When i rejoined the league last summer, I wrote about how the Bolts should be rebuilding. Funny how a few months can change an outlook. The Bolts won the GVFHL Cup after a stunning seven game victory over Keith Sturgeon and his Oilers. The Bolts were in a hole after dropping the first three games with Ben Bishop the Bolts star tender getting the hook each game. It was pointless to let him play anymore and that’s when Jack Campbell got the call. Jack had been the Bolts starter since joining the team last summer. It was a January trade that brought Bishop to Tampa and he had been dynamite up until the finals. So as they say, the rest is history. Jack took the baton and rattled off four straight victories leading the Bolts to their first ever GVFHL Cup.
So let’s take a closer look at how the Bolts we’re assembled. The team I inherited had some nice pieces, they certainly we’re not a contender but had enough pieces to add instead of gutting. The two biggest holes were on D and in G. I had Byfuglien but little else on the back end. In net, I have Grubarer who is trending up but was more rated as a back up. The first two trades I made in my return addressed some of each of those holes:
Nikita Zadorov, Jamie Oleksiak from Columbus for Evan Barrat, Pierre-Oliver Joseph, 3rd in 2021. This gave me top top 4 dmen and most importantly, they were not rentals so well worth the price.
Jack Campbell from Sharks for Jeremy Davies, Axel Jonsson Fjallby, 6th in 2020. This gave me a potential starter rating with top notch ratings in key areas but because he did not play many NHL games, he had low EN/DU.
Next up was UFA and there were some changes since my original stint in the league (former Ducks GM). I was able to learn on the fly and landed my number one target in Patrice Bergeron. Adding Bergy with Couturier in a one-two punch center combo allowed me to move Giroux onto RW increasing my top six lethal-ness. The rest of UFA was about adding depth signing bottom sixers; Riley Nash, Riley Sheahan, Ian Cole and Carl Gunnarsson. And that was that, the team was fairly set, some holes still but decent enough to compete for a playoffs spot.
Then in January while they team was showing some promise Ben Bishop hit the market. Grubauer and Campbell were doing ok but I knew id need a top end goalie to have a chance so after some quick negotiations I made another deal:
Ben Bishop, Brandon Dubinsky from Flames for Philipp Grubauer, 1st, 3rd, 6th in 2020. It again cut into this teams futures but Bishop was signed cheap ($3m cap) and signed for 2 seasons so I pulled the trigger.
The next deal was pretty big from not only number of players (8 players, 3 draft picks) but also in impact.
Bryan Rust, Tom Wilson, Brendan Leipsic, Tyler Pitlick from NY Rangers for Jamie Benn, Robby Fabbri, Logan Brown, Jonathan Davidsson, 1st, 2nd, 4th in 2021. Wilson was something for now and Rust was something for later. It cost a ton but the Rags did not part with Tom Wilson easily. I seen Wilson as a rare commodity, similar to E.Kane, a top forward who can score, hit and punish.
One last deal before this team stood pat:
Leo Komarov from Edmonton for 7th in 2020. This one was an afterthought but for a 7th was an easy yes. Funny how I ended up facing Uncle Leos old team in the finals, you just never know.
So off the bolts went to the playoffs, I played with the lines constantly, testing different combos and matchups to get the best mix on each line. The team finished with 46 wins and 104 points but in the talented Eastern conference that placed me as the six seed, set to face McDavid and the Islanders.
Round 1: Bolts (6) vs. Islanders (3)
Justin’s islanders were the favorite, they had home ice, McDavid and momentum. Game one was a slaughter as the Islanders won easily 7-1. I made adjustments and had a much better result in game two winning in OT as Oleksiak notched the PP winner. I was able to win my two home games and went on to win the series in 6. Started to believe.
Round 2: Bolts (6) vs. Florida (7)
Shane had a solid team with two-thirds of the best line in hockey in Marchand and Pasternak. I had Bergeron but in net, the Panthers had one of the best in Hellybuck. I again dropped game one in what looked like what could be a short series but the Bolts fought hard in game two and got the split. Tampa again won game three and then followed that up with a big OT win in game four thanks to a Ryan Dzingal goal. The Bolts finished the cats off in 5 and moved onto the conference finals.
Round 3: Bolts (6) vs. Montreal (8)
While Montreal was the eight seed, the experience Blake had in this league would be a factor as his Habs won games one and two in Tampa. Normally it would be panic time but both losses were in OT which meant we we’rent playing bad but just needed some lucky bounces. Sure enough my faith in this team payed off as we rattled off three straight wins to go up 3-2 in the series. Game six was won by the Habs setting the stage for a winner take all game seven. Game seven was a battle (by all accounts) and Bishop paid off as we won the game and he was named the games first star.
Finals: Bolts (6) vs. Edmonton (8)
Another eight seed in Edmonton who did not care where they finished in the standings. Keith’s Oilers stormed the Bolts out of the gate winning the first three games 6-1, 7-2, 5-2. The Bolts were stunned. How could one of the top rated goalies in the league shit the bed three games in a row? Had the Oilers done some off voodoo curse on Ben Bishop? There was little left to do but turn it over the Jack Campbell. The Bolts need to win out and he did just that winning four straight in a comeback for the ages. Campbell did not let in more than 2 goals versus one of the highest scoring playoff teams. It was a big victory and one I’ll cherish forever.