Ask Gary: Will Lightning be able to flip their switch?

by Gary Shelton on April 6, 2018 · 6 comments

in general

Can Kucherov, Lightning turn  it on during playoffs?/CARMEN MANDATO

Can Kucherov, Lightning turn it on during playoffs?/CARMEN MANDATO

Each week, the readers take over and play Ask Gary. They send in a question, or a couple, on Thursday night or Friday morning and we all talk about the world of sports. Think of it as a radio show where you don't have to be on hold. Join us and ask a question, make a comment or be funny. Send the questions to

Saturday, 4 a.m.

The Bolts were very impressive with their decisive win over Boston this week at a time when they desperately needed a great performance. Do you think this is truly a team that can turn the switch whenever they need to? Do you have them going to the Stanley Cup finals?

Larry Beller

Larry, I was impressed, also, by the performance the Lightning had in beating the Boston Bruins. How could you not be? The defense was clogging lanes and blocking shots, and Andrei Vasilevskiy was sharp, and the secondary scoring was very good.

So forgive me when I say this: I want a bigger sample size before I decide the Lightning are world-beaters again. Yes, they were impressive, but this is the same team that keeps losing to Buffalo and Arizona. I know the playoffs give a team new energy, but let's wait before we're convinced. Right?

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I don't think any team can just flip a switch and be wonderful again. Sloppy habits emerge that doom a team. I think this was simply a game that the Bolts grew tired of Boston knocking it around.

I agree the Bolts have a bunch of talent, but I want to see it come together. Steven Stamkos is out and Nikita Kucherov isn't scoring goals the way he has been. Those guys have to get going again.

Right now, I wouldn't bet my house  on them going to the Finals. That second round matchup against the Bruins (probably) or the Devils (less likely) still looms large. The Conference Finals against Pittsburgh or Washington wan't be easy, either. Again, the Bolts could use some help from a lower seed the same way it happened in 2004.

Granted, I'm wrong on these predictions a lot of the time. If I were you, I wouldn't hesitate to disagree with me. The Bolts certainly have the talent to push their way through, but it's a rough road. But the second half for this team, when it underachieved, still lingers with me.

I'd like to see them win. I wouldn't bet on it.

Do you think the Tampa Bay 100 group will be successful enough in rounding up business support for the Rays?

Jim Willson

I have my doubts. You must, too, to ask the question.

When it comes to building stadiums, most of us are bystanders. We realize that it's a lot of money for a community asset, and even if you love baseball, most of us don't need another bill.

My suspicion is the Tampa Bay 100 (sounds like organized crime, which some would say it is) will work very hard, and raise some money, but in the end, it won't be enough.

By now, everyone is kicking it around that Stu Sternberg mentioned going in for half of the Rays' Stadium. That's not at all what he said. He said that if he could get $25 million a year naming rights, like the Mets did, he'd go in for half. But there is no way on earth he'll get that from the Tampa Bay market. Simply no way. It's like me saying that if I grow a pair of wings, I'll fly to Paris for the weekend. Well, I'm not growing wings.

I've seen a  lot of stadium issues. I saw the vote for Joe Robbie Stadium pass, and for the Ray Jay, and for Amalie Arena. It's rare when things come together so the politicians are satisfied.

I'm going to remain a skeptic. I think both sides are going to want the other side to donate too much money.

This Lightning fan slept a helluva lot better after the recent win over the Bruins.  Not just because of the win, but it was decisive, a shutout no less, against a team standing in our way of home-ice advantage during the conference playoffs.  The Stamkos injury in the prior game could have placed a black cloud over the Bruins game, but they showed that there is a lot of pride and determination in that locker room.  I don’t think we match up so well against Boston compared to other teams in the conference, so home-ice could be the edge necessary … but lets not count our chickens just yet.

Bruce Brownlee

The Lightning certainly did need that win. I'd also add that Lightning fans needed it.

The Bolts have had a good season, but not much of it has come lately, as you know. It's hard to keep the faith when you losing to Buffalo and Arizona. It's a likable team, I think, but no one is going to remember this year fondly until the team goes deep into the playoffs.

I'm not sure that Friday night's game wasn't as concerning as Tuesday's was satisfying. During the second period, a lot of the old weaknesses showed up again.

Sadly, the team has played a lot of games without Stamkos in recent seasons. If he can get hot, and if Nikita Kucherov can get hot again, this team can make a real run. But the secondary scoring has to be secondary, right. The oldest cliche is hockey is that your best players have to be your best players.

Of course, a tighter defense couldn't hurt either, right?

Are you buying into Johnny Manziel saying he's ready to be a responsible citizen and an NFL player again? Should someone take a chance on him? And who do you think should be first allowed an opportunity to get back into the NFL - Johnny Manziel or Colin Kaepernick?

Peter Kerasotis

Peter, I'm sure that when Manziel says it, he has the best of intentions. Let's give him that much. But a lot of alcoholics raise their hand and swear that they'll be good, don't they? The world is filled with temptations, and this is a guy who has the money to get to the bright lights in a hurry. I don't doubt his will, I doubt his ability to stay clean.

