Greetings and salutations, Lightning fans!! Let me start by saying what a priviledge it is to be writing for all of you on possibly hockey's most popular website. First and foremost let me give you a little background on where I come from and my association with the Tampa area. My name is Ian Cunningham and I have been working within the hockey media for a few years now. Currently, I am in my third season as Director of Broadcasting/Play-by-Play Announcer for the Oakville Blades Junior A Hockey Club of the Ontario Junior Hockey League(OJHL). A solid organization, the Blades have been to the National Championships, the RBC Cup, two of the past three seasons(Don't be surprised to see the odd Blades reference in this blog either).
My connection to Florida is more personal than professional. My longtime girlfriend, in fact, our three year anniversary is tomorrow, is a product of Sarasota, FL. I'm already looking forward to our annual holiday trek in about a months' time. Hockey history runs deep in her family, her mother's side originating from Manitoba. Her grandfather was actually one of the founders of the Winnipeg Jets and oversaw their transition from the WHA to the NHL.
Naturally, I jumped on the Lightning bandwagon, partly to appease the ‘in-laws’ and partly because I can see the direction this franchise is heading in. Just a couple years ago, I don’t think any of us could have been so confident. But thanks to a little stability at the top and Jeff Vinik’s clear vision to make the Lightning a world class brand, the focus in Tampa is once again on the team, not the organization. Nothing cemented my opinion more than the hiring of Steve Yzerman as Lightning GM. As Executive Director of Team Canada, Yzerman had the unenviable task of cutting some of the best players in the world. Stevie-Y, however, did what good GMs do; watch 40 world class players on the ice and choose the one difference maker for his club. He spent months doing this and don’t think for a second that he didn’t get a good look at all the possible UFA’s and trade eligible players at the same time.
The bottom-line is that Yzerman can build a winner, especially if you look at the long-term core he already has in place: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Steve Downie, Dana Tyrell, Matt Lashoff, and Brett Connolly to name a few. And with a good few years left out of Vinnie the Lightning should have a real chance at playoff success in the next couple of years. There are veteran pieces in place, such as Pavel Kubina, Marty St. Louis, and Lecavalier. If there was one spot this team needed to improve on it would be, you guessed it, between the pipes. No disrespect to Ellis and Smith, especially in this modern age of what feels like ‘rent-a-goalie’, but I’m a firm believer in building from the net out(see NJ, PIT, ANA in recent years) and a solid presence in goal could put this team into the upper echelon of the league.
So all in all, it looks like a good time to be a Lightning fan, as the Bolts are now being steered in the right direction and they have the right man at the helm to put the proverbial icing on the cake, because this team already has one of the most dynamic cores in all of hockey. Thanks for checking in and I’ll be back on the regular because it is clear this site needs a little bit more Lightning content.
Yours in hockey,