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That’s why they play the games: A look back at Lightning preseason predictions

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A look back at a time when we had hope.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Five months ago Tampa Bay Lightning fans were quite optimistic about the season. Steven Stamkos was under contract, Nikita Kucherov was coming back, and the team had arguably the best one-two combination in net. After two close calls, this was going to be the year they hoisted the Stanley Cup. Here at Raw Charge we made (well I, without any consultation, made) some predictions.

There was no statistical basis for these predictions and I might have been drinking a bit while making them (hence the 2015-16 typo in the dek). I’m not going to use that as an excuse to totally forget that I made them. Unlike other media outlets that seem to forget about all of the things they guaranteed would happen, I am ready to face the music. So how did I do?

Short answer. Not very good.

Prediction Number 1: Steven Stamkos will score 45 goals and 91 points.

Result: 9 goals and 20 points in 17 games

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins
Pictured - $14.3 million of Long Term Injury Relief
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

So about that. Stamkos had 20 points in 17 games. If you extrapolate that over an 82 games season he’s sitting at 96 points. If he had kept scoring goals at the pace he was in those 17 games he would have ended up with 43 goals. How could I know that Joe Louis Arena would wreck havoc on his knee?

The coaches and players can talk all day about how their lack of intensity at the beginning of the season prevented them from making the playoffs. If they had a healthy Stamkos, they’re in. Period. End of story.

I’ll take partial credit for this one and in the future will only predict Stamkos’ stats in per-game numbers.

Prediction Number 2: Slater Koekkoek will score 11 goals and only be scratched 8 times.

Result: 0 goals, banished to Syracuse

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals
Koekkoek trims down his stick so it fits in the overhead compartment for his trip back to Syracuse.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I was just a little bit off the mark on this one. After making the roster out of training camp, it looked like Koekkoek was poised to have a strong season with the Lightning. Instead he was scratched for the first three games of the season and then sent back down to Syracuse for a month.

He was recalled a couple of times during the season and managed to appear in 29 games (way more than I remember seeing him play) mostly during December and January. When he was demoted in January, @loserpoints pointed out that Koekkoek and Braydon Coburn were the second best defensive pairing on the team.

The reason given for his demotion was that the organization was worried that if they tried to send down Luke Witkowski or Nikita Nesterov they would be claimed on waivers. Three weeks later Nesterov was traded but Koekkoek remained in Syracuse. Koekkoek’s future with the organization is in a bit of doubt right now. Prior to the season he was showing up on a lot of protected lists for the expansion draft. Now, not so much.

I whiffed on this prediction.

Prediction Number 3: Valtteri Filppula becomes the new scapegoat for the team and should be traded.

Result: Filppula plays pretty well and is still traded.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning
Filppula finally forced into a position where he can’t pass the puck.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

How could I have not picked Andrej Sustr? This one is on me. All the signs were there. He is a big defenseman with questionable offensive instincts who isn’t a fast enough skater to cover for bad reads. He was Matt Carle v2.0.

Sustr was getting playing time over Koekkoek, and a significant portion of the fanbase was calling for him to get some time in the press box. Was it all deserved? Probably not, but it was also hard to justify seeing him on the ice and not producing. With the emergence of Jake Dotchin and no reason to keep Koekkoek in Syracuse any longer, it will be interesting to see what Sustr’s future with the team will be.

On the other hand, Filppula went out and played well enough that Mr. Yzerman was able to move him to Philadelphia for... Well, nothing really. Still, clearing out $5 million in cap space for next year made it a great move.

I’ll take half credit for this one since Filppula was actually traded.

Prediction Number 4: October 26th will be the date people complain that Brayden Point isn’t playing enough.

Result: Brayden Point ends the season as the number one center for the Lightning

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs
Internal thoughts: “Wheeeeeee”
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

If there is a bright spot in the center of the Lightning 2016-17 universe, it is Brayden Point. The rookie made the team out of training camp and by the end of the season was centering their top line. Granted it was a wrath of injuries that got him to the top line, but he elevated his game and showed he belonged there. In the process he also might have made Tyler Johnson expendable.

