ESPN is not looked at kindly in hockey circles these days because of the overall network bias against the professional sport, so depending who you are; you will likely take the following with hefty salt... It's all subjective too.
ESPN has issued a ranking of all 122 professional sports franchises in North America (we're talking top-league stuff with MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL teams and an omission of MLS... at least this year) and Tampa Bay Lightning fans can crow about the overall perception of their franchise in the eyes of ESPN's rankings. Let me give you the quote from the article how these are derived:
The method to our ultimate madness
First: Consulting firm Maddock Douglas surveyed 1,002 North American fans to form 25 criteria for what you want most in return for the emotion, money and time you invest in the 122 MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL teams.
Second: Teaming with NetReflector, an opinion research firm, ESPN.com asked fans to rate their home teams in each area; more than 101,000 of you did! We grouped grades into the categories below. Royals fans, for example, ranked Kauffman Stadium much higher (29) than owner David Glass (112).
Third: Our final measure, bang for the buck, uses calculations developed with Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center to figure how well teams turn fans' money into wins. FINALLY We combined each team's score across all categories into a weighted average. For example, since fans ranked players as more important than ownership, the former counted for 13.9 percent of a team's final score versus 11.3 percent for the latter. The result? Fan opinion combined with an objective gauge of the cost of winning. Ultimately, everything counts.
The Lightning weren't the top NHL team in these rankings... They were the third, the third NHL team listed and sixth overall. The two other teams that outranked Tampa Bay were the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. The Chicago Blackhawks completed the top 10 teams with a #10 rank.
The Lightning's ranking as #6 is 29 places better than the next Tampa Bay team, the Tampa Bay Rays (35) and 78 places higher than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (84).
While you can and should click over and view the rankings yourself, it's worth noting the worst ranked team among the 122 franchises is not only an NHL squad; it's not surprising to me it's the Toronto Maple Leafs. No Canadian NHL team was ranked above 50, the best ranking was 55 (the Montreal Canadiens). This isn't to try to make this list a war between the sunbelt teams and Canada as so much point out that NHL teams in Canada aren't pressed to give the consumer-spectator complex much (competitively or by means of arena experience).
As for the Bolts high ranking, kudos are due to owner Jeff Vinik, CEO Tod Leiweke, Lightning president Steve Griggs and of course Vice President and GM Steve Yzerman for what he's done for the product on ice. It's been noticed, gentlemen.