Superlatives for the Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-2018 Regular Season
Since award pieces are being thrown around, here are my completely useless and arbitrary awards for the Lightning!
The regular season came to a close on Saturday for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a season that will be looked back upon as very successful. The team set franchise records in wins, points, goals, goaltender wins, and goaltender shutouts, good for the greatest regular season the Lightning organization has ever seen (that whole Stanley Cup thing is an entirely different matter).
Because of this, I believe it’s time to assign awards to the players who have made this team an exciting and captivating one to watch.
For this exercise, I’ll be listing the category for the award followed by the candidates. I will then proclaim who, in my opinion, deserves the award.
Arbitrariness and homer-ism likely included.
Rookie of the Year
Candidates - Mikhail Sergachev, Yanni Gourde, Anthony Cirelli
Winner - Yanni Gourde
Yanni Gourde was called up late last season after a rash of injuries decimated the Lightning’s forward corps. He showed us during his call-up then that he could be an impact player, however, I was a bit skeptical about how explosive he could become (I was still a fan, though).
Gourde has blasted onto the scene with 25 goals, 39 assists, and 64 points for the season, the most points for a rookie in franchise history and tied for most goals. He has a positive shot share at 52% while starting only 44% of his shifts in the offensive zone. This illustrates that Gourde is used a little more defensively than others on the team and he still pushes play the other direction.
Some might want to bring up Mikhail Sergachev as a possible winner of this award, however, that argument falls apart once you look a little deeper into his numbers. Sergachev has slightly better shot share at 53%, but starts an overwhelming number of his shifts in the offensive zone (70%). Sergachev has been highly sheltered this season (for good reason). Their 5v5 ice time is roughly equal, but Gourde has been used on the penalty kill and power-play, whereas Sergachev has seen zero penalty kill time. This isn’t to discount what Sergachev has accomplished this season—he’s been great, but Gourde edges him for this award.
I’ve said it many times on Twitter and in recaps: Gourde doesn’t stop skating, period. He (and Brayden Point) embody the mantra of “forecheck, forecheck, forecheck.” Gourde is one of the first skaters in the offensive zone to chase a defender and cause havoc, and he’s also the first one back into the defensive zone to negate an offensive chance for the opponents. Yanni Gourde for life, folks.
Candidates - Yanni Gourde, Vladislav Namestnikov, J.T. Miller
Winner - J.T. Miller
All right, I couldn’t give Gourde another award (because in all honesty he is the surprise contributor), and I had to get Russian Bieber in here. However, the real surprise that a lot of us were not expecting was J.T. Miller, who burst onto the Tampa Bay scene with an offensive jolt.
Miller is a three-time 20-goal scorer and 50-point player in the NHL, and he’s only 24 years old. Miller was seen as a thrown-in at the trade deadline for the Tampa Bay Lightning. In return, Tampa Bay sent Vladislav Namestnikov (20 goals, 24 assists at the time) to New York for what was essentially a one-for-one swap (the picks and prospects are viewed as the pieces for McDonagh). At the time of the trade, Namestnikov was the more productive player (barely). Miller (13 goals, 27 assists at the time) was seen as an offensively gifted player who couldn’t get the right ice-time or production going in the Big Apple.
Since arriving in Tampa Bay, Miller has 18 points in 19 games (10 goals, 8 assists) marking a career high in points (58) and tying his career high in goals (23). He’s been a lock on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, thus pushing other players like Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat deeper into Tampa Bay’s forward corps. This allows Jon Cooper plenty of matching options on three different lines to wreak havoc on opponents. Additionally, Miller has the second highest shot-share percentage on the team since arriving in Tampa Bay with 54% (Alex Killorn leads the team at 54.81%), and his impact with Stamkos and Kucherov cannot go understated. He’s added an entirely different element to that line that Namestnikov was not suited for.
A lot of fans, and even us at Raw Charge, were not expecting this kind of production and impact from Miller when he arrived. He will more than likely cool off as time progresses, but his inclusion on the team will only help the Lightning moving forward.