I think someone will give Manziel a chance, though, because he has talent and he'll come cheap. But if you sign Manziel, do you have to hire a bodyguard to keep tabs on him? He has a tremendous ability to embarrass any team that signs him. The bars are open late, aren't they?

Now, as for Kaepernick. I'm a different sort when evaluating Kaepernick. I've had a father and a son both serve in the military, and I have tremendous respect for the sacrifices that our soldiers and sailors have made for the flag.

But, to me, one of the freedoms those men fought for was the freedom of speech. I'm a child of the 60s, and as such, Kaepernick's protest really didn't bother me. I recognize that this is one of the few countries in the world where a guy can protest against his own flag, but that's among the freedoms we enjoy.

My problem with Kaepernick is that, frankly, I don't think he's very good.

I know,  I know. Everywhere you turn, you can find people defending Kaepernick because his quarterback rating was 90.7 in his last year of playing with the 49ers. You'd think he was Joe Montana, shut out of the league. But the ultimate stat is wins, and Kaepernick was 1-10 in 2016 and 2-6 in 2015. Do the owners really have to have a secret blackball in place to not sign a one-win quarterback who makes a lot of money? Why aren't people arguing that Tim Tebow or Josh Freeman or Akili Smith be signed?

Remember, Blaine Gabbert beat Kaepernick out his last year in San Francisco. I grant you that Kaepernick doesn't throw a lot of interceptions, which is why his rating is fairly high. But one win? Really?

I find myself in the middle when the conversation rolls around to Kaepernick. I didn't mind his kneeling, unlike a lot of fans, because he's raised a lot of money for good causes. But I mind that he was't very good, and that so many people want to argue that he is. It's taken on a life of its own.

I'll say this. I wouldn't mind Kaepernick finding a job just to shut up the arguments. But if he signed with Tampa Bay, would you nod and say "well, they're better off now?" Of course you wouldn't.

(Peter is a long-time Florida sports columnist, a buddy of mine, and the author of several books. His latest is Felipe Alou My Baseball Journey was released on April 1. He'd grin if you bought one.)
The Phillies pulled a pitcher without anyone warming up in the bullpen - I suppose because you can't see the bullpen from the dugout. I like the bullpen on the field, where everyone can see when the call comes, pitchers start stretching out, and more importantly the guy on the mound can see it as well ... What do you think about bullpens on the field?

Cecil DeBald

Cecil, it's hard for me to give Kapler a break on pulling a pitcher without anyone warming up. Heck, the bullpen could be outside in the parking lot; you still have phones, don't you? You've had them for decades.

There is zero excuse for trying to put a pitcher who isn't warm into a game. Zero.

Personally, I like the bullpen behind a wall as a rule. No one is going to get hit by a hard line drive. You get to use those snazzy little carts.  An outfielder doesn't have to run across practice mounds to catch a fly ball.

Really, though, I don't know if matters a lot. The manager owes it to his players to make sure they're warmed up before they go into a game. A guy can get hurt otherwise.

Kapler has been given a lot of credit for thinking outside the box. This time, however, was a matter of not thinking.  It's hard to get credit for being a smart guy when you do dumb things.

Speaking of, tis the season it seems for the Stamkos lower body injury bug.  I read “day-to-day” and that the Bolts are “playing it safe” regarding this “nagging” injury.  What are you hearing, Gary, and do you think its more serious than the team wants to admit?  I love our chances with a healthy Stamkos – something we’ve been lacking since 2014-15, coincidentally the last season we made the Cup final.  Here’s one for you, do you consider Stamkos injury-prone? (He has had only 4 complete seasons in his 10 year NHL career, and only one in the last 6 seasons)

Bruce Brownlee

When it comes to diagnosing NHL injuries, it's harder than reading tea leaves. There is such a mystery about it. The only thing you can say is that when it's a lower leg injury, look for a scar on a guy's forehead.

The only clue we have about Stamkos' injury is that he said recently that he'd like to play one game of the regular season. That hints (it doesn't guarantee) that it's a short-term injury. Certainly, we didn't like him being helped from the ice.

Is Stamkos injury-prone? I'd say no, because the injuries are all isolated. He trains like a madman to keep his body fit. Still, it is perplexing that one guy has had all the nicks that Stammer has had. I can understand if a fan shakes his head sadly and decides that, yes, he's injury prone. In my narrow definition, though, I'd probably say he wasn't.

Here's what I wonder. How much of his skills has he lost because of the injuries? Is he as fast? Is he as sharp? Remember, he's had season when he scored more than twice his current goal total. I know he's been in more of a passing mode while playing on a line with Kucherov, and I still trust him with the puck on his stick.

I agree with you, though. I like the Bolts' chances a lot more with him than without him. I don't think his highlights are done yet.

