The Tampa Bay Lightning announced today that they made some final alterations to their jerseys before sending them into the NHL.
After some fairly pointed criticism from the Lightning fan base, the team stepped up and added back their familiar lightning bolt to the sides of their pants and black trim around the bolts and their numbers. Lightning fans didn't get to keep their celebration stripes, and the amount of black being added to the uniform is more modest than other proposals on the internet, but getting back the bolts on the side of the pants was one of the two most important features that were a point of contention. I give credit to the Lightning fan base for showing their ownership they cared enough about the team's tradition to fight for their colors, and I give the ownership the credit for having the wisdom to reach a compromise. After being steamrolled for almost two decades by ownership groups with commitment to the fan base that ranged from detachment (PS&E) to outright disdain (Koules and Barrie), Lightning fans finally have an owner who legitimately puts the fans and the product first. It's refreshing.
Not that anyone necessarily cares, but here's my two cents on the Lightning's rebranding: I think it misses the mark by a wide margin. So far, it seems like the overall reaction from the fan base has been unfavorable by a two to one margin, and it certainly evoked an unfavorable reaction from me. Now that I've had a little time to think it over: there's a couple of reasons why.
This organization should be very proud to have a man who is not only a good coach but also a man who's not trying to be an amateur politician sugarcoating a ridiculously bad call. I'll be happy to throw something in the pot to help pay the fine, too. It's two hours later and I'm still angry.
Just out of curiosity, I went through the Lightning's all-time statistics to see where Mike Smith and Dan Ellis' current save percentages rank amongst the all-time most horrible performances in Lightning history. Sadly, I may have written one of the most depressing blog posts in the history of BoltProspects in the process. Amongst Lightning goaltenders who have appeared in at least 10 games in a given season, 33 have had sub .900 save percentages, including Smith and Ellis this season. If you're wondering, the all-time worst goaltending performance in Lightning history was JC Bergeron's .832 save percentage in 1995-1996. For his part, Dan Ellis has the uncomfortable distinction right now of being tied with the immortal Dieter Kochan's 2000-2001 performance with a .870 save percentage.
'99-'00 Zac Bierk .899
'07-'08 Karri Ramo .899
'93-'94 Daren Puppa .899
'00-'01 Kevin Weekes .898
'96-'97 Corey Schwab .897
'05-'06 Sean Burke .895
'97-'98 Mark Fitzpatrick .895
'08-'09 Karri Ramo .894
'07-'08 Mike Smith .893
'06-'07 Johan Holmqvist .893
'97-'98 Corey Schwab .892
'98-'99 Corey Schwab .891
'07-'08 Johan Holmqvist .890
'00-'01 Dan Cloutier .891
'05-'06 John Grahame .889
'08-'09 Mike McKenna .887
'99-'00 Dan Cloutier .885
'95-'96 Jeff Reese .884
'06-'07 Marc Denis .883
'98-'99 Bill Ranford .881
'10-'11 Mike Smith .880*
'99-'00 Rich Parent .878
'92-'93 JC Bergeron .876
'92-'93 Pat Jablonski .874
'92-'93 Wendell Young .872
'10-'11 Dan Ellis .870*
'00-'01 Dieter Kochan .870
'94-'95 JC Bergeron .869
'07-'08 Marc Denis .859
'97-'98 Zac Bierk .857
'99-'00 Kevin Hodson .856
'93-'94 Pat Jablonski .856
'95-'96 JC Bergeron .832
The list of netminders the Lightning have had who have appeared in 10 or more games and posted a .900 or better save percentage is sadly and decidedly smaller. Only 14 netminders have accomplished that feat in a Lightning jersey, and Mike Smith and Daren Puppa did it by the skin of their teeth both last season and in 1997-1998, respectively.
'01-'02 Nikolai Khabibulin .920
'02-'03 John Grahame .920
'95-'96 Daren Puppa .918
'08-'09 Mike Smith .916
'01-'02 Kevin Weekes .915
'03-'04 John Grahame .913
'02-'03 Nikolai Khabibulin .911
'03-'04 Nikolai Khabibulin .910
'09-'10 Antero Niittymaki .909
'98-'99 Daren Puppa .906
'94-'95 Daren Puppa .905
'96-'97 Rick Tabbaracci .902
'97-'98 Daren Puppa .900
'09-'10 Mike Smith .900
Yuck. I just threw up a little. And, if you can figure out how John Grahame and Mike Smith went from really good seasons in the blink of an eye, please let Lightning management know.
