Who is most like Tampa Bay? It’s Kucherov

by Gary Shelton on March 5, 2019 · 1 comment

in general

These days, Kucherov looks a lot like Tampa Bay./JEFFREY S. KING

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

As a town, Tampa has these eyes that can see you. Also, they see a hockey rink pretty good.

As a town, Tampa doesn't have a lot to say. It speaks in factured cliches, embracing humility, praising its teammates.

As a town, frankly, Tampa Bay looks a lot like Nikita Kucherov these days.The beard is the same. The jaw is set the same. The smile is just as rare.

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Tampa is hot, like Kucherov. A lot of the citizenry is from somewhere else, like Kucherov. Kucherov can handle heavy traffic, which gets worse all the time.

A town changes, you know. Once, Tampa Bay looked like Lee Roy Selmon, and Derrick Brooks, and Evan Longoria. Once, it looked like Marty St. Louis, and Warren Sapp, and Carl Crawford. Towns come to look a lot like their heroes, like a dog owner comes to look like his pet. And so it is that Chicago once looked like Michael Jordan and Los Angeles like Magic Johnson and Denver like John Elway.

We think of ourselves in the adjectives that describes our stars. Dallas was tough like Emmitt Smith, and Baltimore was sleek like Johnny Unitas, and Chicago was mean like Dick Butkus. Walk the streets, and you'd see pedestrians trying to match the swagger. New York was Lawrence Taylor. Miami was Dan Marino. San Francisco was Joe Montana.

I remember the night the Bucs won their only Super Bowl. Suddenly, we imagined ourselves as sleek and ruthless and deadly, the way that great defense was. We imagined ourselves as plucky and resilient and overachieving, the way that offense was.

Through the years, we have changed our look. We were Nickerson, then Brooks, then Barber. We were Andreychuk, then Fred McGriff, then David Price.

These days, we are Kucherov. Who else do you want to be? Kucherov is the closest thing we have to an MVP, and the Lightning are the closest thing we have to a contender.

Oh, there are other great players. Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy and the rest. Let's face it: The guys at the souvenir shops are moving a lot of different jersey's these days. But the guy who consistently does what no one else is doing is Kucherov. He has touched the heart of Tampa Bay, and we all have a bit of Russian in us these days.

Who else would it be? Blake Snell won the Cy Young last year, so he has the accomplishment down. But Snell just arrived last year. There is Gerald McCoy, a fine player and better person, but he's never made the post-season. No one wants to align themselves with regular-season heros. There is Kevin Kiermaier, who the fans love, but he is hurt far too often. Jameis Winston hasn't won enough, and he's thrown too many interceptions.

And so you look around, and you try to find that distinctive, elite player who sets himself -- and his city -- apart. In Philadelphia, it is Bryce Harper, who has not unpacked yet. In Pittsburgh, it is Ben Roethlisberger. In Boston, of course, it is Tom Brady.

The thing is, it's hard to have an iconic player when you struggle. Do the Jets have one? No. Do the  Dolphins? No. The Bills? Of course not.

But Tampa Bay has Kucherov, the all-seeing, deft passer who is capable of four or five points every night. He is a point guard. He is the middle infielder in the double play. He is the quarterback. If he were an airport terminal, he would be Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport, because all flights change there.

Of course, Kooh -- and the Lightning -- have to seal the deal. They have to advance deep into the playoffs, and maybe even win the Cup, to get full residuals from this season. Otherwise, they are a broken promise.

Still, there is this. If one player in Tampa Bay is closest to a special season, one we will talk about for decades, it is Kucherov.

Around here, he's as special as the sunset.


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