Of all the adjectives you might have applied to the Tampa Bay Lightning, average would not have been one of them.
Electric. There’s one.
Relentless. There’s another.
They were dynamic and young and fast and talented and breathtaking … last year. Everyone agreed on that. But mediocre and pedestrian and routine.
But like the Tampa Bay Rays of 2009 (the year after the World Series) and the Bucs of 2003 (the year after the Super Bowl), the Lightning have settled in a ho-hum existence. Even the year after the Lightning won the Cup in 2004, the following season was canceled.
Players (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat) have been injured. Others (Ryan Callahan) have gone into prolonged slumps. The Lightning is on the outside of the playoff race now, scrambling to try to get back in.
How much has the ongoing contract negotiations with Steven Stamkos hurt? Hard to tell, but it can’t have helped. Even now, Stamkos’ future is a matter of conjecture.
The Triplets have been hurt most of the year. Goalie Ben Bishop has played well, but he has an average record because of a lack of support. And the season is almost halfway done.
But the Bolts are 19th in the league in scoring, and they’re 25th on the power play. Yes, injuries have hurt. Still, there have been other factors.
And so Tampa Bay goes into the New Year still searching for the spark that made it special last season as it finished second in the Stanley Cup competition. Even more, it seeks an identity that has someone gone missing.
If it does not find itself, its season may be lost.