Introducing the Combativity Award – and the winner is David Backes

St. Louis Blues v Toronto Maple Leafs

I’ve been watching the Tour de France nightly the past couple of weeks and am taken by one of the awards they give out after each stage. It’s the Combativity Award and it goes to the cyclist that day who shows the most fighting spirit.

This isn’t about tossing an elbow out when a competitor tries to zoom by or sticking a leadpipe in the spokes of an unsuspecting rival. The combative award goes to the individual who attacks on the road. That is to say, the cyclist who makes the most attempts to break away from the peloton or chase down leading groups. It’s also called the most aggressive rider prize, or as TDF analyst Paul Sherwen calls it, the rider who most often “throws the cat among the pigeons.”

The winner each stage gets called to the podium, is handed a bouquet of flowers and a stuffed animal, gets kisses from a pair of pretty ladies, then shakes the hands of dignitaries. During the next day’s stage, he wears a special red-backgrounded race number that denotes his distinction.

So why is they don’t have a most combative award in the NHL? They have awards for being skilled in a multitude of ways, for being gentlemanly, for being defensive, for being dedicated, for being a humanitarian, a leader. But nothing for showing the most fighting spirit. And that’s really too bad.

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Rumor Roundup: Brodeur’s patience will extend into the season

MartinBrodeur

Former New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur remains available in this summer’s unrestricted free agent market. The Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti recently reported Brodeur spoke with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay about their backup jobs, but both clubs went with other options.

Gulitti also reports Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan confirmed on June 28 his club expressed interest in the future Hall of Famer as a backup for Jonathan Bernier, but said at Brodeur’s age (42) “it’s really about fit”.  The Leafs still hold the rights to James Reimer, who has an arbitration hearing slated for July 28 unless he and the Leafs reach an agreement on a new contract.

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NHL logo rankings No. 26: Tampa Bay Lightning

Rory Boylen
lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been around since 1992-93 and have had different variations on their logo, but their current look is the only one that doesn’t have lettering on it.

I’ve got to be honest – when seven THN staffers sat around debating and ranking these logos, I was voting for the Lightning to go a little higher than 26. Usually – though not always – I’m not a fan of logos that have the team’s name in it, so I have to give Tampa Bay credit for dropping the text from their look. The blue lightning bolt and circle may look plain to some, but to my eyes, it’s the most refined look Tampa Bay has had in its 20-plus year history.

But when it came to ranking all 30 NHL logos, Tampa Bay didn’t get much love from most of the seven staffers. It’s plain and it doesn’t grab the attention of everyone. So here we are, with the Lightning ranked at 26, just ahead of the Vancouver Canucks.

Think you can design a logo for Tampa Bay that would make our judges reconsider such a low ranking? Get your creative juices flowing and, using whichever color scheme you want, come up with a new look for Tampa Bay and submit it to editorial@thehockeynews.com. At the conclusion of our logo rankings, we’ll share our favorite reader re-designs. And if you enjoyed coming up with a new look for Tampa Bay, try your hand at the other NHL logos too.

HISTORY OF LIGHTNING LOGO
The original Tampa Bay Lightning look was a design put together by Phil Esposito and colleagues Mel Lowell and Henry Paul. From the Lightning’s website:

Together with colleagues Mel Lowell and Henry Paul, Esposito began sketching out designs for what would eventually become the Tampa Bay Lightning logo.

“I literally would go home at night, and sit in my office and draw pictures of lightning bolts on notebook paper,” Esposito said. “And remember, I am no artist. But all of us would come in the next day and sit down with each other to compare what we had come up with. And let me tell you, between the three of us, there was a lot to look at.”

…Initially, Esposito had just settled on a silver lightning bolt with the word “Tampa” across the top. Lowell and Paul then altered it slightly to include the circular backdrop on which it is emblazoned, which still is incorporated in today’s logo, unveiled in the spring of 2011.

Perhaps the most key contribution, however, came from long-time Tampa sports journalist and pioneer Tom McEwen, who advised Esposito to include the word “Bay” as well, signifying a union between Tampa and its neighboring communities.

“Tom told me it had to say “Tampa Bay” no matter what, and that, honestly, was the best decision I could have made at the time,” Esposito said. “There was such a great divide between Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg that I could not believe. So I thought, yes, in order to be successful, we have to unite.”

lightning1

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The NHL’s weakest division? Um, “congratulations”, Metro

Marc-Andre Fleury

When the NHL made its most recent realignment, last season, it reemphasized the importance of divisional play by also restructuring its playoff format. The wild card element throws a bit of a wrench into it from year-to-year, but for the most part, teams have to play their first two playoff rounds against division rivals – and that means a weaker division has the potential to make the road to the Stanley Cup easier for the team that can emerge from it.

I’d argue that’s one of the reasons the New York Rangers qualified for the Cup Final this past spring. They faced a flawed Flyers team in the first round and a Penguins squad in the second that had serious issues of its own before they beat the injury-depleted Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. You have to give the Blueshirts credit for their resilience, but they had a much easier go of it than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.

