Calder Cup Final
Hershey vs. Hamilton
Series begins on Friday.
Kelly Cup Final
Idaho 4 Dayton 1
(Idaho wins series 4-1)
Calder Cup Final
Hershey vs. Hamilton
Series begins on Friday.
Kelly Cup Final
Idaho 4 Dayton 1
(Idaho wins series 4-1)
It might have made sense to keep pending free agent Ben Bishop all year – if the Lightning were healthy and not in a dogfight for a playoff berth.
The Tampa Bay Lightning endured 2015-16 holding onto the year's most coveted unrestricted free agent to be. General manager Steve Yzerman weathered a storm of rumors and clutched Steven Stamkos tightly. The Bolts had a real shot to win the Stanley Cup after reaching the final the previous year, so treating Steven Stamkos like a UFA trade deadline rental made sense. Tampa Bay ended up re-signing its captain, of course, but even if that hadn't happened this past summer, retaining Stammer was the right move.
A year later, the Lightning once again hold an elite UFA to be. This time it's goaltender Ben Bishop and, once again, they're faced with the decision of whether to trade or retain their star. Only this time, dealing that star may be the smarter move.
It goes without saying that to keep Bishop all year is to risk losing him for nothing. Unlike with Stamkos last year, it's more of a guarantee than a risk with Bishop. The Lightning signed "backup" goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year, $10.5-million extension in July. Bishop should command something like Tuukka Rask or Pekka Rinne money, a seven-year deal at $7 million per. That's out of the cash-strapped Bolts' price range with restricted free agents such as Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin needing new contracts next summer. On top of that, Tampa can only protect one goaltender in the expansion draft. Bishop is as good as gone.
The fact there's pretty much no chance of bringing Bishop back is one obvious reason to consider dealing him now, but we knew that as recently as the summer. Yzerman even admitted at the draft he would have to deal a goalie. It might've still been worth retaining Bishop all season for the sake of a Stanley Cup push, but things are so much more complicated than expected for this Bolts team through early December. Additional reasons to push for a Bishop trade have piled up.
1. Injuries, obviously
The Lightning have lost center Stamkos for four to six months after he tore his meniscus in mid-November. Right winger Ryan Callahan is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Right winger Jonathan Drouin and defenseman Jason Garrison have been nicked up of late, too. This team isn't quite a walking infirmary, but the Stamkos injury is monumental, and the Bolts need all the healthy bodies they can get. That's because…
2. The Lightning are mired in an (unexpected) playoff dogfight
We at THN picked the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. Through Monday's games they sit ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the last wild-card spot. Every team behind Tampa has games in hand. The Bolts have played as many games as any team in the East. We can blame the Stamkos injury, but that doesn't make it any less true that this team is suddenly no lock to reach the Big Dance, and scoring goals, Stamkos' specialty, isn't this team's weakness. The Lightning rank 16th in the NHL in goals against per game at 2.63. That's down from 2.41 (fifth) last season. They sit 13th in 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60 at 54.44, down from 51.92 (sixth) last year. Tampa has regressed defensively, allowing more shot attempts. This team has needs to address on defense. And guess where the Bolts' surplus of talent lies?
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for No. 1 duty
Tampa has two high-end, starting-caliber goaltenders. And we know Vasilevskiy, 22, is the future. He's been one of the game's top netminding prospects since even before Yzerman and Co. drafted him in 2012. Vasilevskiy has a sparking 6-2-1 record with a 2.24 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and two shutouts, and that stat line is no fluke. He's merely doing what he was always projected to do. So why not hand him the reins and use Bishop on the trade market to plug another hole?
4. The Lightning can still win this thing
I never would've supported the idea of dealing Bishop mid-season even a month ago, but so much has changed. This team needs help. It's also very much worth saving. The Lightning remain as talent-rich as any team in hockey, so they should continue to treat themselves as contenders, especially if Stamkos can return in time for the post-season. We've learned in this peak-parity era any team can win the Cup as long as that team gets in. That's where Yzerman has a bit of work to do. Having an elite goaltending tandem is great, but it's a luxury for a team in need of a top-four defenseman and perhaps another power forward who can play in the top six. This season isn't worth giving up on. The Bolts should chase a championship. At first, keeping Bishop looked like the best way to do so. Now the opposite is true.
