Friday, June 6, 2014

The Lightning Card of the Week Returns!

Finally, it is time to return from yet another self-imposed writing hiatus. This one dragged on a bit longer than normal and featured a couple of posts that died before they had a chance to live. Lucky for you I am feeling rejuvenated and raring to go again. Of course I have no idea what to write about so I'll kick it off by leaning on a semi-regular crutch – The Lightning Card of the Week!

A once regular feature that has been mothballed (much like boxing coverage and Through The Mail posts) due to sheer laziness I figure it's a good way to keep writing with the lull between the end of the season for the Bolts and the upcoming draft/free-agency season. Let's see what the box of hockey cards has in it:

A 2001-02 Upper Deck Tantalizing Tandems Vincent Lecavalier/ Brad Richards insert.

Look at those two – so young, so unaware of their careers would take them (they haven't even starred in “The Punisher” yet. Just two kids from Canada having fun playing hockey in Tampa. When the card was issued Vincent had finished his third full season in the NHL, scoring 20 goals in the regular season for the second year in a row (a streak that would continue for 12 seasons) and was the youngest player to ever be named captain of a NHL team (Sidney Crosby and Gabriel Landeskog have since stolen that accolade).

Richards was the dynamic rookie who had lead the team in scoring in his first full season and finished second in the Calder Trophy race. This was the year that the original “Big Three” of Lecavalier, Richards and a young cast-off from Calgary named Marty St. Louis played together for the first time. The nucleus of the 2004 Stanley Cup team was born that year.

On the back of the card, the copy writers for Upper Deck wrote that “Tampa Bay will look to young and talented centers Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier to ignite the offense” and that the team was “hoping to be one of the most improved teams in the NHL in 2001-02”.

The Lightning did improve their record in 2001-02 by winning three more games over the year before. Oddly enough their offense actually decreased year-to-year. The 2000-01 squad scored 201 goals while the 01-02 team only scored 178. While Richards submitted numbers that were almost a carbon copy of the year before, Lecavalier struggled as he only scored 37 points under the burden of the captaincy.

The notable change was on their defense as the 00-01 defensive corps surrendered an unconscionable 280 goals (which is what happens when Kevin Weekes, Dan Cloutier, Wade Flaherty and Dieter Kochan occupy time in the crease). The next season would be the first full season for the enigmatic Russian Nikolai Khabibulin. With the “Bulin Wall” in net only 219 pucks would cross the Lightning goal line.

Richards and Lecavalier were both fresh-faced 20-year-olds when this card was first inserted its mylar wrapper. Over a decade later, they are now gray-haired veterans wearing uniforms for other teams. Richards, reunited with St. Louis in New York is currently battling for another Stanley Cup. Quite a turnaround from a year ago where he was a leading candidate to be bought out after being benched in the playoffs. Lecavalier fell victim to the amnesty buyout sword in Tampa and struggled through another injury-plagued season in Philadelphia. He did, however, knock off a bevy of career accomplishments by scoring his 400th career goal, his 500th career assist and 900th career point during the 2013-14 season.

As for me, I was living the good life in 2001-02. I had just bought my truck (man I miss that truck) and was still living in a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Largo, Florida. I was working at the Super Happy Fun Company making more money than I should have while not saving anywhere near enough. My game-day attire probably would have been shorts, sandals and a Lightning name-less third jersey (the one with the lightning bolts down the sleeves). Tickets to games were unbelievably cheap. So cheap that scalping them wasn't necessary. I'm pretty sure I was single.....yup definitely single.

No comments: