Thursday, May 3, 2012

Of Smudges and Do-Overs: Lightning Card of the Week

I was hoping to put up a Marc Bergevin card today in order to honor the former Lightning defenseman’s new job as the Canadians General Manager. However, I don’t have any.  Actually, I probably do have some but due to the great monster box tragedy of 2012 I can’t find it right now. So instead we will go with another member of the pre-Cup era.

Mikael Renberg 1998-99 Be A Player

Good lord is this is an interesting card.  Actually, not really. It’s just really foily.  I’m not sure it scans well enough to show how much silver (and bronze?) foil covers the front of this card.  God forbid you need to send a card from this set in to get grade on it. There is no way a card could get a perfect grade after sitting around in a box somewhere for the last 14 years. I imagine there are stacks of these cards stuck back-to-front in closets all across Canada these days.

The back is a little better (and glossy). It has a nice picture of Renberg looking glum and provides us with the following biographical information:

“Off the ice, he enjoys a host of water sports including boating, water skiing and windsufing.”

With those activities you’d think he would have stuck around longer.

Renberg rose to prominence in Philadelphia as part of the famed “Legion of Doom” line with John LeClair and Eric Lindros. Following the Flyers Stanley Cup loss in the 1997 to the Red Wings, Renberg would become entangled in one of the more “interesting” moments in Lightning history.

Looking to get bigger on at the center position Flyers GM Bobby Clarke signed Restricted Free Agent Chris Gratton to an offer sheet.  Unbeknownst to him or Gratton, Lightning GM Phil Esposito was working on trading Gratton to the Blackhawks.

Esposito received the paperwork regarding the offer sheet, but claimed he couldn’t read the numbers because they were smudged by his fax machine (oh the 1990s!). The league didn’t buy his claim and the Lightning had seven days to match the offer or let Gratton go for draft picks.  Esposito knew he couldn’t match the 5-year, $25.5 million deal, but also knew that he couldn’t sell the fan base on waiting around for the draft picks to develop. 

So he let Gratton go and then traded the draft picks BACK to Philadelphia for Mikael Renberg and defenseman Karl Dykhuis. Despite working his way into the mess, Esposito did a decent job of getting young talent back instead of the picks. All he needed was for Renberg to keep up his goal scoring ways.

To say it didn’t work is an understatement. Despite being handed the “C” immediately upon his arrival he never really had a chance to break out the water skis in Tampa. Injuries and a dearth of overall talent overshadowed Renberg's tenure in Tampa. By December of 1998 he was on his way back to Philly for Mike Sillinger and yes, you guess it, Chris Gratton.

While he was in Tampa he scored 20 goals in 88 games. After suffering a hand injury during the season he was never really the same shooter.  Injuries and Renberg definitely go hand in hand.  Throughout his career he’s broken a thumb, sliced the muscles in his bicep in a boating accident, was hospitalized with an infected blister and fractured his jawbone while playing in the Swedish Elite League.  Hopefully he’s walking around in bubble wrap these days.

Renberg wasn’t the only one to struggle during his tenure with the Bolts. Despite missing 14 games in 1997-98 he still tied for the team lead in goals with 16.  That’s right, 16 goals was the team high. To put that in perspective Steven Stamkos had 16 goals in 19 games in March and April this season.  Needless to say the 97-98 Lightning weren’t very good.

I’m not sure if his stint in Tampa broke his will or if the injuries were too much to overcome, but Renberg would never be the same player.  After scoring 109 goals in his first four seasons with the Flyers he would only score another 81 goals in the next six years playing in Philly, Toronto and Phoenix.

After the lockout in 2004-05 he would return to the Swedish Elite League (where he would play with a young Johan Harju) and finished out his career.

While most people will always remember him as part of the Legion of Doom, I choose to remember him as the guy who best rocked a turtle-neck under his Lightning uniform.

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