5. Ben Bishop still has peak value
Bishop hasn't been his Vezina Trophy finalist self early in 2016-17, with a pedestrian .910 SP in 18 appearances, but that small sample size won't torpedo his trade value. Any suitors out there know who he is: an upper-echelon starting goalie. Bishop, however, seems to break down physically at some point almost every season. The big fella has become a yearly injury risk at 30. There's always a chance he gets hurt before Yzerman strikes a deal, so the time to act is now. Is there a market yet? It's tough to say. We won't see true contending teams looking for a big-splash rental just yet, but we may have a few also-rans needing immediate help to climb back into the race. The team repeatedly linked to Bishop is the Dallas Stars, and they still make sense, maybe now more than ever. The Stars have struggled so far and continue to get lackluster goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. Bishop would rectify their problem in a hurry. It's risky to take on a pending UFA, of course, but what if Dallas sent one back in the form of, say, Johnny Oduya? Tampa get its veteran D-man, Dallas gets its star goalie. Tampa would need to take back one of Niemi or Lehtonen and may have to include a second body for the money to work, but such a deal could still make sense, especially for two teams in different conferences.
Keeping Bishop all year would've been a best-case scenario for Yzerman, but he no longer has that luxury. The Bolts' bad luck has created a need for reinforcements right now. Dealing Bishop is the best way to save this team.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
Connor McDavid missed a crucial part of last night's overtime loss to Minnesota for what turned out to be nothing. But it was absolutely the right move by the NHL.
Connor McDavid was absolutely right. It was a “shitty time” to take him out of the Edmonton Oilers lineup last night for the 20-minute concussion protocol. The Oilers were on their first of two consecutive power plays and on the verge of nine seconds of a 5-on-3. You want the best young player in the world out on the ice in those situations. Who knows? It may have led to the Oilers losing a point in the standings that they might desperately need to make the playoffs, or even win the Pacific Division, at the end of the season.
But here’s where Connor McDavid was dead wrong. The first was when he said, “Obviously the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling,” then said, “I grabbed my mouth and they took that as something that it wasn’t.”
My guess is that the concussion spotter in Toronto had absolutely no idea how McDavid was feeling when he grabbed his chin after falling chin-first on the ice last night. He also had no idea whether McDavid had suffered a concussion. We've certainly seen players have concussions for far seemingly less serious incidents. And that’s exactly why McDavid was pulled off the ice. So if you want to point fingers here, don’t blame the guy who was watching Edmonton’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild from the war room in Toronto. If you’re trying to lay blame, find it with the 100 or so former NHL players who are suing the NHL, claiming the league didn’t do enough to protect them from head injuries.
Go ahead, blame Dan Lacouture and Mike Peluso, former NHL tough guys whose lives have been irreparably damaged by the effects of head injuries. Blame the family of the late Derek Boogaard. All enforcers who knew the risks of their profession? Fine. Then point the finger at former 50-goal scorers Dennis Maruk, Blaine Stoughton and Gary Leeman, who are also on the docket. Those guys were probably a lot like McDavid, wanting to stay in the lineup and doing whatever it took, including lying about concussion symptoms, to do it.
The reason McDavid was pulled off the ice after he fell is because the league is responding to a lawsuit that could be very, very serious. Another reason McDavid was removed from the game was that the player, his coach and his teammates are the last, absolutely last, people who can be trusted to tell the truth, particularly in the middle of a game. Another reason is the NHL really likes what Connor McDavid brings to the game and it would rather not have him on the sidelines. Think of it this way. If McDavid had been allowed to continue playing and had been diagnosed with a concussion today, we all would have been screaming about how the concussion spotter abdicated his responsibility.
“That’s a sensitive subject right now, not just in hockey, but all sports,” Wild winger Zach Parise said in a between-periods interview. “When it comes to your head, you want to be on the cautious side. I’m sure everyone is doing it for the right reasons. You don’t want a guy like (McDavid) missing a lot of time. He’s good for the game.”
Would Parise have felt differently if it were he or one of his teammates being pulled off the ice for the same reason? Perhaps. But a lot of people are missing the point here. You can’t advocate for player safety, then rail against those who are keeping players safe by taking precautionary measures. “They’re there for our health and doing the best job possible to look out for us. We respect that,” McDavid told reporters after the game. “But at the same time, they have to respect the time of the game, what’s going on in the game.”
No, no they don’t. And not only do they not have to respect the score, the importance of the game or what’s at stake, they have the duty to not respect any of those things. Because when it comes to a players’ long-term health and his brain, none of those things matters one iota in the grand scheme of things.
Undoubtedly there will be a hue and cry when a star player is removed from an important playoff game, only to come back later after passing the concussion test. It’s coming. Expect it. A team might even lose a game, and subsequently a series, because of it. But the NHL has to stand firm here and, given the litigation it’s facing, there’s little doubt it will do just that. We keep hearing that talented players should just have to live with being targeted by opponents, which actually makes no sense. But if you’re going to operate your league on that basis, then you also have to live with not having those players at crucial times. Because the alternative is just too great a risk.
