The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2017-2018 season is officially over. And while they fell short of winning a championship, they were still among the best teams in the NHL. Now that we’ve had a few weeks to process all that happened, we’re going to look at how each player on the roster performed this season.
To do this, we’re going to assign each player a school-style grade on the A to F scale. But we’re not doing this alone. We reached out to you, the readers, to help us with our grading. This is the first in a series of articles where we will unveil the results of your grades, our staff grades, and a combined grade for the 25 players who played a significant number of minutes this year and were not traded or released.
The player grade series will be four parts and will include the top six forwards, bottom seven forwards, defense, and goaltenders in separate articles over the next two weeks. The article on the top six forwards came out on Tuesday. This is the second installment and the final two parts will run next week.
The first chart shows the grades from the readers, the writers, and the combined grade for each player. This chart shows more differences between reader and writer grades than in the previous installment. With the top six forwards, readers were consistently a bit tougher in their grading than our writers and that pattern breaks here.
Readers are higher on Anthony Cirelli, Cedric Paquette, and Ryan Callahan, while our staff is higher on Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn, and Chris Kunitz. We also see our first two grades in the C range here for Adam Erne and Paquette.
Gourde is the only player in this group to earn a grade in the A range. He joins Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point as the only forwards to earn grades that high. Much like we discussed with Brayden Point, I think the grading here is an indication of the excitement about Gourde. Seeing a player from an unheralded background emerge as a legitimate top-six option on a good team is impressive and our grades rewarded him for that.
The next chart shows a breakdown of how the readers voted for each of the players in the bottom seven. While most were high on Gourde and Cirelli, we see more varied grades for the rest of the forwards in this group. Alex Killorn in particular was all over the place and I’ll address that later.
I also found it interesting that Adam Erne received a relatively low grade. Some people either scored him incomplete or didn’t grade him at all because they felt he didn’t play enough games for them to assess him fairly. That’s a reasonable response and we’ll do our best to put his performance into the appropriate context in the following section.
Stats and Analysis
Having looked at the subjective grading of our community (readers and writers) here at Raw Charge, let’s now delve into the objective stats to try to understand what might be driving the perceptions we see above. All data below is via Corsica except for the estimated passing data, which is calculated via the methodology here.
If you’re a frequent reader here, you’ll recognize this chart. It shows how each player performed in some key metrics. On this chart, blue is good and orange is bad relative to the rest of the league. Adam Erne and Anothony Cirelli are included here despite not meeting the ice time requirements. Because of the small sample size for those two players, you should put a bit less faith in the importance of their numbers.
We’ll start with players who met the ice time requirements and of those, let’s begin with the positives. Yanni Gourde proved that his performance last spring when he was one of the keys to almost salvaging a lost season wasn’t a fluke. He’s a top-six wing in the NHL all day long. He’s a playmaker more than a shooter. He can play in all situations. He scores at 5v5. He drives play. Finding a player like him as an undrafted free agent is a front office’s dream.
Gourde’s emergence is a credit to him and the entire organization for giving him a chance to succeed, first in Syracuse, and now in Tampa. The Lightning will be challenged to restock their prospect pipeline over the next few years because they’re likely to be good as long as they maintain this group of players and they’re likely to be trading draft picks and prospects at the trade deadline to acquire immediate help for playoff runs.
Finding Gourde alleviates some of that pressure. They’ll need more moves like that if they want to stay ahead of the team’s aging curve. The front office seems to know that as they took another low cost flyer on a young small high-scoring player in Alex Barré-Boulet who won the QMJHL player of the year this season.
Gourde is an example of a player universally loved by Lightning fans, Alex Killorn is...not that. If you’ll excuse for a moment, I need to go get by soap box.
**sounds of rummaging around, some swearing, and a loud crash**
Ok, I’m back, and about 18 inches taller. Are you ready? ALEX KILLORN IS GOOD. HIS CONTRACT IS NOT A PROBLEM (yet).
