Blake’s Takes: Tampa Bay Wins the Stanley Cup

After the NHL season was paused in March, no one was sure if we would see the Stanley Cup lifted. Well, the circumstances surrounding the Stanley Cup Final may have been odd and unexpected, but, the Stanley Cup was awarded to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In this week’s column, I’ll explore how the Lightning’s legacy has changed with their Stanley Cup win.

The rest of the league was busy last week, too! I’ll share my takes on a few notable signings and trades. Happy Tuesday!

1. The Cup Returns to Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning have defeated the Dallas Stars and are the Stanley Cup champions. This is Tampa’s second Stanley Cup championship, their first since 2004. Many doubted them after they were swept out of the first-round by the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. Just like the UVA men’s basketball team, they used their horrific loss as motivation and reached the NHL’s mountain top. Their legacy has been cemented and this team will be remembered as one of the best of all-time.

This Tampa Bay team reminds me a lot of the mid-1990s Detroit Red Wings. Like the Lightning, the Red Wings had one of the greatest core group of players of all-time with Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, and Nicklas Lidstrom. But, for the first few years of their dominance, many questioned their ability to win it all. The Wings set the all-time record for wins in a season during the 1995-96 season but were knocked off by the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals. After that loss, they didn’t lose a playoff series until 1999, winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1997 and 1998.

This Tampa Bay team is similar. Before this season, their core had made one trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, won a President’s Trophy while breaking the 1995-96 Red Wing’ record for wins in a season. But, we all know that doesn’t mean anything until you win the Cup. The Lightning did just that. And like the mid-1990s Red Wings, those years blend together. Many people forget that the 1995-96 Red Wings actually didn’t win it all. I think many will do the same with this Tampa Bay core. They will remember all of their accomplishments as a group, instead of their failures leading up to this moment.

With this win, many of their core player’s legacies have been cemented. Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov are now locks for the Hall of Fame. Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy may join them if they can keep up their level of play.

Let’s not forget that this core is built to win for the next three to four years, with everyone I mentioned signed through the 2021-22 season.

It’s time we all admit we were wrong and give the Lightning their due as the best team in the league.

P.S. Props to the Dallas Stars for an awesome series and an even better playoff run. They deserve a ton of respect. This won’t be the last we see from them either.

2. Lundqvist Out in New York

In sadder news, the New York Rangers have bought out longtime goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The 38-year-old has played his entire 15-year career in New York. Last season was the worst of Lundqvist’s career. He posted career-lows in games played, wins, GAA, and sv%. Lundqvist’s absence will make way for Alexander Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin to fill the hole in net.

On the ice, this is a positive for the Rangers. Georgiev has played well in limited time through parts of three seasons. In 77 games, he’s 35-31-7, with a .913 sv%, 3.00 GAA, and four shutouts. Shesterkin on the other hand has scouts oozing over his potential. He made his debut last season and impressed. Posting a 10-2-0 record, .932 sv%, and 2.52 GAA. Both goalies are 24-years-old.

Off the ice, this is the end of an era for Rangers fans. Lundqvist was a superstar in net and in NYC. He was beloved by everyone and will go down as one of the best Rangers of all-time. He will finish his Rangers’ career with a 459-310-96 record, .918 sv%, 2.43 GAA, and 64 shutouts. He was a five-time All-Star, one-time NHL First-Team All-Star, one-time NHL Second-Team All-Star, and won the Vezina Trophy. He also led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014, where they lost to the L.A. Kings in a thrilling five-game series.

Lundqvist will also end his career as the Rangers all-time leader in the following categories: games played (goalie), wins, losses, goals against, shots against, saves, sv%, shutouts, minutes, and a handful of sabermetrics.

It will be interesting to see what Lundqvist does next. Does he hang it up and go out playing for one team his entire career? Or does he make our eyes bleed and don the sweater of a new team? He definitely can still play in the NHL, at least as a backup. It’s something I will be keeping an eye on this offseason.

3. Vegas Goes Gold

You should know by now that I’m a sucker for new uniforms, just one more thing to spend my money on. On that note, the Golden Knights, keyword golden, unveiled their official third jersey last week.

FUEGO. I love them. It’s only right Vegas unleashed these jerseys after dropping the ball on both their team nickname and original jerseys. Gold is the right move. They play in Vegas after all. Obviously, when you think of gold, you think of money and other shiny things. Sounds like Vegas to me.

If you look closely, you can see the gold is also shiny, rather than something closer to matte. Another nice detail. The Golden Knights nailed it with this jersey. I will not be buying one, as I just bought a Luka Dončić jersey, but, I love them.

4. Howie Out in Detroit

Jimmy Howard’s career in Detroit is over. Last week, GM Steve Yzerman announced that Howie would not return to the Red Wings next season. The long-time Wings goalie had lost his starting job to Jonathan Bernier. Now, the Red Wings will need to search for a new backup to replace Jimmy.

