Should The Tampa Bay Lightning Be Concerned?

Stammer

Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

 

The Tampa Bay Lightning are seen as one of the most talent rich teams in all of hockey. They have superb scoring ability with the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point. They have some great defensemen in Ryan McDonough and the 2018 Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman. On top of all of that, they have the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy. Oh and don’t forgot about their young players as well. They have rising stars such as an unbelievable two-way forward in Anthony Cirelli and promising defensemen in Erik Cernak along with Mikhail Sergachev.  These are just a handful of the puzzle pieces that head coach Jon Cooper has to play with. Most NHL teams would give up tons of capital in order to assemble just half of those players on one team. However, Jon Cooper has yet to hoist a cup. His team seems to be skidding from the outside looking in to start off the season. Is this cause for concern? Or is the hockey community as a whole doing a disservice to the Lightning and setting the bar too high? We’ll dive a bit deeper and look at the raw numbers.

Numbers With Context

The Tampa Bay Lightning had one of the best seasons in NHL history in their 2018-2019 campaign. Anybody who followed the Lightning will appreciate just how good of a season the Bolts had. Take away all of the sheer numbers that in fact confirm how great the Lightning were. Just on the eye test alone, the Lightning looked as if they were playing NHL 19 on rookie mode throughout the season. They toyed with opponents on both specialty units and weren’t too shabby five-on-five as well. Still, many will remember the season for the way it ended. Instead, I suggest you remember just how dominant this team was. That said, lets look into how the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 team compare through ten games.

2018-2019 (10 Games): 7-2-1, 15 points

2019-2020 (10 Games): 5-3-2, 12 points

Looking at just pure standings numbers, we see pretty clearly that the Lightning aren’t too far from last years figures. Even without proper context, we see that only three points separate both teams. Add in the fact that if the Lightning would’ve won only one of their OTL’s we would only see a one point difference. Now, if we extrapolate a little further we see that through ten games in 18′-19′ the Lightning played at home one more time. Dive even deeper, and according to Hockey-reference.com, the Lightning have the toughest strength of schedule so far. This contrasts the 2018-2019 season when they had the second easiest strength of schedule.

Odd Stat Out

We see that these two teams are similar statistically. However, what gives? To me this is a two-parter and it involves goals against, along with the Lightnings’ special teams play. The Lightning so far have given up 32 goals against. On the other side of the rink, they’ve potted 34 goals for. Both of these measures aren’t terribly bad or terribly good compared with the rest of league. However, the biggest drop-off has been the Bolts’ special teams play. They currently rank 10th in the NHL for power play percentage at 24%. This isn’t too far off of the 2018-2019 percentage through the first 10 games when they were at 26%. The glaring stat is that of the teams’ penalty kill. Currently in that stat they rank 28th in the NHL. Last year the Lightning boasted the regular season’s best penalty kill.

The Final Verdict

Listen up fellow Bolts fans. The Lightning are and will continue to be a talented and well coached team. How will they finish? Will they make the playoffs? Will Stammer, Kuch, and Heddy finally hoist a cup? I cannot see into the future, therefore I cannot answer any of these questions. I do however know that the panic button should by no means be pushed. Jon Cooper’s seat is nice and frosty and his team is prepared to strike. As we see above, statistically the Lightning are not far off from last years historic season through ten games. A little deflection here and a stop there and the Tampa Bay Lightning are still seen as the league’s biggest threat. All the Bolts need to do is stop committing costly penalties, have a sharper penalty kill, and tighten up defensively as a whole.

 

 

Wednesday Night Hockey

It’s Wednesday boys! You know what that means. That’s right, there’s going to be plenty of fun hockey on tap. Tonight we have a great evening of games that really highlight two very different tales of the tape. Up first at 7:30 ET we have the Detroit Red Wings facing off against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. Shortly after the puck drops in Ottawa we have a clash between two of the flashiest teams in the league in Tampa Bay. At 8:00 ET we have the Geno Malkin-less Penguins going to battle against the star studded Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.

Detroit Red Wings Vs. Ottawa Senators

Ehh…well this one might be a bit of a snooze fest huh boys? Oh well though cause you know we love the game regardless of who’s playing here at VFTPB. This game features quite the contrast from the 8 o’clock showdown down in Tampa. This won’t stop these teams from these putting it all on the line in this one. Both teams are trying to find an identity, but quite frankly I think everyone can see what those identities are from the outside. These are two young teams that are in the process of rebuilding.

