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Lightning strikes twice: Bolts’ historic counterparts

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Using Hockey Reference’s Similarity Scores, we look at some of the Lightning’s best players and how they rank against players throughout NHL history.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

With the bye week in full swing for the Tampa Bay Lightning, what better time to look at how some of the Lightning’s players stack up to their peers from hockey history?

Hockey-Reference.com is a first-rate source for information on players. It’s not the only source that I use when researching articles, but it is one of three sources that I use on a regular basis when looking up non-advanced stats information on players. On a side note, they also have great web sites for baseball and football as well that I use often.

One interesting feature that they have is “Similarity Scores.” Here is the full explanation of how those Similarity Scores work. In short, a Similarity Score is used in an attempt to compare players whose careers were similar in quality as well as trajectories over their careers.

Players are also only compared against players of the same player groups; forwards to forwards, defensemen to defensemen, and goalies to goalies. For evaluating each season, Hockey Reference uses Adjusted Point Shares which is a measure of how much the player contributed to the team’s success through the year with his offense and defense, adjusted for era. You can read the full explanation here.

Hockey-Reference only provides Similarity Scores for players with at least three seasons in the league and it only includes data up to 2016-17 since you need a full season to be able to compare against.

For this exercise, I’ll only be looking at one of the two similarity score charts provided. One chart compares a players career up through 2016-17 against other players’ careers through their first X years in the NHL. For example, Steven Stamkos has nine seasons in the NHL. He would be compared to the first nine seasons of other players.

The second table that Hockey-Reference uses compares the player to other players’ entire careers and assigns zeros for any extra years either player has played less than the player he is being compared to. So if a player we’re looking at has played for 5 years and a player he’s being compared to played for 8 years, then the first player will have three 0s added in to his score. This isn’t a great comparison for players that haven’t been in the league as long, but works well for a player like Chris Kunitz.

All similarity scores do not include the current 2017-18 season and only runs through 2016-17.

Steven Stamkos

For captain Steven Stamkos, we’ll just look at his first nine years. The ten players that compare to him in order are Gordie Howe, Dany Heatley, Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman, Charlie Conacher, Bill Cook, Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Jari Kurri, Marcel Dionne.

Notice something special about that list? In case you missed it, that’s a lot of Hall of Famers. Nine of the ten players currently are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Dany Heatley is not eligible yet though seems unlikely to make the Hall of Fame. Stamkos has a ways to go to finish out his career, but with the trajectory he’s on, it would seem he’s destined to be a Hall of Famer and join this incredible group.

Nikita Kucherov

Sticking with another stellar forward, winger Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov only has four years to draw on, but he still gets a nice group of players including some current players in the list. For him it goes Tyler Seguin, Babe Dye, Busher Jackson, Joe Malone, Eric Staal, Jason Spezza, Frank Boucher, Teemu Selanne, Zach Parise, Jonathan Cheechoo.

Seguin has had a great start to his career and while he has yet to win a major award, he’s been a top flight player since his second season in the NHL. Eric Staal is in a similar vein as a player that has been in the top tier of the NHL for much of his career but hasn’t won a major award. Spezza and Parise are a step down from that tier and also have never won a major award.

Dye, Jackson, Malone, and Boucher are probably not players you recognize and for good reason. All four are Hall of Famers and Stanley Cup winners. The youngest of the bunch was also born in 1911. You can do the math on that.

The last two players in the chart are interesting. Selanne has already been mentioned with Stamkos and his career was an unbelievable one. Cheechoo though presents us with a player that got a little bit of a late start, not making his debut until he was 22, and then missed a season with the 2004-05 lockout. He put up two really great seasons coming out of the lockout including winning a Rocket Richard trophy. But then his career began to decline and he was out of the NHL after just seven seasons.

Victor Hedman

Moving on to defensemen, praise be to our Norse defender, Victor Hedman. Hedman has had some very solid performances in the previous four seasons. Owing to starting in the NHL at a young age, and the time it takes for defenders to round out their game, his first four seasons, while good, were not spectacular seasons. This slower start to his career keeps his peers from looking quite as dominating as Stamkos and Kucherov’s.

For Hedman, he comes up with Brad McCrimmon, Oleg Tverdovsky, Flash Hollett, Ian Turnbull, Christian Ehrhoff, Albert Leduc, Ryan Suter, Jerry Korab, Sandis Ozolinsh, and Reobert Svehla. Those ten players have eight Stanley Cup championships to their names, but none of them won a Norris trophy or are in the Hall of Fame.

Ryan Suter is one of the big names that jumps out from the list as a player that has been highly regarded in the NHL for years, but has never won a Norris and only been a finalist once in his career.

