Saturday, May 31, 2008

Don't fear the Mulleted One - Off Season Lightning Notes

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything on this page. I haven’t forgotten about you my loyal reader. Certain factors have kept me from updating this site. Chief among them being laziness of course, but as I’ve mentioned before I don’t get paid for this. I don’t even force you kids to suffer through advertisements. So if I post with Bill Simmons like regularity please forgive me.

Initially this was going to be a post about the Rays and their recent success , but with my uncanny ability to alter the course of events with my posting I figured I would leave that until a losing streak occurs on its accord or the All-Star Break whichever comes first.

Instead let us take a journey through the offseason of my other favorite TBA team – the Lightning. After all, it can’t really get much worse. Even though the NHL is embroiled in the midway point of the regular season it seems like the Lightning’s season has been over for about 6 years now. Not making the playoffs is almost as bad as another lockout. The Bolts haven’t suited up since April 5th which, if you look at the positive, means they haven’t lost in almost two months.

In the meantime, however, they have managed to keep their name in the news. The back page of the news, but any press is good press, right? Let’s start with the positive. With an assist from former captain Dave Andreychuk the Bolts secured the number one pick in June’s draft. Unlike the Buc’s they’re not being cagey about who they’re drafting. Multiple billboards in the TBA are sporting a simple message - Seen Stamkos? – followed by a website ( which is filled with a few YouTube videos of the tremendously talented center. Who owns the website, well the Tampa Bay Lightning of course. So don’t go swimsuit shopping Drew Doughty you’re not getting drafted by the Bolts.

If Steve Stamkos represents the future of the team then the eminent signing of their first free agent (which can’t be officially completed until July 1st) represents a dip into their recent past. It appears the Lightning and Russian powerhouse Evgeny Artyukhin have put their differences aside and have agreed in principle to a two year deal to bring the bruising forward back to the black and blue. The current brass envisions a crash line of Artyukhin, Chris Gratton and Nick Tarnasky punishing foes next season. It’s an interesting idea and may be the first line in the history of hockey to go through a season without scoring a point.

Interesting doesn’t begin to describe the last few weeks of John Tortorella’s coaching life. During what should have been one of the highlights of his career, coaching Team USA in the World Championships, he managed to possibly talk his way out of his regular paying gig. At the end of April news leaked out that Torts had offered his resignation to Jay Feaster during their end of season meeting. The mild firestorm was stoked by our favorite radio personality, The Big Dog, who mentioned and reiterated, and repeated that the coach cancelled an interview with him the same day the news leaked out.

The Canadian papers fanned the flames a little more by writing that Torts was pretty much done it was just a matter of waiting for the sale to OK hockey to be completed. The kicker to that story was that Oren and the boys already have a replacement lined up. None other than the mulleted one himself – Barry Melrose. This has been greeted by a less than enthusiastic response from the Lightning faithful.

This is not good. Not many coaches survive once the “he’s getting fired” reports start hitting the rounds. All he needs now is the vote of confidence from Feaster and his fate will be sealed. Other than Melrose there are a couple other candidates available now, from in house (Mike Sullivan) to the recently unemployed (Joel Quinville and Ron Wilson). For the past two seasons quiet whispers have circulated in print and throughout the electronic ether that Coach has lost the team. I’m not sure how much of that is true, but it gives the new ownership a convenient out.
Injured players have been an issue for the last few years as well and have also played a prominent role in the off-season. No less than three key players have succumbed to the surgeon’s scalpel so far this spring. Vincent Lecavalier has had his shoulder worked on, Paul Ranger must have thought it was a cool surgery because he had the same one about a week after Vinny.

If that wasn’t enough Jeff Halpern, the post trade deadline points machine, was busy leading his country to glory in the World Championships when Canada’s Rick Nash and Brent Burns decided his knee ligaments needed to be rearranged. After the hit (which was legal) Halpern was left with a MCL sprain and a ruptured ACL. While I’m here I might as well mention that the No Limits Fun Factory (where I work) has had more ACL injuries than any workplace I have ever heard about. No less than 6 people that I personally know at that place have had their knees redone. Well back to the Lightning.

It’s not yet known if the three players will be ready by the time the puck is dropped in Prague next fall, but if they aren’t the Bolts are going to have reach pretty deep into a very shallow pool of minor league talent. So let’s look forward to the next 3 months of off-time and pray to the hockey gods that things look up from here.