The Tampa Bay Lightning have played 70 games this season. No one knows if they’ll play any more. Under normal circumstances, we use each increment of ten games during the season as an opportunity to step back and look at how the team is playing. So when the NHL rightfully paused the season due to COVID-19, I was in the middle of compiling this report.
Like a lot of things in life recently, I also hit pause. It has taken some time to settle in to what is, with no exaggeration, a new reality. Even in the wafer-thin slice of that reality occupied by sports blogging, we have to figure out what this looks like. We don’t have games to cover. We don’t have news to cover. This isn’t like the offseason where we know the mile markers. This is new.
But something we can do is try to get a clear understanding of where things stand as the NHL is on hold. If I had to bet, I would guess we’ve seen the last of the 2019-2020 season. So in a couple months, this article might retroactively end up being a season recap. Or, if my innate pessimism proves to be misguided, this might be an article to reference as a refresher on what we thought about this team after 70 games.
If the season does resume, who knows what will happen. Hockey is an inherently unpredictable sport so projecting what will happen after teams haven’t played in months would be even more a fool’s errand than projecting outcomes under normal circumstances. The Tampa Bay Lightning team that emerges from a two month quarantine could look meaningfully different on the ice than the one that just played 70 games together.
But with even more uncertainty than normal, let’s check in on how the team was playing when the games stopped. Even if we don’t know where we’re going, we can at least have some fun looking back on where we’ve been.
As in all of these reports, the data come from Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey. All 5v5 data is adjusted for venue (home/away) and score. In this first plot, the bars represent the full season, the orange dots are the last ten games, and the gray dots are the ten games before that.
On the whole, the team still has a strong statistical profile. But the last ten games were one of the weaker stretches for the team this season. Their defensive game remained strong but they cratered offensively. Both in terms of shot volume and shot quality, the team was well below their season totals resulting in poor expected goal generation.
The other bugaboo was one that has been an issue all season: goaltending. Both at 5v5 and on the penalty kill, the goalies gave up more goals than expected. Poor goaltending combined with a lack of offense is a recipe for losing, which the Lightning did frequently, winning just three of their last ten games.
On special teams, the offensive struggles carried over to the power play. The penalty kill continued to hover around average where it’s been for most of the season.
With an understanding of how the team has played as a whole, we can move on to the individual players. The following heat map shows how each player has performed in key metrics. Blue indicates grading well in that area and orange the opposite.
For the recently acquired players, I’ve only included their games with the Lightning as opposed to whole season. This has the disadvantage of being too few games to draw any meaningful conclusions but has the advantage of letting us take a quick look at how they’ve fit in Tampa so far.
The early returns aren’t great. Both Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow have had slight negative impacts as play drivers and neither has scored much at all. Coleman has a nice WAR but that’s probably due to some shooting percentage luck while he’s been on the ice.
This is a big departure for both players who posted exceptionally strong defensive numbers with their previous teams. A handful of games shouldn’t change anyone’s perception of a player’s ability and our evaluation of them should remain what it was at the time of the trade until they’ve played a lot more games with the Lightning. But neither has gotten off to a fast start.
Meanwhile, on defense, the signing of Zach Bogosian seems to have worked out well. While he’s been rough to watch at times, his numbers in aggregate have been positive. He filled a need when the team was short on defensive depth but whenever Lightning hockey resumes, he should find himself at least seventh on the depth chart behind the clear top five and Jan Rutta who likely would have returned to the ice by now.
Outside of the new acquisitions, the rest of the team continues to chug along much as they have all season. Brayden Point is still having one of the best seasons of any player in the NHL and should be getting Hart Trophy attention. Victor Hedman should be in the Norris Trophy conversation again this year.
Moving on from the skaters, we already flagged the goalies as having a rough stretch in the last ten games. The following chart shows their cumulative goals saved above expected for the full season. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the blue line and Curtis McElhinney is the orange.
In the previous version of this report, we discussed the upward trajectory of Vasilevskiy and how he was threatening to climb back to the zero line after struggling during the first half of the season. That trend flipped as the Lightning starter had another stretch of bad games before recovering. But that dip likely ended any chance he had of getting back into above average for this season. It would have taken a remarkable effort in his final eight or nine starts to get back on the positive side.
Curtis McElhinney continues to hover right around the zero line. As we’ve discussed all season, that’s perfectly fine for a backup. Compare that with Louis Domingue who has allowed over ten goals more than expected and the Lightning front office should be feeling good about their decision to upgrade in that area this offseason.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are a good hockey team. They showed that again in the 2019-2020 season. Whether they get a chance to follow these 70 games with a playoff run remains to be decided.
I’m not sure how to end this report other than to be uncertain. Normally I would write something about how in just a few weeks, the real games will start. About how now is the time to get Coleman and Goodrow comfortable for a playoff run. But none of those things is applicable.
Instead, now is a time to wait. We wait to see if the regular season will resume. That seems almost impossible. We wait to see if the playoffs will happen. That seems decreasingly likely. We wait to see if the draft, free agency, or next season will follow their typical course. Any of those would be welcome signs that we’ve made enough progress on the serious problems to start playing sports again. Until that happens, we wait.