Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday morning homily XIV

From the on-paper talent, a quick-witted coach to the promise of the No. 1 overall pick, this season down here in Hockey Bay had all the makings of something special.

Lightning fans could look forward to Mike Smith, a sure-fire, puck-handling goalie who would eliminate the nightmares of Marc Denis. The signings of a couple future Hall of Famers -- Olaf Kolzig and Mark Recchi -- meant stability and leadership. Free agents like Ryan Malone and Radim Vrbata were going to fill the net with pucks. And the Dan Boyle trade brought a couple of peachfuzz faces to an already youthful, but beleaguered, blue line.

Yes, the Lightning had the script down pat. But, like most every fantasy, the bubble of hockey nirvana has popped. We quickly learned that talent on paper doesn't equate to wins on the ice. Sadly, too, it's created something of a horror show that not even Oren Koules, one of the brains behind the grisly Saw movies, could have envisioned.

Barry Melrose, that new coach who was fired after 16 games, hopes the Lightning never wins again this season. Despite a couple good games, Steven Stamkos, the 2008 draft's top pick, is still finding his way. Malone, unfortunately, has been nagged by injuries. Smith, I'd bet, sees pucks in his dreams.

Had enough? There's more. Vrbata simply quit, packing up and heading home to the Czech Republic. And we're still waiting, Andrej Meszaros, for your first goal with the Lightning.

Thankfully, Recchi and Kolzig have met or exceeded expectations. And Steve Eminger, exchanged for Boyle-wannabe Matt Carle, has been the Lightning's most solid player since coming over from Philly.

Where do we go from here? That's up to the Lightning. If they keep playing the way they have so far, it'll mean smaller crowds likely dominated by the opposition's fans. How's that for a home-rink advantage?

It could also mean another shot at next June's top draft pick. Are plans under way for a Seen Tavares campaign? Or does Stamkos, whom I still have great faith in, leave the team gun-shy about forwards?

Sadly, neither choice comes with a ton of respect.

It's going to take more than Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis rediscovering their scoring touch. It's going to take more than Zenon Konopka punching someone in the kisser. Beyond Konopka, this team, to a man, needs to get tougher. Mostly, it's going to take everyone on the Lightning to show up every night, make the opponent more miserable with each shift and leave the early season nonsense behind.

Easier said than done? Oh, yeah. Until this happens, though, it'll be more Dolts than Bolts.

Expanding my reach

Granted, it will likely start with a small article in the next Beckett Sports Card Monthly, revisiting the day when Colin snagged 51 autographs from the New York Rangers and Lightning, but I could become a regular contributor to Beckett Hockey in the months ahead.

Though I've written for the publication before, this is an opportunity to share insights and successes with another hobby-specific audience. All the more better, too, if it brings more readers to Hound Central 4.0.

I'll let you know more as it happens.

5 Big Sigs

Thankfully, we have an NHL team, as in the Colorado Avalanche, coming to town this week. With that in mind, and with a little help from the youngest hound, here's what we're hoping to add to the collection:

~ Ryan Smyth and Adam Foote on Avalanche and Team Canada pucks;
~ Paul Stastny on a Denver University puck;
~ Milan Hejduk, Wojtek Wolski, Marek Svatos, Foote, Smyth and Stastny on an Avalanche mini helmet;
~ Peter Budaj and Svatos on the Slovakian team jersey; and
~ Tyler Arnason, T.J. Hensick, Jordan Leopold and John-Michael Liles on the USA team jersey.

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