Saturday, April 29, 2006

Defending Stanley Cup Champs On Verge of Implosion

When the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, things looked great for this franchise. But the season lost to the lockout did a lot to derail any momentum that it created. One could make a strong argument that the team that lost the most in the lockout was Tampa. First they lost the marketing opportunities of a 2004/05 season that would have fully capitalized on their Stanley Cup victory and second the salary cap forced them to jettison a good deal of depth in Cory Stillman, Jassen Cullimore, Brad Lukowich, captain Dave Andreychuk and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Tampa (along with a couple other teams such as Vancouver) learned that you cannot win by parting with your depth to keep a couple big contracts.

Would Tampa have won in 2006 without a salary cap? Probably not. Largely because I think they would still have goaltending problems since Nikolai Khabibulin had an awful year in Chicago (and presumably would not have been any better in Tampa). However, had Khabibulin put up an all star calibre season in Tampa, with the rest of the current roster, they would likely be serious contenders.

Tampa came through the regular season unspectacularly. They clinched eighth seed in the east and got the right to play the powerful Ottawa Senators in the first round. Ottawa injuries (particularly to Dominik Hasek) have kept the series from being a total mismatch, but Ottawa currently leads 3 games to one and can close out the series tonight in Ottawa.

Worse, Tampa Bay is showing no unity. They are falling apart. Coach John Tortorella has taken the infighting public by publically berating goalie John Grahame. Grahame is a solid goalie who played on the US Olympic team. He played poorly so far in the playoffs. He has a .847 saves percentage and a 4.79 goals against average in the playoffs so far. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and likely will not be back in Tampa next year.

In hockey, you win as a team and lose as a team. You create problems by creating scapegoats like John Grahame and "throwing them under the bus". This was a poor choice by a desperate coach in John Tortorella. Likely Tampa will lose tonight and get eliminated. Serious thought about whether or not Tortorella is a suitable NHL coach should follow.

Tampa Bay was a very good team in 2004. The lockout killed their momentum. The salary cap cost them a lot of depth. Most likely they would not have repeated, but they would have done better than this without those problems. The fans in the Tampa area deserve better than this. They should be very upset with the direction of the "new NHL".

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