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Wednesday Lightning Round: Round Three of the best Lightning team in history

It’s 1998 vs. 2020 in today’s bracket.

Paul Ysebaert

It was a pretty bad beating in yesterday’s match-up as the 2013-14 team thoroughly dominated the the 2008-09 Melrose-led squad. I don’t expect much difference in today’s contest. Sometimes there is little drama in opening round showcases.

Best Lightning Team Bracket

Today’s match-up features the 1997-98 Bolts versus the 2019-20 squad in what should be an absolute bloodbath in the polls. It features a team that excelled only in its on-ice ineptitude versus a team whose main flaw would be that it existed in a sports world that was placed on pause due to a worldwide pandemic. Lets face it, the 1997-98 team is just happy to be playing in the tournament while this year’s team is not happy to be getting a bye and is insulted by it’s 8th-place seeding.

1997-1998 (17-55-10, 26th place)

There was some actual hope for this team as the season began. At least that’s what the team was saying. After an interesting off-season that saw them trade young center Chris Gratton to the Flyers (yes, it was just a trade, no need to think about offer sheets and faxes) and constant questions about ownership, they still thought they may return to the playoffs:

If Daren Puppa stayed healthy.

If Brian Bradley stayed healthy.

If Alex Selivanov continued to evolve as a top-tier scoring winger.

If youngsters like Daymond Langkow, Roman Hamrlik and Jason Wiemer could play at the NHL level.

If a meteor took out three quarters of the Eastern Conference.

None of those things happened.

They won two of their first four games and then didn’t win again for a month. No really, more than an entire calendar month went by between wins. From October 9th until November 19th they mustered one point. One lousy point. It came in a tie against the Boston Bruins.

Things got better after that, right? Nope. In addition to the 15-game losing steak in October/November they also managed a 13-game losing streak and a 9-game losing streak. Their losing was impressive.

Paul Ysebaert led them in points with just 40 (13 goals, 27 assists) while Mikhail Renberg and Selivanov shared the team lead in goals with 16. They went through five goalies with Mark Fitzpatrick leading the team in appearances with 34. He also led them in wins with a whopping 7.

The 17 wins was the fewest in the league. In fact, around the league 24 goalies had 17 or more wins that season. Dominik Hasek almost had as many shutouts (13) as the Lightning had total wins.It’s also tied for fewest in franchise history with the 1994-95 team. Of course, that team only played 48 games.

OK. So the team wasn’t playing well on the ice, but at least they got along, right? Well, let’s pull a quote from The St. Petersburg Times from December of 1997.

For perspective on the quote, Bradley was dealing with post-concussion headaches and an injured wrist suffered earlier in the season. The issues were bad enough that 1997-98 would be his final season in the NHL.

Bradley would get his wish as Ciccarelli was traded in January to the Florida Panthers. General Manager Phil Esposito was in full “Trader Phil” mode as he traded away nine players from January to March. He also traded away one conditional pick on March 24th, 1998. In a deal with San Jose the Lightning received Andrei Nazarov for Bryan Marchment and David Shaw. Along with the Nazarov the Lightning also received the right to swap first round draft picks with the Sharks top pick.

San Jose’s top pick that season wasn’t actually their own. It was Florida’s which San Jose had picked up in a November trade. At the time Florida was in contention for a playoff spot. However, they fell apart at the end of the season and their pick (held by San Jose) ended up being the number pick overall in the 1998 draft (that’s right, the Lightning were so bad they couldn’t even win the lottery on their own).

The conditions of the trade between San Jose and Tampa Bay allowed the Lightning to swap picks AFTER the lottery order was decided. So, of course, they did. And that, my friends, is how the Lightning ended up with Vincent Lecavalier instead of Brad Stuart or David Legwand.

So, their complete incompetence at the game of hockey completely changed the fortunes of the franchise (after a little more turmoil) and led to a Stanley Cup. That may be the one redeeming quality from that season.

2019-20 (43-21-6, 3rd place, only 70 games played)

If this was a battle for most entertaining team in franchise history the 2019-2020 squad would be in trouble. Apart from the occasional “Fire Cooper” murmurings on social media and a less-than-graceful ending to the Louis Domingue tenure in Tampa Bay things were pretty much calm, cool and collected.

There was always going to be a certain kind of disappointment with this team during the regular season because it came on the heels of the record-setting regular season of 2018-19. General Manager Julien BriseBois kept the team together for the most part, adding Stanley Cup champion Pat Maroon, free agent steal of the century Kevin Shattenkirk, and some defensive depth in the Luke Boys (Schenn and Witkowski).

A sluggish start on the heels of the previous season’s early postseason exit led to some grumbling (see “Fire Cooper” comment above), but as the season persisted things came around. A 10-game winning streak from December to January coupled with another 11-game streak through most of February vaulted them up in the standings and they were sitting in a comfortable to make the playoffs when the season was halted.

Nikita Kucherov was doing his normal Kucherov thing, leading the team with 85 points (33 goals, 52 assists). Three other players joined him in the 25+ goal club: Steven Stamkos (29), Alex Killorn (26), and Brayden Point (25). BriseBois had committed to building a playoff-style team by adding depth forwards Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman at the deadline. Along with the emergence of rookies Carter Verhaeghe and Mitchell Stephens the forwards comprise the deepest unit the franchise has had since the Stanley Cup year.

Unfortunately, it appears that the thing most remembered about this team will be that they never got a chance to finish the quest. Along with the lockout team of 2004-05, this will always be a “What if” team.

The Vote

Now for the fun part. Tell us what you think. Which of these teams should advance to the unfortunate fate of going up against the Cup-winning team of 2003-2004 in the second round? We’re not providing any specific criteria. Just vote for which team you think is best either based on what you remember or what you’ve read about the history.

Poll

Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    1997-98
    (1 vote)
  • 96%
    2019-20
    (26 votes)
27 votes total Vote Now

Today’s News and Notes

To the surprise of practically no one the NHL extended their self-quarantine recommendation to the end of April. It had been set to expire today. So that would indicate that there will be no new developments in regards to limited practices at arenas until May at the earliest. If, and that’s a hugely big “if”, the season does return the NHL has considered multiple scenarios to finish the season according to remarks from Commissioner (and Hall of Famer) Gary Bettman.

If the season is resumed this summer, Pierre LeBrun reports that the NHL is willing to delay the opening of next season until November, cancel the All Star break as well as the bye weeks in order to get a full 82 game season and playoffs completed.

That could conceivably lead to a two-year streak of no All Star games considering the Olympics are scheduled to be held in February of 2022 in France. An NHL return to the Winter Olympics would most likely require a pause in the season and no All Star break as it did in 2006, 2010, and 2014.

The pause in the sporting world continues to have repercussions in the financial sense. The Buffalo Sabres announced that they would have to conduct another round of furloughs, layoffs, and salary cuts (with GM Jason Botterill being among those taking a pay cut).

Emily Kaplan had a nice story on another hockey GM - SC Bern’s Florence Schelling. Not only is she the first woman to be named GM of a top-level men’s pro hockey team, she’s also only 31-years-old. What am I doing with my life?

Have fun today, stay safe, and keep washing your hands.