Victor Hedman of Sweden celebrate with his teammates after scoring the opening goal in the gold-medal game against Canada.
You could see it in his face.
Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman screamed as he hoisted the World Championship trophy Sunday afternoon in Cologne, Germany, and it looked like an exhale that was years in the making. Stralman kissed the forehead of Swedish teammate Joel Lundqvist, the joy unmistakable.
Stralman, 30, who has never won a major championship in the NHL or international stage, earned himself a new label after Sunday's 3-2 shootout win over Canada. Both Stralman and fellow Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman are, for the first time, gold medalists.
“It's amazing ... It's awesome. From being a real (expletive) loser to finally be a champ," Stralman told hockeysverige.se, translated to English by Jim Hallberg. "It feels fantastic. Now I’m no longer a (expletive) loser. I feel proud of the guys, how we played, how we came together as a team and the joy we had together. It does not get better than this and that's why we stand here with the gold medal.”
It does not get any better than this. …Full Story
Lightning prospect Anthony Cirelli, who went from undrafted twice in the OHL to a potential two-time OHL playoff MVP. (Courtesy of Matt Mead Photography LLC)
The Lightning brass will get their money's worth in Windsor, Ontario this weekend, with five prospects competing in the Canadian Hockey League's Memorial Cup, which begins today.
"A pretty good stop," says Stacy Roest, the Lightning's director of player development.
Three prospects play for Erie - forwards Taylor Raddysh, Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Erik Cernak. (Check out this feature on Cirelli). Two more play for Saint Johns's (QMJHL), with Mathieu Joseph and Boko Imama.
Raddysh, a second-round pick in 2016, recently signed a three-year, entry-level deal. The 6-foot-2, 209 pound wing racked up 109 points in 58 games this season for Erie, including 42 oals.
"He's big, he's strong he skates," Roest said. "He's really good with the puck, seeing the ice. He's so smart, and on the power play he's really got a good shot. Offensively, he's very strong, in puck possession games, he's a skilled player."
Raddysh's brother, Darren, a defenseman, also plays for Erie, and you wonder if Tampa Bay might have interest in the pending unrestricted free agent. "He moves the puck well, the top scoring CHL defenseman. He's a couple year older Taylor, on defense." …Full Story
DIRK SHADD | Times
Peter Budaj, 34, is an unrestricted free agent July 1.
There are certainly important tasks this summer for the Lightning in terms of keeping its own, with Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat all restricted free agents.
But one position Tampa Bay needs to fill is backup goaltender for No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy. And if everything works out right, it could be the same one who ended the season with the Lightning, veteran Peter Budaj.
Budaj, 34, is an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"We were very pleased with the finish to the season Peter had, we'd very muuch be interested in bringing him Peter back," GM Steve Yzerman said Thursday on 620-AM. "As the offseason winds down here, we get closer to July 1, we'll figure out what wer'e going to do for backup and goaltenders in Syracuse."
The Lightning has prospect Connor Ingram expected to join AHL Syracuse next season as his first year pro. Mike McKenna, acquired from the Panthers at the trade deadline, is an unrestricted free agent. Kristers Gudlevskis is a restricted free agents. …Full Story
DIRK SHADD | Times
"Things are going well," Steven Stamkos wrote to the Tampa Bay Times. "Feeling much better than where I was at the end of the season."
It certainly raised some eyebrows Thursday when a release circulated that Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was scheduled to play in a Canadian Hockey League Alumni Game May 27 in Windsor, Ontario.
After all, Stamkos hadn't played since mid-November surgery to repair a torn lateral mensicus in his right knee.
But Stamkos clarified that he is not playing in the game, saying the organizers put him on the roster without confirming with him. That doesn't mean Stamkos' rehab has hit any snags.
"Things are going well," Stamkos wrote to the Tampa Bay Times. "Feeling much better than where I was at the end of the season."
Stamkos skated with the Lightning for the final month of the regular season, hoping to make it back in time. Stamkos said on exit interview day his return "wasn't as close as everyone thought," but was confident he'd be back to "100 percent" for next season.
GM Steve Yzerman said a few weeks ago Stamkos' rehab was on schedule and he'd be "ready to go" for camp/next season.Full Story
Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning skates against Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
The NHL All-Star Game could be returning to Tampa Bay for the first time in nearly two decades, the Lightning the leading candidate to host the 2018 event in January at Amalie Arena.
But what has prevented this from being a done deal is partly potential conflicts with both the world's and city's most iconic events.
Many of the league's top players - including several Lightning All-Stars - have said they want to compete in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. The fact the NHL's much-debated decision to not participate in the Olympics didn't come until last month delayed the selection process for host of the All-Star Game, which isn't typically played during Olympic years.
And while Tampa has long lobbied for, and is the top candidate, for the next All-Star Game, a deal is not a certainty. In what's usually a complicated negotiation, one wrinkle could be Gasparilla. The century-old festival, which draws several hundred thousand people, is scheduled in Tampa on the same Jan. 28 weekend of the All-Star Game. Neither the Lightning, nor the league, would comment Wednesday. But there appears hope on both sides a deal can get done and announcement comes soon. …Full Story
DIRK SHADD | Times
Ben Bishop signed a six-year, $29.5 million deal Friday with the Dallas Stars.