Point played well at the beginning of the season, bouncing between 12 and 17 minutes a game as he found himself playing on the wing due to everyone being healthy. For a rookie, he showed excellent awareness on the ice and played the game at a fairly high pace. Prior to injuring his wrist in late December he had put up a respectable 15 points.

It was when he came back from the injury that he really turned up his game. Whether it was spending some time in the press box and learning or just getting a break in the middle of a hard season, he was able to take his game to another level in the second half of the season. He recorded 25 points down the stretch and ended the season playing his best hockey (4 goals and 6 points in his last 3 games).

There wasn’t really a call for him to play more, because he was getting his fair share of shifts. With the way Coach Cooper splits his forward shifts, few players average over 20 minutes a game. So for the rookie to be playing 15-16 minutes a game shows the trust that the staff had in him early on.

I missed on this prediction, but for all of the right reasons. And, may #PointPuns live on forever and ever.

Prediction Number 5: JT Brown will score 10 goals

Result: Brown scored 3 goals

NHL: Nashville Predators at Tampa Bay Lightning
J.T. Brown - Nashville fans’ favorite Lightning player
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Production wise, this year was a step back for JT Brown. He went from 8 goals and 14 assists in 2015-16 to 3 goals and 3 assists in 2016-17. Not only were his scoring stats down, his possession stats were down across the board as well. Injuries and deployment were probably the biggest factors in why his numbers looked the way they did.

He only played in 64 games this season because he battled injuries. When he was in the game, he was firmly ensconced in a fourth-line role. Two stats stood out when looking at his season. His shots per game were way down (1.05 vs. a career of 1.55) and his zone starts were heavily skewed. While he had come into the season roughly 50/50 in zone starts, this season he started 66% of his shifts in the defensive zone. For skaters who played 30 or more games for the Lightning only Gabriel Dumont (76.3!) started more shifts in his own zone.

Brown will not be protected in the expansion draft and likely will not be taken by the Vegas Golden Knights this summer. He is under contract for one more season at a reasonable $1.25 million so unless something odd happens he will most likely be on the roster next season. Maybe he’ll see an increase in his role and can hit that 10 goal mark then.

Yet another missed prediction.

Prediction Number 6: Cory Conacher will score 4 goals for the Lightning

Result: He had 1 goal and 3 assists

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Calgary Flames
Proof that Conacher did actually play in the NHL this season
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Conacher re-signing with the Lightning was the feel-good story of the off-season (other than the Stamkos, Hedman, and Kucherov contracts, of course). The young prospect traded away for a franchise goaltender was back home after wandering the hockey world. Unfortunately, he just didn’t get a chance to make an impact with the Lightning.

It was a long shot for him to make the team in the first place, and the emergence of Point doomed him to start the season in Syracuse. Despite the constant shuttle of players back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth from upstate New York to Tampa, Conacher’s number was rarely called. Give him credit for not voicing any complaint and putting together a hell of a season in Syracuse.

In 54 games with the Crunch he was the constant in an ever changing line-up, putting up 56 points and leading them back into the playoffs. Maybe he was taking out his frustration on the other teams as he put up an impressive 109 penalty minutes. He did get a callup at the end of the season (the Lightning had almost no choice but to call him up) and picked up two assists in the game against Montreal. Will he be back next season? Probably not. Most likely he heads back to Europe.

Yup. You guessed it - another bad prediction.

Random Predictions

Auston Matthews wins Calder - nailed it. It’s not official, but he’s taking this thing home.

Sidney Crosby wins Art Ross - Connor McDavid is really, really good.

Worst Team - Columbus. Who knew Torts had another good year in him?

Guilty Pleasure Team - Arizona. Well, they were quite bad as Duclair and Domi struggled.

Rick Nash gets traded - Nope. He cracked the 20 goal mark. Man, I’m good at motivating people.

Montreal and Calgary make the playoffs - Yup. Along with Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto. What happened, Winnipeg?

Stanley Cup Winner - Tampa Bay. Well, hold that thought till next season.

In the end, I showed why you should never, ever ask me for advice on sports bets. Will that stop me from doing this again next year? Nope.