Ask Gary: Bolts haven’t adjusted without Stamkos

by Gary Shelton on December 10, 2016 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays

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Sunday, 4 a.m.

The Lightning have been slowly sinking in the standings since the Stamkos injury. They are now closer to last place than first. Do you think they may be missing Stamkos more than we expected? They have been able to overcome his absence before but it seems different this year. Is there reason to be concerned at this point?

Larry Beller

Larry, I think most of us (me included) thought that because the Lightning had flourished last year without Stamkos, they wouldn't miss him nearly as badly But without him, scoring has been uphill. On this team, there is only one player -- Nikita Kucherov -- who you believe is going to score on a nightly basis. The defense, at the same time, is having breakdowns and the goaltending has been spotty.

I still think there is enough talent to get into the playoffs. The question is, can the team do anything once it's there? Certainly, not the way they're playing.

This would be more acceptable if you thought it was a one-year deal, that by next year Stamkos will be back and everything will be right again. We can accept that this isn't an all-star team. But I like this group. The evidence says it's going to be a rough year, but you know the old saying: Never trust December when it comes to hockey.

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Should MLB awards such as Cy Young, MVP, and' Manager of the Year' factor in post-season performances?

Scott Myers

You've touched on one of my pet peeves. I think I've told the story of having my Heisman taken away because  the voting took place too early. I think that's true for all awards. What's the rush? Is it really a big deal that, say, Lamar Jackson wins the Heisman before his bowl game? Wouldn't it be better if you wanted until, say, mid-January.

Remember, we can do the voting in a half-hour online now. We don't have to mail in ballots with snail mail?

Of course the waiting should consider the full picture. Even this year, Justin Verlander may have been robbed because a voter voted when he had two starts to go, and he was wonderful. To me,  you not only wait for the end of regular season, you  wait through the playoffs.

Either these awards are important, or they aren't. If they are, they're worth waiting for.

Will Wilson Ramos finally be the big-league hitting catcher the Rays so desperately need? Will he even pass the physical?

Howard Powders

Obviously, that's what they're banking on. It's the Rays' way to take players when they have flaws. They're coming off a subpar year, or they've been released by their former team, or in the case of Ramos, they've been injured.

My concern is just how much of Ramos we get to see this year. He won't be ready when the season starts, and then he'll have a dh stint. He only has a two-year contract.

Still, it would be nice to see the Rays with a legitimate catcher. It's long been a weak spot on the Rays' team.I know that Ramos isn't considered a great pitch-framer. But if he can drive some pitches over the fence, that will make up for it.

I realize FSU completed its season 9-3. However, that was NOT because of Dalvin Cook.  In fact, the argument could be made that he carried a rookie quarterback and a young offensive line. So how is it that Cook is not in the Heisman conversation?  When you look at number of touches vs total yards, rushing and receiving, number of TD’s and then factor in the rankings of the defenses that he had to face each week compared to other candidates, Dalvin certainly deserves more of a look than at least D’Onta Foreman. What say you?

Michele Forte

I agree with you completely. We do know that the Heisman is usually a trophy that goes to a quarterback or a running back  of what everyone expects to be the best team in America. Given that, I probably wouldn't cast my No. 1 vote on Cook. His team exited the playoff conversation early when it was blasted by Louisville.

I do think it's absurd that Cook isn't mentioned among the best 10 players on most people's list. I'd have him high enough to get to New York.

One other factor hurts Cook, too. Familiarity. Why do you think Peyton Manning didn't win it? Voters seem to want a guy in his breakthrough season. It's as if Cook has too big of an advantage because he was in last year's conversation. That's silly to me.

Personally, I vote for Cook third or fourth. Are we really to believe that DeDe Westbrook, a receiver on a two-loss Oklahoma team, is a better player than Cook was on a three-loss team? My own five-deep ballot would have Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Dalvin Cook, Jarrod Allen and Donnel Humphrey.

Is there a correlation between the current CBA and player injury spikes?

Nick Hollis

I'm sure the league would say no, but how can there not be? Players hit less than they've ever hit in pro football, and I'm sure it has to do with the softening of the league. Now, that doesn't count knees or concussions. But it seems there are certain other injuries that toughness might help to avoid.

