by PuckStopsHere on 12/06/08 at 07:31 AM ET
The Tampa Bay Lightning have had a rather interesting season so far. They brought in new “maverick” owners, made several questionable trades and made a coaching change after only sixteen games played. Since firing coach Barry Melrose and replacing him with Rick Tocchet, Tampa has posted only one win in nine tries (although four of their losses have given them regulation tie points). That clearly shows that the problem in Tampa was not inept coaching holding them back. The problem is a lack of talent. There is a lack of defence and a lack of depth at forward and most of all a lack of coherent ideas from management to solve the problem.
This season, Tampa Bay has been run as though there is a magic move that will suddenly make the team start winning. The trick has been to find that move. It seems that the main method used to find it is trial and error. If something doesn’t work then try something else new. It doesn’t matter if there was never enough of a chance given to the first thing. Is sixteen games really a sufficient chance to give Barry Melrose as a coach? Is twelve games long enough to give Matt Carle (who was the main piece returned when Dan Boyle was traded to San Jose) before he was also traded away? Is two games long enough before making the first half—baked trade of Shane O’Brien and Michel Ouellet to Vancouver for Lukas Krajicek and Juraj Simek? Obviously, patience is not a virtue that Oren Koules and Len Barrie possess in Tampa Bay.
It is hard to make a good trade in the NHL. It is, however, very easy to make a trade. Any GM will happily give you less than value for any of your assets at any time. It is very hard to deal successfully from a position of desperation. A smart GM knows this. In Tampa Bay, they don’t seem to have learned that lesson. Tampa has been dealing from a position of desperation all season and each move has left the team in worse shape than when they started. It has been nine games (with only one win) since the last major move - firing the coach. It is a good bet that another major move is coming soon. It is also a good bet that if that move comes, it won’t turn the Lightning around. In fact, the move will likely any such move will make things even worse.
A coherent plan in Tampa Bay would be to bring in some stability. Add a proven hockey man to run the show on a GM or president level and let the current reign of error come to an end. There are some bright points. Mike Smith has played extremely well in goal. Vincent LeCavalier and Martin St Louis are some of the better forwards in the game of hockey. Unload some of the mistakes at the trade deadline if you can. It won’t be a pretty season in Tampa Bay. It is too late to change that. It is too late to make a move that is expected to change that.
Sadly, things can get worse. The financial crisis may take its toll on the Tampa Bay ownership. They are not some of the richest owners in the NHL. In fact they could not buy the Lightning without former owner Bill Davidson extending them credit. That isn’t a good sign. What happens if Tampa’s ownership goes from overly involved in making poor choices in a failed attempt to build a winner now to one that is trying to cut costs at every corner or one that has totally abandoned their team?
The Tampa Bay Lightning have lost the goodwill and support they built with their 2004 Stanley Cup win. The have had the biggest dropoff in attendance in the league this season. They have the least wins in the league and are one point up on the last place Atlanta Thrashers. Their failed attempts to turn things around this season have made matters worse. A coaching change has led to one win in nine games. What happens next?
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