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Store Brand Fourth Line for the Lightning

Photo by Wayne Masut

The day after the Tampa Bay Lightning won their second consecutive Stanley Cup last it began. We all heard it. The team’s salary cap crunch plus the Seattle expansion draft meant the team was going to lose some important players. They did. But who were they going to be able to pick up? 

 

When the dust settled, Yanni Gourde was lost to Seattle. Blake Coleman was lost to free agency. Barclay Goodrow was traded right before he would have been lost to free agency. Poof! The line over the last two seasons that started every postseason game was gone. Now what?

At this point, I have to say I was wrong. More about that later in this piece. As in previous seasons, Lightning GM Julien Brisebois had his work cut out for him last off-season. 

Cap Masters 

I am of the opinion that Brisebois and his predecessor, Steve Yzerman have done an incredible job over the last decade. Working within the salary cap, they have continued to assemble a cap compliant Cup contender. This past summer felt different. Losing Gourde and being unable to even offer Coleman and Goodrow a deal was a blow. This line was a catalyst for the two Cups. They had speed, grit and the ability to forecheck the hell out of their opponents. 

Brisebois began working. Trading Tyler Johnson to Chicago freed up cap space. On the same day, the team signed backup goalie, Brian Elliott and defenseman Zach Bogosian as free agents. If you thought Brisebois was done for the day, not a chance. Taking another dip in the free agent pool, he signed Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Closing out this busy day, Brisebois signed veteran Corey Perry to a two year deal. 

This is where my admission of being wrong comes into play. You see, I wasn’t at all supportive of the Perry signing. Now, my boss here at Scrum Sports Trevor Grout isn’t a big Perry fan either but thought this was a great signing especially in light of losing the entire Gourde line. It led to some heated exchanges between the two of us throughout the just completed season. The whole pre-season was one big argument between us that wwe settled on a bet. I told Trevor the Lightning would be fortunate for him to score 10 goals. Trevor said 20. We settled on 15. I was wrong. 

Some fans applauded Perry’s arrival while others like me jeered it as a mistake. One thing that most fans agreed with is that overcoming the loss of the Gourde line didn’t look possible. 

The 82 Game Marathon

I wasn’t worried in the least. Once the season started, Perry had good and bad shifts. He had more than a few good scoring chances but couldn’t light the lamp. Perry didn’t score a goal in his last 20 games with Montreal last season. As a Lightning, he was 0 for his first 18 games in goal scoring. Maybe the pressure of replacing the Gourde line was too much. In his three previous seasons, Perry totaled 20 goals.This piece wasn’t going to ever see the light of day but I’m glad it did. 

After Perry scored his 15th goal, Trevor was calling me as the Amalie Arena goal horn was fading out telling me to pay up.The payment I owe is this piece, saying I was wrong about Perry. As I summoned the wherewithal to write this article, my mother passed away. This article should have been completed and published by the end of March.

In an act of complete support and grace, Trevor gave me the necessary time to take care of laying my mom to rest. I appreciated that more than I can express. 

Perry didn’t stop. He added four more goals in the final month of the season and Trevor was far more correct than I was in our preseason Perry predictions. I was wrong. I take pride in knowing this game and this team. It’s been 12 years now that I have written on the Lightning and NHL. Without a doubt, Perry surprised most with the season he had. He shocked the crap out of me. There weren’t a lot of people who said Perry would score as he did this season. To my misfortune, Trevor was one of them.    

Last Season vs. This Season

We all knew the team would not be able to replace the Gourde Line. Those boys were an integral part of Back to Back Cup championships. The grit and toughness with the added benefit of offense. Yet, the production Perry and his line mates had this season got me thinking. So, I began to compare the School Bus Line as Perry and his line mates are being called to last season’s Gourde line. 

Now, I acknowledge this comparison could very well be apples and oranges. Comparing a Cup winning third line to a fourth line seeking a third consecutive Cup isn’t fair. The last regular season consisted of 56 games, this season was a full 82 games. Even with this disparity the Gourde line tallied 99 total points to the Perry line’s 87 points in 26 less games. 

Perhaps the biggest reason not to compare these two lines is their ages. Gourde’s line averaged 28.7 years of age. The School Bus line is downright geriatric at 35.7 average age. Keeping the age difference in mind, the Gourde line scored 0.6 points per game and registered 1.63 hits per game. The Perry line scored at 0.4 points per game and laid out 1.32 hits a game.  

Brisebois said he wasn’t looking to find a replacement line. He didn’t, based solely on the numbers. Despite an average of 8 less minutes on ice and about 8 years older than the Gourde line, the Perry line was more than respectable. Here’s the best numbers for this year’s group. Collectively, they only cost $2.9 million on the salary cap. The Gourde line cost $7.9 million against the cap. Brisebois knew he couldn’t replace them so he did the next best thing

Wrong Headed

There were two factors in my head that formulated my opinion of the Perry signing. One, I thought his skills were too far gone. This isn’t far-fetched. He averaged 6.7 goals and 10.7 assists in the three seasons before arriving in Tampa. This season with 19 goals and 21 assists, it’s been a resurgent year for him. Yes, I had to write this because I gave my word. Trevor to his credit has kept his needling to a minimum. But working on this piece has made me appreciate Perry and his linemates. Heading into the playoffs every team needs to be prepared to roll out four lines. I didn’t think I would say this but I’m glad that Jon Cooper can roll out these guys. They simply bring their lunch pails, punch the clock and give it all they got every game on the calendar. 

Perry has been a great addition to this club. His experience and leadership is a great asset on a team with some great leaders. Yes, I was wrong but am big enough to admit the error of my ways. I’m looking to see what he can bring this postseason. Having been on the wrong side of the Back to Back Cup wins against the Lightning, Perry is now with the good guys. 

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