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The Transition Begins

 The Transition Begins  1997-98

The 1997-98 season for the Tampa Bay Lightning can only be described as one of transition. Change was in the air with regularity at the Ice Palace, and off-season departures included goaltender Rick Tabaracci (traded back to Calgary), left wing Shawn Burr (traded to San Jose), young enforcer Brantt Myhres (traded to Edmonton) and center Chris Gratton (signed as a free agent by Philadelphia).

But with the departures came new arrivals, and Lightning fans became acclimated to defenseman Karl Dykhuis, right wing Mikael Renberg, defenseman Yves Racine and left wing Louie DeBrusk. Often with change an adjustment period is required, and unfortunately for the Lightning that period lasted for the first month-and-a-half of the season. By October 26,
as the team struggled on, the decision was made to move in a different direction as Terry Crisp was relieved of his coaching duties. Assistant coach Rick Paterson was elevated to fill in as a permanent replacement was sought, and on November 12 Jacques Demers was named the second head coach in Lightning history by GM Phil Esposito.

Change continued under Demers as a trio of bold trades were made to increase the talent level and improve the goaltending for the Lightning. The first step was the December 30, 1997 trade of Roman Hamrlik to Edmonton for defenseman Bryan Marchment and centers Steve Kelly and Jason Bonsignore. That deal was followed a short time later by the acquisitions of right wing Stephane Richer, center Darcy Tucker and defenseman David Wilkie from Montreal in exchange for Patrick Poulin, Mick Vukota and Igor Ulanov.

Just a day later as the NHL headed to Vancouver for the All-Star Weekend, Esposito pulled the trigger again, landing right wing Jody Hull and goaltender Mark Fitzpatrick from Florida for Dino Ciccarelli and Jeff Norton. The team showed noticeable improvement during stretches
(a 7-7-5 mark from mid-November to the end of December; a 7-6-0 stretch in February and March), but the remaking of the roster would continue. Other additions would include: defenseman Jassen Cullimore, claimed
off waivers from Montreal; defenseman Enrico Ciccone, re-acquired from Vancouver for Jamie Huscroft; right wing Sandy McCarthy, acquired from Calgary for Jason Wiemer; right wing Andrei Nazarov, acquired from San Jose for Bryan Marchment and David Shaw.

A side note to the season that provided much enjoyment for Lightning fans was the inclusion of three Lightning players on the rosters for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. Rob Zamuner (Canada), Renberg (Sweden) and Mikael Andersson (Sweden) skated for their countries in the tournament, though none would bring home a medal.