It has been nine long months since Sheldon Keefe was able to don a Lightning jersey and call himself part of the team. Now, it appears he has finally redeemed himself enough in the eyes of Tampa Bay management to get a second chance with the team.
It was last March when Keefe and his agent, Mike Gillis, made the career threatening decision to refuse a minor league assignment to the Rochester Americans. The Lightning viewed the assignment as a valuable learning experience for the young winger. The Americans had a very competitive team, while their own affiliate, Detroit (IHL), was heading straight to the links. At the time, there was little room in Tampa Bay for Keefe, who had spent nearly the entire season with the Lightning.
Viewing his demotion as temporary, until another trade was executed, Keefe was not unhappy with the reassignment to Detroit. Until Mike Johnson and Paul Mara were sent to Phoenix in the Nikolai Khabibulin deal and room opened on the roster. Keefe saw that as his ticket back to Tampa Bay, but management had other ideas.
GM Rick Dudley thought Keefe would be better served by the stint in Rochester. Keefe on the other hand felt mislead by management and thought he earned and deserved more time in Tampa Bay. So, he refused the assignment was immediately suspended by the team.
The two sides took shots at each other through the media during the off-season, but finally came to an agreement that sent Keefe to the Lightning’s “B” squad during training camp with no hope of an immediate roster spot.
The Lighting thought Keefe needed to earn back his place on the team, and by the time training camp rolled around, Keefe was ready to do so. He arrived poised and confident, and stood out as a leader amongst the rookies.
Since heading to Springfield when camp ended, Keefe has continued his quest for a return to Tampa Bay. In 21 games, he has 18 points (9g, 9a) and is third on the team in scoring. Certainly not reaching potential for the former OHL scoring leader, but doing well enough to be recognized.
In this recall, the Lighting are showing their confidence in Keefe and his ability. Now, it is Keefe’s turn to live up to potential and prove his critics wrong. This could be his one shot at redemption. The key will be his attitude and reaction should he be reassigned. With so many talented young players in the system, it is not unlikely that the Bolts will bounce them around to get a good look at all.
Also today, right wing Nikita Alexeev was reassigned to Springfield. This season, Alexeev has one assist in 8 games with the Lightning and four points in 10 games with the Falcons.