Willie Taggart had a call out to NFL GMs. He said Quinton Flowers can be an NFL quarterback. Lots of teams think of him as a running back, and it seems he could be a 7th round pick or maybe a free agent signee. Being the Bucs could use either a young backup for Winston in the future, and/or a running back, should they pick him with one of their two round 6 picks or their 7th round pick?

Cecil DeBald

I'm not sure Flowers throws the ball well enough to be a traditional quarterback for an NFL team, Cecil. But I'm intrigued with what a team could do with him in a Kordell Stewart role. He'd be dangerous around the goal line or as a change-of-pace quarterback.

The thing is, a team would have be dedicated to using him that way. If you're going to stick with him as a second or third quarterback, then he does. you know good. He's. probably not going to get into a lot of games as the designated third quarterback.

But you and I have seen Flowers, and we know that he has some gifts. If a team is smart enough to handle him, and I'm not sure this one is, he could be intriguing. Would you want your defensive ends to try to contain him? I wouldn't.

I think Quinton will probably be undrafted. He's more of a running threat than a passing one, and some might think he's more of a CFL quarterback. But if I were the Bucs, I'd certainly give him a free agent contract and I'd see what he can do.

The Rays are already struggling, I don’t think any of us are surprised that they still lack consistent hitting/scoring but starting the season against Boston, then at New York, then at Boston seems a bit overwhelming too, or am I just trying to make excuses?  I stick by my prediction that this team loses well over 100 games.  Are you more confident, my friend? 

Bruce Brownlee

I'm trying to be. I spent time around Sternberg, around Matt Silverman, around Kevin Cash, and it's hard not to moved by their sheer optimism. (Not too moved; I still have the season wins at 69, but that may be too lofty).

I just don't think the order will hit much all season. I don't think this is a slump. I don't think the starting pitching will be as good as the team thinks it will be. And I think they'll have a lot of days like Thursday, when they play a crisp game and still lose in a close fashion.

But you're absolutely right. Boston and New York pay their players millions to be better than the Rays, and they have been. But eventually, the Rays will get their shot at Baltimore and Kansas City, which will be like fighting someone their own size.

On this team, however, who do you pay to see? Kiermaier? He's off to a. dreadful start? C.J. Cron? Rob Refsnyder? Who brings you from the street into the park?

Even if they lose barely more than 100 games, or lose just shy of that, I don't think we'll be having playoff parades. Do you?

Do you ever take a day off?

Scott Myers

Hah. Scott, you should know. You're right there working alongside me. You're my secret weapon. I don't know how many people know it, but you are my proofreader, and you ALWAYS find errors.

I don't take many days off with a fledgling website, to be honest. It seems as if there is always something going on, and my three photographers work like crazy, so I try to keep up with them.

Every now and then, I'll need a day, so I might write ahead on some subject (how have the Bucs done in free agency, do the Rays have enough power, etc.). But it seems the Lightning or Rays (or both) play almost every day. At the very least, I'll try to find a different angle to that (such as researching and finding out that their six-game production was the second worst in franchise history, as I did the other day.

I took the day off when Hurricane Irma hit. Trees were falling on my roof. And the readers were great about it. One even insisted I take the days off.

The bottom line is this. If I want readers to call up the site every day (and I do), then I owe it to them to have a taken on something. Right? Sometimes 2-3 somethings.

And it's a labor of love. I had something the other day, but I had reached out to Mike Vaccaro for the Jason Pierre-Paul column. That wasn't great writing on my part. But I thought it added something that readers were wondering about.

I went to Seattle a couple of years ago to see my son's wedding. I worked around that week. But I've missed some family getaways, too, when the schedule gets too hectic.

I like this site, Scott. It doesn't send me all over the world the way my old job did. But there is a heck of a lot of interaction with readers. I've gotten to know you guys in the inner circle pretty well. I swap emails with a lot of you. I care how your lives are going.

That's rewarding. We all have a partnership here. I'm just trying to do my part.

How did you do in your NCAA bracket?  I didn’t have Nova winning and as always picked the wrong upsets, but I’m more concerned with the  current state of college basketball as a whole.  What do you think HAS to be done to save it?

 Bruce Brownlee

Bruce, I don't think the NCAA is in danger of drowning. I really don't. It's still immensely popular, and most years, it's a terrific event. The play isn't as good as it was, to be honest, because of the over-reliance on underclassmen. But it's still pretty good theatre.

If I ran the NCAA, however, I'd try my best to get rid of the ridiculous one-and-done rule. It bothers me that a player can get done with classwork before he knows where the campus library is.

It's affecting play, too. There is no way you can convince me that most freshmen are the savvy, smart players they would if they stayed until they were seniors.

What else? College basketball would never change, but I think 68 teams is too many for the tournament. Conference standings don't mean a thing anymore. Reguar-season rivalries don't mean much.

I'd also like to see a collar on the college coaches, who have become kings of their own realms. I like the guy hanging outside the gym and telling war stories, not CEOs of small businesses.

I do like the design of the sport, however. One and done adds drama that you don't get in a best-of series in baseball, basketball or hockey. I like that the sport always has room for a Sister Jean or for a Loyola. I like the drama.


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