Rob Rossi from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review decides to make himself Exhibit C for the irrational northern hockey media establishment. Speaking on who likely leads the chase for MVP of the league at the quarter post of the season, Rossi pens the following gem:
That spot belongs to Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, the NHL leader through Friday in goals and points, according to rankings by ESPN.com and USA Today. Those are subject to personal bias â€” not that Hart Trophy voting by select members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association eliminates that possibility.
Did you see that? Did you see how Rossi lumped statistics, which are the most objective metric of performance we have in sports, in with meaningless MVP power rankings? See that sleight of hand? See the implication that statistics are subject to personal bias, too? It's either clumsy writing, or an inherently dishonest little piece of propagandizing, and my guess is that it's the latter.
That's the lengths some in the northern hockey media establishment are going to go to try to discredit Stamkos, and they'll even go the extra step of pushing the bizarro world argument that Stamkos now is an overhyped media darling. Pay no attention to the fact that the amount of ink and Sportscenter mentions that Crosby gets relative to Stamkos is probably on the order of 20:1. Rossi's got a story about poor, picked on, forgotten Sidney Crosby to peddle and cognitive dissonance be damned! Stamkos is now a Madison Avenue sensation!!!
What a joke.
Again, it's impossible to prove whether Stamkos is a better player than Crosby or Ovechkin, and I don't think anyone from Tampa Bay is pushing that argument. That's not the point. The fact Stamkos, at 20 years old, is forcing the northern hockey media establishment to address the question, is the point. In three years, when he's Crosby's age, or five years, when he's Ovechkin's age, where will he be in his development? Riddle me that, Rossi. If you're as smart as I think you are, considering that little magic trick you just tried to pull in that column, I think you'll realize it's not smart to be one of the media members planting themselves firmly into the anti-Stamkos camp. Don't be on the wrong side of history.
Lightning training camp is still a few weeks off with the regular season set to begin on October 9th. But, here at BoltProspects, the prospect season begins Wednesday, September 8th, when KHL defending champs Ak Bars Kazan square off with UHC Dynamo Moscow, which is a new club formed when Dynamo Moscow and KHK MVD merged this offseason. Kazan features 2002 Lightning draft pick Dmitri Kazionov, while Dynamo is now the home of former Lightning draft pick Ruslan Zainullan.
The 2010-2011 season will be BoltProspects' sixth season covering the future of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. The staff of BoltProspects would like to thank our readers and express our excitment to start yet another season.
Let me start by saying, the 2010 NHL Entry Draft afterglow really puts into focus just how amazing a job Jim Hammett and Darryl Plandowski did in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. To put it bluntly, they spoiled us. When you walk out of a draft with four guys who were probably among the top forty or fifty picks in the draft, it's exhilerating. But, not every year can be like 2009 or even like the 2006 draft when the Lightning used their first four picks on four pretty solidly touted prospects.
By the time the Lightning got to their second pick at sixty-third overall, the large majority of the quality known talent was off the board. That's the difference between a draft where you have three top sixty picks and another where you have just one, I suppose. So, the Lightning were going off the beaten path for much of day two to try to find potential NHLers and fill organizational needs. As a consequence, the quality of this draft class isn't going to be as immediately apparent, and right now it feels like the draft will live and die on the shoulders, or hips, of Brett Connolly.
Wow, what a night. Things went to plan for three picks and then everything descended into slow moving chaos. The Blue Jackets took the guy I, personally, thought the Lightning would end up with at the fourth pick, the Islanders took the guy half the internet thought was going to the Lightning with the fifth pick, and then the Lightning decided not to take the guy everyone thought they would take with the sixth pick, as Brandon Gormley and Cam Fowler spiraled down the draft board in the mild hockey equivalent of an Aaron Rodgers/Brady Quinn draft free fall.
