Where: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
The Tampa Bay Lightning ad Edmonton Oilers are two very different hockey clubs, situated in two very different regions of North America. Both have their names on Lord Stanley's Cup, but it's hard to try to equalize the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning team with the dynasty that was Wayne Gretzky's and Mark Messier's Oiler's teams of the 1980's.
But let's not go back the full extent of time to past championships.. Thing remain very different, but very much the same for the two clubs: New owners (Daryl Katz bought the Edmonton hockey franchise in 2008 and Jeff Vinik took over the Lightning in 2010), variations in the standings between competitiveness and total futility, current building with youth and current head coaches that are known for their successes in the American Hockey League.
If you look at the NHL Entry Draft, the average first draft pick position for both teams is nearly the same: Edmonton (since 2007) average top draft selection is 6.859, Tampa's average draft position is
7. (see below note)
[Note by John Fontana, 11/07/13 3:26 PM EST ] All right, let me clarify on this: I treated Tampa's 2007 draft pick as a 0 in the average for 2007 because there was no draft selection by the Lightning. They traded that pick to Anaheim (for Shane O'Brien) and Anaheim traded it to the Minnesota Wild. The pick that was earned in that case was #16. If that's taken into consideration, the Lightning's draft-spot average increases to 7.8571.
Both franchises have their similarities, but where they are in the standings couldn't be more different. Tampa Bay is at the top of the Eastern Conference with 20 points in 14 games (10-4-0), while Edmonton is on the bottom rung of the league with 10 points in 16 games played (4-10-2).
What's the big difference between the two clubs that puts them at opposite ends of the NHL this season so far? It's possible to look at goaltending as the big issue, as Tampa has been riding Ben Bishop's early successes (9-2-0, .925 save percentage and a GAA of 2.15). Edmonton's Devan Dubnyk hasn't had the same successes; he's played in 10 games this season for the Oil and has a 3-51 record, a .877 save percentage and 3.87 GAA.
In a way, Dubnyk's numbers are a similarity to the Lightning as well. You see, for all the high draft picks playing with the Oilers right now (of those seven draft picks since 2007, Edmonton carries five of those picks on their roster) there's been a sore lack of defensive emphasis and two-way play. Nail Yakupov, who was selected first overall in 2012 by the Oilers, made statements that indicate he doesn't want to play the way he's being asked to and that's led to trade talk and rumors.
On the other hand, Tampa Bay (who only has three of their top picks since 2007 playing on the team) has had a slower development cycle with its prospects. While Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman jumped in immediately and contributed to the Lightning - every other prospect has been brought along deliberately and slowly through Steve Yzerman's system... And that's part of how getting guys to buy in to playing more than just offense-first hasn't been a problem this season under Jon Cooper. Having more "veteran" prospects that had played under Cooper (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik, Mark Barberio, and Radko Gudas) hasn't hurt either.
My point is that, while the two franchises have shared tough times, there's an organizational difference between where they are with player development and vision for what the organization wants from its players and system. Tampa Bay Is on the fourth season of Steve Yzerman's tenure guiding hockey operations, while Kevin Lowe (Oilers team president since 2009, but an Oilers front office mainstay since 200) has had more time and more tenure to implement a synergy in the Oilers organization that breeds success, and instead has his club (under GM Craig MacTavish and head coach Dallas Eakins) working on another top draft pick for 2014.
I don't blame Dallas Eakins, who took over the Oilers this past off-season, for troubles with his roster, the former Toronto Marlies head coach has less time to sell players on his system. Dallas hadn't worked with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or other young players in the AHL like Lightning head coach Jon Cooper had worked with members of his current roster. It's a tougher sell, especially when bad habits had been engraved on certain players in their pro tenure so far...
Instead of ranting about the Oilers / Tampa Bay similarities and dissimilarities, I should start talking about today's game.
Richard Panik and Pierre-Cedric Labrie were both seeing ice time with the fourth line during this morning's skate for Bolts. With the Lightning carrying 13 forwards at the moment, one of the two is the odd man out tonight.
The Oilers are finishing up a snowbird stint in Florida, they won in overtime in Sunrise on Tuesday night - 4-3 the final in that one. The Oil are led in points by Nugent-Hopkins (4 goals, 8 assists) and Mark Arcobello (2 goals, 10 assists).
The Bolts head out on the road after this one - they make their first visit to Joe Louis Arena and Detroit on Saturday, and have dates in Boston and Montreal forthcoming as well. The potential that this game becomes a trap matchup (looking past Edmonton to divisional contests up north) is there.
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