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"Pulp Fiction" and the future of the Tampa Bay Lightning

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One simple, two word question and how there's so many different aspects it applies to with the team and the future of Steven Stamkos.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One thing I like about the movie Pulp Fiction is its multiple angles / storylines that play out during segments of the movie and how they cross paths in different ways between sections of the film. How the film isn't exactly told in chronological order adds to the story-arc crossovers. It, the film and aspects I think highly of, is a subject I'll have to blog about further at one point or another on my personal blog for the sake of getting thoughts out of my head, but there's only one line that makes the film relevant at the moment created by the news that broke late last night after the Bolts victory over New Jersey:

"What now?"

I can't go into detail on what plays out in the scene from the film where boxer Butch Coolidge asks mob-boss Marcellus Wallace the question... Oh, sure I could, but it's irrelevant. Does a pawn shop have anything to do with a hockey team? How would you tie Maynard, Zed, or The Gimp to the current state of affairs with the Tampa Bay Lightning and NHL? Wait,wait... Don't answer that... I don't want to even ponder it.

"What now?"

What is relevant is that question. It also is an example of how multiple angles play out in each chapter of the Pulp Fiction story line. The immediate future and the long term coincided with Butch Coolidge asking just what was next. His intention when asking was personal and long-term between himself and Wallace, while Marcellus immediate answer was tied to events of immediate - Wallace and a crew of west-coast mobsters were going to have a little interaction with Zed that would result (after torture) with Zed's life ceasing. We'll leave it at that.

What now is highly relevant because of the state of affairs after the team announced last night that center Steven Stamkos - #1 overall draft pick by the club in 2008, current team captain, and pending unrestricted free agent - would be having vascular surgery on Monday to remove a blood clot. Stamkos' recovery time will take anywhere from one month to three. So what now? And no, vascular surgery does not amount to getting "medieval on his ass."

The immediate situation is a Lightning team that is still outside a playoff berth (and has the playoffs directly to plan for as they are that close to clinching a spot) and needs to re-assess the lineup for the club to put its best foot forward with closing out the regular season and ready itself for the opening round of the 2016 NHL playoffs.

The roster itself is already stocked in numerous fashions, especially with center depth. That's one aspect of the Lightning that doesn't draw attention on a regular basis. While Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson and Brian Boyle are the regulars at center (at least when Stamkos hasn't been shifted to wing), the forward corps contains more guys experienced at playing center. Vladislav Namestnikov is most often used as the fill-in center but it's notable that Cedric Paquette and Alex Killorn both have done time in their hockey lives playing center. With those guys potentially shifting from wing to center (and the immediate move by Jon Cooper was Namestnikov), that avenue is taken care of. Yet it's notable that Namestnikov and Killorn aren't that strong at the faceoff (Vladdy has a 44.2 faceoff win percentage, Killorn is all of 38% in 79 total faceoffs taken this season). Meanwhile, Paquette has had 269 faceoffs taken this season and has the second-highest win percentage (50.6%) of the above listed centers (Valtteri Filppula leads with a 51.9 faceoff win percentage).

Faceoffs aren't the aspect of Stamkos' game that everyone focuses on (for what it's worth, his win percentage was 49.9); it's his offensive contribution to the Lightning that's always drawn the league's attention. Through his final game of the regular season on Thursday against Montreal, Stamkos led the team in points (he's tied at the moment with Nikita Kucherov) with 64. He leads the club in goals with 36 and he's third on the team with 28 assists.

That's one hell of a potency that's dropped from the lineup.

It is possible to go without Stamkos' offensive contribution; last night against New Jersey showed us this (though the power play, which is already anemic, took a blow by losing #91). The loss of that integral offensive cog has lit up debate on a recall from the Syracuse Crunch... or a non-debate and more of grounds for original-intentions to playing out on the transaction wire.