Former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop has found a new long-term home, likely enabling him to end his career where it began.
Bishop, 30, signed a six-year, $29.5 million deal Friday with the Dallas Stars, which had acquired his rights from L.A. on Tuesday. Bishop, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist with Tampa Bay, returns to an area where he went to high school (Frisco) and played before college (NAHL's Texas Tornado).
"So excited to be in my old stomping ground's!" Bishop tweeted.
Bishop traded term (six years) for a smaller annual average ($4.91 million), roughly a million fewer than what he made in his last two years with the Lightning ($5.95 million). But Bishop, who is getting married this summer, gets long term security, including a no-move clause, and a shot to be a No. 1 for a talented Stars team that missed the playoffs this season.
"This looks a lot like the team we had in Tampa when I first got there," Bishop told the Dallas Morning News. …Full Story
DIRK SHADD | Times
Ben Bishop's rights were traded from the Kings to the Stars Tuesday for a fourth-round pick.
After a year of uncertainty, former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop might have finally found a long-term home.
And it feels like a good fit.
Bishop's rights were traded from the Kings to the Stars Tuesday for a fourth-round pick. Bishop, 30, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent July 1. But if Bishop can work out a long-term deal beforehand, he might have some desired stability before any free agency frenzy begins (and a planned summer wedding).
"I don't want to get ahead of myself, because I know we have the negotiating process to go through, but I'm excited," Bishop told the Dallas Morning News. "I know the area down there, I graduated from Frisco High School, and I know how passionate the fans are there. I was just really excited to hear the news."
The Stars needed an upgrade at goalie after ranking 29th in goals against average (3.17) and 30th in save percentage (.893). They have two veteran goalies under contract next year - Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi - and now will likely expose both in the June expansion draft (as long as Bishop can be signed). If neither are taken, Dallas could look to buy Niemi out. …Full Story
ANDRES LEIVA | Times
Vladislav Namestnikov could be someone that would interest Vegas in the expansion draft.
The popular assumption is that the Lightning might lose center Vladislav Namestnikov to Vegas in the June expansion draft.
It makes sense. Tampa Bay has some tough decisions up front even if it goes with the seven forwards, three defensemen protection list. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin are locks, unless one of the restricted free agents (Johnson, Palat, or Drouin) is dealt before hand. Ryan Callahan must be protected due to his no-move clause, and there's not a sense - at least not yet - that he's been asked to waive it.
That would leave one spot left, theoretically for Alex Killorn, who was signed to a seven-year, $31 million deal last summer, when GM Steve Yzerman dubbed the power forward one of the team's "core" players. That means Namestnikov, 24, who has one year left on his deal, potentially left unprotected.
And the Namestnikov could be someone that would interest Vegas - he's a versatile forward who can play center or wing, from top line to fourth line, both special teams units. And he's relatively cheap, at $1.9375 million next season. …Full Story
The U.S. women's national hockey team is staying in Tampa.
USA Hockey announced Friday that the team, starting in September, will move their headquarters and train at the Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel. The team will train there in preparation for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, playing a few exhibitions in the area. This news came on the same day USA Hockey announced the 23 players named to the 2017-18 national team at a NHL Network -televised press conference at Amalie Arena.
"To have this kind of spotlight on us, this is big for us," said Jay Feaster, the Lightning executive director for community hockey development. "The timing couldn't be better, just the girls to see, 'Wow, there's a women's national team and, wow, I can play."
There were around 40 youth girls hockey players on hand for today's event. Several asked questions to the press conference, then participated in a street hockey game with the national team players. Feaster said there will be tryouts in mid-May for a girls hockey program that is still in its infancy. …Full Story
DIRK SHADD | Times
Nikita Kucherov, preparing to play for Russia at the World Championships, told Sovietsky Sport that some teammates "overstayed" with team, "got their money and stopped working."
Lightning star wing Nikita Kucherov is one of the league’s best sharpshooters. But Wednesday, Kucherov stunningly delivered a pointed dagger from 10,000 miles away at his Tampa Bay teammates and coaches.
Kucherov, in Russia preparing for next month’s World Championship, told Sovetsky Sport, a Russian daily sports newspaper, that some Tampa Bay players "got their money and stopped working" this season. Kucherov also lamented how often the coaching staff switched lines, wondering why he wasn’t paired often with Jonathan Drouin.
"Some guys overstayed in team," Kucherov said, according to the translated comments. "They’ve got their money and stopped working. They knew there’s no competition for their positions and the organization is not going to take someone else. They played not really well this year. You can see it in their stats and way of play. When we played together and I made a pass, they even were not expecting this. That’s why this season was hard for me despite good stats."
Kucherov didn’t name names. …Full Story
The Lightning's Victor Hedman is one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the NHL's top defenseman.
