Hi Lightning fans. It’s your Uncle JustinG. here. I’m taking some time off from writing about Steven Stamkos to talk to you a bit about the next couple of months. I love the Tampa Bay Lightning and have loved them for a long time — that being said, things might get a little tough on the road ahead. We’re going to see some things we’re not used to seeing. We’re going to have to accept some things we don’t want to or don’t like.
Let’s start with the big one: The Lightning might not make the playoffs.
It’s time to try the idea on for size. I hear you out there saying, “But they’re only six points out of a playoff spot! And they’re only six points behind Boston for the third spot in the Atlantic! All they have to do is win a few games in a row!”
You’re right. The standings make it look like they’re still in this. That’s the beauty of Gary Bettman’s NHL: Parity, or at least the appearance of parity.
However, a couple of problems emerge when you dig a little deeper.
- The Lightning have played 50 games. The teams they’re chasing for the two spots in the Atlantic (Ottawa and Toronto) have played 3 fewer games. Once the Lightning have their bye week (February 12th-18th) these teams are going to pick up even more ground on them.
- At what point in the previous 50 games have the Lightning shown any desire to win three games in a row? They had that awesome 4 game winning streak in November, but since then they’ve won two in a row exactly once.
- What if they do squeak into the playoffs? Are they going to make it past the first round? Even with Stamkos back, the probability of successfully navigating the playoffs is approximately three thousand seven hundred and twenty to one.
We, as a fan base, have to accept that this team just might not have it in them this year. We here will break down why once the pain goes away, but acceptance has to come first. In order to help with this possibility, I’ve prepared a little guide.
Embrace the losing
This team has lost more games then it has won. It’s probably going to keep happening. For every nice win they get against Chicago there may be a close loss to Anaheim and a blowout loss to Arizona. Prepare yourself for that. Cope however you need to, be it alcohol or pictures of kittens.
I don’t want this team to tank. I also don’t think coach Jon Cooper and general manager Steve Yzerman will allow this team to tank. It’s just that I’m not going to throw my laptop through my TV when they lose back-to-back games against Dallas and Colorado next month.
There is something off with this team this year. Whether it’s the injury to Stamkos, the vast number of players who played in the World Cup, Ben Bishop struggling with his upcoming free agency, or just a general weariness after two long playoff runs, this team just doesn’t have the spark we’re used to seeing. Honestly, I just don’t think we’re going to see it this season.
I would not EVER actively root for the team to lose, but at the same time I won’t rend any clothing or gnash any teeth when they come up short. It’s not the end of the world if they lose. It’s just the eventual end of this year’s playoff hopes — and the start of next year’s playoff hopes!
Make plans for April
Consider finding something to do that is non-hockey related this April. Sometimes, especially after a season like this, you need to step away from it a bit to keep from getting sad. You live in a wonderful city that has access to both urban life and the great outdoors. Go do something that you’ve been putting off forever.
Never been to Fort De Soto park? Pack the car and go. You can run around and re-enact the family reunion scene from The Punisher. Maybe go see The Chainsmokers, Slater Koekkoek’s favorite band, at the Sunset Music Festival at the end of May.
April and May are wonderful times in Tampa. The heat is only slightly unbearable. Get out and enjoy the fine, crystal-white beaches of the greater Tampa Bay area. Go try a new local brewery. See a museum or a movie at the Tampa Theatre. Just think of all the free time you’ll have in the evenings when you’re not off watching a playoff game.
Pick a playoff team to root for
Okay. So maybe you’re not a baseball fan. Maybe you need hockey in your life. The next couple of months are a great time to figure out what team to root for in the postseason. It’s okay. I’ve checked the fan guidelines and it is perfectly acceptable to root for another team once yours has been eliminated from the playoffs.
Do you want to root for a former coach? Great, you have two choices right now. John Tortorella is leading a Columbus team that is defying expectations. Guy Boucher is doing the same in Ottawa.
Are you a fan of young, exciting players that are helping their teams break long playoff droughts? Again, you’re in luck. Toronto and Edmonton are full of young guys (and Kris Russell) who are fun to watch on the ice.
