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Sweater Series: More goalies and a walk down memory lane

You think not winning a playoff game is a problem? Well get ready for some real organizational problems as we explore the history of the number 31.

Philadelphia Flyers v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Many, many, many years ago (five), Raw Charge started a series to help pass the time through the dog days of summer. As the off season grinds on, we figured it would be a good time to bring back the series and walk back down memory lane as we remember some players.

As far as we know, the newest member of the Tampa Bay Lightning goaltending corp has yet to select a number for the upcoming season. In the past, Curtis McElhenny has worn the number 1 (Calgary), the number 30 (Columbus), and the number 35 (Toronto and Carolina). There is another number that he has sported for the Flames, Anaheim Ducks, Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Coyotes and Blue Jackets - 31.

However, after reading this, he may want to reconsider choosing his favorite number. It would be a stretch to go so far as to say it’s cursed, it just hasn’t really enjoyed a lot of success during its tenure in Tampa Bay. It’s record stands at 41-65 (due to the cross-era nature of this project we’re not factoring in ties or overtime losses), and only two wearers have posted seasons with a save percentage above .900 and a goals against under 3.00.

Long the number reserved for players brought in through trades, only one player drafted by the Lightning has ever worn it (Karri Ramo). Ramo is also one of only two players to wear it for more than one season (Peter Budaj is the other). Although, maybe that just speaks to the nature of how transient the goaltending position has been for much of the Lightning’s existence.

Honestly, unless you’re a fan who has been around for a long time, it might not be easy to associate a particular player with the number 31, but let’s give it a go.

David Littman, 1992-1993 (1GP, 0 Wins, 1 Loss, .667 SV%, 9.24GAA)

Mr. Littman was featured in one of our other recurring series as a player who had appeared in only one game in a Tampa Bay Lightning uniform (One and Done). As we mentioned back then, and as you can see from the above numbers, things didn’t go well for him.

Wade Flaherty, 2001 (2 GP, 0 Wins, 2 Losses, .855 SV%, 4.07 GAA)

Wade Flaherty one upped Littman by appearing in a total of TWO games for Tampa Bay. However, much like Littman, his brief Lightning career ended without a win. Flaherty was the epitome of the journeyman backup as he played for five teams over an 11-year career and never topped 24 appearances in a single season.

The Lightning pried him away from the Islanders in February of 2001 for future considerations to fill part of the void created when they traded Dan Cloutier to Vancouver. The goaltending situation was in full turmoil at that point (the team used six netminders that season) and Flaherty could, at the very least, provide some veteran experience.

Coming to Tampa may have been the worst thing for his career. Not only was it a bad team at the time, the one constant in his career was the fact that he could always beat the Lightning. In 120 career NHL games he won only 27 games. However, five of those wins came against the Lightning. Three of those five wins were shutouts. He only had five total shutouts in his career. His lifetime save percentage was .887, against the Lightning it was .927. His goals against for his career was 4.29, against the Lightning - 1.94.

Within a month of Flaherty joining the team, the Lightning also acquired Nikolai Khabibulin. Flaherty knew he wasn’t going to see the ice much in Tampa (they also had Kevin Weekes on the roster), so he signed with Florida in the offseason. He only saw action in four games with the Panthers before being dealt to Nashville for Pascal Trepanier. He played a single game for the Predators in 2002-13. After a couple of seasons in the AHL and one for the China Sharks, he retired and now serves as an assistant coach for the Winnipeg Jets.

Cedrick Desjardins 2013-2014 (1 GP, 0 Wins, 1 Loss, .846 SV%, 6.65 GAA)

Yet one more goaltender who thought a number change may bring about good luck, Desjardins wore number 31 for his only appearance in the 2013-14 season. He lost that game.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Dieter Kochan 2001-2002 (5 GP, 0 Wins, 3 Losses, .875 SV%, 4.06 GAA)

Another back up goalie who changed numbers throughout his stints with the Lightning, Kochan only wore the number 31 for five of the twenty games that made up his career in Tampa Bay. Since his only win came while he sported a different number, we’ll wait ‘till we get there to discuss his time in Tampa.

