I don’t know if it’s a casual fan base element, bandwagon fans or actually faithful of the Tampa Bsy Lightning who put on the panic hats if and when the Lightning struggle or fail to win… I know there’s an element of the die-hard fans who are like this – one of them is a good friend of mine – but I do know they have come out of the woodwork during the Lightning’s Eastern Conference Final series with the Washington Capitals after the disappointing opening games of the series.
To those who are crying that the Lightning are missing a piece of the puzzle in the roster, I’d like to welcome you to hockey or to the Tampa Bay Lightning from your original team. What’s worth citing as missing is your experience as a Bolts fan and your knowledge of the Tampa Bay Lightning roster and what it’s capable of.
I know there’s an element of New York Ranger fans who are following the Bolts after the 2018 NHL trade-deadline deal that sent Ryan McDonagh and T. J. Miller to Tampa Bay (and Vladmir Namestnikov, prospects and draft picks – which vary with how the Bolts finish – to the Rangers). Not to give you fellows grief but the Lightning are not the Rangers, even if five players (McDonagh, Miller, Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman) are former Rangers. This team’s core is developed through the system dubbed as Tampacuse; most of the roster has been brought along slowly and has spent time with the team’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse.
That “missing piece” is surprising underperformance and being competitively one-upped by a competitive opponent. Especially surprising given that the Lightning went 8-2 in the first two rounds of the Second Season, not to mention their Grade-A performance during the NHL’s regular season. So much of that was accomplished by the “missing element” of the Lightning. The same “missing element’ that’s gone to the playoffs four of the past five seasons (20016-17 being the exception, with injuries and bad luck playing into Tampa Bay missing out on the post-season for the first time under Jon Cooper’s leadership). The playoffs were missed by a single win, all of two points, in the outlier season. One win. One flipping win.
This brings me to another point, another reactive element from a swath of fans – and there are long-term fans who are part of this as well as reactive casual and bandwagon fans – that makes me want to cry out profanities to accommodate “shut up!”: Those who put guilt on head coach Jon Cooper and believe the man should be removed as head coach for not winning more games and more Stanley Cup championships.
Oh God, please shut the fuck up!
Jon Cooper coached some of the core element of the Lightning roster since 2010-11 with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL, the Bolts then-AHL affiliate. He coached Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Cory Conacher and Alex Killorn to a Calder Cup title in 2012. He’s accomplished more wins in his tenure as head coach of Tampa Bay than John Tortorella pulled off in his time as head coach (Note: with rule changes and such and overtime and what not, that comes with an asterisk). Tampa Bay has been a consistent contender – a team that’s gotten to the playoffs – four of those five seasons. Add to it how far the Lightning got in the playoffs: The Eastern Conference Finals has been reached three times and the Stanley Cup finals reached once.
That’s not good enough? To hell with you!
My reactive response is produced by way of One Buccaneer Place and the other faithful element of Tampa Bay sports. It’s an element that thwarted contention of the region’s NFL team by way of wanting a Super Bowl ring instead of further resurrection of one of the weakest franchises. Oh, the Buccaneers got their championship in 2002 – Rah! Rah! Rah! – And then the organization came crashing down. They pushed championship ahead of contention when they fired Tony Dungy as head coach (who, tied with Rich McKay, turned the Buccaneers around from being the joke of professional football into a contender) and hired Jon Gruden to replace him. Gruden made the playoffs three times in his 7 seasons with the Bucs, only getting past the wild card round once (that 2002, Super Bowl season). Dungy, in his tenure, went to the playoffs five times. One can immediately attack him as not getting far that often – he only got past the wild card twice – but he can’t be attacked for consistently making the playoffs or having a better win percentage than Gruden. Jon Gruden has 3 more wins than Dungy all-time as Bucs head coach, but that comes with a full season more as coach as Dungy. Do the math.
The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since Gruden’s last failed wild card berth.
That’s going too far on a tangent though, ain’t it? Yet it isn’t… There’s an element of Lightning fans who thought an all-in was necessary and who think an all-in is still necessary. Everything must be changed. “Damn the system, damn contention, damn winning regularly; it’s all-or-nothing, win the Cup and savor the championship and… well, who cares about next season or the year after that? It’s now! We’ll find something else to watch when mediocrity comes back regularly to the club.”
If you’re a sports fan, you know this element of a fan base. Yes, you would like to win it all, but to put the title element above the franchise’s long-term stability or contention is a suicidal sacrifice. That was what the acquisition of defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators would have been for the Bolts; a big-name acquired for more current-roster talent. A big name that wouldn’t have put Tampa Bay over the top as-so-much giving the team the media spotlight and putting more weight on achieving this season or being looked at as a failure. The McDonagh/Millar acquisition was another big-name acquisition but the cost was a single roster player. Depleting the system of prospects is a cost, but that’s also an element that can be covered for in free agent signings (and I’m talking undrafted players or collegiate talent to add to the system and not top level free-agent signings).
Game 4 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals is tonight, and the mentality any fan can have is that there are at least two games left. Win or lose. You can’t and won’t be satisfied with a loss, but go in with the drive and have that glimmer of hope remain with whatever the outcome is. Just don’t be stupid and knee-jerk react. Don’t give up with any outcome that isn’t a blazing win, or complain about how horrible a player is with any shortcoming, or how officiating is working against Tampa Bay (or Washington for that matter). Shit happens, and it’s been dealt with and overcome to get this far. Shit happens, and it’s able to be declared by anyone who advances to the Stanley Cup Finals – shit got overcome. There are games to be played still before a champion gets crowned. Four teams remain in contention for a shot at the title, despite whatever the Conference Finals results say at the moment; don’t write off contention or undermine finalists.
The casual fan element will drift away, the bandwagon fan will go home, the die-hard fan will wonder what-could-have been while waiting for the sojourn ahead that is the 2018 off-season and life as a fan in general in the time ahead, be it 2018-19 or beyond.