Proven winners? Pittsburgh is cruising to a spot in the dance and, despite how they played against the Lightning, the Blackhawks should make it as well.
Although, those two teams could be a bit much for Bolts fans...
So, what about Washington? Wouldn’t it be great if Alex Ovechkin was finally able to raise the Stanley Cup after all of these years of being a super-awesome hockey player? It would also be great to cash on the 8-to-1 odds I got before the season started...(Disclaimer: Raw Charge encourages responsible, legal gambling only).
The point is, if you need more Pierre McGuire in your life, it’s okay to choose another team to root for.
As long as it’s not Montreal. Don’t root for those guys.
Get ready for the draft
For many, many seasons all Lightning fans had to look forward to in June was the NHL draft. While other fans had the playoffs to look forward to, the only payoff we had was the hope that an 18-year-old would turn things around.
In the NHL if you’re going to be bad, be very, very bad. That way you get a young player who is both talented and cheap for a few seasons. It’s certainly better than being a somewhat bad team, in which case you get a mid-to-lower round pick that may or may not help right away.
Start looking at central scouting reports now. They just released their updated rankings on Jan. 18. Figure out who you like and imagine them in a Lightning uniform.
You know what I just found out? Fourth-ranked North American skater Owen Tippet is a first cousin to Lightning prospect Mitchell Stephens. That’s neat. Plus, the draft is in Chicago this year. Chicago in June is fantastic! Trust me. In fact, come join me up here and maybe I’ll buy you a beer.
However, if you don’t like any of the prospects, that is okay. You can think of the top-ten pick the Lightning have as a great bargaining chip for the trade deadline.
The Lightning are going to be sellers
We’ve already been over that here at Raw Charge. For some of the newer fans out there, it’s going to be tough to see other teams poaching our players instead of the other way around. But, believe it or not, in the long run this could be good.
The trade of Nikita Nesterov is an example of what you can expect over the next month. I’m sure Jonathan Racine is a nice guy, but he’s not the final piece of a Stanley Cup contender. He isn’t even one of those weirdly shaped pieces in the middle that you mash into place even if it doesn’t fit.
What the trade does do is free up a bit of cap space, gives Syracuse some depth and Mr. Yzerman picks up an extra draft pick that he can package with something else. the cap savings might not come into play this season, but every little bit he saves for next year keeps the core together.
The Lightning now have a better chance of shedding some of those contracts that could be a distraction in the off season. We know that Jason Garrison is not playing up to his former self, but a team looking for defensive help down the stretch might be willing to part with a mid-round draft pick for him. Never underestimate a general manager’s desire for blueline help in a playoff run; Kris Russell netted the Flames a couple of prospects and a conditional second round pick last year.
Valtteri Filppula, Brian Boyle, Garrison, Braydon Coburn and Ben Bishop could all be drawing interest around the league. While the return might not be great, the freeing up of cap space could be just as beneficial as a great return might be for the team.
I doubt that Mr. Yzerman is going to rip the core apart, but if he sees an opportunity to get something of value for Tyler Johnson or Alex Killorn, don’t be surprised if he pulls off a deal. Remember, this man is a cold-hearted, team-building machine with no personal attachment to anything.
And yes, I mean that as a compliment.
However, if you’re still not finding any solace, I have one more area of relief for you.
Root for the affiliates
Despite having half of their team called up to play for the Lightning, the Syracuse Crunch are still doing pretty well and should be in the playoff race for the rest of the regular season. Get to know what’s going on in upstate New York. Besides, you’ve already seen most of their players play in Tampa, so it will be easy to figure out who is who!
Kalamazoo struggled a bit early in the season, but they’ve found their footing and are making their own playoff push. Who knows, maybe some day some of their players will make it up to the big club, and you can say you watched them before they were famous [Just like Garret Sparks! - Acha].
As the Lightning season continues to tease us with occasional wins, look for more K-Wings and Crunch coverage here at Raw Charge.
It’s been a rough season for the Lightning and chances are it isn’t going to get any better. Hopefully this guide will help you get through the next 30-some games.