I need everyone to look at the heatmap. Really look at it. Alex Killorn was one of the best forwards on the Lightning this year. However you slice it, he just had the best year of his career. Points? Primary Points? Game Score? Shot metrics? Pick one. He had a career year. He scored 47 points and the team was over 4% better in expected goal share with him on the ice. That’s more than fair value for $4.45 million, y’all.
Will Killorn’s contract become an issue at some point? Probably. The question has always been whether the Lightning could get four or five years of fair value out of that deal. If it ends up being four, that’ll be rough. If they get five, they can probably live with that. But that’s the future. To say that he was a problem this year isn’t accurate and for him to have nearly the same grade as Cedric Paquette is bonkers to me. But we’ll get to Paquette in a bit.
**steps down off soap box and calmly puts it back away for now**
Ryan Callahan and Chris Kunitz were linemates nearly all season driving a fourth line that played well. Kunitz delivered plenty of value. He only cost $1 million and filled his role well on the fourth line occasionally moving up in the lineup to help cover for injuries. He didn’t generate much offense but he was capable defensively, which is why the Bolts brought added him last summer.
I wouldn’t be opposed to him returning for another year on a similar contract. The Lightning will have the cap space and if he can’t keep up his performance from last year, the team could move on from him easily with no long term risk.
Callahan is a more complicated case. His contract is a sunk cost at this point and harping on it further won’t get us anywhere. The question is, how can the team get the most out of him in his current state?
Callahan was fine on the fourth line this year. He didn’t excel in any area but he wasn’t an obvious liability anywhere either. The team announced he’s having another shoulder surgery this offseason that will likely keep him out for the beginning of the regular season. He seems inevitably headed for a buyout, but I don’t expect it this summer. He’ll probably get at least one more run with the team next year but once the cap crunch hits next summer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the front office start looking for a way out of that contract.
The last player in this group who meets the ice time requirement is Cedric Paquette. He received one of the lower grades on the team and personally, I think it should have been lower. His chart is an orange nightmare. He was comfortably the worst-performing forward on the team this year. If he wasn’t a center, I don’t think he would’ve been in the lineup. The team just didn’t have many other options to play that fourth line center role.
He’s a restricted free agent this summer and I would not be surprised to see the team move on from him. If he does come back next year, I expect him to receive some competition for his roster spot in camp.
That brings us to Adam Erne and Anthony Cirelli. Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde were the two big breakout players this year. But Cirelli was right behind them. His numbers in his limited time this year were outstanding. He probably won’t score the way he did in the regular season but he looks like a player who will drive play and have positive shot impacts.
His ceiling will be determined by his scoring. He seems like a lock to be the third line center for the Lightning next year but if he shows more of a scoring touch, he could force his way into the top six in the future.
For Erne, this season was surely a disappointment. He didn’t play poorly. In his opportunities, he played well. He didn’t generate much offense but he was excellent defensively. Unfortunately for him, he suffered an injury just as he was becoming a regular in the lineup. Cirelli’s emergence crowds the picture a bit more and Erne will likely have to compete for a spot in Tampa during camp.
Of all the options currently on the roster, he seems likely to secure that spot unless a player like Mathieu Joseph or Alex Volkov looks ready to make the jump next year. Callahan’s injury will also likely open a spot that will create more room on the roster early in the year. Kunitz and/or Paquette not returning would also increase Erne’s chances of finding a permanent spot with the Lightning.
Forward depth is a point of strength for the Lightning organization. They took a bit of hit in that area over the last year by trading Vlad Namestnikov, Brett Howden, and Jonathan Drouin for defensive help. But even after those trades, they maintain an impressive amount of talent at forward. Gourde and Killorn would be in most teams’ top sixes. Anthony Cirelli has that kind of potential as well.
Next year’s third and fourth lines will be a bit different. Kunitz probably won’t be back. Paquette is a question mark. Callahan will start the season hurt. Other players will get opportunities to earn those spots. Chances are, we’ll be writing about someone new at this time next year who forced his way on to the roster and took the next big step in his career. Will it be Mathieu Joseph? Alex Volkov? Someone else? We’ll start to get an idea when camp opens this fall.