This week, Elliotte Friedman opened his column with a lengthy discussion about six-year-olds playing hockey in Canada. As an American who spent most of my life below the Mason Dixon line, it’s a fascinating discussion. To think that there are three federations in the Toronto area that have to agree (Friedman names the Ontario Hockey Federation, North York Hockey League and Hockey Canada) on the rules governing how five- and six-year-olds play is mind-boggling.
Unlike last week there are no direct thoughts involving the Lightning. There are a couple of casual mentions, one concerning Brayden Point and the other about the Lightning showing interest in a draft pick.
Point is mentioned in regard to a thought concerning the Olympics and roster building. Sean Burke referred to the Point, Mitch Marner and Travis Konecny as an example of a young line that was put together for Team Canada in the World Championships. Countries participating in the Winter Games have to submit their initial list of names for players that they are considering for their teams to the International Olympic Committee by October 1. This isn’t their final list, just a pool of players they may choose from.
With NHL players and anyone on an NHL contract still being banned from participating, this Olympics will be chock full of young players. Burke admitted that out of the 200 names that they plan on submitting they have identified a core group of 30 players that they want to focus on.
There is still a question about whether players that have signed Entry Level Contracts (which are NHL contracts), but are assigned to one of the Canadian junior leagues (the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL) can play in the Olympics. There have also been questions about whether the CHL, the overall umbrella of those three leagues, will allow their players to go to the Olympics.
If we assume such players are allowed to participate in the Olympics, then there may be a handful of Lightning players that are being scrutinized. The European countries are much less likely to be looking at young players. They have strong domestic leagues with plenty of adult talent that they can pull from unless such a young player is an exceptional talent. Only three Lightning prospects really fit the bill, and all would be for Team Canada: Brett Howden, Taylor Raddysh, and Cal Foote. Howden and Raddysh are both young, offensively capable forwards. Foote has a strong pedigree and defensive skills. It’s doubtful any of the three would make the cut, but you never know.
Friedman then names the Lightning as one of the teams that were looking for information on Daniil Tarasov, a 6’5” goaltender drafted by Columbus in the third round of this summer’s draft. Tarasov’s stock took a hit after missing the 2016-17 season due to a knee injury. Steve Yzerman loves drafting Russians (seven in eight drafts including two goaltenders). And he doesn’t mind drafting players with questionable health if he thinks they will recover.
The Lightning ended up passing on the big goaltender and drafted Alexei Lipanov ten picks ahead of where Columbus took Tarasov. Lipanov had a decent training camp before being reassigned to Barrie in the OHL. With a stable of relatively young goaltenders, it was most likely the right choice for the organization.
Other points of interest that might affect the Lightning included the tidbit that the possibility of an $80 million cap was discussed at the Board of Governors’ meeting. That would represent a $5 million increase over this season’s cap. While the team doesn’t appear to be as financially hamstrung as they have been in previous years, an extra $5 million would be appreciated.
There aren’t any names that are going to require huge raises next season, with the possible exception of Vladislav Namestnikov and maybe Adam Erne. The free agent class for next summer is a little thin outside of John Tavares. Still, a boost of that size could factor into deals made this season. If Yzerman thinks the Lightning need to bring in some more talent they aren’t limited to looking at players with expiring contracts, that opens up a lot more possibilities.
Faceoffs have been a big topic of conversation over the last two weeks as players adjust to the crackdown on positioning to even up the draw. Friedman mentioned that it was the Competition Committee that drove the initiative and part of their reason was that players were using more than their stick to win the faceoffs. Centers were tying each other up and then letting their teammates find the puck in the middle of the chaotic scrum.
It will be interesting, if the league continues to enforce the rules, how faceoff percentages will change for some players. Will the players that were adept at using their feet to kick the puck back instead of their stick see a major drop in their winning percentage?
What about for shorter players like Tyler Johnson? How much of a disadvantage will be have against Auston Matthews, who is a good foot taller than him? As the veterans start to get more playing time in the final two weeks or so left in the preseason, it will be intriguing to see how they adjust to the enforcement.