"Revel in it. It happened. That was us. And it can happen again." Usually, annually on June 7th, I write that line down in a story to commemorate the 2004 Stanley Cup Championship won by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Yes, the Bolts were Stanley Cup Champs, and players like Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Dan Boyle and Fredrik Modin are engraved on the Cup. They're part of the legend that is that sacred chalice.
That happened. That was us. But it's over now; past tense.
It's been nine years -- nine years - since Dave Andreychuk was told by Commissioner Gary Bettman to come get his Stanley Cup. We've seen two US presidents elected during three distinct presidential elections; three summer Olympic games (and two winter Olympiads). We've seen a economic recession, and the Tampa Bay Rays play in Major League Baseball's World Series. Two different groups purchase the Lightning, two NHL lockouts, and the White Stripes broke up...
Yeah, those aren't hard numbers and hard data that key in on the passage of time, but I'm trying to make a small point that while fans can take pride in knowing the Bolts have won it all in the past... Well, it's in the past. It's over. It's done with. Tampa Bay is one of 18 teams in the current NHL to have hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup.
And the passage of time since their title makes it more and more irrelevant; an aberration in NHL history to coincide other aberrations.
Do fans revel in the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs, the last Leafs team to win the Cup? How about the New York Islanders from the late 70's/early 80's; a dynasty that gave way to mediocrity? Even the glory claimed by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier's Edmonton Oiler teams are fading into the past with each season of lackluster results and high draft picks from the current Oilers organization.
The world has moved on since that hot night in June 2004 when the then-St. Pete Times Forum seemed to outright sweat with the beyond-capacity crowd. 15 players from that Cup winning team have either retired or just haven't played recently (Andreychuk, Tim Taylor, Cory Stillman, Modin, Chris Dingman, Andre Roy, Jassen Cullimore, Daryl Sydor, Brad Lukowich, Ben Clymer, Nolan Pratt, John Grahame, Stan Neckar, Shane Willis, Darren Rumble), four played overseas last season (Pavel Kubina, Dmitry Afanasenkov, Eric Perrin, Martin Cibak), and seven remain active at the NHL level (Lecavalier, St. Louis, Richards, Ruslan Fedotenko, Dan Boyle, Cory Sarich, Nikolai Khabibulin).
Some of those names are warm memories, others distant ones that may barely exist. And for more recent fans, younger fans, or casual fans, a lot of those names mean nothing because of irrelevance.
I'm not trying to be a downer, or piss people off and present this like it's a crime to celebrate the Lightning winning the NHL's ultimate prize... I am saying that it's a fading memory and it's high time the Bolts go back to making new memories.
The 2013-14 Lightning team, the new players acquired over the years and the two remaining veterans from a decade ago won't be seeking to win the Cup again, or play like the 2004 team. They'll be playing as themselves, their own identity, their own style, with their own benchmarks they seek to meet or exceed.
2004 and the glory of the Cup, those who experienced it and still cling to it, is yours to behold for the lot of your days... But the spectacle of the anniversary diminishes with the passage of time. We move on with growing wonder if or when this franchise will once again experience the majesty of the achievement that is winning the Stanley Cup.