What to make of Brett Connolly, though? There's absolutely no doubt his athleticism and skill are world class, or at least they were prior to his injuries. Connolly's agent wouldn't allow teams to perform an MRI on prior to the draft to verify its soundness, so one wonders how the Lightning made an informed decision about it. Between his hips and some talk of structural weakness in his hand, I seriously wonder if the Lightning have drafted a guy who will end up being a part time player like Buffalo's Tim Connolly. Adding to my fears was a post-draft interview on TSN that did nothing to disspell whispers I've heard about Connolly's attitude. He looked annoyed and bored, all at the same time, and I'm wondering what is going on in his head. Is he going to carry a chip on his shoulder into the rest of the offseason and training camp to show the world that not only are his hips healthy, but that he was indeed the best player in this draft class? Or is Connolly already a little burned out by the scrutiny that comes with being a premiere prospect? Seriously, after watching the interview and after my making a big deal of how badly Connolly came across, the BoltProspects staff reviewed several pieces of interview footage, and we've come to the unnerving conclusion Connolly may be incapable of emoting genuine happiness.
Smile, man. You just were selected in the top ten of the NHL draft.
Rumors have been swirling all week that Montreal first round draft pick Louis Leblanc may have already decided to leave Harvard University after one season with the Crimson. Montreal writer Pat Hickey penned a story for the Montreal Gazette on Wednesday claiming the speedy forward might be weighing whether to go to the QMJHL or sign with the Canadiens and play in the AHL for Hamilton. Compounding the intrigue was that Leblanc, whose junior rights were held by Chicoutimi, apparently had a preference to play for the Montreal Juniors in the QMJHL so he could also attend classes at McGill University to continue his education.
Today, at the tail end of the QMJHL Midget Draft, Chicoutimi traded Leblanc's rights to the Montreal Juniors, along with a 3rd round pick, for Guillaume Asselin and a 2011 first round pick. That will only serve to intensify speculation that Leblanc may leave Harvard. If Leblanc leaves, he will add to a list of players not returning to the Crimson that already included graduating seniors Doug Rogers, Chad Morin, Alex Biega, Jack Christian, and Ian Tallett. While only Rogers, Morin, and Biega were serious contributors to Harvard last season, it's important to bear in mind the club has only won 9 games each of the past two seasons. Losing those players and their leading scorer, Leblanc, may be a death sentence for Ted Donato's club next season.
All that begs the question: what about Alex Killorn? Killorn, a 2007 3rd round pick of the Lightning, has been routinely singled out over the past couple of seasons as being one of the team's best young talents in prospect camps but has failed to garner much publicity playing for a sinking Harvard club. If Leblanc leaves, can the Lightning allow one of their ten best prospects to languish through another potential single-digits win season at Harvard? Would it be better for his development to sign Killorn and have him begin his pro career with Norfolk of the AHL? Expect new GM Steve Yzerman to seriously contemplate that option if Killorn impresses him as much at this summer's prospect camp as he has other Hockey Operations people with the Lightning in previous camps.
If Killorn were to be signed, he'd join fellow signees Johan Harju and Mark Barberio from an already strong class of incoming pros. The team could also still sign 2009 2nd round pick Richard Panik, who just completed his first World Championships appearance for Slovakia.
Hat tip to our Chad Schnarr, who has been following this situation closely on BoltProspects' Twitter feed.
Gary Shelton had an article in the Tampa Tribune today interviewing former GM and Lightning founder Phil Esposito. For those who may not have read my blog post a year ago when the Lightning were reportedly thinking of moving Vincent Lecavalier prior to the draft, and Espo put his foot down in opposition to it, I am an absolute fan of The Godfather. When he speaks, you better damned well listen. So when I read that, "(Esposito) has talked about a role, perhaps as a consultant, with Vinik," I say you're a smart man, Jeffrey Vinik. Nobody knows this franchise better than Espo, nobody cares about this franchise more than Espo, and nobody is a better salesman for hockey in Tampa Bay, either. That man could sell a Mitsubishi to Lee Iacocca, and talk the CEO of Pepsi into putting a Coke machine in his lobby. He's that good, and while his time in the GM's chair may be past, he still has a lot more to give to this franchise, and I think he needs his name on the Cup one more time.