TIOPS DAILY FIVE
*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*
1. The Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL’s highest scoring team in the regular season, punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals, ousting the Montreal Canadiens in six games. The Lightning came into the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s most complete team upfront and on the blueline in the East, but the major question mark was Ben Bishop in goal. The netminder answered the bell in Game 7 against the Red Wings in round 1 and carried that momentum into Round 2.
This marks the Lightning’s second trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in four years and this group has great sustaining power for the next several seasons as a top tier team in the Eastern Conference. Steve Yzerman’s Lightning reached the conference finals in his first year as GM in 2010-2011 but only two players remain from that team, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman.
Yzerman has been able to build the Lightning into a Stanley Cup contender through the three key phases, draft, free agency and trades. He’s done it the right way and here’s why:
Building depth upfront around his star center Steven Stamkos has happened through the draft with Nikita Kucherov (2011 2nd round pick), Tyler Johnson (UDFA), and Ondrej Palat (2011 7th round pick) evolving into one of the NHL’s best second lines.
The blueprint to winning in today’s NHL is young forward depth.
Key forwards 25 years old or younger (All draft picks, most are Yzerman draft picks): Steve Stamkos (25), Alex Killorn (25), Nikita Kucherov (22), Tyler Johnson (24), Ondrej Palat (24), Vladislav Namestnikov (22), Cedric Paquette (21). Jonathan Drouin, the 3rd overall pick in the 2013 draft, is just 20 years old and can’t even draw into the lineup on a regular basis.
What stands out with Yzerman in how he’s constructed his forward and defensive group with complementary pieces, is signing or trading for players in their prime.
Among the key additions of the last couple seasons via trade or signed, Ryan Callahan (30), Valtteri Filppula (31), and Brian Boyle (30) at the forward, all three were under 30 years old when signed or traded for by Yzerman and on defense it’s the same story with Anton Stralman (28), Matt Carle (30), Jason Garrison (30), Braydon Coburn (30), and Andrej Sustr (24) all currently 30 years old or younger.
There was pressure the last couple years on Yzerman to quickly build a winner and keep Steven Stamkos happy who is a UFA next summer (2016) but he didn’t fall into the trap that so many do in filling holes with stop-gap players in their early to mid-30’s.
For that reason the Lightning are going to be a force in the East for the next several years.
If there’s a blueprint for the Penguins to follow moving forward, it’s Yzerman’s vision in staying away from stop-gap options to fill holes.
2. The rich get richer? Scouts at the World Championships are buzzing about KHL star Artemi Panarin, who was a top target of the Penguins, being a top Rookie of the Year candidate next season and a 60 point player in year one with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks in contention for their third Stanley Cup in five years, will have their second tear down this summer by trading players who are no longer a necessity to keep and too expensive, Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell among them, but the Blackhawks appear on track to fill those holes with young skilled players.
In addition to signing Panarin, the Blackhawks have emerged as a front runner to sign Columbus Blue Jackets top d-man prospect, Mike Reilly, who is expected to not sign with the Blue Jackets and become a free agent.
Reilly is an excellent puck moving defenseman and if you look at the three teams currently in the conference finals, they all have something familiar in that they prioritize skill over grit, notably the Lightning and Blackhawks when constructing their rosters.
3. Former Pirate Ryan Doumit
is expected to call it a career.
The Pirates second round pick in 1999, Doumit hit 271/.334/.442 in seven years with 67 home runs, 266 RBIs in seven years with the Pirates. Doumit was a good player for the Pirates and would have been looked at differently if the team was remotely competitive at any point. Doumit’s issues were injuries and he just couldn’t catch behind the plate. He should have been moved to the outfield very early into his career.
4. The Pirates kicked the tires on former Washington Nationals closer Rafael Soriano
in March and again in April. When Scott Boras was in town a few weeks ago, he met with GM Neal Huntington about Soriano and there’s been an open line of communication since.
Soriano, 35, faltered down the stretch last season for Washington but his velocity and other key areas remained consistent, expect for quality of contact
that went up in the second half.
Soriano is worth nowhere near the the $14 million option the Nationals declined and it remains to be seen if he gets the $8 million a year Boras is seeking, but quality relievers don’t fall on trees and if the Pirates can get Soriano to the table at $4-$5 million per (pro-rated), it’s worth exploring more from the Pirates standpoint with a shaky closer situation right now with Mark Melancon.
5. All of focus this off-season has been on the Steelers cornerback situation but the safety position is just as big of a question mark and maybe even bigger now after the draft. The Steelers obviously see that as they were one of a reported eight teams to place a waiver claim on safety D.J. Swearinger who was claimed by the Bucs who had first priority.