Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tampa Bay mid-season evaluation

The Tampa Bay Lightning have made it to the halfway point of their '08-'09 NHL season. Thru 41 games, they have a record of 12-19-10. They currently sit in 4th place in the Southeast Division, 12th place in the Eastern Conference, and 27th overall in the NHL.

The debacle that was the first half of the season seems to be past them. At least until they get closer to the trade deadline on March 4th. January, at least, ought to be pretty quiet in terms of personnel changes, I think.

And that's what has gotten the Lightning to where they are now - personnel changes. And I don't mean that in a good way. They have used 14 defensemen so far this season, as well as a total of 38 players on their roster thru 41 games. Only 5 players on the current roster have played in all 41 Lightning games thus far.

Things in that department have settled down ever since Jokinen was put on waivers before Christmas, however. Before that, they hadn't gone longer than 2½ weeks between moving or waiving a player. And then there was the coaching change as well. With that kind of upheaval going on the locker room, there was no way that they'd be able to find any kind of consistency on the ice. It wasn't until that stopped - or, more likely, paused - that things finally settled down for them.

Goaltending has been the highlight of the season so far. Smith is just outstanding. Although, I do think that the needs more breaks between games. He's seemed a bit mentally worn out in recent games. It takes time to build up the focus needed to start so many games in a row. I know that the goalies will tell you that the more they start, the easier it is, but going from 4 consecutive starts to 11 in a row without any buildup has got to take a toll. Kolzig has also been good, and I've always liked Ramo.

The defense has been touch and go. That's not necessarily the defense's fault, however. I know much has been made of their age and their level of experience, but that's also a personnel issue, too. Defense can be a tricky position to play, and if you don't know what your defensive partner is going to do, then that sort of undermines your own play. They've definitely improved over the course of the season, tho, and I'm sure that it helps for them to know that the goalies are there to bail them out of a tough situation.

The forwards have been the most inconsistent of the lot. I suppose that it's because they want to help the defense and they want to score, but they're not sure of what to expect from their own linemates. Athletes are creatures of habit, and if they don't know who they're playing with, or what they'll do, then that can be a problem. They're trying to do too much, and their own jobs suffer from that.

Coaching has gotten better. Bringing Sullivan back was definitely a good move. Tocchet is still finding his way as a head coach, and that kind of thing takes time. Walz is sort of in the same boat as Tocchet. Sullivan as experience, which has really helped the other two out, I think.

Management/ownership has gotten better about leaving everyone alone. That's what I think has contributed the most to the team's improvement. I don't expect that to last, however.

What I said for the last game definitely applies here. The Lightning need to make other teams play their game, and that means ignoring what the other team’s doing, to a degree. And that’s all about puck control, positioning, passing, and all of the little things coming together into one cohesive style. When any team makes their opponent play their game, then most of the time, that team will win. They're moving in the right direction, but they need to start making it a habit.

As for the Lecavalier trade rumors, I wouldn't trust this management/ownership group as far as I can throw them. They happily signed Boyle, only to trade him in the most humiliating way possible. Then they were saying how confident they were in Melrose right up until they fired him. So them saying that they're not going to trade Lecavalier doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

If they do trade him, then I'm declaring myself a free agent. That will be the last straw for me, and I'll go find another team to follow - probably the lucky team that gets him, initially, then I'll re-evaluate things in the summer. If they're stupid enough to trade Lecavalier then I want no part of the Tampa Bay Lightning. I will feel really bad for the rest of the team, tho.

I've always followed players more than teams, anyways, because of how often guys get traded in this league. The biggest reason I became a Lightning fan was that I lived there. And now that I don't, well, I don't feel obligated to stick around for a questionable management/ownership team and watch them completely dismantle the team into the ground.

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the Rocket said...

We're not exactly excited by a Lecavalier trade either.

The truth is that we don't want Vinny. Yes, there is a certain segment of fans and media who are caught up in the hysterical frenzy, but the true hockey fans realize that the rumoured trade would be a huge mistake for the future of the Montreal Canadiens.

Go ahead. Keep Lecav in Florida. He seems to like winters better there anyway.

Cassie said...

i don't blame you. any team would have to give up a ton of talent for the guy. but does anybody listen to the fans? of course not!