Friday, May 28, 2010

"Y" All the Excitement?

Most rebuilding projects start off with small key moves. Taking a chance on a goalie that missed a year due to a contract dispute. Or it can be a quiet move like picking up a talented defenseman who has worn out his welcome on another team for a fifth round pick. Maybe it’s the well traveled winger who has never won a Stanley Cup brought in to mentor a young club. It isn’t the banner is hung that you can look back at and find the moves that worked.

The 2004 Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lighting were one of those projects built by unheralded GM’s Rick Dudley and Jay Feaster. Will the very much heralded Steve Yzerman be able to duplicate that success? Time will only tell.

To say Yzerman comes from a winning organization is like saying the Blackhawks bandwagon is only slightly full. (Full disclosure, I wore a red polo to support the team at work today. I like to think of myself as a casual observer hanging onto the edge of the wagon – like the guy hanging onto the edge of the San Francisco streetcar.) He’s a three time Stanley Cup winner and holds the record for longest serving captain of a single team. He was named an all star 10 times, the Conn Smythe, Lester B Pearson, Selke and Masterson trophies all collect dust in his billiards room.

The most important thing he represents, along with owner Jeff Vinik, is normalcy. Fans in other markets might not realize how important that is to the organization and supporters. The Bolts aren’t a storied franchise. They are a team that plays in a non-traditional market. Not only that, but the majority of the fan base is comprised of people who root for other teams. Sure they had a nice run in the early 2000’s that culminated with that bad-ass banner that hangs in the Ice Palace, but for most of their tenure they’ve been known for the less than brilliant moments:

* When he was GM Phil Esposito never met with Takashi Okubo the man who ran the Japanese consortium that owned the team. It’s widely accepted that Okubo never saw the team play once in the ENTIRE SEVEN YEARS he owned the team.

* Esposito had female goaltender Manon Rheaume play in an exhibition game as a publicity stunt.

* Keeping things interesting was the saga of restricted free agent Chris Gratton.
After 1996-97 season Esposito tried to trade Gratton to Chicago for either money or players (according to the New York times the names Ethan Moreau and Keith Carney were bandied about). The NHL ruled that the trade was null and void because Gratton had signed an offer sheet from the Flyers before the trade had gone through. Esposito tried to say that the offer wasn’t valid because some numbers were “smudged” by the fax machine. His ploy didn’t work.

* The Bolts have played in an exhibition hall at the fairgrounds, a baseball stadium and a building in Tampa named for a newspaper from St Petersburg.

* Alex Selivanov, who married Esposito’s daughter, had his car repossessed from the team parking lot during a game.

* The Japanese sold the team to Art Williams for $117 million (roughly the same amount Vinik would pay for the team a decade later). The best part of the insurance magnate’s nine-month tenure as owner was his “dud or stud” speech about Vincent Lecavalier, who he also dubbed the future “Michael Jordan” of hockey.

* A period of stability would follow when Bill Davidson bought the team. The team won on the ice, but was much less interesting off the ice. Although Dan Boyle’s house did catch fire during the 2004 playoffs.

* The Clowns bought the team. I am from here on out never talking about those dark times in detail ever again. They will be known as the Dark Times. Due to this recently imposed ban I won’t talk about the GM who tried to trade a draft pick he didn’t own or that they demoted a well liked assistant coach during the only hot streak of the season. Or the Dan Boyle trade, or the botched Lecavalier trade, or the fact that the two owners didn’t talk to each other for the last year they owned the team.

So you can see why fans are a little giddy about the recent developments. With Vinik quietly showing that he is willing to invest in this team past the initial check he wrote, and Yzerman who was trained by the best organization in the league leading them, the turnaround could accelerate this season.

Unlike the Dark Time Cowboys, Yzerman’s first move was a quiet one. He signed young defenseman Mark Barberio to a three year entry level deal. Not quite the unfocused free agent frenzy fans were greeted with during the Clowns first off-season with the team.

The Red Wings have remained competitive through the years because of their ability to recognize talent at lower levels in the draft and the ability to manage their players under the cap. The Red Wings have maintained a high level of success despite not having a first round pick in the top 10 since 1991. In other words since the Bolts have been in the league. With the salary cap and a new CBA around the corner, drafting and developing your own players only gets more important.

Will this mean fans will have to support another summer of “Trade Vinny” rumors? Probably, after all what’s a summer in the TBA without trade rumors, hurricanes and dead fish on the beach? If he does feel the need to trade the face of the Lightning I think it will be done quickly and quietly.

The new Lightning organization seems to be hell-bent on secrecy as word on the street was that any contender for the GM job who talked about it would eliminated from consideration. The same seems to be the case for the head coach search.
Yzerman has a good foundation to build from. Now it’s time for him to find the quiet deals that transform teams into championships. What will it be?

Bonus Fact discovered during my lackluster research for this post. Twenty Four players were drafted in the first round of the 1992 draft. Twenty-five percent of them have played for the Lightning at some point during their career. Those six players:

Roman Hamrlik - #1
Todd Warriner - #3
Corey Stillman - #6
Robert Petrovicky - #9
Andrei Nazarov - #10
David Wilkie - #20


TheRealDFG said...

Hey at least David Wilkie was, well at least Petrovicky had a good...ah, Roman Hamrlik had a few good, um...

What were we talking about again?

Justin G. said...

Yeah, those were fun years. At least the tickets were cheap - $5.00 sit anywhere you want? Yes please!

Petrovicky had a nice signature, I'll have to scan it one of my favorite signatures in the Lightning collection.