The magic of the 2004 Stanley Cup Championship lingered on through the summer for Lightning fans. NHL awards were heaped on Bolts players for their seasonal efforts, on coaching (John Tortorella won the Jack Adams), and on team executives (Jay Feaster was named Sporting News executive of the year). Consider it a warm afterglow from a job well done that year.
In reflection, it's an afterthought that there was player movement and transactions that summer. After all, it was only a matter of months before the malice of the 2004-05 NHL lockout wiped away the luster from what should have been the Tampa Bay Lightning's title-defense season. So the name of Andy Rogers not ringing a bell for Bolts fans wouldn't surprise me.
Rogers was drafted 30th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Lightning. What earned his selection was a huge frame (the growing boy was listed as 6'5" and 225 lbs. at the time) and steady play in his own zone. From Hockey's Future profile:on Rogers:
Many scouts will agree with Rogers. His combination of defensive play, physical presence, and sheer skating ability make him an intriguing prospect to say the least. Many teams may look over his offensive shortcomings, simply because of his smooth stride and physical stature.
Finding the combined size and skating ability that Rogers possesses is rare, especially in a defensemen. But because of his limited offensive upside, may find himself further down a club's depth chart.
The potential was there, even if the offensive prowess wasn't. Fate would prove Rogers flashing his abilities on NHL ice has never come to pass.
Rogers, now 26, has a dubious distinction among Lightning 1st round draftees to have never played in the NHL (this is excluding recent first-round draft picks Vladislav Namestnikov, Slater Koekkoek and Andrei Vasilevskiy). Even 1st round busts Mario Laroque (1996, 16th overall), and Vladmir Mihalik (2005, 30th overall) cracked the Lightning roster, if ever so briefly.
The closest Rogers ever came to breaking into the NHL was his first professional training camp with the Lightning in 2005. Rogers survived the first two roster cut downs while the Bolts were short on defense. Rogers impressed former GM Jay Feaster and former head coach John Tortorella to the point it earned him an entry level contract, but not so much as to leave Tortorella without doubts of starting a rookie in his top 6.
"Right now, I'm still not certain we have a sixth defenseman," Tortorella said. "This coaching staff has some real concerns about playing a 19-year-old on defense. And Helbling never has played in the NHL.
"And I don't mean this as disrespect to them. They have talent. But I'm not sure it's good for their development to be rushed into the lineup. So I want to do what's best for not only the NHL team, but also what is best for these two kids."
In the end, Rogers was demoted back to the Prince George Cougars, his WHL team at the time, in favor of 24 year old Timo Helbling... But even Helbling wasn't the solution on defense for the Bolts - as he was optioned to the Lightning's AHL affiliate after a handful of games. The Bolts called up a guy named Paul Ranger from the Falcons (who they had cut early in the preseason) who became a Lightning regular until his own disappearance four years later.
This simple twist of fate was as close as Rogers got to the NHL. He remained in the Lightning organization for the next four years, making his professional debut with the Springfield Falcons in 2006-07 while notching 7 assists in 48 games played (and a woeful plus/minus of minus-19 on a woeful Springfield team). Injuries often shortened his season but he remained part of the organization, playing for the Falcons, the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL and the Norfolk Admirals until he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in March 2009. Statistically, Andy only put up a handful of points each season, and never had a positive plus/minus.
Just a year after Rogers trade from the Lightning to the Maple Leafs, Rogers disappeared from hockey.
Andy played a total of seven regular-season games (between March 2009 and December 2009) and two 2009 playoff games for the Toronto Marlies (the Leafs AHL affiliate) after his acquisition. On December 9th, 2009, the Marlies released Rogers. Andy headed west, signing with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL, but his stay there was short lived as well - he played a total of 11 regular season games with the club before being released on March 14th, 2010.
And that's where the trail goes cold.
I tend to look up player statistics through Hockeydb.com. It's simple and not overloaded with graphics... When I look into any given player - be he a superstar or a journeyman, their trail of teams tends to never cease. Hockey players don't give up their dreams that easily. Case in point: The now 34-year-old Mario Laroque is playing in the American Central Hockey League for the Arizona Sundogs this season. A more recent, former Lightning draft pick Mike Egener (2003 2nd rounder, a former teammate of Rogers with the WHL Calgary Hitmen) is playing with the Coventry Blaze of the EIHL
But Rogers is missing in action. Good luck finding news past his release from the Marlies, as the Victoria Salmon Kings are now defunct.
It takes players time to develop. Media hype for top draft picks tends to give the impression that junior aged players - 17 to 20 year olds -- are ready to compete at the NHL level straight out of the draft, and that's not the truth. Realizing that, it's part of why the current Tampa Bay Lightning regime is being wise in building a strong system at all levels - NHL, AHL and (to a lesser extent as the Bolts do not have a full affiliation agreement) ECHL.
But no matter how much patience is given to some prospects, no matter if they're undrafted free agents or #1 overall picks, sometimes guys just won't pan out with thanks to competition for playing time, attitude, talent, or unforseen circumstances like injuries or personal issues.
Various circumstances may have led to Andy Rogers never playing in the NHL, That's certainly not uncommon, but disappointing none the less.
Author note, August 29th 2014: Since publishing this article, I've been emailed a few times regarding just where Andy Rogers is now. While he has dropped from the hockey world, he leads a productive life in Victoria, British Columbia; he owns a bar/restaurant in town and also is a real estate consultant.