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Looking back at some Tampa Bay Lightning predictions

In September and October, there are a lot of predictions and previews bandied about in regards to how the the season will turn out. Most publications make these picks and then forget about them. Not so here at Raw Charge. We dig through the archives and dust off how bad we (and by we I mean just myself) are at predicting an unpredictable sport.

Here is the original post, posted on October 5th. Things were so different in those days. We greatly feared Dan Girardi wreaking havoc on the defense. Steven Stamkos’ knee was a huge question mark and we were convinced a slow start would doom Jon Cooper.

Prediction Number 1:  Will Nikita Kucherov score forty or more goals this year?

My prediction – Kucherov ends up with 35 goals and 90 points.

Final numbers: I wasn’t that far off. The Russian finished with 39 goals and 100 points. My reasoning was that having Stamkos back would hurt Kucherov’s goal production on the power play. It did! He went from 17 power play goals to 8 with Stamkos picking up 15 with the man advantage.

Kucherov’s assist numbers went way up as well – from 45 to 61, including a huge increase from 15 to 28 on the power play.  The duo spent the entire year together on the top power play unit and were deadly when they were allowed to pass the puck cross-ice to each other. Which is obvious since they are both insanely accurate with their one-timers.

Despite having his running mate with him and poaching goals, if it wasn’t for a late-season slump (2 goals in his last 10 games), Kucherov would have easily eclipsed the 40 goal mark. Still, he didn’t get there so I consider this a correct prediction.

Prediction Number 2:  Will Mikhail Sergachev play in more than 40 games?

My prediction:  Sergachev appears in 70 games this season. There will be a mid-season slump where he is a healthy scratch, but will bounce back and help the team down the stretch.

Woo-hoo.  I was pretty spot on with this one. Sergachev appeared in 79 games while being a healthy scratch right before the All-Star break. The rookie exceeded all expectations as a 19-year-old playing his first full season in the NHL. He ended up with 40 points on 9 goals and 31 assists (only 6 fewer points than Jonathan Drouin) while finding time on the second power play.

He played like a rookie, mixing flashes of brilliance with the occasional bone-headed play. Coach Cooper managed his minutes fairly well, putting him in situations where he could succeed while sheltering him from some of the more difficult assignments. That is a luxury afforded by having Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman on the roster.

There was a stretch when it was obvious that he hit a bit of a wall. He was struggling on the ice and was visibly frustrated. Hence the healthy scratch. It was a nice opportunity for him to clear his head and watch the game from a different perspective. What did he learn?

He told the Tampa Bay Times:

”You’ve got to be consistent every game, every shift. When you’re not playing well, you’ve got to work through it. Don’t get frustrated; don’t think about it too much. There’s a lot of games in the season and the playoffs, and you’ve just got to play harder. If you get inconsistent, there’s a lot of good players that can execute plays and make you look bad.”

While his offense didn’t return to the high levels he achieved in the first half of the season, his defensive coverage improved. He still picked up enough points to finish as the second-highest scoring defenseman on the roster.

Sergachev showed the offensive potential that made him such an attractive return in the Drouin trade. He also showed a bit of feistiness that wasn’t expective. Despite being a teenager, he showed that he wasn’t going to be pushed around by some of the older players in the league.

The best news is that based on everything we saw this season, he’s only going to get better. As his ice time grows (he only averaged 15 minutes a game), so will his impact on the game. Having Hedman and Sergachev eating up minutes for the next few years is a very enticing prospect.

Two for two in predictions!

Prediction Number 3: Does Vladislav Namestnikov end the season with the Lightning?

My prediction: despite a season full of trade speculation (including a bizarre Namestnikov for John Carlson rumor at the deadline), the Russian Bieber finally breaks through and earns his spot on the Nikita Stamkov line. Steve Yzerman then signs him to the mandatory 7 year $4.5 AAV million contract on July 1st.

Did he earn his spot on the line? Yes, for most of the season. Did he end the season with the Lightning or get the extension? Nope.  Well, I guess I can’t be perfect in these predictions.

During the Lightning’s red-hot start to the season, the “Stamkov” (editor’s note: Namestnikucheramkos) line was really clicking. Namestnikov was literally in the middle of all of the action picking up 44 points in 62 games with the top line. Of those 44 points, only 6 were acquired on a goal that didn’t involve either Stamkos or Kucherov.

