Over the next few weeks, we’re running a bracket to determine the best Tampa Bay Lightning team in franchise history. Each day, we’ll put two of the 27 teams since the inaugural season in 1992-1993 up against each other to determine a winner until we’re left with who the community thinks is the best version of the Lightning.
Yesterday, the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning squad crushed the 1997-98 roster with a dominant regular season performance, owning 96% of the vote. Honestly, they deserve the President’s Trophy for that.
Too mean? Ironically, today is the one year anniversary of that team’s four-game sweep by the Columbus Blue Jackets. So much can change in a year, but pain is still the same.
We don’t have any words and we know you don’t want to hear them.— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 17, 2019
We understand your anger, your frustration, your sadness. Everything you’re feeling – we get it.
This isn’t the ending we imagined, and certainly not the one we wanted. Thank you for being there the entire way.
Best Lightning Team Bracket
But that’s not what we’re talking about today. Today, we continue the round-of-27 with the 2006-07 and the 2013 Lightning teams going head-to-head with a rested 2016 squad waiting in the wings.
2006-2007 (44-33-5, 16th place)
This roster that finished second in the Southeast Division behind the .506 Atlanta Thrashers, and bowed out of the playoffs in the first round to the New Jersey Devils.
Not a great season on the face of it, average mostly, but it was one where Vincent Lecavalier won the Rocket Richard Memorial Trophy for most goals in the regular season. Vinny scored 52 goals that year, setting a new franchise record for goals in a season. Brian Bradley set the benchmark in the inaugural 1993 season when he scored 42. Not only did Vinny take the record by a whopping 10 goals, but Martin St. Louis, his running mate, also beat the record with 43 goals in a season.
The two also set the franchise points record with 108 and 102 points, respectively, that year. Until Nikita Kucherov showed up in 2019 and put 128 points in the bank in a single season.
It goes without saying that this team was on the way down, but the heroes of the 00’s weren’t going to go down without a fight. Lecavalier and St. Louis together with their 95 goals combined for 40% of the team’s scoring in the season. If you include third place 25-goal man Brad Richards, it’s 50%.
With only four or five quality forwards on the team, a couple defensemen (Dan Boyle and Filip Kuba), and two journeymen at the end of their careers in net, I’m surprised this team held on for as long as it did.
As a fan who came onto this team in 2015 (and had only started paying attention to hockey in 2013), researching a team from the noughts feels completely alien. If you have any stories from this season I would love to read them. Hopefully I did this team a little bit of justice. I’d vote for it in the bracket for the performances of Vinny and Marty alone.
2013 (18-26-4, 28th place)
A 48-game sprint, starting on January 19th and ending on April 27th, the Lightning had no reason playing a part in the lockout-shortened season except for the fact that it allowed them to draft Jonathan Drouin third overall in June. But that’s not all it brought.
On March 25th, 2013, out came Guy Boucher as head coach, and in came Jon Cooper from the AHL. Cooper is now the longest-tenured coach in Tampa Bay Lightning history, but the current longest-tenured coach in the NHL.
Under Cooper, the Lightning have made the playoffs in every year but one. They’ve won seven playoff rounds, and gotten to the Stanley Cup Finals once. For comparison, Jon Tortorella only won five playoff rounds in his tenure with the team, albeit four did come in one year. Cooper has another kick at the can this season, if/when the playoffs are allowed to take place, and two more years on his contract.
Getting back to the 2013 season, there’s really not much to write home about; Steven Stamkos scored 29 goals following a 60-goal explosion the previous year, MSL led the team with 60 points, and young core pieces like Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat were getting their chance coming up from the AHL where they had won the Calder Cup with the Norfolk Admirals over the Toronto Marlies the previous year. That was about it.
Okay, most of it. There was also this seemingly throw-away trade that came at the deadline, where Cory Conacher was sent to the playoff-pushing Ottawa Senators in exchange for Ben Bishop.
At the time of the trade, the deal felt like a complete steal for Ottawa. Conacher was a young rookie on the rise while Bishop was a goalie who had struggled to be a backup over three seasons across two teams. But it was after that season when everything turned on its head and Bishop would end up completing his tenure with the Lightning five years later with a .922 save percentage and 131 wins in 222 starts.
When analysts say goaltending is everything, they mean it. I don’t think the Lightning would have gone anywhere they ended up without their 6’7” tree behind them. The Bolts were able to build with the solid foundation that was Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Bishop in net, turning themselves into one of the top contenders year-in-year-out for the better part of a decade.
We are lucky Jonathan Drouin turned into Mikhail Sergachev — that trade has been a resounding win for the Bolts, but I would argue the Bishop trade made a much bigger impact on the legacy of the Lightning.
Wow, I might’ve convinced myself to take the 2013 season over the 2006-07 season after writing the second part of the article. Then again, because of the question of the article, it might not end up being close. If the poll had been “which season was more significant” I’d have picked 2013.
Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team?
This poll is closed
Today’s Hockey News
Geo should have more on this story today, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have reportedly hired Steve Tambellini (son of Steve Tambellini) to be a “pro scout and NCAA Free Agent recruiter.” Tambellini played 65 games for the Syracuse Crunch a year before he retired as a player three years ago. He scored 29 goals and 49 points for the Lightning affiliate in that year on an NHL deal.
"It's been an amazing two years in Trail, BC and I wish the players, staff, and volunteers of the Trail Smoke Eaters organization continued success!" - Jeff Tambellini— Trail Smoke Eaters (@BCHLSmokeEaters) April 15, 2020
Jeff Tambellini Joins Tampa Bay Lightning.
Full Release: https://t.co/WsMniQ7OYS#WeAreSmokeEaters pic.twitter.com/6oMX1qMaWV
Sister site The Ice Garden is looking at the best women’s college teams that never won a Division I national championship, the 2015-16 Boston College Eagles who went 40-1-0, losing only in the finals.
If you want to dive into the rabbit hole that is hockey stats, reading through some of the best college hockey players (and seasons) of all time is a great way to spend some quarantine time.