The Red Wings couldn’t have picked a better GM to bring them back to hockey in the summer. You better believe Wings legend himself Steve Yzerman will absolutely put these guys back on track. He made his message loud and clear this offseason right off the bat drafting a surprise pick in German defenseman, Moritz Seider. Were many people surprised, especially with the amount of talent still on the board? of course. Was I? no. Being a Tampa native I know better than anyone that everyone out there ought not question Stevie Y. He will be bold but he will, in the long term, make this franchise the franchise they used to and should be.

In the offseason the Ottawa Senators took a bit of a similar angle to Detroit and drafted Finnish defenseman Lassi Thomson. These moves make sense as both teams bled goals against all year long last year. The Wings gave up 277 goals while Ottawa gave up a league high 302!

Currently while both teams are still in the Atlantic division cellar, they’ve at least somewhat improved. Neither are the worst in goals-against in the Atlantic, with the Toronto Maple Leafs taking that cake. However, both teams have the worst two goals-for total. It’ll be interesting to see which team will prevail when the early candidate for stinker game of the year comes to Ottawa.

Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Now this is going to be an absolute fun one to watch. At 6-4 the Pittsburgh Penguins may not look peak pens, but they look solid. They started the year off 6-2 before finally seeing the effects of losing star forward Evgeni Malkin catch up to them. However, they’ve shown flashes so far this season hinting that they’re determined to put last year behind them. Sidney Crosby is throwing backhanders into the net every night and Kris Letang looks to be playing extremely confident. While they’ll miss Malkin’s scoring prowess, you’ve gotta believe that the penguins will stay focused. They look to improve to 7-4 down in Tampa Bay after dropping a frustrating 4-2 game to the Florida Panthers.

On the other side of the face-off dot we have the Tampa Bay Lightning. Did the absolute wagon of all wagons lose its wheels and fly off a cliff last year? Yes. Don’t worry though Bolts fans, you signed Patty Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk in the offseason. Everything’s peachy right? Um probably not. The Tampa Bay Lightning have looked out of sorts through eight games. At times they look like a powerhouse, steamrolling through Toronto and Montreal. Other times they put up stinkers like they did Saturday night to Colorado Avalanche. Can they shut out the noise and stay motivated to put wins up on the board? We’ll see tonight when the Bolts look to improve to 5-3-1.

Introducing Views From The Penalty Box

Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty, left, takes a swing at Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk during third-period NHL hockey game action in Calgary, Alberta, Monday, March 25, 2019. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

From the makers of the popular “The Challenge Flag” blog, we present: Views From The Penalty Box. This fun and interactive hockey community will cover absolutely everything from advanced analytics to the funniest chirps of the week. It may not be very organized, but we’ll make damn sure that you’ll enjoy our insightful, yet delightful play on the best sport currently on TV in October (Don’t @ me)

Top 10 Players To Watch At The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine

It’s finally here! The NFL’s annual scouting combine will be held from Feburary 26th to March 4th inside of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. As exciting as each years draft may be, the combine always has huge implications on draft day. Some guys’ draft stock may rise, while others may drop. If you’d like to cut through the bulk of the week long process, tune into these players who I think will shine.

1. Kyler Murray

Everybody will be tuned in to watch Kyler sling the football around at the combine….or maybe not? According to the Associated Press, Kyler Murray has not yet decided which drills he will participate in at the combine. This has led many draft experts to wonder whether he’ll throw at all in the combine. Regardless, Murray is THE player to watch out for at the combine. We may not know what Kyler does in the future with football or baseball yet, however, we do know this guy can absolutely ball. He isn’t your ordinary dual-threat quarterback, and he proved that in his final year at Oklahoma, accumulating over 4,000 passing yards and 42 passing TDs. He can float balls with ease down the field and make touch throws right after. Oh and he can run pretty good for a quarterback as well.

Kyler Murray 67 Yard Touchdown Vs Texas Longhorns by NCAA Football Highlights


Need I say more?

2. Nick Bosa

Nick Bosa with the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2017

Bosa is the best prospect in this years draft and it’s really not even close. He’ll be a plug and play staple on whichever defense he plays on at the next level. Many draft experts think he may even be better coming out of Ohio State than his older brother, Joey. Using his speed alone, he beats tackles right at the line of scrimmage, but its his excellent ability and technique that puts him over the top. Put a tackle, tight end, running back or whatever you want in front of him, he’ll still blow by them. During his three years at Ohio State he piled up 17.5 sacks, 29.0 TFLs, and 2 FFs.

