The Tampa Bay Lightning season is over. With a long summer ahead of us, we’re going to hand out grades to each player on the roster. You did your part submitting your grades via the reader survey, and they are presented along with our writers’ grades. All told, about 360 of you submitted grades, which is less than last season, but that’s understandable considering how the season went. Follow along with the series through the month of May and share your thoughts in the comments.
Let’s get this out of the way right now - I ride or die for Alex Killorn. I confess an unabashed, biased support for the Harvard man. He may be my favorite current player on the roster. So yes, I was the lone writer on the staff to give him an “A”. I will not apologize for that. Nor will I hold it against GeoFitz for giving him a “C”. Alex Killorn is a polarizing player among the Lightning fan base. You folks giving him a “F”, let’s just agree to disagree.
Will Alex Killorn ever score 20 goals in a season? That seems to be the eternal question facing the seven year veteran. That questions is now quickly followed by another one - Does he have to score 20 goals in order to have had a “good” season? To answer the second question first - no.
Last season, Killorn posted a 40 points. He scored 18 goals. It was, in essence, a prototypical Killornian season. It was the sixth consecutive season that he has recorded between 36 and 47 points without topping 20 goals in any of them. The only difference this season is that his playing time dropped down below 16 minutes a game for the first time in his career. So, he scored at about the same amount he always has, but in less time on the ice. It’s obvious he’s becoming more effective!
While it’s just one season, Killorn might be more productive with less ice time. Eight years ago, the Baltimore Orioles called up a young lefthanded pitcher named Zack Britton (actually it was “Zach” Britton at the time, but that’s another story). He started 46 games over the next three seasons and was ok. Then they moved him to the bullpen and he spent the next three seasons as an elite reliever. Sometimes players are just better when they can focus for smaller amounts of time. Alex Killorn at 14 minutes a game may be more valuable than if he played 16 to 20 minutes a game.
No matter how many minutes a game he plays, Killorn plays every day. For the second consecutive year he played in all 82 games. Since his first full season (2013-14), he’s appeared in 479 games. That’s more than any other player for the Lightning over the same time period (Tyler Johnson is second with 455). He’s a known asset at a controlled cost which has value in today’s cap era league.
He is also, at least on the Lightning, no longer a top six forward. For the first in his career he spent the majority of his playing time stapled to Anthony Cirelli on one of the team’s bottom two lines. Considering the depth the team has up front, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise and honestly, that’s where he should bring the most value on the team.
Having a forward on the third or fourth line that can chip in 15-18 goals a season while playing responsible hockey is a pretty valuable commodity. Of course, it’s a lot more valuable at a $728,333 cap hit (Cirelli) as opposed to Killorn’s $4.45 million hit. That cap hit will hang around his neck until the end of the contract in 2023 (only four more seasons!) but for the 2018-19 season, it wasn’t that damaging to the Lightning.
As it moves forward, it should become less of a burden as well as long as he produces as he has. For one thing, the percentage of the cap it takes up should go down. Also, following next season, his No Trade Clause becomes a Limited No Trade Clause (he can submit a 16 team approved trade list). It’s not a great contract, but it’s far from the worst contract in the league (or on the team).
Judging a player’s performance on the ice by his contract is a tricky thing. Especially with the Lightning. Tampa Bay doesn’t really care how much a player makes. It doesn’t determine their minutes (or else Ryan Callahan would be playing 25 minutes a game). They are more concerned with how a player’s skill set meshes in their overall scheme. For Killorn, his abilities meshed fairly well as a role-playing winger on the Lighting’s shut down line.
He partnered pretty well with his two rookie line mates, Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph, providing some veteran experience to go along with their youthful energy. He forechecked well and was responsible in his own zone. He limited his mistakes and was able to score at a slightly higher pace than in the past.
He continued his streaky play in 2018-19. After posting 19 points in 29 games in November and December, he only recorded 18 over the final 42 games of the season. He scored five goals in eight games in December and then scored once in his next nineteen games. Streaky indeed.
Killorn did, however, post his first career hat trick on March 16th against Washington in what might be the greatest offensive night ever by a player wearing the new alternate black sweater.
As is typical with Killorn, the goals were almost by products of hard work and a dash of luck. The first one, he threw the puck in front of the net and it bounced off a defender and past the goaltender.
The second goal came off of a nice one-on-one rush. His move didn’t actually work the way he wanted to, but he was able to push Nick Jensen away from the puck and followed up his own rebound. The final goal he swoops in on a loose puck and fired it into empty net.
That streakiness wasn’t as detrimental to the Lightning offense as it might have been in previous seasons. With Killorn skating on the third or fourth line his offense wasn’t as necessary as it had been in the past. In fact, chipping in 18 goals as a fourth liner is a bit of a luxury for the team.
One thing that is not so luxurious is penalties. According to Evolving Hockey, Killorn took fifteen two-minute penalties but only drew eight. Prior to last season his differential was much more even. He also took penalties at about the same rate that he has been throughout his career, but since he was playing less, it impacted his value more. By Evolving Hockey’s WAR calculations, it cut his value by about a third - one of the biggest hits in the entire league.
The Lightning rely on him to be a penalty killer (he had the third most short-handed ice time for any Tampa Bay forward) and if he’s in the box due to his own infractions, it detracts from his value to the team.
Still, that’s drilling down pretty far into a season. Overall, Alex Killorn had the type of season the Lightning and their fans should expect from him. For him to finish with a “B” or “B-” grade is perfectly fine.
(Writer’s note - I can’t believe I made it 1,000 words without an “Alex Killorn falls down” joke.)
[Editor’s note - The previous note means you did not, in fact, make in 1,000 words without and “Alex Killorn falls down” joke.]