I must say, I do like the trend of team’s announcing that they won’t be re-signing beloved veterans. Of course, it’s nice when the separation is mutual and Howard definitely deserved a proper send-off from the fans. Sadly, like Lundqvist and Mikko Koivu, he won’t get that due to COVID-19. However, the Wings did release this nice tribute video for him.

I feel the same way about this move as. I do the Lundqvist one, although this is much more sentimental. On the ice, this makes sense. Howard is older now and his play has declined. It’s only right for the Wings to give a younger goalie with more potential a shot. Off the ice, this stinks. I love Jimmy Howard. He broke in with the Wings during the 2005-06 season and won the starting job a few years later. He’s been the starter in Detroit for most of my Red Wings fandom. But, all good things come to an end.

One of my favorite memories of Howard happened off the ice. In 2012 or 2013 I was waiting in line at my local Starbucks in Farmington Hills, MI, two miles from my parent’s house in suburban Detroit. My sister actually works at the store today. Howard was standing in front of me. I must have stared at him for 10 minutes straight because I could not believe it was him. Not because I was starstruck, but because he’s the most normal looking white-guy I’ve ever seen. He’s listed at 6’1″ and 218 lbs. For reference, at that age, I was the exact same height and weight as Howard (with far less muscle and more fat). So, he didn’t stand out. I had met Kevin Love at an airport two years before, and he obviously stands out as he’s 6’11.”

Right as he got his coffee and was about to leave, I muttered something like, “Hey Jimmy! I’m a big fan. Good luck this season.” I tried not to be too lame or disrupt his day. The second of which I think I achieved. He was nice and thanked me.

I was a fan of Howard outside of Starbucks and on the ice. I’ll never forget his 51-save shutout against the Kings or the many great saves he produced when I went to games at Joe Louis Arena.

Ironically, it was Howard’s battles with Lundqvist that are forever ingrained in my memory. When I was in college, one of my friends was from New York and was a die-hard Rangers fan. Lundqvist was his favorite player. We would always watch games together when our teams faced off. In the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, the two sides squared off six times. The Rangers won four of those matchups. The two goalies would face each other twice. The first was a thrilling 1-0 victory for the Rangers. In that game, Howard stopped 47 of 48 shots in a loss. Lundqvist stopped all 38 shots he faced. I’ll never forget that game as both goalies stood on their heads, with the Rangers getting the one goal they needed to win.

The second game wasn’t as exciting. Both goalies played well, but the Wings lost 3-0. Howard stopped 28 of 31 shots, with Lundqvist stopping all 30 of the Wings’ shots.

Howard will finish his 14-year Red Wings career with a 246-196-70 record, .912 sv%, 2.62 GAA, and 24 shutouts. He played in two All-Star Games and was the third-string goalie for Team USA in the 2014 Olympics. Other than shots against he doesn’t lead the Red Wings in any statistical categories. He never won any major awards and only played four games the last time the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2008. But, he was a very good goalie for a long time and was a pleasure to watch. Thank you for everything, Jimmy!

5. Lehner Extended In Vegas

Las Vegas was the hub of excitement last week, and I’m just talking about hockey. Not only did they release those fire uniforms, but they also made a big splash when they signed goalie Robin Lehner to a new 5-year, $25 million contract.

Vegas acquired Lehner via trade from the Blackhawks this past season. He only played three regular-season games with Vegas but finished the 2019-20 season with a 19-10-5 record, .920 sv%, 2.89 GAA, and one shutout with both teams. Lehner usurped Marc-Andre Fleury as Vegas’ starting goalie in this season’s playoffs. Lehner was stellar in the postseason, helping Vegas to the Conference Finals. In the playoffs, he was 9-7-0, with a .917 sv%, 1.99 GAA, and four shutouts.

Before I dive into the implications regarding Fleury, I’m very happy for Lehner that he acquired the bag. Lehner has suffered from various mental health issues that I’ve written about. He was inconsistent during his early days in Buffalo but resurrected his career with the Islanders last year. He won both the Jennings and Masterton trophies with New York. However, even after his stellar season on Long Island, he only signed a one-year contract worth $5 million with the Blackhawks. It was surprising to many that his services weren’t in higher demand.

This is a great example of karma paying off. He received five times what he made this season and he’s worth every penny. I’m very happy for him personally and financially.

So, what does this mean for Fleury? His demotion to Vegas’ number two goalie created many headlines, most notably after his agent tweeted this photo. Fleury still has two years left on his contract that carries a $7 million AAV. That’s a ton of money to pay someone to sit out more than half of your games. $12 million is an astronomically high number to spend on goaltending. Many think Fleury will be moved now that it’s clear Lehner is the number one. Fleury is still good and has a lot to offer an NHL team. I for one would never count him out.

It will be interesting to see if he stays in Vegas through this offseason. If he is moved, you can bet you can read all about it here. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

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