Work in Sports
SOUTHEAST DIVISION |
4 Tampa Bay Lightning
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 27
By Kostya Kennedy
You'll have to pardon Lightning general manager Rick Dudley's French, and not because he has a tenuous grasp of hockey's unofficial second language. "After our first day of camp last year, I looked at Ludzy and said, 'Holy s---!'" says Dudley, who, like coach Steve Ludzik, is entering his second season in Tampa Bay. "We had guys slotted as number 3 defensemen who were barely good enough to be number 7s. We knew we needed a miracle to compete."
Dudley and Ludzik did not prove to be miracle workers, as the Lightning sputtered to its second consecutive 19-win season. Through a dizzying series of acquisitions that has left just eight players remaining from last year's opening-night roster, Dudley has given Tampa Bay its fastest team in the franchise's nine-year history. "We put a premium on speed, and it shows," says Ludzik.
New forwards Brian Holzinger, Mike Johnson, Martin St. Louis and Todd Warriner can all burn, as can 20-year-old holdover Vincent Lecavalier, the superbly talented third-year center who is the heart of the franchise. That Lecavalier is the NHL's youngest captain makes sense because, after speed, the Lightning has put an emphasis on youth. Right wing Stan Drulia, 32, and mobile defenseman Petr Svoboda, 34, are the only Tampa Bay players older than 28. "I feel like an ooooooold man," said Svoboda, as he surveyed the locker room last month.
Svoboda's mates on defense are especially green. Pavel Kubina, Paul Mara, Cory Sarich and Andrei Zyuzin all range in age from 21 to 23. That's why the Lightning, despite its newfound speed, isn't on the fast track to success. Last year Tampa Bay allowed 3.73 goals per game, second worst in the league, and it's likely to again surrender too many goals to make a serious playoff bid. Kevin Weekes, 25, who was picked up from the Islanders in the off-season, will share time with 24-year-old Dan Cloutier in net.
The day before the Lightning broke camp this year, Drulia was in the practice facility casually watching a public skate when a young girl executed a flawless pirouette. "Did you see her skate?" Drulia said. "Maybe we should bring her over for a look."
A year ago maybe. This season, at least, that pixie would have a hard time winning a spot with Tampa Bay.
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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