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Quick Strikes: Nylander saga updates and two deep dives on the Lightning penalty kill

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The Leafs appear to be closing in on reuniting with one of their stars

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Bolts

The Lighting’s recent hot streak on the penalty kill was the topic of the day yesterday. First, we covered it here at Raw Charge.

The Lightning’s streak raises the question of whether this was a stretch of excellent penalty killing or a run of good luck.

If you ask people who follow the Lightning closely to list the team’s primary weaknesses last season, many would point to the penalty kill. In the offseason, the team did not retain the coach in charge of the penalty kill and defense, Rick Bowness. They instead hired new assistant coaches and moved Todd Richards from focusing primarily on forwards and the power play to the defense and penalty kill.

But the data didn’t always support the narrative that the penalty kill was a problem.

Then, a couple hours later, TSN published an article by Travis Yost with a different spin.

It’s a fascinating change of pace, especially within the forwards. Last year, Cooper spread most of his ice time across four forwards in Brayden Point, Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, and Ryan Callahan. This year, Point has been pulled off of the penalty kill and Callahan has only been able to play a couple of games. Those two changes have meant a lot more ice time for Anthony Cirelli (who has played a whopping 50 per cent of Lightning penalty-kill minutes), Mathieu Joseph and Cedric Paquette.

Defensively the changes are a bit more predictable. Ryan McDonagh has been tapped on the shoulder 59 per cent of the time – a penalty-killing option the Lightning didn’t have but for the stretch run during 2017-18. Combining McDonagh with Anton Stralman, an effective penalty-killing fixture for years, has allowed for Cooper to lessen the burden on Victor Hedman, Braydon Coburn and Dan Girardi.

New Lightning beat writer at the Tampa Bay Times Diana Nearhos apparently didn’t get the memo that yesterday was “write about the penalty kill day.” Instead, she wrote a nice piece on Yanni Gourde.

Neither Gourde nor Cooper want to fixate on points. Both see him as more than a scorer. Gourde had a goal and an assist against Columbus, but didn’t feel he played well, didn’t think he was involved in the game enough.

”I want to create turnovers, recover pucks, create scoring chances,” he said. “That’s the kind of stuff I really look at after the game. I’m like, ‘tonight went well, I had the puck, I felt good with the puck, I made good chances.’ “

Cooper said Gourde has earned ice time in all situations; he plays on the power play and the penalty kill. The coach is judging Gourde on more than points, and he’s passing every test. He didn’t want to say too much about set expectations, though.

So far this season, the Lightning are one of the most aggressive teams in pulling their goalie when trailing. The value of pulling goalies earlier in the game when trailing is one of the more concretely provable concepts in hockey analytics so looking at this measure could be a helpful indicator of which teams are buying more into probability-based decision making.

The Prospects

Cory Conacher signed an extension for next year to remain with the Lightning organization. That reflects positively on the team for investing in its depth and on Conacher for choosing to stay with a strong organization instead of looking to move to a worse team where he might have a better chance at the NHL.

In hockey, we often hear cliches about leadership and culture carrying grafted on to players in order to fit contrived narratives. For me, a player like Conacher is a genuine example of a culture carrier. In Tampa, he fulfills whatever role is asked of him, including being primarily a practice player and a scratch on game day. In Syracuse, he’s a leader and one of the best forwards on the team who can bring NHL caliber training and practice habits to the organization’s prospects.

Former NHL player Adam Foote, the father of Lightning defensive prospect Cal Foote, signed on to become the head coach of the Kelowna Rockets. The Rockets were Cal’s WHL team and are now the home of younger brother Nolan who plays forward and will be a first-round pick next spring.

The League

The smoke around William Nylander finally returning to the Leafs is starting to increase in thickness. The numbers mentioned by Kypreos here are exactly what everyone expected at the start of this saga. If this is where the contract lands, that would be quite a bit of posturing by both sides just to end up right where most predicted they would.

Jeremy Davis at Canucks Army is must-read for me. In this piece, he addresses the challenges around determining what defines success for a draft pick and how to make improvements in draft analytics.

Hockey prospect analysis is a tricky business. There’s no shortage of people out there trying to do it, and everyone is coming at it from a slightly different angle. That’s because, to this point, there is no clear cut “best” way to go about it. Compared to analyzing NHL players, analyzing prospects comes with a host of problems, from limited access to video and reliable data, to the fact that it can take three to five years (or longer) to see if the prediction matches the results.

Canucks Army wasn’t satisfied to publish one great piece yesterday. Ryan Biech wrote a great breakdown of Casey Mittelstadt and how a player with underwhelming numbers in his draft year became such a highly touted prospect.

His case is a great way to examine how prospects can get hyped up when it isn’t valid. One person is high on the player, then another, then another and so on, when there are concerns that can’t be ignored.

This isn’t to point fingers at one or two specific people who missed on their prognosis, I mean Yahoo Hockey had him projected as the 84th player to start the season.

Everyone makes mistakes but there are ways to get better at your analysis. There are a multitude of avenues of information that can be combined to make the most informed decision at the time, the analyst just needs to be open to it.

The Tony DeAngelo Experience is going about as expected in New York. And that is to say, poorly. He seems close to reaching the breaking point with his third NHL team and one wonders how many more chances he’ll get if the Rangers do decide to move on from him.

So now we’re here, with DeAngelo stuck in hockey purgatory and the organization holding the bag while dealing with an increasingly frustrating headache. DeAngelo has taken the situation in stride — not that he, in his current position, has another option — but it’s a position that helps neither the player nor the team. On talent alone, there’s no reason for him to not be in the lineup, and he knows it. DeAngelo very well may turn into a serviceable defenseman for another team if let go, and while I doubt he will ever hit his ceiling, it is still possible. After all, he is still only 22.