Like every summer, I've spent the last several weeks locked in the vault of my mountain-top castle, chasing peyote buttons with a home-made whiskey-gin that I call "whin," and spending hundreds of sleepless hours watching vintage Tampa Bay Lightning games on a black and white film projector operated by my faithful man-ape, whom I call "Man Ape."
And, like every summer, I sit, sipping pitcher after pitcher of "whin," wondering what this year's edition of the Tampa Bay Lightning will need to succeed in the ever-more-maddening National Hockey League.
"Man Ape," I said the other day to Man Ape, while I sat chopping mescalin, "What today's Lightning team needs is a selection of its greatest players of the past, sucked through the vortex of time itself, and inserted into the lineup. Sure, this team has pieces, a high draft pick in Jonathan Drouin, two giants in net and two of the greatest offensive players in the League in Stamkos and St.Louis, but what they really need are some Lightning Greats!"
Man Ape sighed. I commanded him to get to work immediatly on a time machine so I could go back and pluck the Lightning's best players, taking them from their best seasons. But who should I take? What does the team need the most right now? That is the question.
While Man Ape started hammering scrap metal to the out-house in an attempt at building a time machine, I contacted the greatest geniuses the world has to offer to ask them who I should collect from the past to help the team of today.
Hurry, Man Ape. Training camp opens soon.
Pete Choquette, from Bolt Prospects:
The Lightning clearly need to upgrade on the blueline, so the easy answer is Dan Boyle circa probably 03-04 when he had the good +/- to go with the good offensive output. 06-07 was more his prime with the Lightning, though.
Beyond him, the more nuanced answer would be to get a shutdown d-man like Jassen Cullimore circa 01-02.
I'd put Roman Hamrlik in 95-96 in the running, too, although his +/- was a bit atrocious. He had the power play cooking along with Petr Klima that year.
Kyle Alexander, Raw Charge contributer:
I knew my answer to this question almost right away. I first identified what I felt this team was sorely lacking, the piece that would make the biggest difference -- and for me, that's an elite, top-pairing offensive defenseman. Preferably a right shot, too, given the current roster construction.
So reaching back into the Tampa Bay Lightning annals made my choice very clear -- Dan Boyle. He is all of the things I mentioned above -- in spades.
The difficult part of the decision then came to selecting which season of Dan Boyle I wanted, as he played for the Lightning from the 2001-02 season through the 2007-08 season before being traded to the San Jose Sharks, and he was productive almost every year.
Based purely on offensive production, the two seasons that stand out are 2006-07 (.77 PPG) and 2002-03 (.67 PPG). With a lack of advanced statistics for much of Boyle's early career, a gut feeling and the stats tracked on NHL.com will have to suffice. Between those two seasons, you have a 26 year old Boyle poised to breakout as an offensive stud on the blueline or a 30 year old veteran at the pinnacle of his career. You can't really go wrong here, but being forced to pick one (and again considering current roster construction) I'm giving the edge to 2006-07 Dan Boyle (age 30).
2006-07 Dan Boyle slots in on the top pair with Victor Hedman to form arguably one of the best defense pairs in the NHL. That pushes Sami Salo down to the second pair with Matt Carle, and leaves Radko Gudas, Eric Brewer, and Keith Aulie as three defensemen left to compete for the bottom pairing.
With 2006-07 Dan Boyle quarterbacking a power play that features Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis and providing a steadying presence on the back end at 5v5, the Lightning are, at the very least, a playoff team.
John Fontana, Raw Charge managing editor:
I think most will point to defense and cite the need to upgrade the position or shuffle deck chairs (though, it’s not really shuffling deck-chairs when you’re upgrading the position). While we can upgrade on the blue-line in this exercise, I can’t do that… I can’t opt to go there when questions are still in place in net.
This isn’t to sully Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback as so much put the strongest cog available in place (…until Frantz Jean gets a hold of him, but we’ll act like that’s not a factor). A stronger goaltender gives more breathing room for the defense (which, with or without changes to personnel, is changing systems this season which could improve things).
I’d bring back Nikolai Khabibulin from the 2001-2002 season.
Khabby played with a chip on his shoulder, proving to the NHL (and the world at the Olympics) that he was still capable of playing all-world after years off via holdout. He played in 70 games for the Bolts that season, a workhorse benchmark Khabibulin never again reached, and posted a .920 save percentage with a 2.36 GAA with 7 shutouts – a team record that still stands.
The impressive thing about those stats is that he posted them on a still horrible Lightning team. 2001-02 was a year of transition, as John Tortorella implemented his system and warred with Vincent Lecavalier. Martin St. Louis, whose stock was on the rise, broke his leg and missed substantial time. The Lightning finished the season with a 27-40-11-4 record, but it was Khabibulin who was keeping Tampa Bay afloat. The Lightning played 34 one-goal games that season, going a respectable 15-15 with 4 ties. They didn’t fare as well in more lop-sided situations (going 6-13 in two-goal games, and 6-12 in three-goal games).
By comparison, the 2013 Lightning went a horrid 5-12-4 in one-goal games, and you know netminding was considered part of the problem (as well as defense).
Khabibulin of that season was fantastic and inspired confidence in net. If the team was better in front of him, there’s no telling how high they could have flown. How high could that version of Khabibulin allow the 2013-14 Lightning to fly?
