The Lightning have won the 2021 Stanley Cup. This team thrives off unusual circumstances. They have now won a Stanley Cup in the middle of a pandemic in a bubble in Edmonton, and won another at the tail end of the pandemic during a truncated season. This column will be mostly dedicated to the Lightning and their accomplishments.
It won’t be all Tampa Bay, though. My last two takes will be a little spicy and cover two topics I think all of you will enjoy reading about.
1. Lightning Win the Stanley Cup
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The Tampa Bay Lightning are your Stanley Cup champs for the second time in the last 365 days. They are the first team to go back-to-back since the Pittsburgh Penguins won the 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup Championships. The Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens on their home ice in five games. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Conn Smythe for being the playoff MVP. This is the Lightning’s third Stanley Cup victory, as they won their first championship during the 2003-04 season..
Speaking of that 2004 championship. The Calgary Flames were one of the teams to congratulate this Lightning team on their victory, albeit tongue in cheek. The Flames were of course the team the Lightning defeated in the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals in a somewhat controversial fashion.
Congrats on two of your Stanley Cups, @TBLightning
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) July 8, 2021
This was a gentleman’s sweep. Montreal was lucky to steal Game 4 on their home ice. The Lightning dominated them the entire series. That’s not surprising as the Canadiens were the worst team to make the playoffs. That’s not to discredit the run they went on to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. I commend them and their run was great for the game of hockey. They were a fantastic story. They just didn’t have the firepower to match up with a behemoth like the Lightning. They were outscored 17-8. My hat is off to the entire Canadiens team, especially Carey Price for finally dragging this team deep into the playoffs.
This Stanley Cup championship will cement many of their player’s legacies. Vasilveskiy, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman are all inching closer to becoming no-doubt Hall-of-Famers. Stamkos could retire now and would most likely be voted in. Former GM Steve Yzerman and current GM Julien BriseBois did a hall of a job assembling this team, even with the salary cap loophole they smartly took advantage of. This team is special, and they’re not done.
Here is one of my favorite tweets I saw after the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Another championship for a team that plays in the same city as Tom Brady.
FYI I’m too heavy to throw, @TomBrady.
— The Stanley Cup (@StanleyCup) July 8, 2021
Also, shout out to Alex Killorn for skating around with the cup after he broke his FIBULA blocking a shot during the series. An absolute warrior.
Alex Killorn tells @SNkylebukauskas he broke his fibula, had surgery last week to put in a rod — and hoped to play.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) July 8, 2021
2. Vasilevskiy Wins Conn Smythe
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Andrei Vasilevskiy was the winner of this year’s Conn Smythe award as the playoff MVP. While Tampa Bay may be stacked with talent, Vasilevskiy made the rest of them look good, particularly in the Stanley Cup Final. He finished the playoffs playing all 23 games with a 16-7-0 record, 1.90 GAA, .937 sv%, and five shutouts. Those numbers are ridiculous. He was even better in the Stanley Cup Final. Vasilevskiy only allowed eight goals, had an sv% of .943, going 4-1, and shut out the Canadiens in the final game. Vasilevskiy is the first goaltender to win the Conn Smythe since Jonathan Quick won it with the Los Angeles Kings during the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.
Vasilevskiy was the best player on the ice in every second I watched during this series. It’s obvious when a goaltender is carrying the team, because that usually means the defense isn’t playing great, needing the goalie to bail them out. The Lightning played well defensively but Vasilevskiy saved shots he shouldn’t have, giving Tampa Bay every opportunity to win. It was the opposite for the Canadiens. Their defense didn’t give Price any opportunity to play well and were the recipients of a few bad bounces. Price didn’t play bad per se, but he didn’t make the saves Vasilevskiy was making.
For a team with so much firepower, it’s nice to see a goalie get a well-deserved accolade. Even if Kucherov finished with back-to-back 30-point postseasons with no individual awards to show for it. He didn’t seem to care and was happy for his teammate and countryman.
3. Kucherov Dazzles in Presser
Nikita Kucherov not holding back in his post-game. Legendary press conference. pic.twitter.com/6hA9KvpgPE
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) July 8, 2021
As I alluded to in the previous take, Nikita Kucherov didn’t mince words when praising his teammate Andre Vasilevskiy. Unlike most hockey players, Kucherov told us how he really felt and was not apologetic about it. He blasted the Canadiens’ fans, professed his love for his teammates, even Marc-Andre Fleury caught a stray bullet.
Hockey needs more of this. I read this article in The Athletic and I couldn’t agree more with its sentiments. I’m sick of the generic answers players give in press conferences. They’re boring and they provide no value. They only give reporters quotes for their stories, which are necessary but don’t really add any value. Kucherov gave us real meat this time. Hockey needs more of this.
Quotes like these are what get eyes on TV screens and Twitter fingers firing. It creates buzz about the sport. Look no further than the content machine the NBA has built. Players go at each other on Twitter and in interviews. They talk shit and sometimes they let their play do the talking. I know what hockey culture teaches, but the world is changing. Especially in an era where your personal brand means everything, players need to be able to express themselves in a way they want to. If they do, it will grow the game, and then everyone wins. If the game continues to grow, every next TV deal will be larger, and the salary cap will increase. Of course, there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed and it’s probably not something you want to see on a youth level.
I would be much more interested in watching a game if I knew two players had a beef with each other. Like the Battle of Alberta over the past few seasons that was partly fueled by things that were said off the ice, not on it. I bet Matthew Tkachuk gained a few more Twitter followers because of that storyline. The NHL and its players need to learn how to take advantage of the media, especially via social media to control their own narratives and grow the game. Comments like Kucherov’s are only the start.
4. Tarasenko Wants Out of St. LouisVladimir Tarasenko has officially requested to be traded and wants out of St. Louis. According to the linked article, Tarasenko is upset with the organization for the way they handled his multiple shoulder surgeries. Tarasenko has a full no-trade clause so he has all of the leverage regarding where he can be traded. Tarasenko is entering the seventh year of an eight-year contract with a $7.5 million AAV.
When healthy, Tarasenko is one of the most dangerous wingers in the NHL. The keyword is, “when healthy.” Taraseno has only played in 34 regular-season games and eight postseason games over the last two seasons since he lifted the Stanley Cup with the Blues. In the five seasons before his injuries, he scored at least 33 goals and 66 points in each season. That’s a terrific level of production. At 29-years-old, I’m sure Tarasenko will want to play for a contender. He will also want to rebuild his value so he can cash in on another big contract before his current deal expires.
When his current deal expires he’ll be 31-years-old. That will be his last chance to make another substantial amount of money before his production surely drops off. If his shoulder checks out, all 31 general managers should be calling Doug Armstrong to inquire about an elite-level talent that just became available.
5. Panthers Aim to Capitalize on NCAA Rule Change
As many of you have heard, college athletes will now be able to profit off of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). If you haven’t heard, feel free to read up on it here. Many current college athletes have already started cashing in, including a few college hockey players. What caught my eye is that the Florida Panthers announced that they would be actively seeking college athletes to work with to promote the team. Particularly athletes at the University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University, both close to Sunrise, FL, where the Panthers play.
It hasn’t even been two weeks since athletics started cashing in, but the Panthers are the first professional team I’ve seen get involved in everything NIL. This is a smart move by the Panthers. They have one of the weaker fanbases in the NHL and could use some help. Miami is always buzzing and getting their content in front of a new audience via social media influencers, especially those that are sports-based, could give them a boost. If this works out for the Panthers, I would expect every other team to follow suit. Every team already has a marketing budget, so they would just have to reallocate some of those funds to local influencers. Every brand on the planet already does this, so it must work, right? ■