This Tampa Bay Lightning season is a smashing letdown that's not going away anytime soon. It's only 41 games old, half done, but really, it already seems more than done, doesn't it?
The Bolts played a feisty third period Tuesday, storming from two goals back to tie Western Conference-leading Vancouver before falling in a shootout.
Those 20 minutes might have been a building block a few weeks back, but are there any illusions at this point? That recent Canadian road swing —three losses in three games to teams they trailed in the standings — exposed this Lightning season for the flop it is. And frankly, I can only listen to coach Guy Boucher talk about adversity for so long.
What to do?
Nothing spectacular, if you ask me.
Fall back, regroup.
I'm not seeing Lightning GM Steve Yzerman making many season-changing deals. And it's the right play. Barring the all-time steal (holler when you see one), it wouldn't make sense. Not eight points out of the last playoff slot, especially with this porous Lightning defense and goaltending that's the worst in the NHL.
It's easy to point to last season, when along the way Yzerman picked up goaltender Dwayne Rolson and defenseman Eric Brewer. The two of them made a huge difference — and at not much of a price. Those were brilliant moves.
But the Lightning were 23-11-5, well inside the playoff race, when they picked up Roloson, and they were 30-18-7 when they acquired Brewer. These Bolts are 17-20-4. That's hardly buyers' territory.
There's no reason to fritter away top draft picks or prospects right now in the name of maybe climbing back to the edge of contention. Yzerman has never swayed from a long-term plan even as the Lightning rose to unexpected heights his first year on the job.
"It doesn't change the plan. It can't change the plan," Yzerman said at Tuesday's game. "We don't want to get into a situation that by filling one hole we're creating another."
He believes the draft is key, so holding on to those first- and second-round picks is a must, as is eventually hitting a draft or two out of the rink. Lightning history is not filled with such drafts. Still …
"We didn't sell out to get to the conference final last year," Yzerman said. "We acquired Eric Brewer for a third-round pick and a prospect. We acquired Dwayne Roloson for a player playing in our system. We kept our first- and second-round picks."
The Bolts will have to fight the urge. Especially on a night like Tuesday, when in the net for Vancouver is 24-year-old Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo's back-up. Think the Lightning wouldn't like a piece of Schneider's 2.30 goals-against or .927 save percentage? Wouldn't that be worth a draft pick or even Bolts up-and-comers such as Brett Connolly or Carter Ashton?
I still say dump some veterans when the time is right this season, pursue a goaltender and defenseman in free agency and save the draft picks, because this club has holes. True, two of this team's best players, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, aren't getting any younger. Vinny turns 32 in April; Marty turns 37 in June. They won't be here forever.
You still have to fight the urge. Not trying the spectacular is a tough sell after everybody got worked up after last season's playoff run.
No matter. It would be better to take your step back and then attack the offseason. A lot went into this season: the lazy start, the useless road power play, some injuries — and who saw Roloson disappearing like this?
Remember, the Lightning were already in it when they went for it last season.
But that was last season — as if we need any more reminders at this point.