Ask Gary: Do the Lightning need to be tougher?

by Gary Shelton on February 23, 2019 · 4 comments

in general

Does Kucherov need help from a trade?/CARMEN MANDATO

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

Do you expect the Lighting will stand pat at the trading deadline? They have the best team in the regular season without a doubt but the playoffs are a different animal. There is a concern that the Lighting forwards don't have enough bulk and toughness as was the case last year when they lost to Washington. Should they make a move to add a power forward-defenseman or is the current team good enough?

Larry Beller

The odds, I think, are 94 percent that this team stands pat. Put simply, anyone who could really help is going to cost too much to maintain. The price of this terrific season is that the team believes it doesn't need a lot of tweaks to have a legitimate shot at the Cup. It doesn't have a No. 1 draft pick, so you can't trade that.

We've agreed on this before: The Lightning could use a little more bulk and a little more toughness, and depending upon who they might draw, that is enough to worry a Lightning fan. I'd love it if they had one more bone-cruncher who could keep players off of Nikita Kucherov's back. There's always something, isn't there?

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But between the salary cap concerns and the price it would take to trade for a guy, I think the Lightning will stand pat unless someone is giving away a player who could help. What? Are you going to bench Yanni Gourde at this point? Mikhail Sergachev. It isn't a perfect team, but think about this: The Bucs lost 11 times this year in 16 games. The Lightning has lost 11 times in 62. Isn't that staggering?

Could the Bolts add a role player  who is a tough guy here or there? Possibly. But I wouldn't bet on it. Coaches love a successful locker room.

As you know, the playoffs are a different deal than the regular season. And it's possible that the Bolts run into a team that can give them fits in a series. But they're still the best team in the league. Toronto, Boston and Pittsburgh are pretty good, too, and it's possible that they beat the Lightning. But I don't think the answer is on the outside of the locker room. Do you?

There is no perfect team. But if this one can stay healthy, it's pretty good.

How does playoff hockey differ from regular season hockey in the NHL?

Scott Myers

You mean except for the fact all the players have beards? That's one thing unique to the NHL. All the players look like lumberjacks in the post-season.

But there are other differences, too. The old line is that the ice is the same, but the air is completely different. There is the smell of desperation that comes from whatever locker room trails in the series.

Then there is this. The refs tend to swallow their whistles at playoff time. They don't make the same calls, which means players know they can get away with whatever type of assault suits them the best. A Stanley Cup winner can usually be identified by the scars and bruises on his face.

Then there is the nature of the game. Yes, baseball plays a series, too, but different pitching matchups give the series its flavor. The NBA plays a series, but it isn't nearly as physical as hockey, where players are using  their sticks as illegal weapons. Hockey is a series of seven-game matchups where a team plays its top goalie most of the time, where the scoring never gets too high, where one mistake can cost a team the win. I think the NHL playoffs are one of the best times of the season.

This is from "As the NHL Playoffs have shown us all over the years, the greatest scoring talent in the world is not enough to win a playoff series. The post-season is a different game and a different type of intensity that is not seen in any of the regular season games."There are hundreds of odd-man breaks in the regular season. There is tons of time and space compared to the playoffs. There are highlight reel goals, pretty back-door passes and plenty of dangling taking place.

"No matter how hard a team tries to pull off these feats, this type of open hockey rarely takes place in the post-season.

"In the playoffs, there is no time and space, not many passing lanes and odd-man breaks are few and far between. Teams are not trading 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 rushes back and forth in the post-season.

The teams which travel the furthest in the playoffs block tons of shots, take away passing lanes and forbid to give up odd-man rushes. The best playoff teams do not give time and space to superstars. They make life miserable and make each opposing player earn every inch of ice."

To me, here is the difference. Imagine walking on a tightrope that is lying on the ground. Then imagine walking on it when it is stretched across Niagara Falls. Imagine slipping.

That's the NHL playoffs.

I am curious about the foreign players on the Lightning.  Do they all return to their native countries ... or have some moved to the USA permanently?   Do Vasy and Kucherov return to Russia?  What do they think of life here as opposed to life in Russia?

Jim Willson

What is permanent in today's globe-trotting sport? I'd say a lot of them make North America their primary homes.

I can't speak for every foreign-born player in the NHL, but most of them at least visit their home country in the off-season.

For one thing, hockey is an international sport, and there are often Russian-based tournaments for the Russian players and Swedish-based tournaments for the Swedes.

Jim, I love my country, and I'm sure you do, too. So if you were an international star, wouldn't you want to visit the home folks and let them tell you how cool you are? I'm sure there is no place quite like Russia for a Russian-born player. It's home.