Clark Brooks, Raw Charge contributor:
For whatever reason, when it comes to favorite hockey players, I have always been fond of pests. The kind of player you hate unless he's on your team. Sure, lots of teams are successful without those types of players but I think it's more fun to have somebody like that around than not. Probably because I get some sick satisfaction from knowing opposing fans have at least one valid reason for their hatred. The Lightning have lacked that element since trading Steve Downie to Colorado in 2012. If Nolan's Time Machine allows me to bring back whoever I want, I'm bringing back the best pest the Lightning ever had: 1998-99 Darcy Tucker. Playing all 82 games for a team that racked up all of 47 points (19-54-9), Tucker played like they were desperately clinging to the #8 seed and that he was personally committed to making sure every opposing player got on the bus afterward in a bad mood. He scored 21 goals, tallied 22 assists and rang up 174 penalty minutes (a career high) that season. When he was traded to Toronto the following season (for Mike Johnson, Marek Posmyk and two draft choices who never donned a Lightning sweater), I came as close as I ever have to chucking my allegiance to this team. 1998-99 Darcy Tucker would help this team improve by providing a certain amount of "grit" while making them more fun to watch on the nights when they struggle.
Alexandra Ackerman, Raw Charge contributor:
I love the current goaltenders in our system, don't get me wrong. Riku is my baby and Ceddy got us to the Calder Cup finals for the first time in franchise history. My words here aren't a reflection on either of them, but more a statement on what Columbus wasted and how much I wish this particular player was drafted into the Tampa organization all those years ago instead.
If I had my way, we'd be starting the season with 07-08 goaltender Karl Goehring. I know most of you probably have absolutely no idea who that is, but he still remains the Crunch's top goaltender in terms of career wins (78) and is tied with another goaltender for career shutouts (11). Karl played four and a half(ish) seasons here, all with Columbus as our parent club, and was also an assistant coach for a year (alongside assistant coach Trent Cull). The "half-ish" season was 07-08, when he practically tugged the Crunch onto his small back and threw them into the playoffs.
Did I mention Karl was listed as 5'8? No? Oh.
Karl was listed as 5'8. In person, he was really just a bit over 5'7. (Sorry, Karl!) Although much shorter than effective goaltenders usually are, Karl was always up to the challenge of proving that size isn't everything. I've never seen a better shootout goalie than Karl, and although he initially struggled to find a foothold in the AHL during the beginning of that 07-08 season, him landing in Syracuse to finish out the year and push us into the playoffs was nothing less than fate. His calm demeanor, easy-going style and unflappable performances would be a joy to watch out there again, and would also be a fantastic insurance policy for Tampa. Karl never suited up for an NHL game in his career, but I seriously don't think that means he couldn't have.
Alexis Boucher, Lightning Shout
When considering which past Lightning players to bring back via time travel, the answer led me down an unorthodox path. Sure the team has its work cut out for it on the ice, but other parts of the operation need help too. No offense to the hardworking people at Sun Sports, but the Lightning broadcasts sometimes lack a certain... je ne sais quoi.
Andre Roy was a fan favorite during his two tours with the Lightning. There was a time when "We want Roy!" chants echoed throughout the Forum. While known more for his pugilistic skills on the ice, Roy was often at his best off it. Whether he was playing pranks or keeping things loose in the locker room, he carved a special niche in Lightning lore. Remember "Rappin' with Roy"? Absolute gold.
He returned to Tampa last season when the Canadiens came to town and gave us all a taste of his unique brand of broadcasting. He his current work with RDS is also known for its humor, including singing songs about the Habs set to the tune of pop music. It's easy to imagine Andre alongside Paul Kennedy and Chris Dingman. It's also easy to imagine the tour de force that would be Roy interviewing Pierre-Cedric Labrie. Hockey is fun and he more than embodies that. It's something we all need to be reminded of over the course of the season. Andre would be sure to keep smiles on all of our faces.
Forget time travel, the organization should go get him right now.
Patti McDonald, Raw Charge contributor:
I am immediately going with a goaltender on this one. To address the Lightning’s needs I would pick Daren Puppa circa 1995-1996. This was arguably one of the best season’s Puppa had in a Tampa Bay sweater. Puppa played in 57 games and had 29 wins. He also posted five shutouts and had a 2.45 goal against average along with a .918 save percentage. While the goals against and the save percentage might not be the most impressive numbers ever, they were consistent and so was he this season. With the problems in net the Lightning are having now, Puppa’s 95-96 season would sure give them a boost and consistency, so that is why I would pluck him from Tampa Bay’s time machine.
Justin Godfrey, from The Hopeful Chase:
Is Nikolai Khabibulin the correct answer? Because I feel that it is. It would be nice having a number one goalie that was just one person, no more of this "1a and 1 1b" tandem that Lightning fans have seen over the last few years.
However, since someone else will probably tackle that one, I’m going to go with Brian Bradley. Specifically, 1995-96 Brian Bradley. I think he would fit right into the number 2 center role and provide plenty of secondary scoring and the always important VETERAN LEADERSHIP that coaches are always looking for.
Playing the role as second line scorer and playmaking mentor to a youngster like Tyler Johnson would be beneficial not only to this season (a scoring line of 23-56-79 would look nice on the team stat sheet) but also moving forward for the organization. Plus, it would take some of the pressure off of the young kids to score.
And maybe, just maybe if the time machine works right then 1995-96 Brian Bradley gets to skip 1997 and never has to suffer the hit that led to the concussion that ended his career and left him with severe migraines for the better part of two years.
Excellent! EXCELLENT! I am not usually the type of moderator who says who's right and who's wrong in a discussion, but we finally, FINALLY, have a right answer to a question of the week. And that answer is: BRIAN BRADLEY! (the real #19). Remember kids, when someone asks you a question about the Tampa Bay Lightning, the best answer, the only answer, is Brian Bradley.
But if you wish to dispute my wisdom, make use of the handy poll below, or add your comments. Man Ape! You have your assignment! MAAAAN AAAAPE!
Nolan Whyte is a stupid jerk and he owes me money. Tell him @NolanWhyte that I'm going to cave his skull in the next time I see him.