Can teams think their way out of trouble?

by Gary Shelton on March 4, 2023

in general

Saturday, 4 a.m.

Three men, all with the challenge of being wise.

Three men. Three teams. Three challenges.

It is the brainy start of the calendar, the time when ideas rule the pro franchises of our area. It is the time of blueprints, and of information gathering and of long-range planning.

Right now, Tampa Bay could use a lot of that.

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The Tampa Bay Bucs may insist they aren't rebuilding, but that's just denial. The Lightning are trying to hold onto their place as a contender. The Rays are trying to figure out how to win games without actually being able to hit the ball.

Imagine being Jason Licht, the architect of restoring the muscle to the Bucs despite being miles over the salary cap, despite looking at the backside of Tom Brady.

Licht reestablished his reputation when he hired Bruce Arians as coach, and he solidified it in the Brady years. But now, the Bucs seem to be taking several steps back. Licht has no running game, but he is releasing Leonard Fournette. His offensive line can't block, but he's turning loose of Donovan Smith. He is limited at tight end, and he's firing Cameron Brate.

It's not a good spot to start fixing-upping.

Then there is Julian Brisebois , who suddenly doesn't look like such a contender in recent games. Oh, Brisebois has been impressive since taking over for Steve Yzerman, especially at the trade deadline.

Now, however, BrisBoise just overpaid for a third-line cente and is nd he wasn't able to bring in a defenseman to slow the fast-break that keeps happening in front of his own goal. True, BriseBois has some money players in Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy, but other teams look younger, quicker hungrier.

Then there is Eric Neander, boss of the hitless wonders who are the Rays. For years, the Rays have been among baseball's smartest teams, and it's made them a better franchise than a lot of clubs that spend much more.

Now? Granted, Tampa Bay has a good rotation, but with the Rays, starting pitching is often a five-inning deal. Sometimes, you're going to need a three-run homer to win a game.

So here we are. The Bucs have no cap. The Lightning has no draft picks. The Rays have no cash.

Yet, all of them seem to be being pulled toward also-ran status.

Three men have to fight it. Three men have to make their teams matter.

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