As recently as two seasons ago, there were questions about whether Kucherov might return to the KHL to play out his career there. He got the big money, which has headed that off. But it's always a question with a Russian-born player. Just think of an American-born baseball player who is playing in Japan. They would swim if it meant they could get back.

A lot of Russian players have fallen in love with our country, though. A lot of them retire here and stay around their sport where they flourished.

I was a bit shocked (and a tad nauseous) to hear about Patriots owner Bob Kraft was charged with allegedly soliciting prostitution at a spa here in Florida.
If he was an NFL player, there was would be a thorough investigation by the league office with potential fines/suspension if there's validity to the charge(s). How do you think the NFL would handle any negative discoveries here, and do you feel the players should be held to a higher standard than the owners?
Bruce Brownlee

First, a caution. As you point out, all we have heard so far are allegations and denials. There is no room to tarnish anyone's legacy so far.

But no, owners shouldn't be held to a different standard than players. If an owner is guilty of domestic violence, the same basic trust with the public has been violated. If an owner is on cocaine, the same basic trust has been violated. A drug-abusing owner, after all, can cause far more damage than a drug-abusing player.

I know, I know.Kraft soliciting a prostitute certainly didn't affect the playing field, did it? You can argue against Spygate (or. you could if Roger Goodell hadn't ordered the evidence to be destroyed). You can ever argue against Deflategate if you want. Those scandals smeared both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. That's enough impropriety for now.

But a team has a bond with its community. If Kraft is found guilty of this misconduct, he should be forced away from the field for a month, maybe for a whole season. Anything else is an affront to the players' union.

There is a large dose of pushback against the Patriots. They've been good so long that people resent them. They've broken rules enough. So I'm sure to haters, this will be the same thing.

Oh, there will be some punishment. I think a lot of people will change the way they look at Kraft, who has always been a stand-up guy. It'll hurt his reputation and, as such, the Patriots' reputation. But  even if he's guilty, most of us will write it off as a sad old guy with a lecherous hobby.

How sad? You own the New England Patriots and, allegedly, you have to rent love.

How do I think the NFL will handle the evidence? Maybe with a shovel and a deep hole. They'll cover it up as much as possible. Why? Goodell works for the owners. In the end, that'll be the bottom line.

How soon before the Padres regret signing Manny Machado to his bloated contract?

Paul Walker

Sarcastically, I'd say the doubts will start to creep in the first time he doesn't run out a ground ball.

Realistically, I'd say, oh, about 2020 when the franchise realizes that Machado is a flawed player. Paying him $30 million a year won't erase those flaws. The Padres' minor league system is well thought of, but I have no confidence in the Padres ability to grow them into a team that can contend.

The Bucs have some major decisions upcoming regarding key personnel.  If you were GM Gary Shelton, how do you handle Gerald McCoy and DeSean Jackson, both high cap numbers but one is a team leader/good citizen, the other a prima donna? Do you re-sign Kwon Alexander, Adam Humphries, Peyton Barber, and/or Donovan Smith, or roll the dice and let some or all of them test the waters?
Bruce Brownlee
If I'm the general manager, the first thing I do is change the uniforms. Wait. That's not an option?
In that case, we have some tough decisions to make, don't we?
First of all, I can live without DeSean Jackson and his perpetual pout. Now, I'll be the first to agree that the Bucs didn't take advantage of Jackson while he was here. On the other hand, Jackson has pouted before. He has a long career of being unhappy with his role in the offense. I've written it before, but his talk about chemistry didn't seem to include his dropped balls. I'd let him go simply to save the cap number.
Gerald McCoy is a different matter. He's been a good soldier, and a good player, for most of his contract. But he isn't the first player whose contract exceeds his play. I'd ask him to take a pay cut and come back, but I know he won't do that. There are other teams that will pay him on a shorter contract (two years). But Warren Sapp didn't end his career here. Neither did John Lynch or Doug Williams or James Wilder. I'm afraid I need cap room more than I need the players. Remember, under-tackles show their age early.
I'd like to bring back the other four. The Bucs are a team that needs its talent. Right?
In descending order, here is the order in which I sign them. One: Humphries. Frankly, I'd rather have him than Jackson. Two: Alexander. He's a bit undersized, but he can play. Three: Smith. Unless the Bucs draft a left tackle first, the Bucs have a place for Smith. He didn't have a great year last year, but the offensive line needs one fewer problem position. Four: Barber. I don't think Barber is a great back. But he's the best the Bucs have.
In other words, Bruce Arians and Jason Licht have a lot of work to do. There is a good feeling about this team for a change, but it won't be easy in their division.

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