In Pensburgh's own efforts to continue promoting other team blogs around the blogosphere, we wanted to get a Tampa Bay Lightning fan's opinion on how the team is doing before a preview is written. For this installment, we asked John from Boltsmag what he thought about the Lightning.
1. With regards to Pittsburgh, the "who is the better player" debate is often focused not on Crosby and Malkin, but more on Crosby and Ovechkin. Is there any such controversy between Lecavalier and St. Louis?
Lecavalier and St. Louis? Nope. I mean, let me take a moment and recount history here: Vinny's been with the Bolts since 1998 when he was drafted... Marty was signed as a zero-risk player in 2000 by then-GM Rick Dudley who thought Marty (who'd been relegated to 3rd/4th line status in Calgary after being a Hobby Baker finalist in college)could regain his touch. I think it's been clear to everyone here in Tampa through Vinny and Marty's tenure that they are very different players but they compensate each other. If you made the comparison Vinny/Brad Richards, then the argument comes up (comparisons and such). Brad won the Conn Smythe and Vincent has since gone into a league of his own, play wise. Brad has sunk with weaker line-mates... Both are dynamic centers who can perform... but the argument/comparison comes up too often about them. Vinny is winning the battle of public opinions though, of course, because he's putting up.
2. If I'm not mistaken the Lightning have been having some goaltending issues this year. Similarly the Pens were in a bit of a jam when Fleury went down and Sabouin and Conklin were fighting for the starter spot. Where do the Bolts stand in the net right now?
In net, right now, Karri Ramo is getting an extended look-see. Those paying attention to general NHL news will known the Marc Denis experiment is over in Tampa as he was sent down to AHL Norfolk. That leaves Johan Holmqvist as the veteran netminder but he is getting less playing time with Ramo between the pipes now.
3. You have guys like Vinny and Marty, and even the big D guys like Paul Ranger. Clearly they can all put up numbers, but what do you think attributes to the Lightning sitting uncomfortably in the basement of the Eastern Conference?
It's a long story and I think more complicated than knee-jerk reactionary answers can give why the Lightning are in the cellar. Lets step back to the Marc Denis "experiment" in the last answer. General Manager Jay Feaster gambled twice on netminders for the Lightning in the wake of the lockout wiping out the final year of Nikolai Khabibulin's contract (an option year the team would have picked up). Both gambles failed. The 2nd failing - the acquisition and faltering of Denis started a domino effect last season from the very get go. When Denis was obtained, it cost Fredrik Modin who was a huge asset (offensively and on special teams and in leadership terms) to the Lightning. He was Brad Richards linemate and Richards has suffered (aforementioned)without his power winger to work with. Denis never lived up to expectations of course. So from a two-line threat team to a one line threat team with inconsistent goaltending. Now throw in other things such as Tim Taylor - the teams veteran voice - has gone out with his hip injury (maybe done for his career), then Dan Boyle's injury earlier this season and throwing more young players into the defensive mix (and therefore adding instability) and you have all the makings of the wheels falling off.
One of the problems I could see last season was the Bolts were playing as a one-line team (Vaclav Prospal - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis) and this season the talent drop off just seems further. While there's talent, there is a lack of cohesion and mismanagement. Jay Feaster can't rectify problems with the teams ownership status in limbo... That's the major factor that people around the league need to remember with the trade deadline looming: Tampa Bay's hands are tied -- buying OR selling. The team is in the process of being sold and that means no additional payroll or subtraction in payroll... Unless current ownership and new ownership (Hollywood Exec/Producer Oren Koules) reach an agreement and also agree to let payroll change for the betterment of the franchise. It's a mess.
4. On a similar note, is all hope lost this season for the Lightning, or is it possible for them to turn it around and make a real go for it? What has to be done for them to gain their footing again?
For long term planning, I'd write off this season... As I just mentioned, ownership stability is a need if anything is going to happen at all but right now I think all is lost. Maybe respectability is what the Lightning can re-attain in the coming weeks. Or maybe they can shock me like 2004? I doubt that this time around as the one-line team and fledgling defense isn't enough to take the team very far. Getting a morale boost is desperately needed... Something that just energizes the club and gives long-term hope (as well as short term).
5. Does hockey in Tampa have a steady life force behind it? Many people expected the Phoenix franchise to crash with the concept of introducing hockey in the desert. What is the fan base like in TB?
The fanbase in Tampa is generalized by those not here to see things... You can find rumors online all over the place (or misconceptions, lies, etc) about ticket prices and such. The fact is, after 16 years of NHL hockey in the Tampa Bay metro region -- there is a healthy fanbase here and a populous that will turn out to support the team. The fans, the true fans, stuck around while the team was losing 50 games a season in back-to-back-to-back seasons. While ridicule was easily flung at Tampa fans (and the relocation BS was easily thrown about because a loser is an easy target), nobody anywhere would have turned out for the team.
The Lightning have taken root here in the Bay area. Players are surprised it how rowdy the fans can get and compare it to any traditional market... The franchise will always, it seems, be looked at as being in such a non-traditional market that it should be relocated...But it doesn't make sense with the team being soundly tied into the public conscience and supported by the fans. Phoenix is in a bad situation and at the other end of the spectrum as a franchise planted in a "non-traditional" market.