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Tampa Bay Has Been Lucky... So Far

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And not just about dodging catastrophic tropical storms.

No, so far, Tampa Bay has never had to deal with the anguish of seeing a beloved player leave town via free agency. With Carl Crawford's contract with the Rays expiring at the end of this season, that could change.

We have had popular players who had played their whole careers in Tampa Bay find themselves without a contract and forced to move on (like John Lynch) and we've had fan favorites traded to other teams (like Brad Richards) but we've never had a player of all star caliber, elite, in his prime and adored by the fans, exercise his option and go elsewhere.

The closest we've come to that was probably when Nikolai Khabibulin left the Lightning for the Chicago Blackhawks. That's pretty remarkable, considering we've had major professional teams in three different leagues for over ten years now.

Free agency, as we know it in modern professional sports, has been with us for a quarter of a century, but fans still take it personally when a player exercises that option. Probably because fans tend to focus primarily on that player choosing to leave.

That makes it feel like rejection, the decision is seen as desertion and betrayal and serves as commentary on the player's character, painting him as a selfish, greedy mercenary.

Certain aspects of that equation are cheerfully ignored or forgotten when players sign big contracts to stay. It's the leaving that hurts. And while few break-ups are as publicly ugly as the LeBron James situation, they're still usually pretty painful.

Lightning fans were disappointed that an injury ruined their chance to boo the daylights out of Khabibulin on his 1st return to the St. Pete Times Forum. And this was a guy who didn't start his career in Tampa Bay and only played here for four seasons. It's difficult to imagine people burning Carl Crawford jerseys in public but who knows what might happen? A lot will depend on what team he goes to.

Of course, he's not even gone yet and a million things will happen between now and when pen meets paper. It's not completely beyond the realm of possibility that he winds up staying here. Here's hoping we can keep dodging those storms.

Photographs by cstreet.us, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.