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.
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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 Gratton.
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.
Issue date: October 4, 1999
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