It's been seven years since the Lightning struck the NHL and it
still hasn't created any thunder. Tampa Bay has just two playoff
wins in its dreary history, and last season it was the worst
team in the NHL for the second consecutive year. The Lightning
scored the fewest goals in the league, allowed the most and
finished 43 points out of a playoff spot.
Changes were so sweeping in the off-season that on the opening
day of training camp Tampa Bay had a new owner, new general
manager, new coach, seven new players and a new attitude. The
deep-pocketed owner, glass magnate Bill Davidson, brought in
track and field guru Bob Kersee to oversee preseason
conditioning. "The owner is showing a commitment that we've
never seen here and giving us every chance to win," center Darcy
Tucker says. "What he's doing is taking away all of the excuses."
The new general manager, Rick Dudley, who recently helped turn
the Senators from a league joke into a Stanley Cup contender,
promptly made his mark in Tampa by becoming the first NHL G.M.
to trade the No. 1 pick in the entry draft. Through a series of
deals, Dudley parlayed that pick into talented young goalie Dan
Cloutier, four other solid players, two junior prospects and a
No. 1 pick in 2000. "If you're going to get better, you need
assets," Dudley says. "We traded that one pick for a future that
we didn't have."
Steve Ludzik, the new man behind the bench, wants the Lightning
to allow 70 fewer goals this season, which is vital because
Tampa Bay's scoring may be scant, given that Tucker, who had
only 21 goals last season, is the Lightning's top returning
scorer. Dudley is bullish on precocious second-year center
Vincent Lecavalier and talented but slump-prone center Chris
The Lightning is also praying that success is contagious.
Davidson has won two NBA championships as owner of the Detroit
Pistons; in Dudley's 17 years as a pro coach or general manager,
his teams have never missed the postseason; and Ludzik coached
the Detroit Vipers to the 1997 International Hockey League
title. "I'm not one for making predictions," says Ludzik, "but
the goal is to make the playoffs."
The youthful Lightning is probably a year and a 30-goal sniper
from contending for a postseason spot, but it shouldn't be long
before there are rumblings of thunder in Tampa Bay.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Lecavalier is Tampa's face of the future.
Only seven goalies who played at least 30 games in 1998-99 had
save percentages below .900. Last year's primary Lightning
netminders, Bill Ranford (.881 with Tampa Bay, .885 overall) and
Corey Schwab (.891), had the two lowest percentages.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 25 Lecavalier can't carry the load by himself
DEFENSE 26 Kubina is a horse; other youngsters need to
GOALTENDING 28 Cloutier will be solid in time
SPECIAL TEAMS 26 Both units near the bottom of the league
COACHING 26 Rookie Ludzik has standout minor league