For fans expecting a quick-fix, recent Lightning history won't repeat itself
The Tampa Bay Lightning season is in shambles and the natives are restless. You can find fans crowing for some type of change across the online social sphere.
"Fire everybody" is on the table, really. General Manager Steve Yzerman may have been hired in the first place to begin a long-term building process and Guy Boucher hired as the man to oversee the team on-ice during this long-term development. But Yzerman has only overseen one draft class with his own scouts reporting back to him. He's had a total of two off-seasons to mold the roster to his liking, and the end results have been a single season of success, and a partial season of failing at this point.
The response to this, the chorus of jeers from members of the mob, is that Yzerman needs to pull the rug out from under everyone and everything to improve the situation at hand in Tampa immediately.
Everyone, sans Steven Stamkos (patron saint of the snap-shot) is on the table for trade discussion. Everyone should be dealt and whatever gained is an improvement over what is currently in place on the Lightning roster.
And, for good measure, Guy Boucher's months-long term as the most tenured head coach in the Southeast Division should come to a close. Eastern Conference Finals in 2010-11? Nice, but what have you done for the franchise lately, Guy? You're too nice in the media, and your scar is too... scarry. The Bolts need change! The Bolts need change!
What the Bolts need is for the fan base to take a proverbial chill pill and quit with the foaming-mouthed panic.
Really, this is "Stammergeddon" all over again. The panacea for the 2011 summer's anxiety-filled delirium was for Stamkos to be signed - immediately, for whatever he wanted, however long he wanted, at any player-personnel cost to the franchise -to assuage fan insecurity. And at this moment, there has to be change, immediate and profound change, because Year Two of a long-term building process should have been so much grander than it's proving to be.
Maybe it's time for fans and bloggers (hi, John Fontana... Oh, wait, that's me) to admit to themselves that Tom Jones at the St. Pete Tampa Bay Times was right, and the overachieving Bolts are on the decline because... well, they overachieved in 2010-11? That's not a long-term assessment for the club, that's an assessment of the 2011-12 season.
Yeah, Tom, you nailed it. But your follow-up story about what's wrong with the Lightning has fanned the flames: Everything is wrong. Nothing is right.
But then again, in a way, it's true.
Step back everyone. Stop looking at winless-in-seven, stop looking at the 2011-12 Tampa Bay Lightning season. Take a look at the grander picture of the Lightning (past, present, and future).
If you don't know the Lightning's recent history from the past decade, besides a Stanley Cup Championship and some ownership alterations, let me try to explain it: The Bolts were built to contend after a defined core of players was assembled. The team was also run as a business, and in order to have more money for the NHL team, player development took a back seat.
When the team started falling apart, via free-agent departures and other personnel issues, there were no quality reinforcements to promote from the AHL. The draft classes from 1999-2007 were a hodgepodge of mediocrity with few exceptions.
In other words, the team was either going to sink or swim any given season, while expecting a top-heavy offensive lineup to make up for defensive lapses and goaltending inconsistency.
Sound familiar? The state of the team from post-lockout seasons is the same as it is now. The difference being Steve Yzerman isn't focusing on single-season contention while trying desperately to find more money to allocate to payroll at the NHL level. He's not neglecting the development of players in the Lightning system, or making assets (players, draft picks) expendable for momentary gain. Tomorrow is going to be just as important as today, so to plan for it makes sense.
Yet, Lightning fans want change. After four years of constant change (be it ownership, management, roster turnover, or other developments with the franchise) it's outright expected. Never mind the changes of the 2008 off-season (the binge signings by OK Hockey) were ill-advised, ill-planned, impulsive moves that backfired. Never mind that former GM Brian Lawton and current GM Yzerman had and have been trying to clean up that mess since.
Change, it seems, is considered the status-quo.
Like it or not, fans must realize (and the media have been trying to explain): With how the team is performing, management will not be making changes to save the season. They're planning for the long-haul, not the quick fix. A stop-gap goalie is not in the cards. Getting a top-4 defenseman is not in the plans. Neither singular move would improve things for the club anyway.
What's more likely, at this point in time, is for the Lightning to shed some of its players with high value for playoff-contending teams. While the sum of Dominic Moore, Steve Downie, Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell, Brett Clark and Pavel Kubina are not putting the Lightning in contention, they do have the potential value in what they could bring in to the Lightning system via trade.
I don't mean an everything-must-go, wholesale clearance, fire-sale involving everyone and everything on the roster. I am suggesting that if someone offers Steve Yzerman a highly touted prospect that fits the plan in Tampa, or a top draft selection (or multiples of both) for one of the aforementioned players, he'd have to take it under serious consideration.
And while I've named names, let's go and address the 800 pound gorilla in the room: Vincent Lecavalier. Lecavalier is deemed expendable with thanks to the anchor-weight that is his 11-year contract, he's sullied as un-necessary because the Lightning have Stamkos, and his leadership is dismissed because Martin St. Louis is canonized by the team faithful as the heart-and-soul of the club.
If Vinny is as expendable as the jeering mob makes him, then I guess I should remind fans that St. Louis is older, has a contract that will continue to pay him well when his production numbers dwindle with age, and has a reputation that would make him a highly sought-after commodity on the trade market for teams looking for a final piece to the puzzle.
If Lecavalier should be traded from a losing team for the sake of youth and clearing cap room, then Marty is expendable too.
But I don't want either of them traded. It's ridiculous to insinuate one-for-the-other interchangeability of leadership and value; it's a panic induced self-loathing that has fans lusting for something that shows the Lightning are serious about their intentions for contention in the immediate future, and repeated contention in the future.
And, yet, by not knee-jerk reacting to the woes of the moment, by not conducting the fire sale, by not purging everything deemed a malignancy in the eyes of anxious, panic-stricken fans, by upholding to the long-term plan, they are showing how serious they are about things (long term and short-term).