Candidates - Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson
Winner - Brayden Point
Somehow, even with a 32-goal 66-point season, Brayden Point is still not getting talked about enough. He gets mentioned every once in a while in the media and they acknowledge that he’s a good player, but it’s always more of a fleeting mention rather than actual praise. AND DAMMIT I’M GONNA PRAISE ME SOME BRAYDEN POINT!
Point has the 12th-highest shot-share percentage on the team at 52%, while having his zone starts be nearly even (49% offensive zone starts). He plays in every situation possible, forechecks/backchecks like a madman, has scored 31 goals and 65 points, and is the de facto shutdown center of the Lightning—at 22 years old. Who is it nearly every night who gets the starting faceoff (and assignment) against the Connor McDavid’s, Auston Matthew’s, Anze Kopitar’s, Claude Giroux’s, Nathan MacKinnon’s, Taylor Hall’s, and Patrice Bergeron’s of the NHL and consistently limits their offensive production? Brayden freaking Point.
All due respect to Kucherov and Stamkos for their stellar seasons (both have 60%+ offensive zone starts), but no one does what Point does in comparison to his competition at Tampa Bay.
Let’s compare one of the greatest defensive forwards in the game today, Patrice Bergeron, to Point.
Point vs Bergeron
|Player||Team||Position||GP||TOI||G||A||P||CF%||GF%||xGF%||PENT||iPEND||P+/-||iSh%||PDO||ZSR||TOI% QoT||CF% QoT||TOI% QoC||CF% QoC|
Brayden Point is a spectacular player who is almost as effective as Patrice Bergeron, yet no one even mentions him in the same breath. #FutureSelkeWinner
Most Valuable Player
Candidates - Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Andrei Vasilevskiy
Winner - Andrei Vasilevskiy
I don’t think I need to explain this. This team wouldn’t be where they are without the play of Vasilevskiy. When Tampa Bay was at their peak during the first half of the season it was due to Vasilevskiy portraying the Great Wall of China on the ice. Here are his save percentages for the first three months of the season:
October - 0.923
November - 0.939
December - 0.945
Vasilevskiy has struggled over the second half of the season (0.903 overall since the start of 2018), and there are a variety of reasons why. Nonetheless, his absolutely stellar play from the first half of the season are why the Lightning are in their current position. Yes, even if he was league average the Lightning would still be a good team, but when he elevates his play to the level we saw at the start of the season he becomes a terror to opposing shooters.
When the players themselves proclaim that he is their MVP, then it’s something everyone should listen to.
The Player Everyone Thought Was Not Great, But Who Ended Up Being Not Bad At All
Candidates - Dan Girardi, ... Dan Girardi, Dan Girardi
Winner - Dan Girardi
I wrote about this signing in the offseason and was one of many who were not thrilled. That being said, I am happy that Girardi has proven most of us wrong. He’s had his struggles at times, but overall, we can’t be upset with his play. He’s been given a role in the middle of the defensive rotation and has done a solid job (which is far more than most of us expected).
However, before the Girardi truthers come at me, he is still not a great shot-share player and is one of three Lightning defenders under 50% (the other two being Slater Koekkoek and Braydon Coburn). He also provides little offensive punch from the blueline (which isn’t his role, and that’s perfectly fine).
Conversely, he has been a welcome addition the locker room and is another piece of the “former Rangers” crew of snowbirds that now inhabit the Lightning roster. It’s always difficult to quantify “intangibles” in a player, but many in the hockey world hold it in very high regard. There are examples that display both the error of this mentality and the success of it as well. Girardi has repeatedly proven many of us wrong as the season has progressed. Here’s to hoping he continues this trend for the remainder of his contract.
“ARE YA READY KIDS?”
“AYE AYE CAPTAIN!”
“ I CAN’T HEAAAAAAR YOUUUUUU!”
“AYE AYE CAPTAIN!”
“OHHHHHHHHH, WHO LOOKS SO DASHING WITH VICTOR HEDMAN?”
“HE PLAYS THE RIGHT SIDE AND IS A NORRIS DEFENSEMAN?”
“IF UNFAIR DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS BE SOMETHING YOU WISH!”
“THEN PRAY TO THE GODS THAT MELNYK REMAINS FOOLISH!”
“OH ERIK PLEASE COME TO TAMPA BAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYY!”
...It could’ve been us but u playin’.
(I regret nothing)