On Tampa Bay sports disappointment and media coverage

A disappointing season in sports – both professional and amateur — is just that, a disappointment, a downer. Things don’t go as planned and the results are lesser than you (as a fan) wish. It’s something that you can’t hold against a high school or college team while the pro sports competitive disappointments can be outright atrocities of a competitive kind, run asunder by a multitude of choices by management as well of incidents of both a competitive variety and by bad luck.

The 2016-17 Tampa Bay Lightning season is a disappointment of a competitive nature where bad luck (injuries) and a horrible schedule played part in the Bolts not roaring into a competitive, playoff-bound position that has become a constant the last three seasons. There was a noted attitude problem in the Lightning locker room, and once that was brought into check the team turned up its competitive vibe and is where it is now: Just outside the playoff bubble with a scant chance of making it and a growing chance of missing the playoffs.

It’s a disappointment, yeah. Yet the strength of the team hasn’t collapsed, things haven’t been put asunder with bad coaching or low quality management moves. For the casual fan that’s locked in on disappointment in the trades of Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula: They weren’t going to stick around long term by way o the salary cap and costs to do so. Bishop and Boyle will be unrestricted free agents come July 1st, Filppula was due to become one in the summer of 2018. With the club already working with a very tight salary cap, retaining them over retaining forthcoming restricted free agents Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and / or Center Tyler Johnson just couldn’t be done.

Disappointing to lose fan favorite players, especially Bishop who was such a steady hand in the crease. But when looking at the broad picture, at the “Yzerplan” that accentuates player development, it’s understandable as something that had to be done.

To cut that short: shit happens. Ho hum. Next season is going to be something worth checking out, just as this season was, and the season before…

In comparison to professional sports in the history of the greater Tampa Bay Metropolitan area which has existed 40+ years, this season of Lightning hockey ranks a hell of a lot higher on the disappointment list than oh-so-many others coming from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rays and Lightning. All that history, all the back-story of each club doesn’t gain web-clicks or sell newspapers at the immediate moment though.

See, Tampa Bay Times (and former Tampa Tribune) sports columnist Martin Fennelly made a bold decree that this Tampa Bay Lightning’s season is the biggest disappointment in the history of Tampa Bay sports. He does quick-quick takes of other top-tier disappointing seasons for local clubs, but highlights the current state of the Lightning as “desperation hockey” and the reason why this season is the top disappointment – ever.

That’s where I’ve been revitalized as a sports blogger, because something so limited in view, perspective and opinion got the green light from the only newspaper in the region. Something so inane, random and weak didn’t just get published – it’s going to get someone his paycheck because he put words down and it fit a column length requirement.

I’m a retired blogger, or at least I’ve stepped back from my perch running Raw Charge. As a sports fan, I’ve read and watched sports of various kinds since the late 1980s. I’ve been exposed to the Tampa Bay sports world since 1989 when I moved into the area. Tampa Bay is the home of disappointment, and it’s been annually hyped and crowed about with the start of NFL training camp. The Buccaneers franchise hasn’t just had poor seasons but off the field hijinks by way of players, coaches, team executives and late-owner Hugh Culverhouse are part of what made the Bucs lack-of-playoff-berth span such an atrocity.

14 years of variations of ineptitude and that alone tops anything of note from the Lightning.

Let’s also not wash away the Buccaneers overhyped, overdriven, Oh-My-God life post Super Bowl victory in 2003. The franchise, the team players, head coach Jon Gruden… They could do no wrong in the season following the Lombardi achievement…even if they failed to make the playoffs; even if they’ve done it only twice since 2002. Fennelly does touch on this disappointment, but plays it down ultimately to the “desperation hockey” of the Lightning.

That – the stuff above — just talking about results; it doesn’t talk details of the ousting GM Rich McKay in favor of giving Jon Gruden more favor and control. It doesn’t talk about player moves and departures and all that. To go from Champion to also-ran so quickly and parade around in mediocrity is more of a disappointment in Tampa Bay pro sports history than the likes of Fennelly or Tom Jones will admit.

Why? Why are the Buccaneers or the Rays unsalable characters? The Rays haven’t been given much attention in this write up, but that’s a bit of the nature of the beast – 162 games tend to dampen the disappointment. It’s easier to take issue with things off-field (such as the future of the franchise in general) than to take grand disappointment in the season… At least for me.

The Tampa Bay Times is heavily invested in their coverage of both the Bucs and the Rays. It seems like preference of the NFL and MLB, along with college sports and local amateur action, while the Lightning is the red-headed step-child of coverage. It’s much more potent than coverage of the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team or the almost-forgotten Tampa Bay Storm of arena football, but with how much is out there to be written about or analyzed, the Times saves the space for coverage of the other pro clubs firstly.

I see that as a bigger disappointment in pro sports history at the moment than Fennelly’s take on the Lightning season: When an attack column is more coverage and analysis than typical daily coverage, while it lacks true coverage or analysis and seems to just fill newspaper space while making a brash remark, something is wrong. [Author note: None of this should be taken as a negative sentiment toward Joe Smith, Lightning beat reporter at the Times. His work, as well as former Tampa Tribune beat writer Erik Erlendsson, is top notch and dependable for routine coverage.]

Then again, who am I to say all this? I’m just a retired hockey blog manager who takes interest in the NHL and the sport of ice hockey beyond Associated Press reports. I’m someone who knows how the developmental pipeline is a cog that’s aided the Lightning this season and the last several. I’m aware it isn’t the traditional also-ran minor league squad that newspapers often paint minor league teams as. I’m just some dude that’s pointed out the Bucs and Bolts have only a single season differential in the number of playoff berths each team has made in their existence.

There are so many individual stories from the three major clubs in Tampa Bay sports that effect how disappointing a season is. The 2016-17 Lightning hasn’t been near their truly trying seasons of the past. The season is a letdown, sure, but an atrocity? Not nearly. With the direction of the club under owner Jeff Vinik and vice president/general manager Steve Yzerman, it’s not likely to go in a downtrodden direction for a long time.

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by | March 22, 2017 · 8:17 AM

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