Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning hit the midway point of the season in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. A couple months later, they finished the regular season in first place. A couple months after that, they were Stanley Cup champions.
This year, the reverse might occur. The defending champion Bolts Â– although, don’t say that to coach John Tortorella Â– have struggled all season.
They’ve hovered around the middle of the pack, sixth or seventh or eighth in the East, just ahead of the bubble teams. But not by much.
Their best players Â– Martin St-Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards Â– too often have been shadows of their 2003-04 selves.
They sorely miss goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who left for Chicago; John Grahame and Sean Burke have been inconsistent and allowed too many soft goals. (Khabibulin, for the record, has battled injuries and, when he has played, ranged from mediocre to awful with Chicago.)
Depth defenseman such as Jassen Cullimore and Brad Lukowich haven’t been adequately replaced.
And captain Dave Andreychuk was waived into retirement in the middle of this season, as he simply couldn’t keep up in the speedy Â“newÂ” NHL.
The question at the start of the season was whether Tampa could defend its Stanley Cup championship of two years ago. But with just two wins in seven post-Olympic games, the real question should be whether Tampa will even make it to the post-season to defend its title.
A belated congratulations to New York Rangers superstar Jaromir Jagr, who recently became the highest-scoring European NHLer of all-time. With a three-point game against Philadelphia on March 2, Jagr surpassed Finnish sniper Jari Kurri’s total of 1,398 career points.
Jagr, born in the Czech Republic, slumped slightly with just two points in his next five games, but nevertheless stands above his European comrades with 1,402 points in 1,091 games. He’s tied for 15th in all-time NHL scoring (with Adam Oates), seven points behind Dale Hawerchuk (1,409) and 12 behind Doug Gilmour (1,414).
Stan Mikita, who was born in the Czech Republic but moved to Canada as a young child, is 11th all-time with 1,467 points. That means, unless Jagr goes on a three-points-per-game binge the rest of the season, he’ll have to wait until next year to truly take over the European crown.
Finally, Jagr’s career point-per-game average (1.29) is sixth all-time, behind Wayne Gretzky (1.92), Mario Lemieux (1.91), Mike Bossy (1.50), Bobby Orr (1.39) and Marcel Dionne (1.31).
90 pointsÂ…not enough
In the five seasons from 1999-00 through 2003-04, the teams that finished in eighth place in each conference Â– the final playoff spot Â– averaged 89 points. Three times Â– once in 2000-01 and twice in 2001-02 Â– a team had 90 or more points and failed to qualify for the post-season. (Oddly enough, it has always been a Western Conference team.) The Edmonton Oilers, which went 38-28-12-4 for 92 points in 2001-02, are the rueful owners of the NHL’s best non-playoff record in recent hockey history.
Don’t look now, but history might be repeating itself.
Suffice to say, 89 points won’t be enough to make it into the playoffs this season. Neither will 90, and maybe not 92 or 94 or even 95. The Montreal Canadiens, in eighth place in the East, are on pace for 91 points. The ninth-place Atlanta Thrashers are on pace for 87.
In the West, meanwhile, eighth-place Anaheim is en route for 96 points. The ninth-place Oilers (who else?) are on pace for 93 pointsÂ…and a lot of free time at the end of April.
As well, nine teams are on pace for 100-point seasons. An NHL-record 10 teams accomplished that feat in 2003-04.
It was strange enough when, a couple Saturdays ago, CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada spent its opening half-hour covering a Maple Leafs pre-game ceremony that honored Tie Domi for playing 1,000 games.
Then, this past Saturday, the network one-upped itself in oddness (in English Canada, anyway). CBC did the bare minimum in covering Bernie Geoffrion’s banner-raising ceremony in Montreal, with only a quick pre-game nod and first-intermission highlight. This, despite the fact it was a long-overdue tribute to a Habs legend who had passed away earlier that morning. Geoffrion’s family was on hand for the emotional 40-minute ceremony, and that (English) CBC all but ignored the event was an egregious error.
Not to say that hockey fans wanted to watch all 40 minutes, but CBC had no problem doing so for Domi’s 1,000th game. So why not a Hall of Fame legend who, sadly, died that morning after a brief bout with cancer?
The network claimed that, due to scheduling, it was too late for them to make the switch and cover Geoffrion’s final round of applause in a Montreal arena.
That may be correct. But it sure ain’t right.
Bernie Geoffrion, as a refresher, was the second NHLer after Maurice Richard to score 50 goals in a season. His drive and passion for the game rivaled that of the Rocket, and he’s also credited with inventing and perfecting the slapshot.
RIP, Boom Boom.
Sam McCaig’s From the Point appears every Tuesday only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? If so, you can reach him at email@example.com.