After an abysmal season, Lightning fans hoped that the new ownership in Tampa Bay would make some changes, and they didn’t have to wait long.
On Monday, Jeff Vinik announced the firing of general manager Brian Lawton and head coach Rick Tocchet. He also announced that the Lightning are currently interviewing for a new CEO, who will have the responsibility of filling the other vacancies.
Since arriving in town, Vinik’s motto has been “bringing it back,” as in bringing back the enthusiasm of the fans, team, and Tampa Bay hockey. He started by scheduling team events around the fans, such as player interviews and autograph sessions. He lowered ticket prices. Now he has begun making needed management changes to build a winning team.
Over the last three years, Lightning fans have had little to cheer about. Tampa Bay has not made the playoffs in that time. This season they finished with a record of 34-36-12, tied for 24th overall out of 30. No excuse for finishing that badly considering the ice talent they have.
However not everything looks bad, the team closed out by winning their last three. They have a number of great players including but not limited to Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier — their leading scorers. Ryan Malone missed some of the season with injuries but still managed over 20 goals and 47 points. Steve Downie also scored over 20 goals and had 46 points.
Stamkos scored his 50th and 51st goal in their last game of the season against the Florida Panthers. This tied him with Sidney Crosby of the Penguins to share the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. Lecavalier also won the Richard Trophy in 06-07 with 52 goals. With scoring like this, how can you not be in the playoffs?
One good thing about their lousy record: the Lightning will have a fairly high draft pick on June 25. This Tuesday the draft lottery will be held for those teams not participating in the playoffs. The maximum number of spots a team can move up is four, and the maximum they can move down is one. Currently Tampa Bay is listed as sixth based on their record so their draft pick will be between No. 2 and No. 7.
The Stanley Cup playoffs start this Wednesday, but the Tampa Bay Lightning won’t be participating. With new ownership, new management, and new coaching the Lightning better be there next year. Vinik has already demonstrated his willingness to let people go. In the offseason, expect many player changes and trades as he builds a winning team.