At some point in the next two days, the Tampa Bay Lightning will win its second consecutive Cup. It could be tonight, or maybe the Canadians have one last dream of death in them and send this series to Tampa Wednesday. It’s hockey, weird things happen, we’ve seen 0-3 returns, but that’s the end of it all except the stride. The Bolts will become the second team of this century to repeat as champions, and will cement their place as one of the best teams of this era. It is one of the best organizations of this era.
That last part seems to get lost a bit this spring (and now summer). Every time the Lightning strikes, you can hear a muffled murmur of grunts between those who leave in their wake. Here are a few – that the Lightning played the system causing Nikita Kucherov to miss the regular season, which kept him in line with the cap, only to throw him just into the playoffs for an unfair advantage.
Like most thoughts and complaints in hockey, it doesn’t hold much water. And what anyone else’s players and fans are really jealously waging is that their own teams weren’t so good at building the list.
First of all, it’s not as if they had kept Kucherov in a dark room hoping no one would see him all year. He had hip surgery, which isn’t exactly easy for a hockey player to deal with. Although Kucherov could have been muscular during the season on one side and been a shell of his own, opting for surgery is not just some holiday.
Which goes with the idea that Kucherov has a sort of advantage for not playing all year and then having to be cool for the playoffs while everyone else deals with the physical and mental effects of his pandemic season. . Kucherov leads the playoffs in points … which he also did last year. And he won an MVP the year before. It’s likely to be just as good. And getting on the road and falling in games at the playoff pace and not only keeping up but being the most notable player on the ice sometimes takes more than a smile. It should be more a test of his talents than some accusation of joining a race halfway through or something.
What made the Lightning is not new. The Falcons in 2015 used a broken collarbone for Patrick Kane, then the first contender for MVP, as a means to pass the hat on and acquire Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen (one of whom worked much better than the other) on on his way to a third cup in six years. Teams have forever played the Long Term Injury Reserve portion of the salary. The Lightning did better because they had better players.
What the conversation should be about is how impressive it is that the Lightning can be without an MVP level player, and still cruising in a playoff spot in a division that had two other Cup-worthy teams without having to come out of the second vigor. . Name another team that could do it. Take Sasha Barkov from the Panthers and they would stay scrapping for a playoff spot. The Knights have that kind of depth, and they’ve spent a good part of the season using 15 in-game skaters to stay under the cap. It’s no less the gameplay of the system than what the Lightning did, but you’ll feel less put up with it because it’s seen as a difficulty. They probably won’t help them maintain their levels against the Canadians in the third round, do they? Will Lightning be without an MVP for an entire season less of an obstacle?
The Lightning are here because they write or sign players not writing better than anyone. Ten of the skaters claiming the Cup some time this week have been drafted or signed off from college / juniors by the Lightning, including their entire top line. Or flee the teams in commercials, a fact that Canadians fans receive a first account of this series by watching Mikhail Sergachev. Or somehow rehabilitate veterans of other teams. Ryan McDonagh seemed absolutely finished in New York. David Savard was a glorified oaf in Columbus. Personally I cursed Jan Rutta’s name in Chicago until the asphyxiation. Blake Coleman was a useful, if not spectacular, half-six-year-old winger in New Jersey. Then he had a career year with Tampa, so of course he did.
Ah, and if Kucherov’s injury absence extended into the playoffs it wouldn’t have affected Andrei Vasilevskiy’s .938 save percentage.
No, this is all a testament to how the Lightning are just better managed at every level than any other team. Everyone will get their pound of meat at the end. The NHL salary cap comes for everyone, and this summer the Lightning will probably lose Tyler Johnson, or Yanni Gourde, or Sergachev, or some combination of those. But most teams that have the crunched cap don’t have two stops in the bag when they do.