Few men have enjoyed the illustrious playing career that Steve Yzerman hollowed out. Even less have shown equal brains in the front office so quickly. It’s one thing to to say you’ve played professional hockey and worked in coherence with management, it’s another to claim you’ve been extremely successful in both. Tampa Bay had a lot of changing to do in the summer of 2010, but their first order of business was drawing someone to take care of the business.
After three seasons of turmoil that saw them finish 15th, 14th, and 12th in the Eastern Conference, the club’s brass found the right man to seize control at last. While the Detroit Red Wings’ legend shuffled the deck in the off-season, his agenda in January involved two more subtle transactions to put them over the top.
First, he traded for the rights of Dwayne Roloson, an aging veteran who had playoff pedigree and fighting spirit. He ticked all of the boxes for Tampa Bay and the birth date mattered little, as he still moved well with the New York Islanders. If Roloson was a gamble, Mike Smith (.899 save percentage, 2.90 goals against average) and Dan Ellis (.889 save percentage, 2.93 goals against average) were drugged horses in the Kentucky Derby—and not the performance enhancing kind of drugged. Look at those statistics. Did either of them want the starting goaltender position?
Days later, Yzerman signed Marc-Andre Bergeron to a one-year contract, the defenseman suiting up for his fifth NHL team in four years. As one-dimensional as a player can be, his job description is to produce on the powerplay and begin break-outs. Nothing more, nothing less. Okay, he’ll perform some defensive work to remind us what position is his. Having been compared to a field goal kicker last year, the 30-year-old will not type that onto his resume.
Re-united in Tampa Bay, Bergeron and Roloson realized they’d each have a role to play in Steve Yzerman’s construction scheme for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
All well and good—but the two have a history together as teammates in Edmonton, ironically being involved in the predicament that cost the Oilers a Stanley Cup in 2006. Deadlocked at four with the Carolina Hurricanes in Game One, Bergeron dumped Andrew Ladd as he headed for the net and straight into Roloson. Laying on the ice motionless, he would not be able to shake it off, nor would be play again in the series.
Ty Conklin, who stood in for Roloson, botched a clearing attempt with less than one minute in regulation and Rod Brind’Amour swept the loose puck in. That ended the match and Conklin’s new gig, as Jussi Markkanen stepped in from there on out. Meanwhile, Bergeron missed Game’s Three through Seven because Craig MacTavish favored Dick Tarnstrom. Carolina took advantage, albeit barely, and lifted the trophy in Game Seven.
To say the Hurricanes were lucky is a gigantic understatement—they scraped past the Buffalo Sabres in the Conference Finals, but only because their opponents were missing key players such as Teppo Numminen, Dmitri Kalinin, Henrik Tallinder, Jay McKee, and Tim Connolly. Carolina would not have beaten a fully healthy Buffalo team or an Edmonton side with their top netminder available. You know it, and I know it. Their fans might argue otherwise, but the organization provided extra ammunition for the evaluation, missing the postseason the following two years.
It’s a good thing there’s no written clause that states a team must reach the playoffs the year after a triumph or have their names erased from the prize.
So here we are; Bergeron and Roloson are two games away from the fourth and final round again. Having been enjoying a rich vein of form—they’ve won nine of 11 since trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 two rounds ago—head coach Guy Boucher may not seek to change their winning formula. Plus, Pavel Kubina’s concussed and Bergeron is the sixth blue-liner, but there’s always Randy Jones waiting in the wings. What is more, they will hope to keep Roloson in the crease because they won’t stand a chance without him.
Superstitions and hockey go hand-in-hand, and Boucher could opt to scratch Bergeron in Game One of the Stanley Cup Final; that’s if Tampa Bay defeats the Boston Bruins and gets there of course. As if coaches are short on motive to bench him already; however, if he lines forwards up like he did with David Krejci recently, there won’t be an issue. The worst part of that check was that the officials mistakenly thought Bergeron threw an elbow and penalized him.
As it is, his popularity is soaring because he’s the only Lightning player to have been hit with a fighting major in the playoffs—not an inspiring bout, but it could have sparked their five-goal comeback to even the series. Accidentally hurting his goaltender again in a vital contest will see a seismic shift in that popularity.
Can lightning strike twice?