You can love the 2014-15 season and the end result, or you can feel the shortcoming of finishing second - falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals. You can reflect in the memories from the season, the storylines, the singular goals and different in-game dramas. Yet that was the life and times of last season and that's in the past now. It's past-tense.
Over, done with, moot, and in the history books. We move forward.
That story that took place from October through June of the 2014-15 season is not 2015-16 and a necessary reminder that things begin at zero falls on the Tampa Bay Lightning fans and franchise. Expecting achievement does not work unless the process of becoming is followed, where the cogs and sprockets of the sports machine swirl and mesh to achieve on a personal and joint level.
This is not last season though, and expecting the same and better is one hell of a lofty goal. We should dial it back.
It not supposed to mean people should not have a bar to try to reach and leap over, but it is a necessity not to get lost in the hysteria of expectations which label the Bolts as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Expectations are a gauge built on a mix of so many direct things with the club and the grander league. Yet it doesn't tell the story of what will happen around the National Hockey League from tonight until the last horn sounds. For all we know, the Edmonton Oilers are going to lead the Western Conference in a slaughter and the Lightning get bogged down by injuries, controversies and drama which keeps them out of the playoffs and upsetting fans into a panic. It's the great truth that outweighs all expectations - there's too much to be done and told for all players on all 30 NHL teams and what they do with their teammates, how they react to coaching and management, what trials they face and how they overcome them or fall to the wayside because of them.
The Lightning went through the process of the season and got to the verge of what all teams strive for: becoming champions. Injuries, illness and a competitive opponent kept them from reaching that final plateau. And while we have the confidence in Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson,Ben Bishop, Ryan Callahan, Ondrej Palat, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Jason Garrison, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Jonathan Drouin and the rest of the cast of the 2015-16 roster, the fact everyone starts at zero must be applied again.
You know what they're all capable of, but it's their drive and how they fare again opposition that'll tell you if this team goes anywhere. You have faith in Jon Cooper as head coach and Steve Yzerman as general manager, but what questions they'll face and what decisions they'll reach with the roster and the general franchise direction will not be known until those challenges come forward.
We start from scratch, and it's a bumpy ride but you love this trip regardless of outcome. That's the life of a sports fan: You come back because you have enjoyment in the game. You revel in the art of the physical contest night in and night out. You'll enjoy the ride no matter where it goes - even if you are left disappointed or let down.
But if fate plays in favor of the Tampa Bay Lightning, if all the cogs click as they should and God wills it, maybe the hype of preseason expectations will be met and you'll hear Commissioner Gary Bettman bellow in June for captain Steven Stamkos to come get his Stanley Cup.
We start at nothing, though. Come what may, every moment from this point forward counts as part of the story of the 2015-16 season.