Ask Gary: Is there a bigger challenge than Bruins?

by Gary Shelton on May 12, 2018 · 0 comments

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

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

Do you think the Bruins were the biggest challenge for the Lighting on the road to the Stanley Cup or are there even tougher opponents remaining? Obviously they won’t be able to let up and coast home, but if they continue to play the style and quality of hockey they did against Boston, do you think they will win the Cup? Will they be able to maintain that intensity?

Larry Beller

Larry, I'll be honest. If you put all the teams in the NHL in a lineup, I would have thought the Bruins' style favored them over the Lightning the most. As you know, they had physically knocked the Bolts off of the puck in three of their four meetings.

I thought that was the greatest compliment to the Lightning. They played tougher than normal. They passed better. They focused more. They were a terrific hockey team.

But can they do it again?

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As you know, every series is a new canvas. Washington offers a different type of challenge, that of stopping one of the league's great goal scorers in Alex Ovechkin. If the Lightning can keep its defensive focus, then I think the team will be able to get past that round.

Vegas? I don't know. On paper, I think the Bolts are better, but Vegas had a great season, including two wins over the Bolts. They can smell the title, too. And, frankly, it would be a great story.

I think the Bolts beat Winnipeg, and I think they'll edge Washington. But Las Vegas is a team to be concerned about, if it happens.

As Cooper likes to say, it's the playoffs. The other team earned its way in, too. Hey, I'd like to see Tampa Bay win it, and I think their overall balance might pull them through. But don't think it's going to be easy.

If the Bolts play the way they did against Boston, I can see them winning it all. But that's hard to maintain. We'll see.

What are your thoughts regarding Evan Longoria’s suggestion that the Rays might be better off moving from Tampa Bay?

Scott Myers

It isn't the first time I've heard that suggestion. Heck, he might be right. I know that if you and I owned the team, we'd probably at least think about it, right? The crowds simply aren't what other major league teams draw.

I'm sure the reaction of a lot of people locally will be to shout Longo down and act as if he's somehow betraying his former team. My question was whether he had a point. He played a lot of games in front of blue seats.

And let's face it: It's a possibility if things don't go according to the Rays' plan. If the Rays left, I don't think any of us could act as if there was no reason for them to go, could we?

I like baseball, and I like having it here. You know that. I like it so much I'd like for the vote to go the proper way. I do understand, however, that a lot of fans feel completely the opposite way. And that's fair.

But I've always said this: If baseball leaves, it isn't coming back. So these fantasies of getting another team under a richer owner aren't going to happen,

Longoria was honest. I have no problem with that. I just wish there was a better  counter-argument.

Do you think that Evan Longoria's views about the Rays moving would be the prevailing view in the locker room?

Jim Willson

Jim, why wouldn't it be? If we're honest, these players are mercenaries. They'd rather play in a city where the fans pour into the stadium, where every night has electricity.

The players aren't interested in hearing about the local economy or other factors. They want crowds telling them how wonderful they are.

I know a lot of people will be miffed to hear about Longoria's comments, because that's part of the problem. Everyone wants to ignore the attendance problems; they've heard it all before. But I write about it because I don't want the day to come when the team leaves and someone says "hey, you never warned us."

I'll be honest. Even if the team moves to Tampa, I don't think it draws so many that attendance isn't a problem. I think they'll pick up a few thousand fans, because Tampa has more population and it will be new. But I don't think it's going to sell out night after night. Maybe I'm wrong, but the terrible crowds in Miami seem to hint at that.

Sure, players see blue seats, too. They talk in the clubhouse, and on road trips. They compare the crowds they get with the crowds that, say, St. Louis gets. Players want it all, but they learn quickly there is no profit in discussing it. You aren't going to shame people into going to the game.

Of course they're disappointed in the crowds. Wouldn't you be?

The Lightning surprised me with their play and dominance in Games 2-5 against the mighty Bruins and their despicable Kissing Bandit.   This is the first I’d witnessed of this nonsense but from what I’ve heard, his antics occur during big games, especially the playoffs.  This is a health risk, not just disgusting. If I were his captain, he would do it once and then be benched, then traded if it happened again.  Do you feel this was a distraction for them, an added inspiration for us, or do you feel as I do that the Bolts would have swept any other team in hockey 4 to zero  (or 4-1) the way they played that series?  Do you like their chances against the resurgent Caps?  I do. I think the Caps-Penguins series had to be a major mental/physical drain for either, especially the Caps.

Bruce Brownlee

I agree with you. Several times during the series, I would turn to the writer next to me and ask "how do you really think the rest of the Bruins feel about this silliness?" They might support Marchand publicly, or say he's trying to get an edge, but deep down, they have to think that's beneath them. And I'd wager a few of them have said something to him. Heck, you didn't see anyone else do it, did you?

Think about it. What good did Marchand's nature do the Bruins? It certainly didn't affect the way the Lightning played. It didn't elevate the way the Bruins played. It simply replaced the talk of the Bruins' excellence with more talk about licking and kissing.