Two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson (Ottawa) and Brent Burns (Sharks) are the other candidates.
Hedman, 26, is coming off a career season, making his first All-Star appearance. He set highs for goals (16), assists (56) and points (72), which ranked second in the NHL among defenseman behind only Burns. In doing so, Hedman set a franchise record for assists by a Lightning defenseman (passing Roman Hamrlik's 49 in 1995-96.
"Just playing with good players," Hedman said. "I'm being put in situations to be successful. I've obviously felt more comfortable on the power play. I've felt more comfortable playing that offensive role. We had to be able to produce and that's been kind of what I expect of myself, to be one of the leaders, especially when we were in a big hole. We needed to climb out needed to take charge out there." …Full Story
U.S. Fed Cup team member Shelby Rogers, whose squad plays the Czech Republic at Saddlebrook this weekend, is a passionate Lightning fan.
I presumed I had covered every significant phase of the Shelby Rogers story, from her Charleston, S.C., upbringing to her injury-ravaged 2015 season to her dramatic run to the '16 French Open quarterfinals.Full Story
So I turned off my tape recorder, closed my notebook and extended a hand to thank this 24-year-old Fed Cup team member for her time.
Her response stunned me. "I'm surprised you didn't ask me about the Lightning."
"I love the Lightning."
Re-cue the recorder.
"We just lost Bish and I love (Ben) Bishop," Rogers said of the Lightning's former all-star goaltender. "I love (Steven) Stamkos. Brayden Point just came up, he's doing super well. But it's just fun following the team, you know? I like something a little different."
Who could've known a home-schooled kid from Charleston, who spends most the hockey season globe-trotting from one WTA tournament to another, would have any interest in the bay area's hockey team?
Turns out, Rogers -- currently the world's 48th-ranked women's singles player -- trained for about eight months at Bradenton's IMG Academy when she was younger, and became a regular attender of Lightning games. These days, her Twitter bio contains a "go Bolts" icon. …
DIRK SHADD | Times
Anton Stralman, pictured, is joining Victor Hedman on the roster for Sweden's team for next month's World Championships.
It looks like Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman could be paired again for Team Sweden.
Stralman is joining Hedman on the roster for Sweden's team for next month's World Championships. The two played together at the September World Cup of Hockey.
While Hedman was a lock for this team, Stralman had said he was waiting to have a few medical issues checked out. He must have been cleared as Stralman is heading to Paris for the tournament.
We all know Stralman and Hedman's feelings on the NHL - as of now - not participating in the 2018 Olympics. But at least they'll have a chance at worlds.
Hedman and Stralman will be among the several Lightning players competing at World Championships. Coach Jon Cooper is the head coach for Team Canada, which also has rookie center Brayden Point. Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy will be competing for Russia. It's uncertain if Ondrej Palat will play for Czech, or Tyler Johnson for U.S.
The Maple Leafs have given the President's Trophy-winning Capitals more than a scare.
As I was watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs Monday night, there was one thing that immediately came to mind:
Thank God I'm not on deadline.
All four games went into overtime. There were a few blown leads, thrilling comebacks. A couple Cup favorites are on the ropes. Deadline jokes aside, this is why hockey playoffs are the most fun to watch. It's March Madness for two and a half months.
There have been more than a few surprises.
The Maple Leafs have given the President's Trophy-winning Capitals more than a scare. Toronto, now up 2-1 in the best-of-seven, can win this series. The Maple Leafs dominated a good part of Monday's Game 3, another overtime victory. The Capitals fan base has to be puckered right now, the team having not gotten past the second round in the Alex Ovechkin era.
Speaking of Ovechkin, how in the world does one of the best players in the world play just 15:08 last night?
The Leafs are using their speed to give Washington fits, the young-and-hungry eighth-seeded underdogs playing loose. Toronto is ready to erupt for Wednesday's Game 4. …Full Story
DIRK SHADD | Times
Lightning rookie center Brayden Point, 21, will play for Canada in the World Championships.
Coach Jon Cooper will have at least one familiar face on his Team Canada roster for next month's World Championships.
Rookie center Brayden Point, 21, will play for Canada, one of the first few names released for the roster. It's been one heck of a year for Point, who surprirsed many - including himself - by making the Lightning out of camp.
Then, as a first-year pro, Point was arguably one of the team's most consistent players, with 18 goals, finishing the season as No. 1 center due to injuries.
"It's been a fun year," Point said Sunday. "I've got to play with some really great players and got some really great opportunities. I'm happy about that."
Cooper, who will coach Team Canada, lauded Point's "phenomenal" growth. This won't be Point's first stint with Canada, having played on the last two World Junior teams. He was Canada's captain last season.
"I'm just so impressed that somebody that young (21) and a little bit undersized (listed at 5 feet 10, 166 pounds) can come in," Cooper said. "A lot of guys put the team on their back the last few months. But (Point's) growth has been phenomenal. It's just a committed kid. There are not enough guys like him, I'll tell you that." …Full Story