You do remember the circumstances that led to Jonathan Drouin being sent north to the Syracuse Crunch, don't you? Limited in playing time and needing to hone his game, general manager Steve Yzerman reassigned Drouin to guarantee him solid playing time. What transpired and got the spotlight from January 3rd until the beginning of March was a charade of discontent and trade talk. I won't go into that, you can go check out the StoryStream that highlighted our coverage of all that stuff from days gone by. Drouin since joining Syracuse in January (and before walking out on the club) has played 16 games and notched 12 points (10 goals, 2 assists). Paring that down to his time since rejoining the Crunch in early March, Drouin has played 9 games, scoring 8 goals and 1 assist. That's certainly something noteworthy that also can be considered a "what's best for the team" move if Drouin is recalled.

Yet it can also be argued that there is no need for a roster addition right now. The Lightning has already raided the Crunch of two assets in Jonathan Marchessault and Mike Blunden. Blunden plays bottom-6 minutes and Marchessault has had a knack to bounce all over the Lightning lineup (bottom-6 play, special teams on both the power play and penalty kill, time in the top-6 as well), scoring 7 goals and 10 assists in 43 games. Is the answer for the moment simply giving the guy nicknamed "Marshmallow" more consistent playing time in a top-line role or making that recall instead?

From the aspect of Lightning fans, everything focuses on the well being of the team, but long term with player development has to be thought about here. That's not reference to Drouin specifically but the entirety of the Syracuse Crunch roster and the team's contention. Despite the fact mediocrity has reigned in Syracuse for the majority of the season, the team is still in contention for a playoff berth. To raid them, to make a recall of Drouin or Tye McGinn, Yanni Gourde or another offensive threat, will likely end the Crunch season. While that actually adds more potential depth to the Lightning roster (should the team have success in the playoffs), it doesn't guarantee playing time for those recalled. Playing and contending in the minor leagues might not seem directly important, but long term? It has its influences on players. Just ask Johnson, Killorn and Ondrej Palat.

"What now?" is long term too and it's been the elephant in the room all season for the Bolts with thanks to Canadian media coverage and conclusion-drawing. That aspect is the pending free agency of #91. Very little has played out publicly regarding Steven Stamkos and contract talks with the Lightning. There have been pleasantries that have come out by way of Newport Sports (the agency that represents Stamkos), there have been declarations that Stamkos was not on the market as the trade deadline neared... Now? Now Stamkos will be idled by way of recovery. His first focus will be just that, healing, but an idled man who has this weight around his shoulders - his future - will have contract talks receive more time and energy than it could receive during play.

While money has been the fixation point that plays out more than not in media coverage of Stamkos' future, how things have transpired - being lost to a blood clot, not being able to contend with his guys in the post-season - that could sway things beyond money. That aspect of feeling there's unfinished business in Tampa is just as valid an influence on the future of Stamkos as the rhetoric that's raged out of Ontario for a long time about a homecoming by Stamkos.

It's been a disappointing season to some degrees for Tampa Bay, but the Cup or Bust talk that came out to start 2015-16 was driven by fans expectations more than franchise direction. For the club to truly take that immediate-reward angle would have purged the organization of depth and talent in order to go over the top. Would going to Toronto, or Buffalo for that matter, satisfy Stamkos on what wasn't accomplished in Tampa? Does a man, seeking to come back from a serious health problem, depart a contending franchise for those rebuilding?  That's not to say two organizations are the only ones that have any interest in the potential services of Steven Stamkos, they're just major ones that have gotten a lot of media attention by way of the "coming home" angle.

So what now? The Lightning's future - immediate and long term by way of Steven Stamkos and his influence on the salary cap - are in the spotlight. Stamkos does not have to run from a threat (that he also happened to save, a-la Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction) but he does have to overcome an adversity which plays out in most storytelling. The Lightning has to deal with challenges too, and it will hold influence on many within the organization as well as outside of it in direct competition and off-season transactions.