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Comparing two Tampa Bay Lightning teams separated by 11 years

The success of the Tampa Bay Lightning at current contrasts to where the club was in the organization's lone championship season.

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It's been tossed around by fans sometimes in conversations online and in person, usually during the off-season or a low spot during the roller coaster ride that is an NHL season...

"This team has to come together like the 2004 Lightning; they gotta' play more like the Stanley Cup winning team did."

That's not an exact quote in the least, but it's an accurate sentiment what long-time fans try to say. The context is always different on why it's tossed out there. The comparison to the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning seems almost unfair in that this team, last season's team and even the 2013 team had barely any connection left to that championship squad a decade ago.  Yeah, Vinny and Marty were still around for a time, but the identity of this club being assembled by Steve Yzerman is entirely different than the team assembled by Jay Feaster.

The standings this morning have the Lightning at 18-6-3 after 27 games played with a really stellar (if not dark-number) .666 winning percentage. It's come to my mind a whole bunch of times in recent days just where the Lightning stood at this point in 2003-04.

The Bolts had only played 22 games by the morning of December 5th, 2003 with 11 wins to their credit. The simple math tells us they were a .500 club and the standings tell us they were middle of the pack.

The Lightning were 14-6-2  after their 22nd game of the season this year, the 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on November 22nd, giving them a winning percentage of .636 (which they've built on since then), with 77 goals for and 60 goals against.

While Ben Bishop and Evgeni Nabokov hasn't been Nikolai Khabibulin and John Grahame, it's the goals-for stat that leaves me shocked: seventy-seven goals for compared to fifty-three? The 2003-04 club was considered potent offensively with Vincent Lecavalier centering Cory Stillman and Ruslan Fedotenko while Brad Richards did damage with his buddies Martin St. Louis and Fredrik Modin on the second line. In comparable games played, the current crop is getting more than a goal more per game.

It's nice to look back at 2003-04 and compare to this squad, but it feels tough to do it fairly - the rules in NHL games were different at the time, John Tortorella's system is a lot different than that of Jon Cooper, the building of the roster was much less deliberate back then, lacking the thorough player development in the minor leagues. It all came together by circumstances and chance.

The 2003-04 Lightning has their name on Lord Stanley's Cup, though.  That type of dreaming by the current cast of characters shouldn't even start until the beginning of the playoffs in April 2015, and a lot can change between now and then.