The cavalry did not come Tuesday.
Nobody swept in to save the day. No one solved the mystery. No one discovered a cure for what ails the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If the Lightning became better _ and time is the only judge _ it was only barely. It acquired two guys named Norton and Kramden. Oops. Sorry, those were the Honeymooners. Actually, it was two guys named Norton and Huscroft. The Dynamic Duo.
If you think of the Lightning as a house, this was not a new foundation. This was a couple of new lamps for the living room. Nice additions, but hardly the stuff of fans' dreams.
Perhaps you thought that was going to happen. So many Lightning fans, frustrated by what they have seen this year, seemed to look at the trading deadline as a last chance for help. Maybe there was a solution out there. Maybe Phil Esposito could find it.
"I think we're a little better off," he said Tuesday afternoon. "But I'm not a genie, and I'm not Houdini. You do the best you can."
Esposito looked haggard. There were layers under his eyes, and his shoulders sagged. He says he hates to trade players, despite his reputation for it. He especially hates the trading deadline being so late in the season. For three days he has communicated through a telephone. The result of those calls: Jeff Norton and Jamie Huscroft.
Is the Lightning better off for the deals? Obviously Esposito thinks so. He thinks Norton's skating ability will help on the power play. He thinks Huscroft's roughness will help clear the front of the net. He had soured on defenseman Drew Bannister, and he had no hope for minor-league goalie Tyler Moss, so the price seemed right to him.
But if you went into Tuesday hoping for a blockbuster deal, one that would calm the seas for this team, it didn't happen. No one was throwing away Lindroses. There was not a clearance sale on Fedorovs. The Lightning went into the day with an uphill battle to make the playoffs, and it left the same way.
"No, this wasn't a fix," Esposito said. "The only fix would be if we could have Daren Puppa and Brian Bradley healthy again."
Maybe you want to blame Esposito for not catching a bigger fish. Or you can blame the ownership. But the real party to blame is the roster. The first rule of barter is: To get something, you have to give up something.
When you have a roster that does not exactly make other teams salivate, what is left is to fit small pieces of the puzzle, to try to find the right player for the right need.
There was a difference to the Lightning, and to Esposito. This time around, Esposito did not talk about untouchables. His bywords, he said, were "anything and everything." Yes, he listened to offers for Roman Hamrlik. Yes, he listened to offers for Chris Gratton. Perhaps that says the most of all about this franchise, that it has run out of protected game. Perhaps that says something about the season, that the frustration is felt by the management, too.
So for days Esposito listened to people offer him ridiculous trades. Someone's offer for Gratton was "a joke." Someone's offer for Daymond Langkow was "ridiculous." And so it went.
Oh, he almost got people a little more excited. He talked about a six-player trade that fell through 90 minutes before the deadline. He talked of another major trade he would have made had the first one gone through. Maybe the sheer numbers would have satisfied fans. Maybe not.
In the end, there was Norton and Huscroft. If you expected the Lightning to trade its way out of trouble, it might not seem like enough.
Then again, what did you expect? Did you really think the Lightning was going to be able to repair all of its problems on Tuesday? Do you think a really crafty GM could have traded Jay Wells for Paul Kariya? Do you think if the owners would have just opened up their wallets a little more, the Lightning could have ended the day with Jaromir Jagr and Joe Sakic and Dominik Hasek?
Of course not. It stands to reason that the only ones who can get the Lightning out of this mess are the ones who got it there.
Only they can trade in a disappointing season for a satisfying conclusion.