Radim Vrbata proving he’s more than a mirage

Radim Vrbata (Getty Images)

To really understand what makes Radim Vrbata’s success this season so impeccable is to go all the way back to 2008, when a 27-year-old Vrbata was one of the lesser known yet still cherished free agents.

Coming off a career high 27 goals and 29 assists for 56 points, Vrbata embodied the spirit of a player hitting his prime. He was rewarded for his play on July 1, 2008, when the Tampa Bay Lightning signed him to a three-year, $9 million contract. What should have been the next great chapter of his career turned into a nightmare scenario, which saw him out of Tampa Bay and back in the desert in 2009. Read more

Jack Johnson saga a sober warning for today’s NHL millionaire

Jack Johnson (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Stephane Robidas has made $25 million during the course of his NHL career, with another $5 million coming to him within the next two years. That’s enough money to set himself, his children and probably his children’s children up for life if he’s responsible with it.

That’s the best part of being a professional athlete. You’re among the best in the world at what you do and you get paid wildly enormous amounts of money to do it. The downside is that in working so hard to become that hockey player, you often become so singularly focused that other areas of your life, like money management, take a back seat. And that opens you up to having others manage your money, which can lead to situations such as the one involving Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite career earnings of almost $21 million, Johnson filed for bankruptcy last month after firing his agent and leaving his finances to his parents.

Given the circumstances, perhaps it’s surprising it doesn’t happen more often.

“I find whenever you start making money, you have lots of friends,” Robidas said. “It’s tough to earn money, but it’s really easy to burn money.”

And the more money you have, the easier it is to watch it burn, or at least have it burn without you knowing about it. According to the excellent report on the Johnson situation by Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, Johnson allowed his parents complete access to his finances without any accountability checks. And when he did ask questions about where his money was going, he took the answers at face value.

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Update: Leafs snub fans by refraining from post-game salute

Ken Campbell
James van Riemsdyk and Cody Franson (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Even when the Toronto Maple Leafs do something right, they find a way to mess it up. On a day when people should be talking about how they put the brakes on a three-game losing streak with an impressive win, the narrative will surround how a bunch of pampered millionaires stuck it to the paying public.

Here’s what happened. On the heels of perhaps the most negative scrutiny they’ve faced from their fan base all season – including a fan throwing a Maple Leafs sweater on the ice during a 9-2 loss to the Nashville Predators Tuesday night, the Maple Leafs had an inspired effort, one of their best of the season, and defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night. Read more

Lightning ‘can’t go much longer’ without Victor Hedman: Cooper

Ken Campbell
Victor Hedman

The Tampa Bay Lightning got a welcomed sight Thursday morning when defenseman Victor Hedman joined them for an on-ice workout for the first time in a month. The fact that he took shots for the first time was an even better sign for a team that has weathered the storm well since Hedman left the lineup after breaking the index finger on his right hand in mid-October.

Nobody was happier, perhaps than Hedman himself, than Lightning coach Jon Cooper, whose team has gone 10-4-1 in his absence.

“I don’t want to throw numbers out but he’s a top-10-slash-top-five defenseman in the NHL,” Cooper said. “You pull the top defenseman from any team in this league and everybody would have issues. We’ve weathered this storm without him, but we can’t go much longer.”

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When he left the Lightning for the Rangers, Martin St-Louis made a huge mistake

Adam Proteau
Martin St-Louis comprised one half of 2014's best trade. (Getty Images)

After watching Martin St-Louis play his former teammates in Tampa Bay for the first time since the March trade that sent him to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan, and two draft picks, I’m pretty confident in saying this:

St-Louis made a huge mistake.

Yes, it’s only one game, but the Lightning’s thorough 5-1 pounding of the Blueshirts Monday was a demonstration of (a) all the things that make Tampa such a favorite of pundits this off-season, and (b) many of the things that make some of us question the Rangers as a serious Stanley Cup contender.

St-Louis did score the home side’s only goal at Madison Square Garden, but, in a sign from the hockey gods as to which side is likely to emerge over time as the ultimate winner of the trade, Callahan scored two goals for the Bolts. More importantly, the Lightning also got another banner night from Steven Stamkos, who scored once and added two assists while being the most dangerous player on the ice. Why St-Louis would want to leave a team with a young superstar for one that didn’t have anyone comparable is head-scratching, to say the least. Read more

Top five teams getting points from players making $1M or less

Jonathan Drouin, Johnny Gaudreau and Jason Garrison

In a salary capped NHL where every dollar spent on a superstar is one not spent on roster depth, it can be easy not to notice the rookies and journeymen making $1 million or less at the bottom of the pay scale. But those players can play a crucial role in their team’s success, supplying the offense of a much more expensive player while making pennies on the dollar.

Every general manager is working with the same salary range, but the savvy ones have found ways to acquire cheap secondary scorers who are more than worth their annual salary.

Oftentimes these bargains take the form of phenomenal rookies on entry-level deals, but other times they’re former stars taking a one-year deal to prove their worth, or career journeymen who are steady but unspectacular.

A look at the top teams getting points from their bargain players shows it’s not just the rebuilding teams who are buying points on a budget.

And in most cases, one spectacular scorer on an entry-level deal is not enough to elevate his team onto this list. For instance, Vladimir Tarasenko has 10 goals and 21 points for the St. Louis Blues on a contract that pays him $900,000 in base salary, but there are no other significant players on entry-level deals playing with him. The next-highest scorer on his team making six figures is Joakim Lindstrom and his three goals.

Los Angeles is buoyed by Tyler Toffoli (eight goals, 18 points on a $685,000 salary) and Tanner Pearson (seven goals, 10 points and $775,500 this year), along with million-dollar-man Jake Muzzin and his one goal and seven points. But the Kings haven’t used many young players beyond those three, and so they don’t have the production to crack the top five.

Here’s a look at the five teams getting the most point production out of their players making $1 million or less in salary this year.

Note that this is based on what players are making this year – not on their cap hits, which can be much higher than $1 million for entry-level players with bonuses in their contracts.
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Tampa Bay’s chance at Cup contention comes from Yzerman’s Detroit past

Jared Clinton
Steve Yzerman (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

When Steve Yzerman took the reins as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, he said there would be no easy fixes and that creating a perennial contender was the long-term goal. Yzerman wasn’t thinking Stanley Cup. No, he was thinking Stanley Cups – plural.

It’s not surprising that was, and is, how Yzerman looked at things, especially considering where he was coming from. A career Detroit Red Wing, Yzerman was part of the process of turning the Red Wings from basement team to perennial Stanley Cup contender during his playing days. Read more

Tampa Bay’s new third jersey: Shades of 1990 or do you like the look?

Jared Clinton
Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos models the new Lightning third jersey (Tampa Bay Lightning)

When the Tampa Bay Lightning take the ice tonight to host the San Jose Sharks, they’ll debut their brand new third jerseys, a version very similar to their previous third.

Black and white, with a hint of blue thrown in, the jerseys really aren’t a far cry from the NHL’s ‘Black Ice’ jersey series. In fact, the two are actually quite alike. Devoid of much striping, the jersey also brings to mind those worn by a certain Stanley Cup champion from last season: Read more