The budding power forward is having a successful season with USHL Youngstown, with Penn State on the horizon. Learn about him and other future NHLers in our weekly wrap
The world junior camp rosters are really rolling out now and there have been some minor surprises. Sweden will not be taking a last look at 2017 draft prospects Timothy Liljegren and Erik Brannstrom on defense, while Russia is taking a pass on Columbus pick Vitalii Abramov, among others. And now we know that Nolan Patrick will not suit up for Canada, due to injury. But let's concentrate on the player around the prospect world that are having good weeks. As always, here's our wrap-up of who is making waves.
Brett Murray, LW (Buffalo): We are just beginning to see what Murray is capable on the ice, but it's been a pretty good show already. The burgeoning power forward has the right frame at 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds and has put up 16 points in his first 22 USHL games with the Youngstown Phantoms. Now it's just a matter of speed for the Sabres' fourth-rounder.
“Being a bigger guy, my acceleration and quickness off the start is something I can work on," Murray said. "Always improving top speed in open-ice skating is a huge thing.”
With that foreboding frame, Murray can grow into a force once he puts it all together. The early results are encouraging and he already has championship experience from this past season, when he helped the CCHL's Carleton Place Canadians win their Jr. A title in Ontario's Ottawa region. In Youngstown, he's facing tougher competition and the stakes will rise again next year when he heads to Hockey Valley and the NCAA's Penn State Nittany Lions.
“It just seemed like the right fit," Murray said. "They have a new state-of-the-art facility and as a progression for me, just being in the gym every day with an elite strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist seemed like the best for me.”
So if everything goes according to plan, Buffalo will have a beast of a left winger once Murray is finished in the NCAA. He's already got the instincts to be a handful.
“I like to work the puck down low in the corners," he said. "Use my size and skill to create space for my linemates and myself.”
And with the World Jr. A Challenge coming up in Bonnyville, Alta., Murray is proof of what that tournament can do for a prospect that isn't necessarily on the mainstream radar. Murray played for Canada East last season and soaked in everything he could from international duty.
“I really enjoyed it," he said. "It was an excellent experience, matching myself up against top prospects from other countries and even my linemates.”
In The Pipeline
Sergei Zborovskiy, D (NY Rangers): Games don’t get much better than the seven-pointer Zborovskiy hung on poor Prince Albert in his Regina Pats’ 12-2 destruction. The big-bodied defenseman was all over the place, jumping into scoring positions and getting pucks to the net. He has also been invited to Russia’s final world junior camp.
Carter Hart, G (Philadelphia): It seems like I’m mentioning Hart a lot lately, but I can’t help it because he refuses to give up goals. Using structure and technique, the favorite heading into Canada’s WJC camp posted three straight shutouts before Medicine Hat finally dented the armor in his most recent game. Hart still got the win, though.
Guillaume Brisebois, D (Vancouver): Canada has a lot of options on the blueline, so it will be interesting to see if Brisebois can snag a spot. The Charlottetown Islanders rearguard has great size and skating ability, helping him to 17 points through 23 games. But he can also use his tools to shut players down and that might be his key to making the world juniors.
Henrik Borgstrom, C (Florida): He’s been great all year for NCAA Denver, but the announcement of Finland’s world junior roster gives us another reason to mention the speedy and talented freshman. Borgstrom has 16 points through 14 games with the Pioneers and Finland will need his offense with so many big names from last year’s squad unavailable.
Caleb Jones, D (Edmonton): Team USA named its preliminary world junior roster on Monday and it's looking like a solid crew. But who will step up on defense with so many options? Jones is one candidate, as his combination of physicality and skill make him dangerous. The Portland Winterhawks rearguard has an impressive 25 points in 28 WHL games this year.
2017 Draft Stars
Robert Thomas, C – London Knights (OHL): Thomas had one heckuva coming out party on the weekend, racking up five points for the Knights in a 6-2 win over Flint. Strong on his skates and blessed with some fantastic offensive moves, Thomas now has 30 points in 27 games on a deep team.
Owen Tippett, RW – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): There is so much to like about Tippett’s game, from his size (6-foot-2, 204 pounds) to his skating to his shot. All of those were in full gear against Ottawa on the weekend, where Tippett popped in four points in a 6-3 victory.
Lias Andersson, C – HV 71 (SHL): One of three draft prospects to make Sweden’s final WJC camp roster, Andersson plays an excellent two-way game and already has chemistry with Carl Grundstrom and Elias Pettersson on the international stage. Back with HV 71, Andersson is one of the top-scoring junior-aged players in the SHL with eight points in 22 games.