So which division is shaping up to be the NHL’s weakest in 2014-15? It’s not in the Western Conference, that’s for sure. Six of the Central Division’s seven teams (every one but Winnipeg) have a bona fide shot at making the playoffs, and the California Trinity Of Doom, combined with the desperation to make the playoffs in Vancouver and Edmonton, makes the Pacific Division daunting as well.

So, the “honor” of the league’s worst division has to go to either the Metropolitan or the Atlantic. And although the Atlantic has seen more separation between the haves and have-nots of its teams this off-season, I’d still make the case the Metro is the weaker of the two. Read more

Steven Stamkos as a Leaf: less of a long shot than you’d think

Adam Proteau
Steven Stamkos (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

A leisurely summer weekend took a bit of a turn for me early Saturday afternoon when the Twitter account of Lightning captain Steven Stamkos favorited a tweet from THN’s account linking to my story on the idea of a Toronto-born superstar – you know, like a Steven Stamkos – joining the Leafs in the prime of his career, the way NBA icon LeBron James did last week when he returned to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.

For the most part, there were two types of reactions: utter joy from Leafs fans who saw Stamkos’ act as a guarantee he was destined for Toronto; and utter rage from those who went after the messenger instead of acknowledging the fact Stamkos made this story an issue by favoriting the tweet. Both of those reactions were entirely expected; Leafs supporters are famous for believing every player is interested in playing for their team, and there’s never any shortage of true-believer fans in every market who refuse to consider a star player would want out of their city.

(Of course, that second group of people clearly didn’t read the original column, or they would’ve noticed the part where I wrote, “I’m not saying it’s likely either star ever gets to the point where playing for the Leafs becomes a possibility…”. But hey, basic reading comprehension skills aren’t everybody’s strong point. It won’t be the first time my words were misconstrued by rage-a-holics and the pathetically bitter, and it won’t be the last.)

That said, after speaking to more NHL sources since that article was written, I think there’s a better chance of Stamkos coming to the Leafs than I did when I wrote it.

Why? A few reasons. Read more

Will Steven Stamkos, P.K. Subban or any other young NHL star be the LeBron James of the Leafs?

LeBron James (Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the past few days, much of the sports world has been swept up in breathless anticipation of the future of NBA phenom LeBron James. The superstar is mulling over whether to re-sign with a Miami Heat team he led to two championships and four league Final appearances in the past four seasons, or whether to return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Some observers have a tough time believing James could wave goodbye to the sun and sights of Florida for Ohio’s far less exotic environs, but his deep connections to his birthplace of Akron, Ohio and his lasting roots in the area clearly are tempting.

The pressure on James after a return to Cleveland would be monstrous, but it’s a credit to him that he’d be willing to deal with it as a form of community service – and, let’s face it, a karmic payback for clumsily leaving the Cavs in 2010. Sure, the Cavs have enough elite young talent to make his return pay off competitively, but James could play on any team for any amount of money and he should be commended for considering heading back to that environment.

But it got me to thinking: when will there be a LeBron James for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Here’s what I mean: with the NHL’s salary cap limiting the amount of money any team can pay a star player, personal choice is as big a factor, if not the biggest factor in the employment decisions free agents make. In recent years, we’ve seen numerous NHL stars eschew higher-profile destinations in favor of teams/cities they had an off-ice connection to: In 2012, Minnesota signed stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in part because Parise grew up in that state and Suter’s wife hails from there; this summer, Thomas Vanek turned down more lucrative offers to sign with the Wild because his wife is from the area and because he attended college at the University of Minnesota.

But the same never seems to be the case for the Leafs. Read more

Sorry, Bruins, but the rejigged Tampa Bay Lightning are now the Eastern Conference’s most dangerous team

Adam Proteau
Steven Stamkos (Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

We’re a week removed from the mania of NHL free agency and the draft and the summer can take many twists and turns from here, so take this for what it’s worth – but the rejigged Tampa Bay Lightning are earning an increasing amount of respect from THN staffers. In an informal poll of editorial employees in our palatial North Toronto offices Tuesday, more than a few of us spoke about how impressed we were with what Bolts GM Steve Yzerman has done thus far in the off-season.

Full disclosure: I was one of those more-than-a-few. In fact, barring some unforeseen multi-team blockbuster that sees Patrick Marleau, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Quick traded to the Penguins for Marcel Goc and Craig Adams, I’m ready to say it: I think the Lightning are going to be the Eastern Conference’s most dangerous team next season. Read more

Getting To Know: J.T. Brown

Mark Malinowski
J.T. Brown

Status: Tampa Bay Lightning right winger

HT: 5-foot-10  WT: 170 pouds

DOB: July 2, 1990  In: Burnsville, Min.

First Hockey Memory: “I don’t know if I have a first memory, but I remember, obviously, doing a lot of outdoor skating and then playing a lot of street hockey with my friends.”

Hockey Inspirations: “I think just the base thing is being with all your friends, that right there is good enough for me, that’s why I play the game, you meet people and obviously it’s a fun sport. Just being around the guys and being with your friends is something that other people wouldn’t know about.” Read more