I love football. But I've seen so many former players who walk with limps, if at all, or who have trouble remembering that morning. I just don't think the human body was made to play the game, and it's a shame.

What do players (professional) typically do when their team is on a road trip--are they sequestered or can they roam in between practice, games, etc? Back in the day, did you try to get access to the players on their off times? Any memorable tales you can share? Then again, what do the sports writers do on road trips?

Barry McDowell​

It depends on the sport. In hockey, baseball and basketball, there is usually a quick workout. You get a sweat going, not much more than that. Phil Esposito laughs about morning skates in hockey; he says they used to be designed so players could deal with their hangovers.

The NFL used to work out at other stadiums. That isn't done as much anymore, but there are meetings at the hotel. When a player gets in trouble on the road, it's usually from missing those meetings.

After the meeting, the players usually have some free time to meet with friends or family. I knew one player who used to hold hands with his niece, for instance. Funny, she didn't look a thing like him.

The team usually has a decent curfew time. Players watch a lot of movies in their hotel room. I've checked out behind them, and sometimes, a player has watched 7-8 movies. When the Dolphins used to travel to Buffalo, players would go to the Anchor Bar (home of the chicken wing) and order wings. The rule was that a player tried to eat as many as his jersey number. Former Dolphin tight end Dan Johnson wore No. 87. Legend said that he made it.

What do you think the odds are that USF will get Charlie Strong?  It seems to me, that after coaching Texas and their rabid fans, USF might feel like a comedown.
Jim Willson
I don't know if Strong is really the guy they want. My problem with Charlie is that he's a defensive coach, and USF's offense has been a lot of fun with Quentin Flowers and Marlon Mack. That's one of the reasons I'd prefer to see Lane Kiffin, who has been head coach in the NFL and in college.
I wouldn't worry about Strong's ouster from Texas. If Strong wins, the fans will get behind. Charlie has the reputation of a good recruiting, but will he realize he needs great players at USF, too.
If I was ranking the coaches by preference, I'd go Kiffin, Strong, Schiano, Cristobal. How does that sound?
It seems Bucs fans are starting to believe in the team.  How long do you think it will take before we see regular sellouts at Ray Jay again?
Jim Willson
Lou Piniella, of all people, once gave me his theory on Tampa Bay fans. He thought the attendance lagged the results by a year. If the team makes the playoffs this season, then you can look for the real crowds to pick up next year. If it falls short, they'll wait. Tickets are pricey, and a lot of people want to be sure they're buying in at the right time.
I've said it a lot. It takes something fun to get people to the ballpark anymore. It's such an expensive day. You can stay home, watch the game from a perfect angle, get all the replays, eat out of your own fridge, park in your own driveway, go to your own bathroom, and not fight a lick of traffic.
The key, as always, is the finish. A lot of Bucs' teams, including last year, have faded at the finish. I believe this team can win three of its last four and get in. But if not, the needle won't significantly move until they do.
Historically, the Bucs haven't fared well in their last four games. They've had 21 (out of 40) seasons when they've won zero or one game. They've never been undefeated. Leeman Bennett was fired after losing his last four games. So was Jon Gruden, and Raheem Morris, and Lovie Smith. Richard Williamson, Ray Perkins and Greg Schiano  won one of their last four.
You'd figure the Bucs are definitely in if they win three games, and possibly in if they win two.
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller December 10, 2016 at 8:08 am

Gary, I’m surprised you are rooting for Lane Kiffin for coach at USF. Don’t you think he will be 1 year and done guy especially if they have a 10+ win season? He has probably matured since his last head coaching failure at USC and would likely do well here but he doesn’t seem like a long term solution. Or do you think that USF is one of those places that coaches see as a stepping stone to a bigger job so any successful coach may not stay long?

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Gary Shelton December 10, 2016 at 10:37 am

I think Kiffin is like Strong or Schiano. All of them, I think, would take the USF job with an eye on their next one. I don’t think any of the coaches the Bulls are investigating are lifers. I do think it would take Kiffin more than a year to rehab is reputation.

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