The Double-Oh decade is drawing to a close (officially on January 1st, 2011) and there have already been a plethora of decade-best and decade-worst posts that have found there way onto the Interweb. Puck Daddy has had multiple best and worst lists the last few weeks, and you can find plenty more by just doing a simple Google search...
Yet most of these lists do not chronicle aspects of the Tampa Bay Lightning specifically. In the Bolts second decade of existence, not only did the team make the playoffs four times (2003, 2004, 2006, 2007), they also raised Lord Stanley's Cup. They've had one of their players win the Hart and Art Ross trophies (Martin St. Louis), "Rocket" Richard (Vincent Lecavalier) and more seasonal awards for the team and it's players.
But for all the individual awards and milestones, the highlights and lowlights, the accomplishments and infamy that the franchise has experienced in the Aughts, we'd like to take a minute and talk about the best line combinations that the Lightning have had play together during the past ten years.
It starts with the names. You have Lecavalier and St. Louis, and then you throw in others that have participated and contributed to the Lightning's triumphs and pratfalls at any point in the past decade: Brad Richards, Dave Andreychuk, Chris Dingman, Fredrik Modin, Ben Clymer, Cory Stillman, Tim Taylor, Ruslan Fedotenko, Vaclav Prospal, Eric Perrin, Evgeny Artyukhin, Stephane Richer, Chris Gratton, Dmitry Afanasenkov. Throw in Alexeev, Malone, Cibak, DiMaio, Stamkos, Craig, Hlavac, etc, etc. You got plenty of names. You have plenty of players at each postion.
You have plenty of memories, but not of the guys standing next to each forward that got them famous (or infamous) with the team.
There are five specific line combos that stood out in memory when I started putting this post together. Five out of how-many different combos that this team has seen since the beginning of the decade?
That seems like a cruel oversight, but we are talking about the creme-de-la-creme here. Five is a good round number to go with... And of course we'd be all to happy if you, the reader, would contribute your own thoughts in the comments.
The year listings are approximate.
Tim Taylor - Dave Andreychuk - Chris Dingman (2003-2005)
The "Dirt" line (aka "Older than Dirt" line). Former team captains Tim Taylor and Dave Andreychuk had been added to the Lightning to add guidance and leadership to teh young core of players. They were also added for their strength in the face-off circle. While I make mention of Chris Dingman as the third forward on the line, there were many that came and went and chipped in on this dirty-work line including Dmitry Afanasenkov, who showed flashes of brilliance at times. The key cogs, Taylor and Andreychuk, were the team-leaders in the locker room. If for nothing else, their blue-collar work ethic and longevity in the league endeared them to fans.
Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis (2006-2009)
AKA the "MVP" line (Marty, Vinny, Prospal). It's the line combo post-lockout that stands out in the minds of Lightning fans. it had all three fan-favorite forwards paired together and sparks flew. Not only was this line a fan-favorite, but it was largely the identity of the Lightning post-lockout. Sha-Sha Toh of The Hockey Bay Blog summarized her love for the line from her out-of-town perspective:
...Because when the only thing you see about one of your favorite team is on the highlight reel or game recaps of Eastern games, well then you only hear about the MVP line.
Over the course of two season (from 2006 thru 2008), the three members of this line--combo amassed a total of 497 points between then. Lecavalier won the "Rocket" Richard trophy in 2006-07 with 52 goals, and plenty of help from St. Louis and Prospal. The line combo was broken up during the 2008-09 campaign and could be looked at as replaced by the next line combination...
*denotes the fact the line has been split up and put back together again countless times this season
The much more recent line combination that came into being during the second half of 2008-09 and took off. This was after the kid-gloves had been removed from rookie center Steven Stamkos, and was looked at as a "reward" from (then interim) head coach Rick Tocchet for complete play.
The chemistry between St. Louis and Stamkos was immediate and carried over into the World Championships after the season concluded. Buffalo Head Coach (and World Championships assistsant) Lindy Ruff commented Wednesday:
"I really was impressed with both those players at the worlds," Ruff said, "and I just think Marty is one hell of a competitor."
That truth about St. Louis can be seen on this list, as he appears on three of the five line-combos.
Cory Stillman - Vincent Lecavalier - Ruslan Fedotenko (2003-04)
Cory Stillman was only with the Lightning for a single season -- replacing the departed Vinny Prospal who had signed with the Anaheim Ducks in the 2003 off-season -- but the potency he added to this line with Lecavalier and Fedotenko is part of why the Lightning hoisted the Cup in 2004. Stillman was second on the team with 80 points for the season, while the line in total had 189 points. With two scoring-line combinations, opposing teams had to figure out who they were to suffer fools against -- the Lecavalier line or the line of...
Fredrik Modin - Brad Richards - Martin St. Louis (2002-2006)
To me, this is the top line of the past decade for the Lightning. Power, deftness, strong special-teams play. 2004's Conn Smythe winner and Hart/Art Ross trophy winner... Bolt Prospects writer Chad Schnarr explain the potency of the line combo (nicknamed "Torts' Binky" by some because of it's go-to status for Tortorella).
No line in the last decade, and probably in Lightning history, has been as trusted and effective as Fredrik Modin-Brad Richards-Martin St. Louis. Not only was this a fantastic offensive line, but they had strong 2-way ability that enabled them to be put out against any kind of opposing line. Modin provided the muscle down low and never feared the blue ice at the front of the net. Richards was (and is) one of the best passers in the game, and Martin St. Louis simply does it all. They could find each other easily, create passing and shooting lanes for each other, and if a shot by 19 or 26 didn't go in, Modin was there to clean up the garbage. Both Richards and St. Louis have been the driving force behind successful lines before and since, but when two easily adaptable players who have a history of making teammates better are matched together, watch-out. This line wreaked havoc in its hay day, leading the Lightning to a Stanley Cup win. Lines are broken up because the coach needs a spark for his club. This line continually provided that spark for John Tortorella, so he went to it often, seeking the comfort it provided.
Pete Choquette from Bolt Prospects concurs:
...when the chips were down, I think Modin/Richards/St. Louis was always the go-to line. They were less flashy but better at possessing the puck and generating scoring chances.
Ultimately, of these line combos, the majority of the players mentioned were part of team building during the Palace Sports five-year-plan (1999-2004). Stamkos can be seen as a gateway to the future, and you just have to wonder what is in store for that future. Highly regarded prospects Carter Ashton and Richard Panik are playing in the juniors and will undoubtedly have a shot at the Lightning next season, while the likes of James Wright, Dana Tyrell and acquisitions yet to happen will be thrown into the mix. These guys are the promise of the future.
Who will click and who will sparkle? Only time will tell. Over the last decade, however, these aforementioned lines are what kept Lightning fans captivated and awestruck. They were points to rally around, and reasons to be proud of this team.