This isn’t to say that Hedman won’t eventually be a Norris winner or a Hall of Famer, but it does show that he has some ways to go to work his way into Hall of Fame consideration when he gets to the end of his career.

Anton Stralman

Let’s still with another Swedish blueliner as we take a look at Anton Stralman. There’s actually a number of recognizable names on this list with Lightning connections. In order they are Brian Engblom, James Wisniewski, Keith Magnuson, Erik Johnson, Boris Mironov, Jimmy Roberts, Andrej Meszaros, Pavel Kubina, Patrice Brisebois, and Don Sweeney.

Another ten Stanley Cups in this group, but no Hall of Famers and no major award winners. But that’s ok. That’s basically what I expected when comparing Stralman. He’s had a couple of really stand out offensive years, but otherwise has just been a solid top-four defenseman that plays a great all around game.

And this group looks much the same way. A lot of very solid players with none of them being super stars.

The Lightning connections in the group are Brian Engblom (FoxSports Sun color commentator), James Wisniewski (signed a PTO and attended training camp), Andrej Meszaros (two seasons with Tampa), and Pavel Kubina (played ten seasons with Tampa).

Chris Kunitz

Kunitz is in his first season with the Lightning, but he has 13 seasons in the NHL entering this year and that provides a nice, long career to look at. For Kunitz, his peets include Ebbie Goodfellow, Bernie Nicholls, Owen Nolan, Frank Mahovlich, Steve Shutt, Bill Guerin, Dickie Moore, Ray Sheppard, Petr Sykora, and Rick Tocchet.

Kunitz in general is an interesting player to look at. For much of his career, he has been a 40-60 point scorer, only having slowed down over the past two seasons at age 37 and 38. 2016-17 was the first time he had failed to reach 10 goals and 30 points in a season since his first appearance in the NHL in 2003-04 when he only played 21 games. He’s been a remarkably consistent good player, but rarely elite. He has never won a major award, though he was a first-team All-Star once and has won four Stanley Cups.

In his list of comparables, there are four Hall of Famers, one Hart, one Calder, and two Ross awards, and 19 Stanley Cup Championships. Three of the four Hall of Famers are old timers with only one having played past 1980. If Kunitz plays another season in the NHL after this one, then he’ll have a chance to hit the 1,000 games player mark, but otherwise is not on course to join those fellows in the Hall of Fame.

Andrei Vasilevskiy

To round out the current Bolts, we’ll take a look at goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. This is one that will be interesting to look back on after the 2017-18 data is incorporated into the Similarity Scores. In 2016-17, he posted his career high in Goalie Point Shares as he played in 50 games and put up a 9.3 GPS. Through 35 games played in 2017-18, he’s already at 8.6 GPS.

Vasilevskiy’s list of comparables for his first three seasons are Guy Hebert, Gary Inness, Ron Grahame, Dominic Roussel, Jim Rutherford, Richard Sevigny, Mike Smith, Joe Miller, Jean-Seabastien Aubin, and Alain Chevrier. In that group, there is only one Vezina winner and the 1928 Stanley Cup winner.

The two players in that group that went on to have even better careers after their first three seasons were Guy Hebert and Mike Smith. Hebert posted four double digit GPS seasons with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Mike Smith has posted three double digit GPS seasons including leading the league with 16.7 in 2011-12 with the Phoenix Coyotes.

With Vasilevskiy on pace for a very strong season, it will be interesting to see how this list changes next season as he has a high-end season that can start to compare more to other elite goaltenders that have come before him.

Vincent Lecavalier

Because I can, I went back to one of the Lightning’s greats in Vincent Lecavalier to wrap this up. For Lecavalier, his closest comparables are Bernie Geoffrion, Henrik Sedin, Bernie Nicholls, Milan Hejduk, Denis Savard, Michel Goulet, Tony Amonte, Bobby Clarke, Pat LaFontaine, and Peter Bondra.

As you’d expect of a player of Lecavalier’s skill and longevity, he has some great names that come up as having similar careers to him. Five Hall of Famers in Geoffrion, Savard, Goulet, Clarke, and LaFontaine and a future one in Sedin. On top of that there are 10 Stanley Cup championships, 1 Calder, 3 Art Ross, 2 Masteron, 1 Rocket Richard, 5 Harts, 1 Clancy, 1 Pearson and 1 Selke. That’s a lot of hardware. Lecavalier adds a Richard, Clancy, and Stanley Cup of his own.

It’s still a question of if Lecavalier will make it into the Hall of Fame. He broke the 1,000 games played threshold and made it to 1,212, but he failed to reach 1,000 points falling short with 949. He played for 17 seasons, but may not have been dominant long enough to make it into the Hall of Fame.