Here are a few thoughts on the Lightning’s 2009-10 schedule, which was released Wednesday.
This is one of the best schedules I can remember for the Lightning in my time with the team (since 2002). What makes a good – or bad – schedule? It comes down to a few general categories: length of travel (distance), length of travel (days) and back-to-backs.
In terms of distance, last year’s schedule for the Lightning was tough. In three separate trips, the team went to Prague, California and Western Canada. Interestingly, Ryan Belec, who coordinates travel for the team, told me that last season, the team actually logged fewer air miles than in 2007-08. That’s because the team made fewer return trips home than in 07-08. In other words, the club played more games on its trips, so it wasn’t leaving home as frequently. But make no mistake – traveling for seven or eight hours on an airplane does not give a club a competitive advantage. Getting settled in a new time zone is no picnic either. Players who have moved from the Eastern Conference to the West (where longer mileage trips and time zone jumps are more prevalent) often speak about the grueling adjustment. In 2009-10, the Lightning will visit Anaheim, but that’s their only game in the Western time zone. In fact, after a December 18 game at St. Louis, the Bolts don’t leave the Eastern time zone for the rest of the season.
How about the length of trips in terms of days? All teams have to play their 41 road games and there’s no perfect way to slice them up. Those that last more than seven or eight days can be a grind. Often a team struggles in the last game of such a journey. But for a club like the Lightning, one that isn’t centrally located in the East, hop-scotching back and forth between home and road isn’t ideal either. This year, the Lightning have a steady diet of two, three and four-game trips. There is the six-game, 12-day trip in December, but that’s the only one longer than a week. So for the most part, the travel is as good as can be expected.
Last year, the Lightning played 16 sets of back-to-back games. In the last Olympic year – the 2005-06 season – the Bolts had 18 of them. (You’d expect more in Olympic years because the league, which takes a two-week break for the games, has to play a more condensed schedule). In this Olympic year, the Lightning have only 12 back-to-backs.
The month of October will be a big one for the Lightning. As is usually the case, the team has a preponderance of home games in the opening month. Back in 2002-03 and 2003-04, the Lightning helped themselves by excelling in the first month of the season. This year, the Lightning will play seven of their first 11 at the St. Pete Times Forum. The league has given them the opportunity to rack up some early points in the standings, now it’s up to the team to take advantage.Here are a few questions from the mailbag:Dave,
Keeping in mind the job of Norfolk is to assist in the development of players, how much concern or effort is being given towards the Admirals? Since joining the Tampa Bay organization, we have finished in the basement both years, and the first time in Admirals “History” ECHL days included, failed to make the playoffs. I do not believe the poor showings were a result of lack of effort on behalf of the players, but a lack of support from Tampa Bay.
I guess my question is: Is Norfolk ever mentioned in the Lighting’s goals to improve?
The Lightning is very concerned about what is happening at the minor league level. Frankly, the Lightning’s lack of organizational depth, something that the current management group has frankly discussed, has hurt the Admirals. It’s something the club has been trying to address, both in terms of its drafting and signing of free agents. I would also point out that when a team sustains a rash of injuries – as the Lightning did last year – the NHL club isn’t the only one to suffer. The AHL affiliate pays as well, since it’s constantly sending players up to the big club. Here’s hoping that Norfolk returns to the postseason this year!
Dave, now that the Lightning have signed Niittimaki, what happened to Karri
It’s actually the other way around. Ramo elected to play in Europe this season. The Lightning still hold his rights and Karri signed a two-year deal with an opt-out after the first season. But since he wasn’t available to play in the organization this year, the team needed to find a back-up to Mike Smith. Niittimaki turned out to be that guy.Hi Dave, Any word on a "TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING ICEFEST" date for August or September?
Thanks, Dawn Cody
The team is still finalizing the date for Icefest. When the date is announced, it’ll appear on www.tampabaylightning.com. Is the Lightning Insider going to be with us this year? Greatly enjoyed his work.
Donn S. Donn:
The Insider does do great work and it’s a terrific feature on our website. Yes, the Insider will be back this year. I understand that he will also be on Twitter at TBLightning.Is Miles Koules, one of the "young guns" in the prospect camp, related to Oren Koules?
Yes, Miles is Oren’s son. He currently plays at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota.
That’s all for this week. As always, if you have any questions for me, I’d be glad to answer them. Please submit them to: email@example.com