The holiday season is supposed to be a time of happiness and good
cheer, but for the Tampa Bay Lightning it is a time of sorrow.
Winners of just two of the last 18 games, the Lightning are on
track to be out of the playoff race by New Year's Day, a feat
which will match last year's ineptitude.
In an effort to shake up the club, general manager/coach Jacques
Demers corrected a mistake made by his predecessor, Phil
Esposito, by requiring Chris Gratton, a former first-round draft
pick from the Philadelphia Flyers along with Mike Sillinger.
In return, Demers surrendered Mikael Renberg and Daymond Langkow.
"It's been an unbelievable day. I am a little tired, but it was
fun," Gratton said following a 2-1 victory over the New York
Islanders. "A good win for our team. It hasn't sunk in yet.
It's unbelievable tonight looking at blue shirts and not orange
"Anytime you play in a particular spot for four years, you get to
know the area," he added. "Yes, it's like being back home. We
got some up and coming young players here, and tonight was very
"It hurts to lose Renberg and Langkow, but I think the Flyers are
looking toward the Cup while we are trying to build a team," said
coach Jacques Demers. "Maybe Gratton was meant to be a
Lightning, and maybe Renberg was meant to be a Flyer. Being the
big fish in the bowl, it fits Gratton perfectly."
The trade will make the Lightning a better team in the long run,
but for now the losses keep on mounting. Following a 4-1 setback
to the Edmonton Oilers on December 18, a team which skated
circles around the Lightning, Demers said: "I'm fed up with
losing hockey games." He should be.
The loss to the Oilers was the Lightning's eighth straight home
loss which tied a franchise record. In that span, Tampa Bay has
been outscored, 38-12. In an ironic twist of fate, one of the
Lightning's two victories during their recent slump came at
Edmonton on December 4th, a 2-1 decision.
Tampa Bay's last home win was a 3-1 decision on November 18th
against New Jersey. They are 0-17-1 when allowing at least three
goals. Against Edmonton, the Lightning were outshot 38-23, which
is the fifth time this year Tampa Bay has given up at least that
There are many areas to place blame, but Demers refuses to allow
his young players to be the focus of his anger. Instead, he puts
the focus on several veteran players, Benoit Hogue, Bill Ranford,
Karl Dykhuis, Sandy McCarthy, and Alexander Selivanov. "The
veterans on this team are making too much money," he hollered.
"No one wants them in trade, and this is not like football; I
just can't release them."
One player who Demers praised is Wendel Clark. "Wendel Clark is
the ultimate professional, probably wishes he signed with Dallas,
where he could of gone, but he chose Tampa instead."
As the season moves along, expect Demers to make a few more
changes. Refusing to surrender any of his younger players in
trades for a quick fix, Demers might be forced to bite the bullet
for the rest of the season or buy out the contracts of some
players. "We have the highest payroll at Cleveland," he said.
"I have guys there making a lot of money. They're not
doing us any good."
In the meantime, expect the Lightning to struggle along, win an
odd game here and there, and keep an eye on next season. After
all, what else is there to do?