"This is futile," the text message from my buddy Bill read. "They get one a minute in and they're done. It's like the Ludzik days all over again....Every time I watch, there are a couple of new numbers out there on the ice."
Bill is no casual fan... He's been through the times of despair, times of hope and times of glory when it comes to the Lightning. He may not be a season ticket holder but he's as committed to the team as anyone else out there... And he's been there since the start.
And this is part of the reason why there is so much distress out there among Lightning fans. No one is going to swoop in and save the team (even if OK Hockey thinks adding more offense is going to change things). The chemistry has turned to mud and the focus on the roster was on numbers and reputation more so than how well pieces of the puzzle fit together.
Bill's venting brought back memories of the end of the 1990's as Palace Sports started their ownership tenure with a cast of has-beens, cast-offs, never-were's, and yet-to-be's:
I kept looking at the roster and seeing grim reminders of days past. The former Detroit Viper trifecta of Stan Drulia, Dan Kesa and Ian Herbers for example...
Drulia, Kesa, Herbers...
Drulia, Kesa, Herbers...?
Drulia, Kesa, Herbers... Oh my!
Drulia, Kesa, Herbers... Oh my!
Drulia, Kesa, Herbers, OH MY!
Note, that wasn't a chant of endearment...
But the grim difference between that roster and this one is that Palace Sports refused to spend much to begin with, with the Lightning, and focused on player development and roster moves. Some panned out over time and some didn't... But enough panned out that Lord Stanley's cup was secured in five seasons of play.
You didn't expect a roster where the one constant was mediocrity... Where the head coach's experience was the IHL level (and dumping in the puck seemed to be the only attempt at offensive gameplay). To think that the 2008-09 roster is currently made up of a plathora of big names, big contracts and similar production numbers (what production?) seems like a sick joke.
In the 1998-99 offseason, as Rick Dudley took over General Management duties of the Lightning from Jacques Demers, Demers is supposed to have told Dudley the sick truth. "There's nothing in the system, the cupboard is bare."
That quote was part of the hopelessness of 1999-2000 and the promise of days ahead. While Dudley has been shit upon by fans for his perchance to acquire soft Euro's and Russians, he did put together a majority of the roster that would go on to win the Cup. He did (as he so often liked to chirp about) go about collecting assets yet again.
The only focus of the 2008-09 Tampa Bay Lightning franchise is at the top of the pops. The NHL Team... and with a roster of names (if not roles), the team's performance compares directly to this franchise's darkest days when it had nothing at all.
The Lightning went on to win 19 games in 1999-2000 (19-54-9-7 54 points). The current pace -- 6-13-8 in 27 games, 20 points -- is 18.
Barry Melrose, Rick Tocchet... It doesn't matter right now. Thus Steve Ludzik is on our minds, but the promise and hope that better days are ahead seems absent.