Unfortunately, in order to get something you have to give up something in today’s NHL. When Mr. Yzerman went hunting for defense, part of the price he paid for Ryan McDonagh was Namestnikov. So instead of finishing the season in Lightning blue and white, he ended his year in Rangers blue and white. It’s now on New York’s management to decide if he’s worth a contract extension.

Prediction Number 4: Who ends up with more points –  [Slater Koekkoek] [Dan Girardi] or [Andrej Sustr]?

My prediction: Girardi leads the way with 20 points. He simply ends up getting more ice time than the other two to win the scoring race.

That was a very generous use of the phrase “scoring race”.  I was pretty close as Girardi finished with 18 points and led the trio in ice time with an average of 17:23 per game. He did everything that he needed to do to be successful this season. It also helped that he ended up paired with Hedman over most of the end of the season.

Sustr is a player who saw his playing time disappear as the season wore on. He added 7 points in 44 games (but only 6 in March and April) and was one of the players most affected by the acquisition of McDonagh.  The mark of 300 games is generally held to be the standard by which we can determine what kind of defenseman will be in the NHL. Sustr is at 318 games played so we pretty much know who he is going to be. And that seems to be a bottom-pairing defenseman. He isn’t going to improve much over what we’ve seen over the last two years so in all likelihood his days in a Lightning uniform are over.

For Koekkoek, it was another lost season. He had 8 points in 35 games but didn’t see much ice time in the second half of the season. And when he did play, he was used sparingly. Will any of that change moving forward? Most likely, no. There is the possibility that if Sustr is cut loose, Koekkoek could have the opportunity to eat up those minutes.

There really isn’t anyone in Syracuse that is banging on the door to get called up to fill the hole in defense. The free agent market isn’t likely to bring in an above-replacement level player either.

On the other hand, Koekkoek is still relatively young. He’s only 24 and is still a restricted free agent. He might be a decent trade chip for Mr. Yzerman to move at the draft in order to recap a draft pick or two.

Another successful prediction, albeit a rather meaningless one.

Bonus predictions!

Stanley Cup WInner:

My prediction: No idea, but it’s not the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Vegas Golden Knights.

Well….at least I’m half right so far.

Moment when someone writes a “Vegas Might Sneak Into the Playoffs” post

My Prediction: November 18th

Look. Let me join the rest of the NHL press in stating that no one seriously thought the Golden Knights would make it to the playoffs, let alone the Stanley Cup finals. At best they might be competitive and in competition for a wild card spot.  Even their owner was looking to only lose games by one or two goals instead of getting blown out.

Instead they defied expectations and never stopped winning.

Art Ross:

My Prediction: Sidney Crosby outscores Connor McDavid

I thought Sidney had one more league-leading season left in him. Maybe the back-to-back long Stanley Cup runs wore him down a little, or the Penguins spread the offense out a little better, but the race wasn’t even close.

McDavid put together a heck of a season with a lackluster cast of teammates by scoring 41 goals and adding another 67 assists for a career-high 108 points. It’s his second 100 point season in a row and was enough to capture the Art Ross this season.

Is Crosby’s reign as the best player in the league over? Quite possibly. That doesn’t mean he isn’t going to be an impact player for many seasons to come, but for now, McDavid is wearing the crown.

The Lightning’s season

My prediction: The Lightning return to the playoffs

I actually nailed this one (only because I slightly punted). To be exact, I wrote “there are some struggles somewhere around January or February, because we all know that this team doesn’t do anything the easy way. In the end, they finish first in the Atlantic and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals again.”

They finished first in the Atlantic! They struggled a bit in January and February (and March) and they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals! Not bad if I say so myself. I wasn’t sure if they would win in the ECF so I basically didn’t include that in the prediction.

If, in October, we could assure you that the Lightning would be playing in a Game 7 to decide who goes to the Stanley Cup Final, I’m sure that 99% of the fans reading this would have taken it. Unfortunately, the Lightning didn’t win the game and that set off a torrent of negativity across the social media universe. Still, it ended up being a fairly successful season on all accounts.

There is a whole summer of drafts, signings and trades to look forward to this off-season. While a major overhaul is unlikely, I’m sure Mr. Yzerman has a few deals up his sleeves to make this team better. Once he’s done his work we’ll get back to our job of figuring out what it all means. Until then, enjoy your summer!

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