Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Personally, I will be stuffing myself today and probably taking a nice, long nap on the couch. I hope that everyone out there is enjoying their day, too. With so much going on early in the season with the team struggling at times and the #FireCooper crowd raging on Twitter, I wanted to sit back and smell the roses a bit. Find ten things about the Tampa Bay Lightning that I’m thankful for. So in no particular order other than the order I come up with them in, here they are.
Brayden Point’s Contract
The struggle was real this summer. Sebastian Aho was signed to an offer sheet by the Montreal Canadiens and that was promptly matched by the Carolina Hurricanes. When that happened, we thought the bar had been set and we’d get through the glut of high end forwards coming off their ELCs rather quickly. But no, that wasn’t the case. Mitch Marner was making a lot of noise and asking for a lot of money. With Marner and the Toronto Maple Leafs staring at each other from a distance for months, it kept every one else from wanting to blink.
The dominoes finally fell though and everyone got finished up. The Lightning came in with the steal of the RFA frenzy though inking Brayden Point to a three year contract with a cap hit of $6.75 million. Sure, it means his next contract will be Kucherovesque in it’s size, but the Lightning have gotten themselves some breathing room and certainty over the next three seasons.
When you look at the other RFA deals signed, you can’t help but feel like the Lightning got the best deal.
- Mikko Rantanen, six years, $9.25 million
- Kyle Connor, seven years, $7.142 million
- Mitch Marner, six years, $10.893 million
- Timo Meier, four years, $6 million
- Matthew Tkachuk, three years, $7 million
- Patrik Laine, two years, $6.75 million
Rantanen and Marner are already getting Kucherov type money while the Lightning have delayed that for three seasons and can potentially lock up Point for longer. Meier’s is a year longer, but still expires as an RFA. He got $750,000 less per year than Point, but his career high is 30 goals and 66 points last season. Tkachuk got slightly more than Point and he has career highs of 34 goals and 77 points last season, which Point beat last year with 41 goals and 92 points. Laine got the same on a shorter term deal, though he’s an interesting case has he has 36, 44, and 30 goal seasons, but has a career high of 70 points.
So yeah, I’m thankful for Brayden Point’s Contract. It’s fair, it’s reasonable, and it works for the team to keep the core together a little while longer.
Steven Stamkos’s One-Timer
It was very fitting that his 400th career NHL goal was scored on a one-timer from his office. Alex Ovechkin might be the best goal scorer in the league, but no one matches Stamkos’ accuracy on the one-timer. Just like Ovechkin, every one knows it’s coming, but he still makes the shot and scores the goal time after time. He also started the season just outside the top 100 of all-time goal scorers, but has since moved up to 98th after becoming the 98th player to hit 400 goals. Evgeni Malkin should be joining him soon as the 99th as he sits at 394 career goals.
Al Murray and his scouting staff
Whether it was drafting Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, or Brayden Point, or making savvy trades and contract signings, Steve Yzerman often got the credit for the Lightning’s front office successes. But the man behind those drafting and developing successes is Al Murray. Yzerman’s contribution was identifying a talented scouting director, bringing him in, and helping to guide the vision for re-stocking the cupboard starting with the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. My point though is that there’s a lot of people that deserve credit for draft and development successes including the general manager, the scouting director, scouting staff, and the development and AHL coaches.
Murray had a lot of success with the Los Angeles Kings in their drafting. While he was the Director of Amateur Scouting for them, the Kings drafted some highly successful players including, but not limited to, Olli Jokinen, Joe Corvo, Lubomir Visnovsky, Michael Cammalleri, Dustin Brown, Brian Boyle, Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Quick. For the Lightning, he’s led drafts that selected Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Brayden Point. Not mentioned for either team are the multitude of depth players that have also made it to the NHL and contributed.
Hopefully Nikita Kucherov’s legacy will be more than just this but his no-shot shootout move will probably be part of it. Since he first did it, it’s been copied and repeated, and even just last week, we had another player in the KHL pull the move. As Engblom said when Kucherov did it the first time “OH NO HE DIDN’T JUST DO THAT!”
Anthony Cirelli’s Flow
In the yesteryear of hockey, it wasn’t uncommon to see players with mullets. The Flow was lauded and to be respected. Steven Stamkos even went through a phase when he let his hair grow out and had a nice flow going on. This year, Cirelli has decided to let The Flow grow.
I know that almost every fanbase will tell you they have the best anthem singer in the league. Well, I’m gonna same about Sonya Bryson. She has become as much a fixture of a home Lightning game as Thunderbug and the Tesla Coils. When she’s announced, she gets a big cheer from the crowd that rivals the players during the starting line up announcements.
Dan Girardi’s Sense of Humor
The past two seasons watching Dan Girardi during warm ups was always a hoot. He didn’t take warm ups too seriously, often joking and keeping things light, which was also his style in the locker room. He knew the right time to say something light to take the edge off. He had some fun quirks during warm ups too including shooting a puck down the ice at the opposing net always trying to get it in. When he made it, he’d raise his arms in celebration. But no matter what, he had a big smile on his face.
With him retired now, his sense of humor is missing from the locker room and the ice. But, we can still get a taste of it as he has started a Lightning produced podcast called “The Block Party with Dan Girardi” alongside veteran radio personality Seth Kushner. Go give it a listen!
Bobby “The Chief” Taylor, Phil Esposito, Rick Peckham, and Dave Mishkin
Lightning fans have been lucky enough to have these four wonderful personalities on their TVs and radios for a long time. Chief has moved out of the color commentary role on TV and moved to a studio role. That lets him spend more time at home, not have so much travel, and still give us his insights. Peckham has announced that he is retiring at the end of this season as the TV play-by-play person. Peckham is a consummate professional in the broadcast booth providing a balanced view of the game at a time when many fans might be going insane.
Mishkin’s trademarked goal calls are something every Lightning fan can love on the radio. I still get chills whenever I hear his call at the end of the Lightning winning the 2004 Stanley Cup. Espo, the founder, the reason we have hockey in Tampa Bay. He is a hockey lifer, he lives for it, and he has so many stories that he could probably do an hour long podcast every week for a year and never repeat a story. I do wonder though when Espo might retire. He’s generally only doing home games now and Caley Chelios (whom I am also thankful for) has been working more on the road games, signaling to me that the team may be grooming her to take over for Espo when he does retire.
Thunderbug and Bug Handler
Walking around before games, it’s always fun to see Thunderbug out on Thunder Alley wandering around. Beside him is also someone wearing a jersey that says “BUG HANDLER” on the back which is just awesome. At some point, he’ll make his way to the stairs and take pictures with fans. Often times, it’ll be fans in opposing jerseys too. Thunderbug will relent and take a picture with them, but he usually has a little bit of fun with them before doing so.
And then there’s the pre-game festivities where Thunderbug comes out and bangs on the big bass drum for AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. He’s all over the Arena during games, hyping up the crowd. When we win, he’s on the ice to wave a Lightning fan. Gritty may get all of the attention on social media for antics, but Thunderbug is still my favorite mascot in all of sports and I am thankful for him!
Without a doubt, Vinik has been the best sports owner we’ve seen in Tampa Bay in a long time, maybe even ever. He does good work for the community. He’s developed land in the downtown area. He’s adopted Tampa as his new home. He’s also given the hockey side of the business the resources they needed to get to do their jobs, which wasn’t always the case in the past. He’s also smartly hired people to run both the hockey and business side of the franchise while not meddling too much. Suffice to say, he’s one of the best sports owners in any league.