Can Lightning Strike Twice?
It has not been a banner season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. For the second consecutive year, the Lightning will finish with the NHL’s worst record. They also are the league’s worst defensive team. They are now going on their third ownership in the last two years. They are the only team in the NHL whose general manager is also its coach. Things couldn’t look bleaker…or could they?
After finishing last overall in 1998, the Lightning took its first step towards respectability in drafting centre Vincent Lecavalier. The 6-4 rookie is obviously going through some growing pains with the league’s doormat. However, he is progressing nicely since the all-star break and looks every bit the franchise player he was selected to be. Similarly, Pavel Kubina just might be the best-looking rookie defenseman in the NHL this season. Furthermore, the trade deadline was a fruitful exercise for the Lightning this season, acquiring two young players with promise: defenseman Sergei Gusev and left winger Colin Forbes. In goal, after a few seasons of frustrating veterans Daren Puppa and Bill Ranford, the Bolts now have an interesting combination of Corey Schwab and newly-acquired Kevin Hodson.
Still, more is needed obviously for the Lightning to become playoff contenders…and more is what they are going to get in the form of another top-2 selection in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. The Lightning is reasonably young and deep up the middle with the likes of Lecavalier, Chris Gratton and Darcy Tucker already in Tampa. So, perhaps the Lightning would be wise in selecting super sniper Pavel Brendl of the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. Brendl, a big Czech right winger with a deft scoring touch, could be a terrific winger for Lecavalier. Or, the Lightning may be tempted by one of the super Sedin twins, left winger Daniel. Rumours continue to persist that the Sedin twins want to try to play together when they get to the NHL. So, centre Henrik Sedin may be held back from the 1999 draft in order to have a better chance to be selected by Daniel’s team in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
Lastly, the wild card for the future in Tampa Bay may be Rimouski Oceanic centre-left winger Brad Richards. Richards, a teammate of Lecavalier’s both with the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior League and with the QMJHL’s Oceanic, has shown the hockey world that he is capable of playing at a high level without Lecavalier. Richards moved to centre on the Oceanic’s first line this season, and finished once again in the league’s top-5 in scoring. To top it all off, Richards is leading the Oceanic to a possible second-round shocker in the Quebec League playoffs over the second-rated team in the entire CHL, the Quebec Remparts. So, it will still take at least two more seasons, but the future looks much brighter in Tampa today than it did at the start of the season. With new owner Bill Davidson committed to building with youth, things are looking up. Davidson’s good friend and the current coach of the IHL’s Detroit Vipers (Davidson’s other hockey investment) Steve Ludzik should be the man in charge next season, which can only help as well. It shouldn’t be too much longer before we finally rid the NHL vocabulary of the moniker “Bolts are Dolts”.
Here’s a look at what the Tampa Bay Lightning may look like two years from now:
Richards-Lecavalier-Matt Elich D.Sedin-H.Sedin-Eero Somervuori Forbes-Tucker-Alexandre Daigle Rob Zamuner-Gratton-Corey Spring
Karel Betik-Kubina Paul Mara-Gusev Mario Laroque-Cory Cross