The Lightning are plummeting in the standings (with the Washington Massacre being the latest evidence) and I think it's time to face some very hard, difficult to swallow in some lights, and debatable facts.
The team is on the cusp of being shunned from the playoffs in a tight eastern conference race. Forget the Southeast title -- the playoffs themselves are in question unless the Lightning starts playing at another level. To play better, the entire roster needs to contribute offensively and yet the only offensive output lately seems to be Vincent Lecavalier.
This is a one line team. Vinny and Marty, Marty and Vinny and whoever is on their wing. That's not going to cut it.
We shouldn't be shocked at the Lightning falling back to earth. They have been habitually on-and-off all season. They started ice cold, for instance, with Ryan Craig as the key cog on offense. They heated up and put themselves in the playoff hunt when it mattered the most (January) and Jay Feaster did the fans and the franchise a favor by trading for long term help instead of a final big-name for the playoff push.
One big name was never going to put the Lightning over the top, and yet gutting the roster (as Feaster threatened) wasn't something that needed to be done either. The core is still there, but there does need to be changes to those around that core.
Those changes start with Vaclav Prospal and Cory Sarich leaving town. Maybe another team will enjoy seeing them on ice whenever an opponent scores?
Can the Lightning still make the playoffs? If the team finishes like last season - no way. It's far too tight in the Eastern Conference for a half-hearted effort. Yet, even if they do turn things around and make the playoffs (and convincingly) the Bolts are still in trouble with opposing defenses attuned to Lecavalier as the Lightning's offensive threat. Shut down Vinny and you shut down the Bolts... Oh, and the Lightning don't have the shoot-out to help them along like they did during the regular season.
While I'm doom-and-gloom on the Lightning's chances for the remainder of 2006-07 at this point, I'm not pessimistic about the Lightning's chances in the future. They didn't rob Peter to pay Paul at the deadline... They didn't sell off their defensive prospects, or purge salary as was threatened. I want to see Mike Egener, Matt Smaby and Andy Rogers getting face time in Tampa next year (instead of Jay Feaster going out and spending on FA defensivemen to take the place of Sarich and others). But that's next year -- and the Lightning still have a shot at this year...
...or do they?