Jayson Dobay, D – Thayer Academy Tigers (Mass. HS): An excellent skater with great offensive instincts, Dobay is a UMass commit and one to watch in the New England prep ranks this season. With six assists in his first three games for the Tigers, his campaign is off to a great start.
Jesse Bjugstad, D – Stillwater Ponies (Minn. HS): When you think of Minnesota high school defensemen, finesse and skating usually comes to mind. But Bjugstad can also play the game with an edge. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder has great NHL pedigree (dad Scott, cousin Nick) and has kicked off the season with two goals in two games.
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has thrown his support behind a play-in wildcard game for the playoffs. Holland has never had a bad idea...until now.
It’s not often, if ever, that your trusty correspondent disagrees with one of the brightest, most progressive voices in hockey. But when it comes to the notion of holding a wildcard play-in game to give one more team per conference a chance to make the playoffs, that’s where I have to draw the line with one Ken Holland.
Speaking to Gary Lawless of tsn.ca, the Detroit Red Wings GM and the man who brought us 3-on-3 overtime opined that he would like to see the playoff pool expanded to essentially have three wildcard teams instead of two. The wildcard team with the best regular-season record of the three would be guaranteed a playoff berth, while the next two would hold a one-game, winner-take-all event to decide the second wildcard team.
There hasn’t been much of an appetite for this sort of thing among the game's power brokers, thank goodness, but there wasn’t much of an appetite for 3-on-3 overtime at one time, either. Holland can be very persuasive. Not sure if he hypnotizes his fellow GMs by swinging one of his four Stanley Cup rings on a string in front of their eyes, but he has a way of getting them to come around his way of thinking. Here’s hoping they resist the temptation this time.
Here’s why. Because any excitement the wildcard race would create in the markets that are involved would be mitigated by the notion that the league is once again rewarding mediocrity. These teams have 82 games to prove they’re in the top half of the league. That doesn’t seem, at least to these eyes, to be too much to ask. A better idea would be to just give each of the No. 9 seeds a nice, shiny Participation Trophy and send them home for the summer.
Geez, Louise, don’t we have enough parity shoved down our throats by the NHL already? Let’s see, when a team is killing a penalty it is allowed, for reasons nobody seems to be able to explain, to ice the puck with impunity. And if it gets scored on, the penalized player is allowed back on the ice. Players can glove the puck ahead in the defensive zone, but not the offensive zone. The NHL has a draft to ensure that all the best players are distributed fairly. The NHL has a salary cap to prevent rich, large market teams from having a competitive advantage. Teams that lose in overtime or the skills competition get a single loser point for just showing up, which already creates trumped-up playoff races and bogus .500 teams. Someday when the league and the players can agree on it, they'll get around to streamlining goaltending equipment. The NHL awarded a trophy to the best defensive forward for more than 20 years before it decided to get around to establishing one for the league’s top goal scorer. Rather than reward excellence, the NHL has time after time tailored its rules and philosophy to bringing great teams down to the others’ level.
And this would just be another example of that. Last season, the Minnesota Wild limped into eighth in the Western Conference and lost their last five games of the season. The Colorado Avalanche finished five points behind the Wild, losing each of their last six games of the season. Wow, that would have been some game, eh? The only problem is that the way those teams were playing down the stretch, the league might have had to postpone the start of the playoffs to let them finish the game. When you take into account the 11 bogus points the Wild gained for losing in overtime and shootouts, they lost six more games than they won last season. And they still made the playoffs. That’s quite enough, thank you.
Had there been a play-in game in 2011-12, the Los Angeles Kings would have had to play the Calgary Flames in Game No. 83 of the season. If the Flames had won, the Kings would not have gone on to win their first Stanley Cup. If there had been one in 2014-15, the Winnipeg Jets would have faced the Kings and had they lost, we would have been deprived of their first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, one that went four straight, but might have been the closest, most intense and competitive sweeps in the history of the game.
Look, most teams are already in the playoff race until the last quarter of the season. Unless they’re really bad, like say, Colorado is this season. The league constantly trumpets how close its games are, conveniently failing to point out the fact that it’s only that way because nobody scores goals anymore. The NHL loves its parity, but enough is enough. It reminds me of house league hockey where scorekeepers stop adding goals to the winning team if the margin between the teams is more than five goals, as if the kids are too dumb to figure out that they’re actually losing 14-0 if the scoreboard only says 5-0. It’s all a part of the everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality that many observers think is adding to a sense of entitlement in kids that they are now taking into adulthood.
I’m not about to wade into that debate at the moment, but one thing I do know is that there’s no place for it in the best league in the world where the players are also smart enough to know when they don’t belong in the playoffs. And it’s the NHL, which stands for National Hockey League, not National House League.