NHL Blogger Survey: Know Your Tampa Bay Lightning
NHL Blogger Survey
Tampa Bay Lightning
Jon Jordan, Kukla's Korner
Favorite current players: 1. Steven Stamkos 2. Martin St. Louis 3. Vincent Lecavalier. These aren't necessarily my favorites, as I would never admit to having any on a team I cover. (Put a gun to my head and I'd have to work in Steve Downie, probably at the expense of the Lightning captain. Downie's got jam. I like jam.) But this top three is my best guess from having my finger on the pulse of the fan base. Bolts fans are enamored by young Stamkos after his Rocket (Richard) shot to the upper echelon of NHL stars last season. And Marty and Vinny are still the Bay Area's beloved Marty and Vinny. (Any discontent directed toward the latter from the fans the last few years, I liken to a parent expecting more out of the child they know is capable of so much.)
Most Underrated: 1. Mike Lundin 2. Nate Thompson 3. Dominic Moore. (It should be noted that Downie's emergence of a year ago takes him out of underrated contention, to me.) Lundin seemed to be as clearly out of the Lightning's defense picture as one could get last season, jettisoned to AHL Norfolk out of training camp and only joining the big club on a permanent basis after Christmas. Upon his return, Lundin assumed top pair defensive duties alongside Mattias Ohlund for much of the remainder of the year and proved his worth down the stretch, often matched against the opposition's best forwards. The intangibles exhibited by Thompson and Moore are perfect as Tampa's third and fourth-line centers. For a team lacking a heavyweight scrapper, Thompson holds his own in the middleweight division.
Bolts on the Verge: Beset by a knee injury early in 2009, Dana Tyrell's place on the Lightning roster has been a long time coming. He finally earned a spot out of camp this year and, though he has been in and out of the lineup in the early going this year, Tyrell's speed and willingness to engage physically should make him a Guy Boucher mainstay for some time to come. Goaltender Dustin Tokarski continues to wait in the wings in Norfolk, where he had a solid pro debut last year, and is now pushed by fellow AHL standout Cedrick Desjardins. James Wright saw 48 games with Tampa Bay in 2009-10 before returning to junior and was impressive in the Traverse City prospects tournament and at Lightning training camp.
Player Fans Worry About: The stellar goaltending of Mike Smith kept an awful 2008-09 Lightning team in the mix early in that season before concussion issues took a major toll on the former Dallas Star just as the wheels fell off Tampa Bay's wagon entirely. Since then, Smith has never consistently regained the form the Lightning have hoped for since he was acquired in the deal that saw fan favorite Brad Richards leave town. Now healthy, and joined in Tampa Bay's nets by once-and-again teammate and pal Dan Ellis, Smith has a lot on the line this season with a contract set to expire this summer. But Bolts fans fret when Smith wanders or mixes it up with opponents, as he is wont to do, knowing that another major collision could very well be disastrous.
All-Time Favorite Bolts: 1. Martin St. Louis 1a. Vincent Lecavalier 3. Dad Boychards (Hold, please.) It's pick-your-favorite-kid difficult for Lightning fans to choose Marty over Vinny but I'd say the majority would give St. Louis the slight edge. They love Lecavalier but they loooooooove St. Louis – the heart and soul (and Hart Trophy-winning) icon of the franchise. Besides, Lecavalier's a bit polarizing, and a significant portion of these fans have turned on him before (though they may not admit as much now). That portmanteau in third place, of course, represents Dan Boyle and Brad Richards, fixtures of 2004's Stanley Cup championship squad who were each shipped out of town in unpopular trades. The outcry, in each case, was significant but Lightning fans still roar over the loss of Boyle (forgetting that Downie – remains the net yield of that deal, via several degrees of separation). Honorable mentions to Cup captain, Dave Andreychuk and Brian Bradley, who led the Bolts to their first playoff berth in 1996.
Best Ticket Deal: There always seems to be some sort of creative ticket package at the ready in Tampa. These days, Tampa Bay Lightning Family Packs offer some serious value. Four tickets, four hot dogs, four sodas for as low as $56 dollars.
Charity Programs: The Lightning Foundation has long been a community leader in helping to raise money for several local charities. The organization is heavily involved in volunteer efforts at institutions such as Metropolitan Ministries and the Ronald McDonald House and participates in the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone program, hosting youth hockey clinics at the St. Pete Times Forum and helping to grow the game of hockey in Florida with street hockey events as well. Annually, the Lightning partner locally with The Yerrid Foundation for Tampa Bay Fights Cancer Night, hosting cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, families, doctors, nurses and volunteers at a Tampa Bay home game in an effort to promote community awareness. A $3-million dollar commitment by the Vincent Lecavalier Foundation to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg helped facilitate the 2009 opening of the state-of-the-art Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center that bears the name of the Lightning captain and Lecavalier's foundation hosts a poker tournament each summer to raise money for related efforts.