Rich Parent 1999-2000 (14 GP, 2 Wins, 7 Losses, .878 SV%, 3.70 GAA)

Finally! Someone who won a game as a member of the Lightning while wearing the number 31. Rich Parent came to the Lightning as part of a deal for Stephane Richer in January of 2000. The Lightning were not good (shocking) and they were dealing as many veterans as they possibly could.

Parent had sparked a little interest as a prospect with some strong play in the AHL with the Utah Grizzlies the previous year. He had also fared well in a short stint with the Blues in 1998-99. In 10 games he posted a 2.54 GAA with an .886 SV%. Not overwhelming, but at least he wasn’t getting his head kicked in during the high octane late-80s hockey.

Unfortunately, the Lightning were trying to out a lot of goalies and thought that Cloutier was the answer in net, so Parent never really got a shot with the Bolts and was shipped out over the summer to Ottawa in exchange for a 7th round draft pick.

He would get a cup of coffee with the Penguins in 2000-01, appearing in seven games for a Pittsburgh team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Kevin Hodson 1998-1999 (5 GP, 2 Wins, 1 Loss, .907 SV%, 2.78 GAA)

Despite a relatively brief career with the Lightning, Hodson did switch his number around quite a bit, and so we’ve already discussed his career with the Bolts. As the numbers above attest, his best play was with the number 31 on his back.

Karri Ramo 2006-2009 (48 GP, 11 Wins, 21 Losses, .899 SV%, 3.03 GAA)

Despite being a sixth round pick, there was a lot of excitement for Ramo as a prospect for the Lightning. It was the post-lockout, salary cap era for the team. Khabibulin was gone, the coach wasn’t exactly thrilled with John Grahme’s performance, and they were looking for an internal solution.

Enter Ramo. The Finnish-born goaltender made his North American debut in 2006 where he played for the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons. In December of that year he made his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators after starter Johan Holmqvist surrendered 3 goals on 7 shots against the Senators.

Why was Ramo on the roster? Was it because someone was hurt? Nope, it was because Marc Denis was having visa issues. His visa, issued in August of 1996, had expired, and the Lightning hadn’t renewed it. So, he was unavailable for the team’s swing through Canada.

Ramo would bounce back and forth between the Lightning and their AHL affiliate (now the Norfolk Admirals), never really playing well enough to gain the starting gig in Tampa despite some success from time to time. He did also manage to get suspended in the AHL for jumping off the bench to join a brawl.

By 2009, Ramo had been somewhat passed by on the prospect list by fellow goaltenders Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokarski, so he decamped for Russia, signing a deal with Avangard Omsk. While he was over there, the Lightning traded his rights to Montreal for fellow 31-wearer Cedric Desjardins.

Eventually, after Montreal dealt him to Calgary, Ramo returned to the NHL and had a couple of strong seasons for the Flames.

Peter Budaj 2016-18 (15 GP, 6 Wins, 4 Losses, .884 SV%, 3.38 GAA)

While Budaj’s time in Tampa was brief, it was long enough for him to rack up the third most wins by any goaltender wearing the number 31 on his back. He also one of only two netminders to have a winning record with that number (Hodson being the other). So, he has that going for him.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Rick Tabaracci 1996-1997 (55 GP, 20 Wins, 25 Losses, .902 SV%, 2.75 GAA)

After breaking his back carrying the Lightning to their first ever playoff appearance in the previous season, Daren Puppa struggled to stay healthy the following season.

With Puppa on the shelf for multiple months due to back surgery, the Lightning needed a veteran goalie to help young rookies Corey Schwab and Derek Wilkerson in net. Calgary had Trevor Kidd as their starter, Tabaracci as the back-up, and young pup named Dwayne Rolosson knocking on the door. They were also looking for forward help. So, General Manager Phil Esposito made the move, sending youngster Aaron Gavey to Calgary in exchange for Tabaracci.

