Another season is in the books, and the 17th season in Lightning history ended in a disappointing 25th place finish – which is at the very least is sign of continuing "improvement" on the previous two years.
After last nights triumph resulted in the 2009/10 season ending on a high note - a three game win streak - it's time for an evening of reflection, much merriment and final thoughts on the collective unit that was the 2009/10 Tampa Bay Lightning.
Without further ado, we start with our first award of the night, an award recognising the achievements of a popular Bolt who finally made his name in the NHL this season.
Heavyweight Champion of the World!
Despite proving time and time again that he's more a lover than a fighter, Zenon Konopka's willingness to drop the gloves - either in defence of a team mate, to try kick start the team or just because he was plain bored - Konopka understood his role with the team, and executed it to near perfection. Recent reports will not sit well that the fan favourite was nearly (and ineptly) moved at the Trade Deadline, but it does show that after toiling around in the AHL for several seasons he is wanted at the NHL level.
Honourable Mention: Despite an unhelpful injury to his hands early in the season, Matt Walker would still put the team first when the call needed to be made.
Transaction of the Year
Sure, it's not the flashiest of moves, and those who don't follow the team as closely as us fans do may not appreciate what he brings to the rink each game, but Thompson has been a clear upgrade for a struggling PK and was a monster in the face-off circle, going 13-2 or 14-1 some nights. Of course, it's hardly a move that got us into the playoffs, but it's the kind of minor move a team needs to make if it wants to improve and achieve its goals.
Honourable Mentions: Lack of returning James Wright to Juniors after a strong training camp; A series of strong selections in the annual gamble (a.k.a., The Draft)
Over-Hyped Disappointment of the Year
So many to choose from, each of which has been blamed countless times as the cause of the Lightning's problems this season, but one name was mentioned pretty much constantly throughout the season as being a catastrophic failure and how heads should role for his signing: Alex Tanguay. It was a calculated gamble that didn't come off - I was pleased when he was signed in the first place, and think this is the kind of move we should have made... even when it didn't work. Does he have mitigating circumstances for his poor performance? Yeah, I think so. Does that get him off scott free? No, it doesn't - consecutive 35-40 point seasons is either a sign or very unfortunate for Tanguay's bank balance.
Honourable Mentions: The Goaltending got a lot of the blame as the season wore on; Vincent Lecavalier's poor start got more publicity than it deserved.
Disappointment of the Year
The eagle-eyed member of the audience will have noted the previous award was the "Over-Hyped" disappointment... what about the actual disappointment? No prizes for guessing it's related to the defence, I'm afraid, but it would be unfair to label the entire defence a disappointment: Kurtis Foster has been a signing that's worked well (the anti-Tanguay, if you will), David Hale played well at the start of the season before being derailed by injuries and Mike Lundin never even had so much as a bad shift.
So what gives? They left the goalies out to dry too often, they were more often than taking the easy way out, too reactive not proactive, and quite frankly gave up too many bad goals at bad times. Yes, secondary scoring is a big issue the new GM will need to address, but the Capitals have shown you can win games with iffy goaltending and average defence. Could this team have done that this year? I believe so - not to the level of 121pts and the President's Trophy, but five more wins would have given us a playoff spot... not an unrealistic expectation I feel (hope?), and one that falls at the feet of the man with the reputation of a defensive genius after all those seasons in Dallas, Rick Wilson.
(Dis-)Honourable Mentions: Lack of line stability; The "media circus" that will inevitably have been a distraction (however much the players may say otherwise).
Breakout of the Year
You can't really expect to get away without mentioning Steven Stamkos and his "Rocket" Richard sharing season, can you? Has it been the biggest Breakout this year though? I think not - are you surprised that he's reached this level? Of course not. This quickly? Maybe, yeah. How about Steve Downie then? Sure, there are times when he was borderline Neanderthal, but I'm more surprised (and pleased) that Downie's playing as if he's turned the corner and contributing to the scoreboard, not keeping the penalty box warm. We'll see how he handles the pressure of expectation next season, but for now Downie's a player I don't panic about seeing on the ice late in a close game.
Honourable Mentions: Steven Stamkos; Mike Lundin went from spending a year in the AHL to a top-pairing assignment against opponents super stars.
Our final award tonight is the one most of the audience is probably trying to get their hands on - recognition that you are one of the least replaceable players on the team, that you did your job to the best of your ability, and in this particular case went unnoticed until The Chief booted up his telestrator. Yes, it'll be a controversial and contentious selection, but Mike Lundin is this author's choice for MVP.
I dread to think where we'd have finished without Stamkos' goals or St. Louis' heart and courage, but I also couldn't think of anyone else I'd rather up against the top players in the league - if nothing else, who de have who's better? Ohlund? Maybe - he knows how to finish a check, but he's also on the downward swing. Hedman? Too inexperienced (for now, we hope!). Walker? Meszaros?! Exactly... In order to win, you need to score more goals than you concede - this team had too few scoring options to overcome its defensive frailties (despite its potential) so it's a testament to the job Lundin did that he was largely able to keep a lot of the league's super stars quiet.
Honourable Mentions: Martin St. Louis; Steven Stamkos.
That wraps it up for another season. Thanks for coming, we hope you had an enjoyed the ride - before you go though, it'd be wrong not to give one final "thank you" to the men who made it the season it was, the good, the bad and at times the downright ugly: your 2009/10 Tampa Bay Lightning!