Chief Rival: Well, um, yeah... About that... The Lightning's natural rival should be the cross-state Florida Panthers but, as I chronicled recently at Kukla's Korner, that "rivalry" leaves much to be desired these days. There's been something cooking with Washington of late and, as the Lightning improve and challenge the Caps for Southeast Division prominence, I expect these two to be less and less cordial. Dating all the way back to the Lightning's first ever playoff appearance, meetings with the Philadelphia Flyers always seem to have an added spark and, similarly, a 2006 postseason series with Ottawa instantly turned the Senators into a hated foe in Tampa. I suspect Steve Yzerman as general manager in Tampa Bay will spice things up across conferences when Detroit lines up against the Bolts.
Disliked Opponents: After several run-ins with Lightning players, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu don't have many local fans here and Alex Ovechkin has earned his share of detractors in recent years, with his "hot stick" 50th goal celebration in March of '09 and his exchanges with Downie a year ago. (That Matt Bradley so rudely interrupted a pending Downie/Ovechkin fight still frustrates Bolts fans who so badly wanted to see a scrap between the two.)
Favorite Announcers: Rick Peckham and Bobby "The Chief" Taylor are in their 15th season together on the TV side of things and are both fan favorites. Dave Mishkin handles the radio play-by-play (and his iconic "scooooooooooooooore" call is as boisterous as ever), while Lightning founder and NHL legend, Phil Esposito, does the color commentary for home games.
Team Accessibility to Fans (1-10): 8 -- The Lightning are out and about in the community enough for fans to buy in and call this "their" team. This past summer featured stops at several area Chili's restaurants, with players joining Lightning Radio personalities for interviews and fan interaction. Training camp was once again open to the public and players are very autograph-friendly at the practice rink. Player meet-and-greets are frequent.
Management Communication with Fans: 8 -- The need to connect with fans in this market is clearly understood and, through significant change in recent seasons, the Lightning organization has always made the effort. Question and answer sessions with Yzerman and Boucher, where average Joe fan could submit their inquiries for Lightning brass, were a nice touch. The previous regime made similar overtures toward the community but was, perhaps, too accessible for their own good at times. Open houses and town hall meetings were fine ideas, in theory, and the accountability was commendable but things became embarrassing when angered fans called management and ownership to task on various subjects, resulting in uncomfortable exchanges.
Event Operations: 8 – Since early last season, in-game video content and first-person player pieces have been first-rate. In-arena host, Brittany Zion, does a fine job keeping the crowd entertained with the standard intermission contests and games (though I could do without the dance contest, honestly). A hockey tradition gets a Southern twist when the Lightning roll out their version of "Score-O" in that nary a single contestant in recent memory can so much as hold a hockey stick properly, let alone convert their chance. Seriously, I cannot recall a single instance where the shot came anywhere close. We're talking puck-doesn't-make-the-circles/contestant-hits-the-deck-bad here (though participant failure cannot be blamed on the team, of course). Facility upgrades this season have been outstanding, with new boards and glass that provides for better sight lines, brand new zambonis, freshly painted concourses with several new flat-screen televisions and marked improvements to the press box.
Smart Arena Touch: The Lightning have held post-game concerts in recent seasons, keeping fans around long after games have ended, particularly on weekend nights. Entertainment for kids is a fixture on the plaza before games. Recognizing the success of the area's other sports franchises is something the Bolts have embraced, most notably by showing Tampa Bay Rays playoff action prior to the home opener (which would have happened again, presumably, had the Rays advanced past Texas and the baseball and hockey schedules aligned).
Approach to Bloggers: Tampa Bay's accommodations have been first-rate for me, personally, since they welcomed me as a member of the local media in 2008 (though I did have to bang down the door, to some extent, at first). There has been a consistent presence of web-based coverage in the Forum press box since the start of the '08-'09 season, though many individuals have come and gone. Lightning PR has been consistent in providing guests for my podcast, interview pieces and the like.
Pre/Postgame Pub and Grub: Hattrick's on nearby Franklin Street is your best bet for pre or post-game pints and an above average food menu. Plus, the hockey ambience is a comfort for puckheads. You could also arrive to the Forum early or stay on-site late and sip a few suds at Shots, the arena bar, though that can get a bit pricey. There are also options up the street at the Channelside Bay Plaza, including Hooters and Bennigan's. Sadly, several other options have gone the way of the dodo around the arena, with nothing across Channelside Drive from the Forum in business at present.