Following a promising 2005/06 season that saw the Philadelphia Flyers net 101 points and finish second in their division, they seemed poised to compete in 2006/07.
But as they say, that's why we play the games.
Following the losses of Michal Handzus (trade), Keith Primeau and Eric Desjardins to retirement, and Kim Johnsson to free agency, they Flyers found themselves with holes to fill, as leading the team fell upon the shoulders of Derian Hatcher and Peter Forsberg.
The younger players were expected to carry the load offensively for the Flyers, fans were hoping Kyle Calder could add a gritty spark with some scoring flash, and it was thought that Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki would prove to be a formidable goaltending tandem.
It was not to be. The Flyers stumbled out of the gate that year to the tune of a 3-7-1 record in October, and things would continue to snowball as Paul Holmgren and Kevin Stevens replaced Bobby Clarke and Ken Hitchcock as General Manager and Head Coach.
The teams' best month was a 4-5-4 February which was the closest they'd get to the .500 mark in any month of the season (Both December and January were two win months).
A few midseason trades were expected to bring a spark to the team, but Darren Reid did little more than Daniel Corso (Corso didn't play in the NHL that year—Reid played 14 games and amassed no points and 18 penalty minutes), Mike York added little offensive spark (8 points in 31 games), Todd Fedoruk just mounted penalty minutes, and Alexei Zhitnik provided the team with 13 points in a brief mid-season stint.
Then the trade deadline rolled around, and as most bottom-dwelling teams do, the Flyers began to sell the talent they owned that seemed to be worth something: Peter Forsberg turned into two draft picks, Ryan Parent, and Scottie Upshall, Zhitnik turned into Braydon Coburn, and Kyle Calder was shipped back to the Blackhawks for Lasse Kukkonen.
Despite the stereotypical 'selling mentality' at the deadline however, new GM Paul Holmgren also did a little bit of buying—goaltender Martin Biron from the Buffalo Sabres.
The Flyers would then play out the season with Biron carrying the load as his goals against average (3.01) and save percentage (.901) were easily the best marks on the team.
Sidenote: The guys I feel really sorry for? Goalies who play a very short amount of time and have their stats skyrocket as a result.
For instance, Martin Houle played two minutes that season for the Flyers. His stats? A 27.27 goals against average, and a .667 save percentage. Who exactly wants that as their benchmark in the hockey world? 'Hey I'm the guy who played two minutes in a dismal Flyers season and had a GAA higher than the goal totals than everybody on the team except Simon Gagne.' Poor guy.
The Flyers carried their 'rebuilding' mentality into the offseason though, and went about it in a serious manner, intent on winning both now, and in the future.
The Flyers started off by landing the negotiating rights to both Kimo Timonen and Scott Hartnell—two players that were expected to leave Nashville for free agency that offseason and get locked into high bidding wars. The Flyers rushed to lock up both players, as Timonen signed a six-year, $37.8 million deal, while Hartnell signed on for six-years at $25.2 million.
The price of the deal though is a kicker. In exchange for the rigths to two of Nashville's most sought-after players, the Flyers needed only to return the first-round pick they acquired in the Forsberg trade.
Following that up, the Flyers proceeded to make one of the bigger splashes on the opening day of Free Agency last year, but trading Geoff Sanderson and Joni Pitkanen (and a third round pick) to the Oilers for Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith.
In addition to that, the Flyers also added Daniel Briere on Canada-Day to complete the one-season makeover.
From there, the Flyers would continue to add players (Jim Dowd, Jim Vandermeer, and Jesse Boulerice) throughout the rest of free agency and the season to strengthen a team that would go from the bottom of the barrel the year before, to the Conference Finals in 2007/08—even doing so without their first round pick, James vanRiemsdyk.
It seems the Tampa Bay Lightning—for all intensive purposes—have followed the same blue prints.
Following a season (2006/07) in which the Lightning were ousted in the first round by the New Jersey Devils, it seemed that the gears never quite got going in the Sunshine State this season.
Despite meeting the .500 mark (5-5-2) in February, and surpassing it (6-5-2) in January, the Lightning couldn't avoid finishing in the basement of the standings this season, despite having a team loaded with the likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Brad Richards.
The Lightning featured four goalies to start at least 10 games this season and have a save percentage under .900, while three of them had a goals against average over 3.00 (Mike Smith held his at 2.79).
So what did they decide to do in Tampa Bay? Well, let's sell off the farm.
Because of the financial constraints, Brad Richards became the expendable member of the 'Big Three' and was shipped to Dallas along with Johan Holmqvist for Mike Smith, Jeff Halpern, and shootout maestro Jussi Jokinen, while Vaclav Prospal was dealt to Philly for Alexandre Picard.
The deal ensured that Tampa acquired a goalie who had the potential to start, but was stuck on the depth chart behind a Star in Dallas (Much like Biron was in Buffalo), while acquiring young talent that could help both in the present day and in the future.
Due to their miserable season however, the Lightning won the NHL's Draft Lottery (and subsequently the Surge for Stamkos) and took Steven Stamkos with the first overall pick in the entry draft just a few weeks ago.
And just because they hadn't had enough of acting like the Flyers, the Lightning went out and acquired the rights to Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone, and Brian Rolston—signing two of the three to affordable contracts.
Sidenote: Gary Roberts' contract seems fairly reasonable, as the base salary is something reasonable for a player of his ability and age, while the $10,000 bonus for each game played is an interesting stipulation, and definitely worth it when looking at how Roberts can shape the health concerns and routines of younger players.
The Ryan Malone contract is just plain weird and I can't decide how I feel. On one hand, he gets between $7 million and $8 million in the first two years of the deal, which is REALLY stupid. But the average of the deal is $4.5 million over seven years, which is less stupid than the idea that he could have made more $5 million on the open market depending on how high the bidding went.
Third line players getting more than I'll ever make in a lifetime? Thanks Gary Bettman, the lockout was well worth the wait! (And I still can't afford tickets!!)
Then they went out and acquired Vaclav Prospal (again), and further solidified their forward lines (The owners have already dubbed the top line of St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Prospal the 'MVP' line), leaving fans with hope that the offense could be a Juggernaut this season, while the defense (Which featured the top three defensemen on the team going a combined minus-50) leaves fans with the fear that this team could still be porous on the back-end.
So what does the future have in store for the Lightning? Will they work their way up the standings and into the playoffs like last years' Flyers? Or will they find themselves sitting in the middle (or bottom) of the pack again with a few overpaid, underachieving players under contract for ridiculous amounts of time?
Well, depending on what happens with the with the defense, they could be a team to be reckoned with, or they could just be another team who can score, but just can't skate backwards.
Who really knows? It's only July after all.
As an additional note, Bryan would like it known that after the signing of Olaf Kolzig, he now hates Tampa for making him look silly after backing Mike Smith. Needless to say, apparently the Lightning are now shopping him.