Well Tampa Fan, I’m sure you made a nice impression for the prospective new owner. At least the 9,000 or so fans that were actually at the game. I checked the box score for the Lightning game last night and it was reported at 13,891. Reported attendances live in the same realm as unicorns and intelligent Flyers fans. In other words, they have no basis in reality.
I hadn’t planned on attending last night’s game, but I did end up in that part of town around game time. So I pulled into my normal parking spot ($5.00) and quickly found a scalp….err independent ticket provider. He asked for $20.00 for a 300-level ticket (face value $27.50). I laughed. Embarrassed, he lowered the price to $10.00.
With my first successful ticket haggling in awhile (my friend Link has banned me from negotiating for tickets in his presence because I was so bad at it) I followed the meager crowd into the Ice Palace. Walking in I was greeted with…..a half empty building. Way to support that playoff team Tampa Bay!
The Bolts pulled out the victory in front of an uninspired crowd that, according to the Tampa Tribune, included Jeffrey Vinik, the soon-to-be latest ringmaster of the Lightning circus. I could spend the rest of this post coming up with reasons why he should be worried that he’s throwing $150 million down the drain, but that would be negative. I’m trying to reduce the negative and increase the positive here at the Wasteland so I decided that I should give Mr. Vinik Five Good Reasons To Be The Lightning Owner.
1. Steven Stamkos from the left circle – It’s getting ridicules at this point. On the power play, Young Stamkos drifts into the left circle while Marty St Louis cradles the puck along the opposite half-wall. The diminutive St Louis passes the puck to The Glass Crusher Kurtis Foster who decides to either crank up the 101 mph shot that instills fear into defenders and Plexiglas providers or pass the puck to the waiting Stamkos.
If he elects to pass it to Stamkos the sophomore sensation pulls his stick back and fires off a one-timer, short side, and the puck hits the back of the net in the blink of an eye. Everyone celebrates and the arena plays “Hammer Time”. Much rejoicing is had by all. Watch the third goal he scores in this montage for video evidence. And you're welcome for the Dave Mishken call of the goals....in other words turn down the speakers if you're at work
The Stamkos one-timer is a think of beauty for many, many reasons, the most impressive is its accuracy. A lot of forwards have a hard shot, but few put it on net as consistently as Stamkos. Watch it Lightning fans, appreciate it, don’t take it for granted.
2. Vincent Lecavalier’s toe drag attempts – Along with his no-movement clause I believe Vincent also has a “toe drag” clause. Every game he attempts to fake out a defender by drawing the puck from his forehand, between his legs, and to his forehand. It rarely works, but when it does it’s spectacular.
The fact that he continues to try it every game is what makes him so enjoyable to watch. Unlike the others on the ice he has a spark of creativity to his game that garners your attention whenever he has the puck in open ice. If it fails, fans grumble and call him names, but when it works it produces “did you see that?” type of reactions.
3. Steve Downie’s “grittiness” – The trade that brought Downie to the Lightning (Matt Carle to the Flyers for Steve Eminger and Steve Downie) was panned at the time. The Bolts were perceived to be giving up a promising young defender for a journeyman defender (Eminger) and a head case (Downie). While Carle has flourished playing alongside Chris Pronger in Philidelphia it is Downie that has emerged as a surprise.
He has controlled his temper for the most part this season and has used that energy to become a ferocious forechecker and a dangerous linemate for Stamkos and St Louis. Several times during the Lightning’s recent improved play Coach Tocchet has singled Downie out as being the best player on the ice.
I like calling him Steve Avery with skill or a young Darcy Tucker. He has the ability to put up 20 goals in this league and temperament to draw countless penalties from the other team. Against Anaheim he created at least three turnovers in the offensive zones. When he and St Louis are on their game they give the opposing team fits getting the puck out of their zone.
4. Zenon Konopka’s goofiness – It’s been awhile since the Lightning have had a folk hero on the ice. Andre Roy was close, but he spent too much time in Tortorella’s doghouse to be truly appreciated. I would think Konopka is approaching Enrico Ciccone status in the TBA (“Chico’s on the ice, Chico will take care of you”).
Zeke is never going to score 20 goals in a season. What he is going to do is win 60% of the face-offs and make sure no one takes liberties with Stamkos or St Louis. With 185 penalty minutes and 25 games to go he’s well on his way to shattering the Lightning’s penalty minutes in a season record which currently is held by Ciccone with 258.
Tampa fans are an interesting and oft-maligned bunch. They appreciate a solid hit into the boards more than a between-the-legs goal, which probably explains the love/hate with Lecavalier. Nothing gets the Nascar-lovin’, Bubba-supportin’ crowd going more than a round of fist-a-cuffs and Zenon is more than happy to oblige.
5. You’re only paying $150 million! – The latest reports from Canada have the purchase price at $150 million for the team, the Ice Palace, and the 5 and ½ acres of waterfront property around the arena. That’s crazy even in today’s depressed economy.
For comparison, the Davidson Group bought the Lightning from Art Williams for $98 million in 1999. OK Hockey bought the team from the Davidson Group in 2008 for $200 million. The Dallas Stars are next on the shopping block and the estimates are that bidding will START at $300 million. Vinik is getting a great price on a franchise that is struggling right now.
Tampa loves a front-runner so if the Bolts stay in the playoff race the fans will come out. A couple of home sell-outs at the end of the season, and a couple of home play off games will make the bottom line a lot more attractive.
I don’t see him as a long term owner, but if he can provide stability for five years or so isn’t that all a fan can ask for these days?
There’s a lot to love in Tampa besides the weather in winter. If the team keeps winning the fans will come out, because there is nothing this town likes better than a front-runner. So don’t worry when you see those empty seats Mr. Vinik, keep the team stable and they will soon be filled with money-dropping fans. After all, those bandwagon fans have to buy their new jerseys from somewhere, right?