Monday, October 15, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: Steve Yzerman's plan for getting the Lightning back into the playoffs

BRANDON — Seems like forever since the Lightning played a game.

That's what happens when you miss the playoffs.

Here's what else happens when you miss the playoffs: You can't help but wonder when you're going to get back to them again.

For the first time in a long time, serious questions surround the Lightning. A year ago at this time, the Lightning was full of confidence, an NHL powerhouse that seemed on the verge of hoisting the Stanley Cup. It was only a matter of time.

That's not the same vibe the Lightning has these days.

"We're in a different spot today than a year ago,'' Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said Wednesday. "Because a year ago, we were coming off Game 7 of the conference final, and that was coming off reaching the Stanley Cup final. This year we didn't make the playoffs. So let's take a step back here and let's not talk about going for it here in June when we just missed the playoffs.''

How's that for a cold dose of reality? Hey, give Yzerman credit. He's not acting as if all is well.

"Let's improve our team to ensure we get back into the playoffs,'' he said during a break at the Lightning's prospect development camp.

So how does he do it?

It would be easy to simply dismiss last season as a case of bad luck. The Lightning lost captain Steven Stamkos and gritty leader Ryan Callahan to health problems for most of the season. It went through the uneasy transition of turning the goaltending reigns over from veteran Ben Bishop to kid Andrei Vasilevskiy. It made several trade-deadline deals, parting with reliable veterans and turning to prospects up from the minors.

And Tampa Bay still finished with 94 points — one shy of a playoff spot and the same number of points that Stanley Cup finalist Nashville had. You have to think that was going through Yzerman's mind as he watched the playoffs. His team should have been there.

"Should have been there, but we weren't,'' Yzerman said.

If Stamkos had played just five more games, you don't think the Lightning would have picked up at least a point or two more?

"We're a better team with Stamkos, obviously,'' Yzerman said.

But that's the tough spot Yzerman is in now. Do you keep things relatively status quo, believing that the return of Stamkos from knee surgery and, perhaps, Callahan from hip problems will be enough to push the Lightning back into the playoffs? Or do you look deeper and see if it didn't make the playoffs for other reasons?

"We definitely can look at areas where we need to improve with the players we did have on the ice,'' Yzerman said. "Those are the things I can try to address: identify what the issues were from what we saw and try to improve upon it.''

That has already started, with the blockbuster — and somewhat controversial — trade that sent dynamic forward Jonathan Drouin to Montreal for 19-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev this month. Drouin had a breakout year last season and might be on the cusp of being an elite scorer. Meantime, Yzerman admits that Sergachev might not be ready to start next season in the NHL.

But this is part of Yzerman's philosophy. His plan has never changed. He wants the Lightning to be good and stay good. He wants to win now and next year and the year after that. That's why he traded for Sergachev.

"I think it's going to be good for a long time,'' Yzerman said.

Yzerman likes his mix now, a good blend of established stars such as Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, and a promising group of youngsters led by Sergachev and Brayden Point.

But if the Lightning season started right now, would Yzerman be happy with what he has?

"We're still a couple of players short,'' he said.

Those players could come in a trade. Or free agency. Or the organization.

Or all the above.

The Lightning could use another defenseman. It needs a few forwards to fill out the third and fourth lines. Most of all, it needs a healthy Stamkos. The next few weeks will be busy for Yzerman.

It's his job this long summer to fix the Lightning so that next summer is a whole lot shorter.

Comments
Lightning’s owes its penalty-kill success to the art of blocking shots

Lightning’s owes its penalty-kill success to the art of blocking shots

BRANDON — Defenseman Anton Stralman single-handedly preserved the tie when he stepped in front of the shot.Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had stopped the previous handful of pucks that Columbus fired at him during its first power play, but he wa...
Updated: 11 hours ago
‘Pucks had eyes’ for Lightning vs. Blue Jackets

‘Pucks had eyes’ for Lightning vs. Blue Jackets

TAMPA – Saturday, the Lightning made it look as if its first two games of the season never happened.Remember that  team that couldn't score more than one goal a game? It seemed all but a distant memory.The team that scored the most goals o...
Published: 10/14/18
Nick Kelly’s takeaways from Saturday’s Lightning-Blue Jackets game

Nick Kelly’s takeaways from Saturday’s Lightning-Blue Jackets game

So much for those issues on the power play. The Lightning spent about half of practice Friday working on its power play after failing to score on eight opportunities in its first two games of the season. The work paid off with four power-play goals a...
Published: 10/13/18
Updated: 10/14/18
Lightning gets scoring message, tops Blue Jackets 8-2

Lightning gets scoring message, tops Blue Jackets 8-2

TAMPA — In its first two games, the Lightning trying to score pretty goals produced only ugly results.It mustered two total goals through two games with that approach. So coach Jon Cooper made it clear after Thursday's loss to the Canucks: Go i...
Published: 10/13/18
Lightning journal: Rookie Mathieu Joseph has no fear

Lightning journal: Rookie Mathieu Joseph has no fear

TAMPA — Though Lightning F Mathieu Joseph shined in training camp and made the opening-day roster, his spot was not cemented in the lineup.But if he keeps playing how he has played early, he won't be going anywhere soon."The way he is playing t...
Published: 10/13/18
Lightning journal: Working on the power play

Lightning journal: Working on the power play

BRANDON — The Lightning wasted little time waiting to work on its power play once players stepped on the ice for practice Friday.The first drill: Working on the power play in separate groups on each rink at the Ice Sports Forum.The second drill...
Published: 10/12/18
What to do with those Lightning panic buttons

What to do with those Lightning panic buttons

TAMPA —Don't you have to have won the Stanley Cup to have a Stanley Cup hangover?The Lightning are 1-1. Given expectations, you'd think the sky was falling.Come with me if you want to live!Such is life after Tampa Bay's uninspired start. An und...
Published: 10/12/18
It starts with a bang and ends with a whimper

It starts with a bang and ends with a whimper

TAMPA — After Lightning coach Jon Cooper watched Brock Boeser at the All-Star Game in Tampa last season, he knew he would have his hands full when the Canucks came to town."What a talent he is," Cooper said.The right wing proved Cooper right wh...
Published: 10/11/18
Tom Jones: Late Lightning meltdown raises concerns

Tom Jones: Late Lightning meltdown raises concerns

TAMPAWell, this Lightning season sure isn't off to the start everyone expected.This is supposed to be the fun stuff — kicking ice and taking names. Running teams out of the building and scoring goals by the bushel. And wins. Lots and lots of ea...
Published: 10/11/18
Nick Kelly’s takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Canucks game

Nick Kelly’s takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Canucks game

That's how you want to start. After the Lightning had a lackluster first period Saturday vs. Florida, it all but dominated the first against Vancouver, outshooting the Canucks 17-5. Yes, the same Lightning team that did not register five shots in the...
Published: 10/11/18