Those Guys Are Good: Tampa Bay Lightning
Even though they missed the playoffs last year, no one wrote off the Tampa Bay Lightning. Actually, they were odds favourites to win the Stanley Cup 20-1 odds (source: Bodog).
Are the Hawks in the same category after missing the playoffs this year? Short answer… no.
Buuuuut, there is some optimism and comparables with this Tampa Bay team 2-years ago and the Blackhawks last year.
The Lightning were riddled with injuries 2-years ago that they with the major players affected being Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Ben Bishop.
However, the silver lining there was that Jon Cooper, Steven Yzerman and Co. found out just how good guys like Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde and Andrei Vasilevskiy were/are.
Now, you are all smart people and know that the Corey Crawford injury is not the reason that the Hawks missed the playoffs. There were a lot of areas that were not sustainable for success with this team's setup.
However, #50's injury, along with under-performing years by some of the core allowed for the next wave of Blackhawks, the "baby core" if you will, to emerge.
Before we dive into a few more comparisons and differences in these clubs, let's look at this Tampa Bay Lightning team that is heading to the conference finals after finishing 10th place last year in the Eastern Conference.
J.T. Miller – Stamkos – Kucherov
Palat – Point – Johnson
Killorn – Cirelli – Gourde
Kunitz – Paquette – Callahan
Hedman – Girardi
McDonagh – Stralman
Cobrurn – Sergachev
Not only is that a lineup that I can see winning the Stanley Cup this year, but they are set up to be that good again next year thanks to the masterful work of GM Stevie Y.
The Lightning will have $8-10M to play this off-season with almost all of their key pieces locked in. Expect them to go for it again and be super competitive next year as the summer of 2019 is a scary/exciting one for their cap situation.
They will have Kucherov, Gourde, Point should all be kept up front and won't be cheap. They will have some relief of cap space on the backend with McDonagh, Stralman, Coburn and Girardi all UFAs (exciting part) but they will have to resign or restructure 4 key dmen which is always tricky.
So, how does their recent rebound look for the Blackhawks? Well, very different situations in my opinion as the Lightning at better situated with the cap as well as their farm system is lights out right now – kudos to their scouting team!
A couple points that I will make would be when looking at the roster above, the Lightning have done a great job putting their veterans and youngsters in a position to succeed. I think the Hawks can do the same if the "baby core" can continue to grow and mesh well together. As I mentioned recently, that's what I've heard in terms of what the coaching staff was aiming for late in the season when you saw kids like Sikura-Schmaltz-Debrincat playing together while Saad-Toews-Kane were left to work together on the top unit.
Also, just like Ryan Callahan and Chris Kunitz have accepted and thrived in a 4th line role, the Blackhawks need to do a better job and evaluate what this team is and not hold on to the past accomplishments of these players. Brent Seabrook is the easy one to point to where he should be used on the bottom pairing and on special teams when applicable.
An opposing view I have where the Hawks will need to search for outside help will be the strength down the middle. Stamkos-Point-Cirelli-Paquette is far superior then Toews-Anisimov-Schmaltz-Kampf.
How do you fix it?
Well, you might see some change there; I've heard Anisimov's name back in the trade winds and if Nick Schmaltz doesn't figure out how to take a faceoff, he will be a winger full-time.
If it were me, I would look to move on from Anisimov ONLY if you have replacements on the way. I would like to see more speed and grit in that area (I've mentioned the Cody Eakin mold before as an example) in the 2C or 3C and then I would love to see a Chris Wagner/Scott Laughton type 4C signed in the off-season to provide some jam on the bottom line as well as faceoff competence. You can have David Kampf battle for that role as well but no harm in sending him back to Rockford.
We'll see how it all shakes out, but the moral of the story is the Tampa Bay Lightning are damn good as they play with tons of speed and skill. They have also built a team to last for years with smart signings and amazing drafting. The Hawks can emulate that style and smart moves this summer to get back into contention, just don't expect it to be as seamless as the Lightning revival this year.
Finally, from the same, the "those guys are good" department… how about those Rockford IceHogs. Wow! Now up 3-0 in their 2nd series, they look to close it out tonight vs. Manitoba.
I'll be watching!