After a couple of weeks without any appearances in Thirty Thoughts, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally scored a thought of their own in Elliotte Friedman’s weekly column. It wasn’t much of a note, and it didn’t reveal any insider information, but it’s always nice when the Lightning get some national attention.
Four forward, one defenseman powerplay
Kicking off the final third of his column, Friedman mentions that in the Lightning’s overtime win against Washington, the team deployed four forwards as their power play unit. Brayden Point ended up tipping home Nikita Kucherov’s shot for the winner while Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat were also on the ice. Friedman’s comment, “Good luck defending that.”
It’s surprising more teams don’t employ this strategy, especially with a 4-on-3 or 5-on-3. When a defending team is down to three skaters, they are focused on getting the puck out of the zone. If you’re the attacking team wouldn’t it make sense to make it as hard as possible for them to accomplish that? If there is any time to sacrifice defense for offense it’s when you opponent only has three skaters on the ice.
It’s worth noting that Coach Cooper employed four forwards for the entire power play in overtime. Not only that, but three of the four skaters stayed on the ice the entire time, with Point replacing Tyler Johnson for the faceoff just before the goal was scored. He was obviously not happy settling for one point and going to the shootout. He wanted the win.
Not only does it make sense to have more offensive talent on the ice, but it could also be a deciding factor when it comes to faceoffs. With four forwards out, there is a good chance that there will be two centers on the ice. If one of them is tossed by the linesman for breathing too heavily, then the other center can come take the faceoff instead of a winger. It happened in OT with Washington, with Johnson getting tossed and Stamkos having to come in take the draw. Granted, Stamkos lost the draw and it led to the only time the puck spent outside of the Caps’ zone, but he still had a better chance of winning a draw than Kucherov or Palat.
Will the Lightning continue to employ four forwards during 4-on-3 situations even in regulation? They would be fools not to, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they took it to the next logical step and employed a 5-on-4 power play. With the exception of Victor Hedman, is there a defenseman that is enough of an offensive threat to justify being the extra skater? It seems that there would be more an advantage substituting a forward with defensive inclinations like Palat or Point at the position which gives the defense another threat to worry about.
Speaking of defensemen, Slater Koekkoek’s name does appear in Friedman’s column as well. He is listed as one of the 10 defensmen drafted ahead of Michael Matheson, the Florida Panthers defender who just signed an 8-year, $39 million extension. Of those 10 players, only Griffen Reinhart has played fewer games in the NHL than Koekkoek.
It’s been said many times on the site, but the Lightning really have to figure out what they’re doing with Slater. Playing three minutes every three games is not going to help him improve or contribute to the team (please note that this was written before Koekkoek’s two-goal outburst against Pittsburgh. Not that it really changes anything because he still only played 9:45).
The good news is that there could be a trade market for him if a team believes he’ll benefit from a change of scenery. Friedman reports that a team executive commented that “a lot of teams are really thin on the blue line”. Koekkoek does have the first round pedigree and solid play in the AHL.
If Mikhail Sergachev sticks with the team, General Manager Steve Yzerman could look to move the 2012 tenth-overall pick for future assets. The Penguins recently moved Derrick Pouliot, a defender taken two spots ahead of Koekkoek, for a fourth-round pick and a middling prospect. Given Mr. Yzerman’s history of charming other teams into slightly higher returns than expected, a third-round pick for a defenseman spending more time in the press box than on the ice would seem to be in line with his MO.
Junior hockey players eligible for the Olympics?
Friedman touches on a topic that was mentioned in the last “Thinks about thoughts” post. What is the Olympic status of players who signed their entry level contracts but are playing junior hockey? It seems their eligibility is, as all thing with the NHL seem to be, a bit murky.
The NHL seems willing to allow such players to play, and other hockey federations are lobbying with the International Olympic Committee to allow them to play. However the IOC, at this point, is resolute that any player with a NHL contract is not eligible to participate. Expect this situation to remain in flux for most of the fall.