I'll be honest. I'm surprised no one broke a stick across his head and caused real damage. What would the league rule then? How about if some player started to lick back? Are you going to subject a national TV audience to that?

The NHL didn't acquit itself very well in this incident. It lacked spine. If they come out after the first incident and warn Marchand, and if he's ejected after the second, and ejected for a series after the third, then this isn't an issue. The league let it become a distraction by its inactivity. Shame on them, and shame on Marchand.

If I owned the Bruins, this would not have happened. It embarrassed the franchise. If I ran the NHL, this would not have happened. It embarrassed the league.

What is your assessment of the Rays' performance thus far as compared to your expectations? What letter grade would you give them?

 Barry McDowell​
It's been far better than I thought. The team has been competitive, at least, which I didn't suspect. I don't think they will lose 100 games, after all.
The strikeouts are down, and the pitching has been pretty good. They're still beneath .500, though, and it's hard for me to give a passing grade to a team that's losing.
How about a C-minus, graded on the curve because of all of the one-run losses? (I'd give them a B in competing against expectations, but that's not a column in the standings.) Let's go with C-minus, and if the team gets on another hot streak, maybe it can work its way up to a high C or a B. We'll see.
Here's the question, which is more positive than at the start of the year: Can they win 80 games again?
 I was shocked that Brad Stevens got zero votes for NBA Coach of the Year.   Do you understand?
Jim  Willson

I understand that it's a bogus award with zero credibility. If you think of it that way, it's not a surprise.

Think of it this way: The guy who won, Dwane Casey of Toronto, was fired on Friday. Congratulations, Dwane.

I think of all coach-of-the-year winners like that. Remember Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls with the Steelers? He never won a coach of the year award. Neither did Tony Dungy or Jon Gruden in the Bucs' golden years.

I understand why Casey of won. He won 59 games and, again, the award was voted on before the playoffs (which I hate, because  I think the playoffs are part of "the year."), and he won a lot of of little games.

But I'd rather be Stevens than Casey. Evidently, the Raptors front office didn't agree with the vote.

The problem isn't that  Stevens lost. It's that he was shut out. That's just silly. If Stevens had lost by a 20-10 vote, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Blame the voting. Blame the timing. Either way, it shows just just how little that award means.

The Bucs have addressed D-Line, O-Line, RB and DB in the off-season, all much needed in talent and depth.  I pray those picks and free agents pan out in our favor, I truly do.  Of all the off-season acquisitions  (draft picks, free agent signings including our own re-signed players, and undrafted free agents), who do you think will be the biggest success this season?  If there is a “bust”  among our players drafted in Rounds 1-3, who’s most likely, also which free agent signing will be most fruitful overall, and which one just didn’t smell right to you (if any) and why?  Training camp is over 2 months away, but once hockey is done, Bucs Fever will begin again (at least for me).

Bruce Brownlee

You nailed it. The Bucs deserve credit for addressing the right positions, but we have no real idea if they picked the right players as they did it. I saw that Warren Sapp, who knows his defensive tackles, didn't like Vita Vea. That's his right. Vea is an awfully big guy to be playing in the Florida heat. But the truth is that none of us will know until we see him play.

To me, the biggest success will be Jason Pierre-Paul. I've talked to a lot of writers in New York, and they swear the guy can still play. He had a lot of non-quarterback tackles last year, and he was very active. If he lines up beside Gerald McCoy, I think he'll make an impact. Also, don't sleep on Vinny Curry, who didn't have a lot of sacks but who did have a lot of pressures for the Eagles.

Among rookies, I think Ronald Jones II will make the best addition. He's got some explosiveness.

The likely draft bust? I'm still not sold on M.J. Stewart, but the team liked him better than it liked Carlton Davis. If you're guessing about an NFL free agent who might not work out, I'd offer up Mitch Unrein, whose snaps may be restricted by Vea.

Keep this in mind: The grades of the NFL's professional scouts aren't close to the fake scouts of the mock drafts, which are designed by frauds to create clicks. Still, the scouts miss often enough, too. Can Vea stand the heat? Is Ronald Jones durable enough to carry a load? Are M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis fast enough to cover? Is Alex Cappa rough enough to play tackle?

To me, that's the question. It isn't about where mock drafters said the guys should go. It's about whether these guys can play.

The Bucs are never that far back in Tampa Bay's consciousness. They start their mini-camp today, and we'll all get a look at these draft picks. We should do a poll over which one makes the most -- and the least -- impact on this team. What do you think?

Were you surprised that Winnipeg beat Nashville in game seven of the Stanley Cup Western semifinals?

Scott Myers

Completely. I didn't watch the game, but I misread the score and thought that Nashville had won. That wouldn't have been surprise to me, because they were home and had Pikka Renne in goal. Heck, I expected them to win.

Then I found out Winnipeg won. The Jets are a pretty good team, but I thought Nashville was better.

I will say this: I think Winnipeg would be easier for the Lightning to play than Nashville. In playoff hockey, I always fear the better goaltender.

Of course, the Lightning have to get their first against Alex Ovechkin. Let's see how that series goes.

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