It has been a rough week for hockey in Tampa. On Friday, April 19th, the mood around the city was optimistic, despite the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning blew a three-goal lead in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This was the team that won 62 games after all, so one bad game couldn’t derail the postseason… right?
As we all know, the Lightning’s historic season ended with one more note to the record books, a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. This meltdown is widely considered to be one of the worst in sports history, as Tampa Bay went from the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup to the first team out of the playoffs.
And then, to cap off what was already miserable week for the Lightning, former general manager Steve Yzerman announced that he would be taking over the general manager role with his former team, the Detroit Red Wings.
Lightning Knew Yzerman was Leaving
It’s not that this was an unexpected announcement in any way for Yzerman. Ever since he stepped down from his role with the Lightning back in September, it was easy to guess that his future landing spot would be with Detroit. It made sense, as his family and his legacy were always with the Red Wings.
The timing, however, was poor when it actually happened. It felt like an unintentional kick by Yzerman, adding onto a miserable week for fans. Here, the face of the rebuild that brought so much hope to Lightning was leaving the team in arguably their darkest moment in a decade.
Lightning Losing More Than Yzerman
Yzerman parting ways with the Lightning franchise will have a far greater effect than just losing one of the faces of the rebuild. The Lightning already have a great replacement in Julien BriseBois, who took over the role of general manager back in September. In his first season, BriseBois made a number of smart choices, even if the team did flame out of the playoffs.
What they can’t easily replace, however, is the scouts Yzerman could be taking with him to Detroit. With the possibility of Al Murray and Pat Verbeek following Yzerman to the Red Wings, the Lightning could lose two of the key architects of their rebuild. These are the men who are responsible for the franchise pulling starting talent out of all levels of the draft, which stocked the team with young, high-end talent.
So, not only would the Lightning be down some important front-office leadership, but these men would be going to a division rival no less. If they continue to pull in great players from the late rounds of the draft, it will only make Tampa Bay’s path to the Stanley Cup harder as time goes one.
Future Still Bright in Tampa Bay
Thing’s aren’t all bad for Tampa Bay, even if this was one of the bleakest weeks in team history. They still are a team loaded with incredible talent that is mostly under contract for the next few seasons. Assuming they can bounce back from their embarrassing loss to the Blue Jackets, they should find themselves back in the Stanley Cup discussions next season.
That doesn’t make this week any easier to swallow, though. Times like these test the resolve of the players, coaches and fanbases alike. That means it is okay to feel upset about the situation, because, frankly, it has been a tough week for all aspects of the franchise.
But, as they say, every test makes you stronger. This embarrassing Round 1 loss could become a solidifying moment for the franchise, making them a stronger team on the ice and a stronger fanbase supporting them off it.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.