Philly Sports Live

What We Learned: Tampa Bay Lightning’s secret weapon (Puck Daddy)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.   At this point there should be no surprise that the teams which finished second and fourth in possession numbers during the NHL’s regular season are advancing to the Stanley Cup Final. You expect that from Chicago, of course. Chicago always finishes near the top of the league in this regard. You do not necessarily expect it from Tampa. Between this season and last, the Lightning took a major step forward, improving CF% by two whole percentage points and seven spots in the league. There are probably a lot of reasons why that happened, of course. Jon Cooper’s system had another year in the hearts and minds of his charges, making everything he wanted to instill since Day 1 a little easier for those players to achieve. And the many young players on the roster continued to improve, as young players tend to do. But perhaps most important: the team went out and tried to shore up its depth, and did so largely with just two moves. Interestingly, Steve Yzerman really sought to acquire former New York Rangers via free agency, adding Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman last summer (along with Brenden Morrow, though the less said about that the better). He also went out and traded for Jason Garrison before free agency, significantly improving his top-four. Boyle was one of only a few Lightning forwards who was sub-50 percent in terms of possession — Morrow was another — but that was because he got the tougher of the assignments the team had. He was brought aboard to serve in a checking role, and check he did. The Bolts were, however, out-possessed and outscored when Boyle was on the ice. That Victor Hedman is one of the league’s best defensemen is, at this point, not really up for discussion. He is awesome and he drives play and scoring like few can. But last year, he was more or less the only truly great, or even very good, defenseman Steve Yzerman had on the payroll. In terms of even-strength minutes per game, Tampa’s top-four went like this: Matt Carle, Victor Hedman, Radko Gudas(!), Eric Brewer(!!). Yikes. Among Tampa D-men with at least 1,000 minutes in 2013-14 — and those guys just listed were the only four — Hedman (53.92 percent CF) and Brewer (50.29 percent) were the only ones with their heads above water. And this year, with the addition of Stralman and Garrison, things went a lot better. Hedman, as you might imagine, is asked to log a lot of minutes, and when he’s on the ice, the Bolts are one of the best teams in the league. When he’s not, the problems they had were stark. Until this year, that is.