season. The Tampa Bay Lightning were just one game, no, one goal from making a trip back to the Stanley Cup Finals. The pushed the champion Bruins to the brink before a late Nathan Horton goal in Game 7 sent the B's on.

That's how the Lightning's breakout season ended. People had perhaps anticipated an improved Lightning squad, but one going that far? It was a quick ascension under first-year coach Guy Boucher. Yet, outside of the drama of Steven Stamkos' contract extension, there was very little discussion about the team from Tampa.

But why not? After all, the Bolts finished only four points behind the Capitals not only in the Southeast Division last season, but in the Eastern Conference. They then swept those same Capitals in the conference semifinals.

There are the headliners, of course. Outside of the twins in Vancouver, it is hard to find a better pairing of players than Martin St. Louis and Stamkos. Throw in Vinny Lecavalier and Ryan Malone? There is some special talent.

It's enough for Boucher to throw the slightest of bulletin-board quotes Washington's way before Monday's matchup.

“Last year we showed that we were the new kids on the block for them and they are used to being first," Boucher said. "We were kind of in their way as a thorn in their side and this year we are planning on being a thorn in both sides, hopefully."

Then they showed in the crazy, back-and-forth 6-5 shootout loss in Washington that they can be even pricklier. It was as captivating a game as you will see in the regular season while also being rather hideous. It's funny how sometimes an ugly game can be so pretty. It was "so bad, it's good" theater.

In that game, the Lightning managed to score five goals without any coming from the aforementioned four players. Stamkos didn't even have a shot on goal through the first two periods. Asked if he is getting enough enough production from his top line, Boucher's answer was perfect.

"No. I never get enough of anybody," he said with a smirk.

Instead the scoring work was done by Brett Clark, Teddy Purcell, Dominic Moore, Bruno Gervais and Nate Thompson. Now the game was hardly any model for defensive responsibility and goaltending teaching seminars, but you had to be encouraged to see so much production beyond the top line.

"It's a process. It's always a work in progress. Obviously we're doing a lot of good things, but we have a lot of things to clean up and that's part of the regular season," Thompson said. "You're going to have games where it's not going to be perfect. Still have a lot of work to do and a lot of season left. We did some good things, we did some bad things [on Monday]. We have to learn from it and move on."

It hasn't been the best of starts to the season. At times they looked sluggish and out of sync, but keep in mind the Bolts just began the season on a three-game road trip that included visits to the defending Stanley Cup winner and then the division champs here.

"I don’t think it’s concerning me, but we got to have our finger on it," St. Louis said after the game. "We took a huge stride in our work ethic compared to last game. We took way too many penalties, power play’s got to be better. That sums it up."

So again, why are people sleeping on the Lightning? Maybe it's because they were very quiet in the offseason aside from the Stamkos situation? The only new addition from outside the organization is Ryan Shannon, Gervais and backup goaltender Mathieu Garon. Hardly scene stealers.

There are two answers that seem the most obvious: They play in Tampa Bay. It's nothing the fans in Tampa don't already know, but it just isn't treated with the same attention as the traditional markets. That's the easy one.

But the real reason could be the concerns about the defense, including the goaltending situation. Last season the Bolts were 21st in the league in defense. If the game in Washington is any indication, things aren't looking much better yet. Add on that, the Lightning just learned they will be without Mathias Ohlund for the next four-to-six weeks.

Speaking specifically to the five goals surrendered to the Capitals, Boucher expressed some trepidation over the defense right now.

"Turnovers hurt us, but we can certainly be a lot better at [defense]," Boucher said. "But we are concerned. Ohlund is supposed to play against the top lines and he's out for a long time. So now we're asking some guys to play in slots their not supposed to. On any team it needs to be an adjustment. Guys are going to have to take the load for long times so I guess it's hurting us. But hey, we're battling through. We're still doing some good stuff, but we got to get better."

And when they do, the Lightning will somehow be right back in the position as the under-the-radar Cup threat. With the lack of attention, you get the feeling this is a "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" situation.

There's no reason to think the Bolts aren't one of the best in the East. The perception is that teams like the Sabres and Rangers got better through free agency and the Penguins will be better with the eventual return of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But Tampa Bay, by sticking together and being in Year 2 under Boucher, will have another crack at reaching the Stanley Cup Finals this spring.

Photo: Getty Images (Side note: Love the guy watching Boucher diagram the play from the stands!)

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