The 28-year-old wasn’t the Lightning’s first choice, but according to a St Pete Times article at the time of the deal, the price for a number one goaltender wasn’t something Esposito was willing to pay at the time (and now knowing the finances of the Lightning at that time, the owners probably wouldn’t have been happy about the price tag either). One of the rumored deals according to the article: Ed Belfour for a package of players including Chris Gratton and Puppa*.

Tabaracci came in and helped a rather injury-riddled team (along with Puppa, Brian Bradley battled injuries all season long) stay in relative contention for most of the season before they faded at the end of the year. With Puppa set to come back and resume his role as starter, Esposito was willing to deal Tabaracci for some defensive help.

So how did defensive help turn into a fourth round draft pick? Enter the Maloof family. Following the 1996-97 season, the Lightning were for sale and it appeared that the Maloof family was going to buy them. It was such a certainty that they actually had a representative present prior to the 1997 NHL draft.

Tony Guanci, described as a “sports-facility consultant,” was representing the Maloofs at a pre-draft meeting in Pittsburgh. He did a little more than sit in the corner while Esposito and his staff worked out a plan for the draft. According to a St. Pete Times from 1998, Guanci, with team president Steve Oto’s tacit approval, began dictating what should happen**,

Guanci assumed a prominent role, instantly infuriating almost everyone. Worse, Oto agreed with almost everything he said.

At one point, Guanci told the Espositos the team needed “a five- year plan.” He then tried to implement his own.

“Guanci thought the Lightning should build around two star players.. One of the Lightning’s focal points was center Chris Gratton. The other was a matter of great debate. Some backed defenseman Roman Hamrlik. Others, including Guanci, thought Hamrlik should be traded then.

Guanci also encouraged Phil Esposito to instigate deals. Esposito spoke half-heartedly with about a half-dozen teams in all, even though he really didn’t want to trade Hamrlik and hoped no one would make an offer worth considering.”

Guanci also wanted the Lightning to cut payroll. Now, remember, the Maloofs at this point don’t have a formal contract to buy the team nor have they ponied up any money. Yet, here was the representative dictating how to build the team.

First Shawn Burr was traded to San Jose for a fifth round pick. Then Tabaracci was traded back to Calgary for a fourth round pick in the 1998 draft. The Lightning used that pick to draft Eric Beaudoin.

Puppa did come back, but wasn’t the same. The Lightning struggled on defense and in net as they iced five different goaltenders that season and none of them hit double digits in wins.

Tabaracci spent the season in Calgary, was traded to Washington, signed by Atlanta, traded to Colorado, claimed by Columbus in the expansion draft and finally signed by Dallas, all in the span of about four years.

As for Guanci and the Maloffs. Well, despite their meddling they ended up not buying the team. The ownership drama would drag on for a few more months before Art Williams entered the picture and brought along his own whirlwind of fun.

So, does the number 31 bring any one specific player to mind for you as a fan? Vote below and feel free to leave your comments/memories as well.

Poll

Who do you picture in your mind when you think of the number 31 for the Tampa Bay Lightning

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    David Littman
    (0 votes)
  • 22%
    Rick Tabaracci
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Kevin Hodson
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Rich Parent
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Wade Flaherty
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Dieter Kochan
    (0 votes)
  • 25%
    Karri Ramo
    (10 votes)
  • 5%
    Cedrick Desjardins
    (2 votes)
  • 47%
    Peter Budaj
    (19 votes)
40 votes total Vote Now

*Clark, C. (1996, Nov 20). Lightning snags a goaltender: 0 SOUTH PINELLAS edition]. St.Petersburg Times Retrieved from Proquest 8/1/19

** Buckley, T. (1998, Jun 21). Lightning’s draft eve ‘97: Deceit, disdain, disaster: SOUTH PINELLAS edition]. St.Petersburg Times Retrieved from Proquest 8/1/19