3. Josh Allen

Josh Allen during his time at the University of Kentucky in 2018

If your favorite team is in need of a pass rusher but isn’t in line for the first overall pick, Josh Allen is your guy. Allen is a guarenteed top 5 pick, and for good reason. During his time at Kentucky, Allen wasn’t just a good player. He took over games on defense and helped revitalize a football program at a school known for their athletes on the hardwood. In his four years at Kentucky, he got to opposing QB’s a ridicoulous 31.5 times with 17 of those sacks coming in his senior year. He also added 220 tackles, 42 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 11 forced fumbles, and 8 passes defended. In other words, this guy is an absolute monster.

4. Ed Oliver

Oliver defending the run against USF in 2017

I was tempted to put Rashan Gary here, but I have to give a shoutout to my Group of Five players instead. All jokes aside, Ed Oliver is a deserving possible top ten pick. The 2x All-American may be a tad undersized at DT but his stats at Houston are nothing to scoff at. He is a speedy, yet powerful rusher at the defensive tackle position. As a true freshman he accumulated 5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss and never looked back. Sure, there was some drama surrounding him during his senior year, but that shouldn’t affect his draft stock. He will look to show scouts just how irresistible and hard to find his traits are at this years scouting combine.

5. D.K Metcalf

Ole Miss Wide Reciever D.K Metcalf

*insert insane picture of D.K Metcalf here*

I once wondered why D.K Metcalf was rated so much higher than his Ole Miss counterpart A.J Brown. I found out quickly why. Freakish traits aside, D.K Metcalf playmaking ability pops off the screen. Whenever a reciever can combine height and athletism, scouts seem to follow them. D.K Metcalf can dust DBs or he can just jump over them in the endzone. Even though he was sidelined many times during his college career, he shined whenever he was on the field. This years highest rated pass catcher should impress just about anyone watching the combine.

6. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown

Marquise brown in the 104th Rose Bowl game

Pure speed. “Hollywood” Brown should provide us with eye-popping 40 yd dash times. Furthermore, Brown offers traits that quite literally every NFL team would want. If your team is in need of a deep threat weapon like Brown, and don’t want to pay Desean Jackson loads of money, draft this man. During his time at OU Brown dusted defensive backs on his way to an impressive 2,413 yds and 17 TDs line in only two years.

7. Josh Jacobs

Jacobs in the 2019 CFP National Championship game

Jacobs is a uber-talented running back that everyone should’ve already been paying attention to. He should make headlines at the combine and further prove why he’s a legitimate first round talent. Jacobs hasn’t had the production that you’d like from a first round talent (he played at talent rich Bama), but his tape speaks for itself. The junior running back doesn’t just run well. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield, return punts/kicks, and block for his teammates. His Alvin Kamara-like qualities should bring NFL scouts to Indy with the name Josh Jacobs underlined.

8. Andreaz “Greedy” Williams

Williams playing against Florida in 2018

Greedy is an interesting prospect that many scouts want to see more of. Since his final game at LSU, Williams’ draft stock has fluctuated a ton. The combine should give us a little bit of a more clear view of how teams feel about him. There’s no doubt that Williams is the most talented and potential filled cornerback prospect of the draft. However, the sophmore defensive back has limited experience and had a large drop off in production after his freshman year.

9. Deandre Baker

Baker at the 2018 CFP National Championsip game

Deandre Baker is a much more experienced and consistent cornerback prospect than Greedy Williams. The only knock on Baker is that he’s significantly more undersized than Greedy. On top of that, while he did play in more games, he produced at a lower rate than Williams. Regardless, Baker is an NFL ready defensive back that should become a first round pick. If he performs well at the combine, Baker can ensure his spot as a first round talent.

10. Rodney Anderson

Anderson while still at the University of Oklahoma in 2018

With my final pick for who to watch out for at the 2019 NFL scouting combine, I offer up a wild card. Anderson brings up red flags to most NFL teams as his college career was plauged by injuries. However, Anderson was a force of nature in his only full season. In 2017 Anderson rushed for over 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was also great at catching the football, doing so 17 times for 281 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2017. This years combine is absolutely critical for Anderson, and his fight to improve his injury-prone image.

