After finishing with the worst record in the NHL last season, the 2008-2009 campaign was supposed to be a turnaround for the Tampa Bay Lightning. They drafted the consensus top prospect, Steven Stamkos, with the No. 1 overall pick in last June’s draft.
New owners Oren Koules (of the Saw movie series) and Len Barrie, spent millions bringing in new players, from Ryan Malone and Olaf Kolzig, to Adam Hall and Mark Recchi. They even hired longtime ESPN analyst and former LA Kings coach Barry Melrose. Yet, halfway through the season, how has it all worked out?
Well, to be honest, it has been nothing short of a nightmare. The team, through 41 games, had only 12 wins, which was tied for the fewest in the league. Among the problems, the team has sorely missed Dan Boyle, who was traded to San Jose in the off-season for defenseman Matt Carle, who in turn was so bad in his 12 games in Tampa that he was shipped to Philadelphia.
The Bolts are ranked near the bottom of the NHL on the power play, and amazingly, a team with such veteran playmakers, are among the worst in the shootout. It really can’t get any worse.
Now time for the awards:
Goalie Mike Smith, who without, the Lightning might have one of the worst records in the history of the NHL. Acquired last season as the centerpiece in the trade of Brad Richards, Smith has proven to be a No. 1 goalie at this level.
His record isn’t very good, but his goals-against average is a sound 2.50. He needs to improve upon his 2-7 record in shootouts, but providing him with some scoring help during regulation would be appreciated.
Evgeny Artyukhin is back in Tampa Bay after a brief stint in Russia and is playing great. Along with being a physical presence every shift, “Arty” has also four goals, added 10 assists, and has even seen time on the team’s power play. He also leads the team in penalty minutes and had one of the best moments of the year when he pummeled Florida’s Nick Boynton in a scrum in late December.
Though Stamkos is only an 18-year-old rookie, the top pick in the 2008 draft has been a major disappointment. Melrose said at the start of the season that he didn’t think Stamkos was ready for the ice time that management had been hoping for, and it turns out, he was right. Stamkos has scored just five goals and has only 16 points in 42 games.
He averages just over 13 minutes per game, which is 18th on the Lightning and 60th among rookies this season. He was a healthy scratch for the first time this season in a game last week against the Anaheim Ducks. For someone who was marketed like the next superstar in the NHL, his performance hasn’t lived up to the hype.
Best Decision So Far:
It’s hard to find a good decision with a team that is playing so poorly, but if anything has been positive this season, it has to be the team’s new third jersey. Funny, but if that’s the best thing I can think of, it must be a pretty lousy season. The jersey is blue with “Bolts” written in the same style as the New York Rangers, diagonal across the chest. It is a pretty sharp jersey for a pretty dull team.
Worst Decision So Far:
Oh, there have been so many. From the trade of Boyle, to the signing of Radim Vrbata and the hiring of Melrose, this season has been full of bad decisions by an ownership that seems to have no idea and no plan.
“Say What” Moment of the Mid-season:
Though Barrie predicted in an article to the St. Pete Times in July that “Tampa Bay will win the division,” the biggest “Say What” moment happened just within the last few days. General Manager Brian Lawton said team captain and proverbial “face of the franchise” Vincent Lecavalier isn’t “untouchable”.
Say what? If there is any player in the NHL, save for say Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, who is more untouchable than Lecavalier? I certainly don’t know who it is. Lecavalier is the best player on the team, a pillar in the Tampa Bay area community, and one of the top players in the NHL.
Trading Lecavalier would be similar to when (In the classic movie Major League), owner Rachel Phelps wanted the Cleveland Indians to be so bad that attendance would drop to the point that she can relocate the team. Trading Lecavalier would result in a huge drop in attendance and would leave the Lightning filled with a roster of players that would make most fans say “who?” It just cannot happen, but the way this season has gone, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
What to Watch for in Second Half:
Aside from the now-constant rumors regarding Lecavalier, it’ll be interesting to see what the team does with some of its high-priced players. Recchi is third on the team in points and will probably be shipped to a contender. Fan favorite and former league MVP Marty St. Louis has a contract that will pay him around six million the next two seasons.
He is second on the team in points, and at age 33, would be a huge asset to a team looking to add one final piece to their championship puzzle. Vinny Prospal is another potential trade piece for the Lightning as well.
The team won’t finish with the worst record in the league, which could be bad news considering the fact that 6-foot-7 Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman is the top prospect for the upcoming draft, and would look great anchoring the team’s blueline. Also, the team will continue to listen to offers on Lecavalier, but will decide to move St. Louis instead.
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