Today marks finality of the process that was the 2013 NHL season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. It's the finite point. It's the end of the chapter.
...But it's not.
You see, while the seasons of the Lightning and Florida Panthers come to a close today, both franchises and their respective fanbases look to a different process that is always in progress for any pro-sports team.
The focus is on tomorrowseason and the possibilities that come with it.
That's not a wait-until-next-year phrase, but a constructive label of the long range, the long-term, the development, the building, and the overall process of becoming of the personnel in the system that goes well beyond the scope of a single year. Tomorrowseason doesn't represent next season and hope and promise that comes with it, but the much broader scope of the future and those who will somehow contribute to it.
While a singular season is a process of becoming, tomorrowseason represents the promise of becoming.
At times this season, tomorrowseason has been today as we've seen the fruits of the Lightning system contribute at the NHL level. Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik, since-departed Cory Conacher, Radko Gudas, Mark Barberio, Andrej Sustr and Brett Connolly all participated at one point or another at the NHL level and contributed to the team. Their hockey careers are in front of them and hopefully they'll be contributing to the Lightning lineup for years to come. Still others are in the pipeline playing in juniors, the KHL, in college and for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch.
Tomorrowseason aren't just those guys; they're the draft picks that will be called during this summer's NHL draft, they're the junior and college aged free-agents that will be signed over the summer or in the future.
It's easy to get lost in the failure that has been this season; it's easy to overlook the successes of individuals this year... But you can't get lost in the mire of poor results, or remain distraught over missed chances, poor results, fallen comrades and tarnished heroes. It's hard to survive as a sports fan if you do.
For the Lightning, today marks the end of the process that was the NHL's stunted, greed-shortened 2013 NHL seasons. Today also marks the beginning of the process of achieving for the Syracuse Crunch. The Crunch begins the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs against the Portland Pirates.
For Lightning fans, the Crunch's playoff berth is the promise of tomorrowseason, today.
The 2013 season closes the same way it opened - with a tall Swede in net for the Lightning. Anders Lindback gets the start. He'll likely be facing off against fellow Swede Jacob Markstrom. Jacob is 7-14-1 this season with a 3.23 GAA and .901 save percentage. He's been playing with a very weak Panther team in front of him (but that stat line makes it look like he's taking lessons from a certain goalie coach).
To jinx both goalies, neither has had a shutout this season - though Lindback has come close on multiple occasions.
Radko Gudas and Richard Panik are back in Syracuse for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. That means Mathieu Roy makes his NHL season debut and Ryan Malone ends his press box exile and will play. The Malone benching is more of a tale than I know.
While I was waxing poetic about the future for the club, there is a harsh reality that I must also address with the current Lightning roster: it's a truth that this is the last time you'll see this arrangement of players on the Lightning roster. The question is what will change in the off-season? The NHL salary cap falls to just over $64 million next season, and while the Lightning have a majority of its roster under contract for next year (Benoit Pouliot, Pierre Cedric Labrie and Keith Aulie being the notable exception), it's likely that moves will be made to create cap space as well as give opportunities to some of the players currently with the Syracuse Crunch.
So, revel in this team one last time if you will... But then be ready to cut the cord with individuals, because things change and things will change for the sake of the cap and for the sake of addressing the failings of the 2013 team.
One final note: While the Florida Panthers have clinched the worst record in the NHL this season, it is important to mention that they have not clinched the #1 overall draft pick. In fact, the 2013 NHL draft lotto will differentiate from previous years because any non-playoff team can win the draft lottery.
In short, it's not certain yet if -potential #1 draft pick Seth Jones is taking his talents to South Beach or not. The draft lottery is Monday... We'll find out the draft order then.
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