When you want to talk about garbage sports franchises, it would be totally fair to bring up the Tampa Bay Lightning teams of the late 1990s. After making the playoffs for the first time in 1996, they went quickly slipping down the trash slide. The team was deep in debt and no one was sure if their Japanese owners existed; after all, no one had ever actually seen Takashi Okobu. Have YOU ever seen Takashi Okobu? In 1997, the team missed the playoffs. In the 1997-1998 season the Lightning lost an astounding 55 games.
Rob Zamuner, here is your team. Lead them, Rob. Captain them.
1998 was a big year for Rob Zamuner. An original Bolt who signed with the Lightning as a free agent prior to the 1992-1993 season, Zamuner was named to the Canadian Men's Hockey Team for the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. 1998 was the first year that NHL players were allowed to participate in the winter games, and the Canadian braintrust, headed by Glen Sather, thought it would be a good idea to include role players, like all good championship teams have. Zamuner was a surprise addition to the star-packed team, chosen for his defensive abilities and face-off skills. Team Canada failed to medal in the Games, and their failure led Canada to veer away from the idea of including role players. The 2002 team, which won the Gold in Salt Lake City, was basically an All-Star team. But I have obviously digressed.
In the fall of 1998, after previous captain Mikael Renberg was sent back to the Philadelphia Flyers, Rob was named the captain of the Lightning. The team had been sold to insurance bumpkin Art Williams, who increased payroll, which had been rock-bottom under the previous non-existent ownership. Despite adding players like Darcy Tucker, Wendel Clark and Stephane Richer, as well as first overall draft pick Vincent Lecavalier, the Lightning were still horribly horrible. They were dead last in the NHL for both goals scored (179) and goals allowed (292). They used a staggering 49 skaters and six goalies. They lost 54 games, which is about a million miles away from qualifying for the playoffs. GM Phil Esposito was fired only a few games into the season, and coach Jacques Demers wore both coach and GM hats for the rest of the season.
It was truly forgettable. Zamuner only served as captain for that one season, because bizarrely, he was traded to the Ottawa Senators in the spring of 1999. New owner Art Williams cut his losses and sold the team to Palace Sports and Entertainment's Bill Davidson. Davidson wanted his own boy as GM, so he sent Zamuner to Ottawa for Andreas Johansson and the rights to sign Ottawa GM Rick Dudley. Zamuner remains the only player ever to have been traded for a GM.
Although his year as captain was a disaster, Rob Zamuner remains a classic Lightning player. He played with the Lightning for their first seven seasons, appearing in 475 games, scoring 84 goals and 210 points.
Nolan Whyte is a regular contributor to Raw Charge. His latest novel Among The Humans features an alcoholic bird who writes detective novels and a lizard who loves hockey.