As another NHL season begins, there have been a lot of changes down at 401 Channelside Drive. And for the first time in a long time, they're good ones. So go ahead and break your old black-and-blue stuff out of storage because here are five reasons for you to fall in love with the Lightning all over again.
1. Koules And Friends: Out
I could have written at least a Top Five on this category alone, but the point is Oren Koules, and by extension Len Barrie, Brian Lawton and the other hangers-on, spousal or otherwise, who traveled with his psuedo-Hollywood freak show have packed their tents and hair gel and left town for good. In an area renowned for bad professional sports team ownership, Koules was the worst. Before you invoke the names of Culverhouse and Naimoli, keep in mind that both of them made their mistakes in attempting to establish expansion franchises that eventually weathered rough times (albeit without them), found success and are still here. Koules took over an organization that had recently won a Stanley Cup and plays in a world class, revenue-generating venue and immediately began systematically destroying it, inside and out. Bizarre personnel decisions at all levels of the organization that were driven by nepotism and shady, outside business dealings rather than improving the Tampa Bay Lightning will be this group's lasting legacy. Make no mistake: the Tampa Bay Lightning had absolutely no chance to ever be successful under the leadership of Oren Koules.
2. Vinik: In
Koules was so ill-suited and underqualified in every possible aspect as an owner of a professional sports franchise that you could have suggested anybody, including Larry, your next door neighbor, who lets his pitbull run around loose and leaves his bedroom window shades undrawn (ew) and it would have been an improvement, Lucky for us, we got Jeff Vinik instead. We don't know much about Jeff Vinik, other than the fact that he's a successful businessman. That's because he prefers a low profile and believes in putting qualified people in position to be successful:
"This franchise is not going to be restrained by financial resources. You don't want me running the team on a day-to-day basis. You want a terrific, professional CEO doing that."
If that philosophy sounds familiar, it could be because it's very similar to the way Stu Sternberg has operated the Tampa Bay Rays since he bought that once-moribund franchise.
3. Simon Gagne
Traditionally, the Tampa Bay Lightning, regardless of who the owner has been, are not widely known for going out and acquring superstar players in their prime. That's because it almost never happens. The one exception being former goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Marty St. Louis was an underscouted unknown commodity who blossomed with playing time after arriving from Calgary. Dino Ciccarelli, Wendell Clark and Dave Andreychuk were great players who contributed but whose best years were generally considered behind them when they got to Tampa Bay. Others, like Alexandre Daigle, were considered low-risk reaches that might have yielded dividends, but not true stars to actually build upon. In trading for Gagne this summer, general manager Steve Yzerman has acquired an elite NHL playmaker (albeit with some health concerns) in the prime of his career. The fact that the Lightning got him from Philadelphia in exchange for very little (Matt Walker and a 2011 4th round draft pick) makes it even sweeter. Which leads me directly to...
4. "Steve Yzerman Is A Jedi"
That's a line I first saw when someone used it in one of the forums at Raw Charge after the Gagne deal was announced. Since then, it's been repeated elsewhere and often...because it's probably true. How else do you explain the relative ease with which the new Lightning general manager has been able to go out and make the personnel moves he has since taking the job in May? Not only did he get Gagne, along with hard-working defender Pavel Kubina and goaltender Dan Ellis, but he's also responsible for landing CEO Tod Leiweke from the Seattle Seahawks, scout (and former NHL all-star) Pat Verbeek from the Detroit Red Wings and the hottest head coaching prospect to come along in the NHL in years, Guy Boucher from under the noses of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Which leads me directly to...
5. Coach Guy Boucher's System
Almost anytime you hear someone talk about new Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, you'll probably hear about his "system". That's because the first-time NHL coach is associated with a revolutionary style of play that has been highly successful for him in the past. It varies from what is commonly referred to as a "neutral zone trap" in that instead of having players drifting around the middle part of the ice looking to create turnovers, it features players aggressively swarming the puck in the zone. It's fast paced offensively and high-risk defensively and should be a lot of fun to watch, as it's the opposite of the neutral zone trap, which is not.
If you're looking to fall in love with the Lightning, or just hockey in general, you should follow the adventures of our own Jane Graves. A self-avowed novice, Jane is dedicating herself to learning the game by becoming a Lightning fan this season (I don't think it will; take her very long to be hooked). You can follow her adventures this season right here at SB Nation Tampa Bay.