Cleveland Takes a Chance on Kareem Hunt

Kareem Hunt with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018

Kareem Hunt is heading back home to Cleveland. The former Kansas City Chiefs running back signed a one year prove-it deal according to ESPN. Earlier today NFL insider Ian Rapoport tweeted the following in regards to contract details:

There’s no doubt that the former Toledo Rockets star is happy to be back in his hometown and playing football again on sundays. However, Hunt is still currently on the commissioner’s exempt list until further discipline is determined. The Browns have nothing to lose with signing him to a one year deal. If Hunt proves that he’s still the former rushing yards leader that he was, the Browns win. However, if the NFL hands down a harsh suspension, they can easily cut ties with little to no impact on their cap space. The Browns hope he can replicate his numbers before his release from the Chiefs. According to Yahoo Sports, in 2018 Hunt rushed for 824 yds and 7 TDs in only 11 games played.

Hunt already expressed his remorse on an ESPN interview he recorded soon after a video of him pushing and kicking a woman was released by TMZ. After signing with the Browns, he once again apologized according to Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

“First off, I would like to once again apologize for my actions last year. What I did was wrong and inexcusable,” Hunt said in a statement. “That is not the man I was raised to be, and I’ve learned a great deal from that experience and certainly should have been more truthful about it after the fact. I’m extremely grateful that John Dorsey, Dee and Jimmy Haslam and the Cleveland Browns organization are granting me the opportunity to earn their trust and represent their organization in the best way possible on and off the field. I am committed to following the necessary steps to learn and to be a better and healthier person from this situation. I also understand the expectations that the Browns have clearly laid out and that I have to earn my way back to the NFL. I’m a work in progress as a person, but I’m committed to taking advantage of the support systems that I have in place to become the best and healthier version of myself.” 


NFL.com

This of course means that former Chiefs and current Browns GM John Dorsey is willing to take another chance on Hunt. It will be exciting to see how Hunt’s case with the NFL will develop and what role he will have behind running back Nick Chubb.

Draft Devin White Or Bust

The Tampa Bay Bucs must draft Devin White. Otherwise they will suffer from their perpetual bottom feeding tendencies. For me, the only two players I see worthy of being drafted fifth overall are Devin White or Ed Oliver. No question, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will either re-sign or franchise tag Donovan Smith. Love him or hate him, his experience is priceless for the Bucs. This is compounded even further when you consider having a rookie LT block for Jameis Winston. Is it tempting to move on from Smith? Absolutely. However, this year’s best LT coming out of college, Alabama’s Jonah Williams, isn’t one that has scouts salivating. A player who I think may be better, Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, will all but likely be taken before the Bucs make their pick. This places Devin White and Ed Oliver at the forefront of the Bucs’ draft board.

The case for Devin White:
Both of these horse ridin’ ballers are freaks on the football field. Although they have admittedly had their questionable incidents on and off the football field, both have moved on from the past. Regardless, new head coach Bruce Arians is probably the best coach possible to mold these young players. As Arians himself has said many times, this Buccaneer franchise will give young players second chances as long as they put the work in. At first glance it seems as if Oliver would be the easy choice. Oliver is a 2x All-American who has been dazzling scouts since he first stepped foot on the field at Houston. He has elite speed, power, and athleticism. The only problem is that so do most of the NFL’s future first rounders. What he lacks from Devin White’s resume is his level of competition. I could look past the conference that Oliver played in, if it wasn’t for his lack of size. Oliver weighs in around 290 pounds (maybe even less). This is what worries me the most about him. The former Cougars star dominated his level of competition, even while being an undersized defensive tackle. But can he do the same in the NFL? On the other hand, Devin White is a proven playmaker in the mother of all college football conferences. He registered over 120 tackles in two out of his three years at LSU. He also chipped in 8.5 career sacks, 28.5 TFL , 4 FF, and 1 INT during his time in Death Valley. His freakish production along with good size is what puts him over the top. Pair this with his insistence on playing in this year’s Fiesta Bowl and the Bucs have themselves a dedicated player at the head of their defense.

Devin White Highlights by Harris Highlights

Linebackers drafted Top 5 since 2010:
2011: Von Miller (OLB) 2nd Overall
2014: Khalil Mack (OLB) 5th Overall
2015: Dante Fowler (LB) 3rd Overall
According to NFL.com

Some may say that drafting Devin White at fifth overall would be a mistake but, I beg to differ. If Jason Licht can trade down and still pick his man, more power to him. Licht was able to do so last year with Vita Vea, but he must be more sure than ever this year. Even at fifth Devin White will fill the Bucs biggest hole possible: their desperate need for pure playmakers. Additionally, with the Bucs switching to a 3-4 base defense and with growing uncertainty with LB Kwon Alexander, they lack depth at the LB position. This year the Bucs cannot pick a potentially great player, they need an immediate impact player. In years prior I may have chosen Oliver over White due to potential. However, this year the Bucs need themselves a good ole’ Devin White.