Can Bucs’ learn from the Lightning, Rays?

by Gary Shelton on October 2, 2020

in general

Can Arians match the Bolts, Rays?/TIM WIRT

Friday, 4 a.m.

In the reflection of a trophy, there are lessons to be learned.

In the shadow of a potential new banner, there are tenets to be followed.

And so, for the Tampa Bay Bucs, a team that aspires to have accomplishment of itself, what lessons are there in the successes of Tampa Bay's other two professional sports teams? Are there things to be learned from the Lightning and Rays?

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Well, of course there are. For all the talk about how a team learns from losing (mainly, it learns to blame bad breaks, bad injuries and bad calls by the officials) it is success that teaches us the lessons of sports. It is always easier to lose than to win; champions overcome that.

And so those who run the Bucs can look at the other two franchises. The Lightning won the Stanley Cup. The Rays won the AL East and have advanced to the Division Round of the playoffs.

Sure, they are different games. Hockey is played on ice, and it relies less than most sports upon scripted plays. It is an ad-lib journey, a grind, and for the Lightning, the championship was years in the making. Baseball is a slower paced battle that is much less about payroll and statistics than many believe.

But there are things that winners have in common with each other. And those are the lessons the Bucs should strive to mimic.

1. Be smart. This may be the basic reason the Bucs haven't won a playoff game since the winter of 2003. They just haven't been smart enough often enough. Lately, there are reasons to believe. The Bucs have put together an impressive roster. They were wise enough to dump Jameis Winston for Tom Brady. They re-invested heavily on their defense. Their drafting has been sharper.

The Rays learned this lesson years ago. Unlike the Bucs, they lacked the money to invest in free agents, so theirs has been a draft-and-develop proposition. They emphasized pitching and defense while other clubs sought power. Their analytics are respected throughout the game.

The Bolts, too, got smarter this year. They quit trying to score 10 goals a game. They have their offensive flair, too, but it was the defense that allowed this team to withstand its post-season injuries to Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point.

2. Be resilient: This Bucs' team hasn't played in enough close games to hint whether it will be able to come back, or be able to close out a tough game. The Bolts, especially, were great in overtime games in their playoff run. They were great in one-goal games. And they never lost more than two games in a row.

The Rays, too, are comfortable in close games. They won 24 one-run games; a tight contest is their natural habitat. They, too, were good at enduring injury. There was some grit to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Will the Bucs have that? We don't know. So far, a lack of killer instinct has cleared its throat. Times will get tougher; the Bucs must, too.

3. Be tough. No one likes to talk about that these days. But there are times in every sport that a team must bend the will of the other team to its own. That usually means shutting down the opponents' offense.

The Lightning, after failures in recent seasons, know all about that. This year, coach Jon Cooper has said, the team wanted some players with some dirt under its fingernails. It was tired of being challenged, weary of the notion that you could beat Tampa Bay by pushing the players around. This year, they pushed back.

Baseball isn't as physical. But if you saw the will the Rays had in their last series against the Yankees, there is a don't-back-up attitude there, too.

So are these Bucs tough enough? Can the offensive line handle third-and-short? Can the defense continue to hold up? Can they grow into a team that can dominate the late stages of a game? We'll see.

4. Be confident. A great part about being great is knowing that you're great. Oh, a bad team can strut and trash-talk, too. We've seen it for years and it just looks like noise in an empty helmet.

But these Rays know they're good. They believe there are reasons why they've won, and reasons why they keep winning.

The Bolts, too. You know why they never lost two games in a row in the post-season? Because, nightly, they believed they were the better team.

How about the Bucs? Sure, they know they're talented. But they haven't won enough to carry themselves like champions. At least, not yet.

5. Be in it for the long haul. By and large we care about seasons as single entities. But things carry over on a great franchise. Oh, no one wins every year. But the intangibles that lead a team from one season to the next are always the same.

The Lightning had been in the post-season before, and its strengths -- and its goals -- have been forged by shortcomings. It has made 11 of the past 20 playoffs, and its constantly been in the Final Four. In other words, this team knows the way to the front of the line.

The Rays had reached the Division Sieres six times since the 2008 season. Only three teams (the Dodgers, Cardinals and Yankees) have done it more often. There is an exception in the clubhouse that this team is going to be good.

The Bucs? Well, they haven't been good for a very long time. Granted, they have a star-laden roster, and yes, things could come together. But you can't assume that if you put together he world's greatest guitarist, the world's greatest drummer and the world's greatest vocalist that you're going to find words and music. At first, everything is noise.

6. Be a team: The best teams in the world have a grand mix of old and young, of fast and strong, of players who know their roles.

That's true with the Lightning. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is still a child. Brayden Point is coming into his own. Then there are experienced players like Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman.

The blend of the Rays is good, too. The young include Randy Arozarena and Tyler Glasnow. The older players include Charlie Morton and Kevin Kiermaier.

7. Have good coaching: One of the baffling things about the NHL awards is that they do it before the show is over. That way, they can get more coverage, I suppose, but isn't it like judging an art show before the paintings are finished. How in the blazes did the Lightning's Jon Cooper not win coach of the year? He figured out a way despite the loss of Stamkos. He dealt most successfully with the bubble situation.

Kevin Cash may well win manager of the year. He should. Who has done more with less resources? Whose mixing-and-matching overcame the big money AL East?

Is the Bucs' Bruce Arians in either category? Not in early October. That's the thing about an NFL coach. No one thinks anyone can win a Super Bowl until they've won one.

If Arians can pull this off, if he can get an all-star roster to meld into a team, if he can end 18 seasons without winning a playoff game, then he will have the credentials.

8. Have your best players be your best. The Lightning's success was led by Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman, Point (and his 14 goals), Kucherov (and his 34 points) and goaltender Vasilevskiy.

The Rays have had a tougher time. Except for Brandon Lowe, none of the offensive players blow you away. But the pitching has been good, and Nick Anderson has been excellent out of the bullpen, which has been the team's secret ingredients.

For the Bucs, that puts the load on Brady, on Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, on Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David. If this team is going to leave you happy, they will have to be the stars.

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