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Ask Burnsie: Checking in halfway through the Lightning's season

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns tackles questions on Coop's gum, the goaltending situation, playoff beards and more in his latest mailbag

by Bryan Burns / beat writer Bryan Burns will answer readers' most intriguing questions in a regular mailbag feature. Be sure to tweet questions to @bburnsnhl and include the hashtag #AskBurnsie to have your question answered in a future mailbag. If your question wasn't answered today, resubmit it in the future and we'll attempt to get it in for another edition. Have fun with your questions too; the more off-beat the query the better.

What is @CoopersLaw gum of choice and how many packs does he consume in a season? (via @heywademan)
I've heard Lightning head coach Jon Cooper explain his gum-chewing ritual a few times, so I'll rehash it here. When he first started coaching, Cooper claims he would open a piece of Bazooka Joe on the bench before the start of the game, read the joke and then ball up the wrapper and throw it at his backup goaltender in a lighthearted way. He also claims he chews the same piece of gum throughout the game, which I find preposterous considering Bazooka Joe loses its flavor after roughly 17 seconds of chewing.

Admittedly, I haven't paid attention enough to know if Cooper continues the same ritual to this day. But I suspect the gum has switched to Double Bubble (which, somehow, loses its flavor even quicker than Bazooka Joe) considering there's a large bucket of Double Bubble in the Lightning locker room.

Every now and then, I'll grab a piece. And I toss it in the trash a minute after chewing. Seriously, that gum is the worst once it's lost its flavor.

Do we have a chance to see Domingue in front of the Bolts net before Budaj comes back or do you think Vasy will get more starts? (via @CzyzNicolas)
I don't think the Lightning have any reservations about inserting recently-recalled goaltender Louis Domingue into the lineup while Peter Budaj continues to recover from a lower-body injury suffered in the loss to Philadelphia on December 29. Domingue has plenty of NHL experience putting up respectable numbers behind a bad Arizona team the last few seasons. And he was tearing it up in Syracuse, going 9-4-0 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, before being recalled by Tampa Bay.

I predict Domingue will get the same amount of work Budaj would have gotten were he healthy. That means, we'll probably see Domingue in either half of the upcoming back-to-back set at Ottawa (Jan. 6) and at Detroit (Jan. 7). I suspect Vasilevskiy might get the start at Ottawa considering he's 5-0-0 for his career against the Senators, leaving Domingue to make his first appearance with the Bolts in Sunday's road trip finale at Little Caesars Arena.

Beyond that, I don't see another opportunity for Domingue to start until the next set of back-to-backs Jan. 22-23, and by that time, Budaj could be ready to return to the lineup.

What team do you feel is a threat to the Lightning in the second half of the season? (via @Jrod2430)
Following Tuesday's 2-0 shutout of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, the Lightning solidified their position as the top team in the Atlantic Division and continue to rank as the best team in the NHL.

With a 10-point lead in the Atlantic, I don't foresee any team able to catch up in the standings to the Bolts. However, Boston has been playing very well of late, going 7-1-2 over its last 10 games, and appears to be Tampa Bay's greatest challenge in the division. The Bruins also handed the Lightning probably their worst loss of the season, a 3-2 defeat on Nov. 29 that wasn't as close as the score would indicate.

No doubt, Tampa Bay will be ready to prove that loss was an aberration the next time the Bolts and Bruins meet on March 17 at AMALIE Arena. However, if the Lightning still struggle in that rematch, it could be a troublesome sign should the two teams meet in a potential playoff series.

In your opinion, what is the number one priority for the Bolts at the trade deadline? (via @sam_melhuish)
There really aren't too many needs for this team right now, which happens when you're the top scoring team in the NHL and give up the second-fewest goals per game in the League.

But if you're looking to bolster the Bolts' roster before a potential playoff run, I could see the team looking for a depth forward, someone that could potentially slot in on the third line and add a little scoring punch there. Also, it would be nice if that someone were good in the face-off circle too. That's the one area where the Lightning have been lacking this season.

I could maybe see adding a depth defenseman, but, personally, I kind of like the way the defensive corps shapes up as is. It's a good mix of veterans and youngsters, and the rapid maturation of Mikhail Sergachev has made this as dangerous a group offensively as you'll find in the NHL. The Bolts have options too on the back end with Slater Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr able to come off the bench and provide valuable minutes whether as a replacement for an injured player or when the Bolts decide to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

If you can get an experienced, low-cost defenseman at the trade deadline - Pittsburgh's acquisition of Ron Hainsey last season comes to mind -- without giving up too much, I could see the Lightning pulling the trigger. But I'm not sure the benefit would outweigh the cost. 

Any relation to Brent Burns? (via @QuesoElDiablo)
Have you seen my playoff beard? No way Brent Burns and I could ever be mistaken for having the same genetics.

Vezina gets voted on by GMs and a Lightning player has never won. Are other teams seeing what we have between the pipes this year? (via @mwhenderson76)
I think what Andrei Vasilevskiy was able to accomplish early in the season probably went a bit under the radar around the NHL because of how hot Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos were to start the season.

But I also think Vasilevskiy is slowly but surely starting to get more recognition around the League. Recording two-straight shutouts and three shutouts in your last four starts will do that.

If the regular season were to end today, I don't think there's any question Vasilevskiy would win the Vezina. Let's look at his credentials:

- Leads the NHL for wins with 26 (in 33 starts)

- Leads the NHL for shutouts with 6

- Leads the NHL for save percentage at .937 (among goalies with 15 or more starts)

- Leads the NHL for goals-against average at 1.95 (among goalies with 15 or more starts)

There are four major statistical categories on which goalies are measure, and Vasilevskiy is at the top of the NHL in all four. Obviously, plenty can change over the rest of the season, but Vasilevskiy is clearly the frontrunner for the Vezina as we near 2017-18's halfway point.

I'm not even sure there's a close second at this point.

I've never been to Tampa and really want to see the Bolts play. When would be the best time to travel there to do so? What are some other things to do if I only had a weekend there? (via @JRosenbaum_)
There's really not a bad time to come to Tampa (well, unless you're here this week. Seriously, I thought I left cold, wet, windy, gloomy winter days behind for good when I left West Virginia 12 years ago).

But the weather in February, March and April in Tampa is typically perfect: warm temps, little to no rain and sunny skies every day. Plus, with the Lightning currently in first place in the NHL, the team will be chasing the playoffs and postseason positioning over the second half of the season, which should make for some interesting, entertaining games.

As far as other things to do in Tampa, I'm actually in the middle of putting together an in-depth guide for visitors coming to the All-Star Game at the end of January (and, selfishly, for guests attending my wedding in February).

But, off the top of my head, if you only have one weekend in the area, you have to visit a local beach, whether it's Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, Honeymoon Island, etc. We have some of the best beaches in the world on the Gulf Coast with the finest white powder sand found anywhere. Take advantage!

If you like craft beer, there are a few breweries pumping out beers I would put up against any in the country: Angry Chair, 7venth Sun and Cigar City in Tampa and Green Bench and Cycle in St. Petersburg.

We're surrounded by water in Tampa, so any kind of water activity - renting a boat, paddleboarding through the mangroves, kayaking in some of our amazingly clear-water springs, taking a water taxi up the Hillsborough River - is a must.

Shopping in St. Petersburg, dining in Tampa, nightlife in Hyde Park…seriously, there's so much to do here. Hope you're able to come visit and find out for yourself what a gem the Tampa Bay area truly is.  

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