There's a sense of hopelessness and melancholy hanging over the Tampa Bay Lightning at current with knowing that their season is over, even with ten games left in the 2009-2010 NHL season.
There seem to be two types of reactions to this taking place among the Lightning faithful.
For starters, there is finger pointing and blame being passed around. I would be a hypocrite if I were to present myself as above the blame-game. There's enough evidence from our game-threads to know that I've had issues with coaching this season...
Yet laying blame is beside the point. The second reaction that you can see from the fans - or at least the media - is excuse making. The excuses are seldom tied to the blame, but they are still excuses none the less. Reasons why the team is tanking and excuses for hypothetical's of what would have made the team more competitive.
Case in point: Sunday morning you could find Damian Cristordero of the St. Petersburg Times lamenting the lack of acquisition of a puck-moving defenseman at the trade deadline, and lamenting the fact that the Bolts had lost Paul Ranger early in the season. This would have opened up the offense and taken pressure off the forwards and so on, and so forth.
Yet, having a puck-moving defenseman isn't a cure-all acquisition in the least. The Lightning defense has not played well the majority of the season, period. While the skill is there on paper, they have often times not played as a cohesive unit. Even with a puck-moving defenseman that aided the offense, it does not make up for fundamental flaws that were exploited and cost the Bolts games.
Let's go further on this and ask what-if, just for humors sake. What if this sought-after puck-moving defenseman was acquired? What would be accomplished besides the fact that instead of tanking 11 of the past 14 games, the Lightning would continue on their mediocre play that had followed them all season? They've never quite played great hockey, but never quite played horridly either. Would that level of consistent-inconsistency have earned a first-round playoff berth for the Bolts? And wouldn't it have assured a first-round bouncing in the playoffs as well?
Could that, ultimately competing for a playoff spot, even have happened given the coaching upheaval during the Olympic break? Jim Johnson has been an invisible persona with the Lightning since his "promotion" and head coach Rick Tocchet has kept him at arm's-length. Loyalty to a deposed assistant instead of working with new staff is not ultimately working with the team's best interests in mind.
At what cost, as well, would you be willing to pay for a first-round tossing from the playoffs? Is it worth messing with the long-term development of the club for a one-and-done playoff series? Oh, sure, the playoffs are known as the "second season" because just about anything can happen... But with how the Lightning had played during the majority of their first season, is there any reason to expect them to be more competitive during their second?
There are countless excuses to make for why this season went south as it did: The Olympics, injuries, coaching, inconsistency in goal, sluggish offensive effort by key players. The excuse of lack-of-acquisitions at the deadline, however, is the weakest excuse of them all and the most misplaced excuse as well. If the league has shown us anything during 2009-10, it's that single points would have made all the difference.
Those single points were squandered earlier in the season, by way of last minute losses (including overtime and the shootout). The Bolts are 12-10-12 in one-goal games, that's a deceptive number that should be presented as 12-22. A dismal .353 winning percentage. They were squandered by the team coming in and playing uninspired hockey for 40+ minutes a night, instead of competing for an entire 60 minutes.
Having a puck-moving defenseman would be a nice addition to the roster (and should be a goal for the off-season), but it would not have put the Lightning over the top. With the immediate uncertainty in the direction of the club's future, selling the farm for a half-baked, last-ditch effort to compete this season just wouldn't have cut it.