The Lightning was a tease this season. Sixth in the Eastern Conference on Feb. 10, it lost its last three games before the Olympic break and never recovered, going 8-15-1 to end the season 12th in the East and 25th in the 30-team league. Add continued turmoil between co-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie leading up to March's sale of the team to Boston hedge fund manager Jeff Vinik; conflict between coach Rick Tocchet and general manager Brian Lawton over Lawton's firing of assistant Wes Walz; the short-lived promotion of AHL Norfolk coach Jim Johnson to take Walz's place; and a third straight year out of the playoffs, and thank goodness for Steven Stamkos' 51 goals and another stellar season from Marty St. Louis.
MVP | Marty St. Louis
A switch from right to left wing did not slow St. Louis, whose 94 points were sixth in the league, his most since 2006-07 and matched his total from 2003-04, when he was league MVP. He also led the education of 20-year-old center Steven Stamkos, who blossomed playing alongside and sitting next to St. Louis in the locker room. At 34, St. Louis did it all. His average 21:48 of ice time was third in the NHL among forwards. His 29 goals gave him seven straight seasons with at least 20. He had a league-best 30 power-play assists and killed penalties.
The Stamkos file
51 goals: Tied for league lead; second-most in team history; third- youngest player to reach 50.
95 points: Led team; fifth in the league; fourth Lightning player to reach 90, with Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards.
41 power-play points: League best.
24 power-play goals: League best and team record.
18 games: Team-record points streak.
The Lightning gave Tanguay a one-year, $2.5 million deal to parlay into a longer-term contract for more money. Instead, the left wing was light on the puck, almost refused to shoot and had career lows of 10 goals and 37 points, and one goal in his last 25 games.
The right wing changed his offseason training program and made a commitment to controlling his volatile on-ice temper. The result was a developing star who had career bests of 22 goals, 24 assists and 46 points, and was a team-best plus-14. His 208 penalty minutes were second on the team and third in the league, but Downie, 23, rarely took retaliatory penalties or instigated selfish fights.
The defenseman took a leave of absence Oct. 23 and has been seen only once since in the locker room. His family and agent also have declined to comment. Ranger told the team early not to pay him, and his absence was brutal for a squad desperate for a puck-moving defenseman.
Did anything backfire as badly as GM Brian Lawton's decision to fire assistant coach Wes Walz and elevate AHL Norfolk coach Jim Johnson to take his place? Not only did it enhance the conflict between Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet, who opposed both moves, Walz was a big factor in developing Steven Stamkos and Johnson was 13-2-2 after taking over in Norfolk for fired Darren Rumble. Johnson did only video and scouting work for Tocchet and was eventually returned to Norfolk, which still failed to make the playoffs.
By signing Kurtis Foster, who was coming off a 10-game season after rehabilitating a 2008 broken leg, the Lightning said, "Show us what you've got." The defenseman's eight goals and career bests of 34 assists, 42 points and 71 games did just that.
Most ridiculous stat
6-of-36 The Lightning on shootout attempts. Somehow, despite having the league's fewest shootout goals, it still was 4-7 in the game-ending gimmick.
A game to remember
Lightning 7, Capitals 4: Washington had beaten Tampa Bay 12 straight times before this game, Jan. 12 at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Lightning, perhaps for the first time, stood up to superstar Alex Ovechkin. Steve Downie punched him, and when the two squared off, the Caps' Matt Bradley jumped Downie. The Caps' Brooks Laich injured goalie Mike Smith with a charge through the crease, and Tampa Bay's Zenon Konopka destroyed David Steckel in a fight. And Steven Stamkos scored twice, and Antero Niittymaki stopped 22 of 24 shots.
A game to forget
Sabres 7, Lightning 1: What was so maddening about this putrid effort, March 27 at Buffalo, was that Tampa Bay had given itself a small ray of playoff hope with consecutive wins over the Hurricanes and Bruins. But Vinny Lecavalier was thrown out of the game 6:35 into the first for a selfish spearing penalty, and it was downhill from there.
Quote to note
"This team is not going to be restrained by financial resources." — New owner Jeff Vinik, at his introductory news conference
Restricted free agents — Forwards: Steve Downie, Blair Jones, Teddy Purcell, Paul Szczechura, Nate Thompson. Defensemen: Vladimir Mihalik, Paul Ranger.
Unrestricted free agents — Goalie: Antero Niittymaki. Forwards: Brandon Bochenski, Ryan Craig, Zenon Konopka, Mark Parrish, Alex Tanguay, Stephane Veilleux. Defensemen: Kurtis Foster, David Hale, Mike Lundin.
Under contract — Goalie: Mike Smith. Forwards: Todd Fedoruk, Adam Hall, Vinny Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, Marty St. Louis, Steven Stamkos. Defensemen: Victor Hedman, Matt Lashoff, Andrej Meszaros, Mattias Ohlund, Matt Smaby, Matt Walker. Buyout: Vinny Prospal.
Committed payroll: $37.245 million
265 C Zenon Konopka's league-high penalty minutes
33 Konopka's league-high fights
90-71 Margin by which the Lightning was outscored in the second period
3 Wins when trailing after the first period, tied with the Islanders for fewest in the league
19 Games to end the season for LW Ryan Malone in which he didn't score
24 C Vinny Lecavalier's goals, his fewest since he scored 20 in 2001-02