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.
Things continued to progress pretty much as expected in our bracket yesterday as the 12th seeded 06-07 team won handily over the 21st seeded 2013 team. To this point in the bracket, we’ve hardly had anything that could be called an upset. But without exerting too much undue influence, I think today has a chance to break that streak. Our next matchup pits the inaugural 1992-1993 team against the disappointing 2016-2017 team.
1992-1993 Lightning (23-54-7, 22nd place)
The record might not look like much now but the inaugural Lightning season was reasonably successful on the ice. When the season ended, they had the best record for an expansion team in NHL history.
The season also featured plenty of memorable moments. One of the most prominent is Chris Kontos having the game of his life scoring four goals in the franchise’s first game and treating the home fans to a 7-3 victory over Chicago. Where those home fans watched the game is another fun part of the team’s first season.
The Lightning played their first season’s home games at the Expo Hall at the State Fairgrounds in Tampa. The arena held only 11,000 fans and wasn’t even big enough to hold a regulation rink. Phil Esposito tells a story of removing a row of seats to show the NHL that they could a fit an ice surface with the right dimensions and then putting the seats back after the NHL officials got their measurements and left. This piece from Martin Fennelly captures the spirit of those times well.
Expo Hall was where home and visiting players would tape their sticks in the sun. Expo Hall was where players like Lightning rookie and No. 1 overall draft pick Roman Hamrlik would fish in the pond next to the arena, even before games. And Expo Hall was the tent next to the building, where Lightning brass and players congregated after games, as did fans.
”We would go in the tent with the fans and have a beer,” said Pat Jablonski, an original Lightning goaltender who had the first shutout in franchise history.
Despite slowing down after a relatively hot start where the team was still at .500 after 20 games, the season wasn’t just about the fun stories it generated. Brian Bradley scored 42 goals that first year and that number would remain the benchmark until Vinny Lecavalier broke it by scoring 52 in the 06-07 season. That’s quite an accomplishment. Bradley’s scoring in the team’s first season set the pace for the next 15 years of the franchise.
Ultimately, the Lightning couldn’t sustain the promise they showed at the beginning of the season. They faded until they looked about the way most people expected an expansion team to look. Still, that first season was a success. They had some positive moments on the ice. They created stories that still serve as the lore of the franchise today. And most importantly, they established hockey in a state where no one said it would succeed. Nearly thirty years later, the team is still in Tampa and recognized as a model franchise for the rest of the league.
2016-2017 Lightning (42-20-10, 17th place)
If the inaugural season was all about surpassing expectations, the 16-17 season was the opposite. The Lightning were coming off of consecutive seasons where they made the Stanley Cup Final and the Eastern Conference Finals. They were a favorite to compete again for a championship. Instead, they missed the playoffs completely.
The team dealt with injuries all season. The biggest of course was to Steven Stamkos who tore his meniscus after just 17 games and missed the rest of the season. Ryan Callahan also missed most of the year due to the hip issues that plagued him toward the end of his career. Other players missed shorter stretches with Tyler Johnson playing only 66 games, Cedric Paquette playing 58, and Anton Stralman, Ondrej Palat, and others all missing games at various points in the season.
The Lightning were frequently short on players resulting in the bottom six forwards looking almost unrecognizable at times. Michael Bournival, Gabriel Dumont, Greg McKegg, Joel Vermin, Matthew Peca, and Byron Froese all got meaningful NHL games that season.
The blue line was also an issue but not due to injuries. The coaches’ reliance on a pairing of Jason Garrison and Andrej Sustr was a major detriment to the team. Slater Koekkoek’s lack of development also caused issues as he wasn’t able to take on a larger role that might have eased some of the pressure on the veterans.
The weak blue line and injuries to the forward group combined to tank a Lightning season that began with high expectations. The team made a run down the stretch but couldn’t quite climb back into a playoff spot.
On the positive side, that run solidified roster spots for Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde. Point earned a roster spot out of camp and by the end of the season, centered the top line due to all the injuries. Gourde was one of the round robin of forward call ups but made an immediate impact and never went back to Syracuse after showing he belonged in the NHL long term.
But no amount of brightside tidbits can alleviate the feeling of a wasted season. That was one of the peak years for several of the Lightning’s young stars and because of the injuries and bad roster management on the blue line, they didn’t even make the playoffs.
Now for the fun part. Tell us which of these two teams you think was best. If we take that word literally, the 16-17 team seems to have the advantage. But if we’re willing to be a little loose and consider all the other impacts of that inaugural season, I think there’s a case that 92-93 deserves to advance to the next round. Cast your vote below and let us know what you think in the comments.
Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team?
This poll is closed
Today’s News and Notes
Yesterday, amidst the pandemic lockdown, we got some honest to goodness hockey news. It wasn’t the most exciting news. It might even be the kind of news we all forget ever happened whenever hockey does resume and have to be reminded about while randomly clicking around CapFriendly. But the St. Louis Blues signed defender Marco Scandella to a four year $13.1 million contract.
Scandella had a good season this year after a couple of rough ones in Buffalo with the Sabres. But he just turned thirty and with no one able to predict when games will start again, this is strange timing for the Blues. Especially considering they need to figure out a way to re-sign Alex Pietrangelo.
All of this deal signing has Blues fans wondering what is up Doug Armstrong’s sleeve. Through the end of this season, the Blues have $20,326 in cap space. At the end of this year, the Blues’ UFAs are Troy Brouwer ($750,000), Jay Bouwmeester ($3,250,000), and Alex Pietrangelo ($6,500,000). The team also has UFAs in Vince Dunn, MacKenzie MacEachern, and Jacob del la Rose.
Armstrong is going to have to work some magic here.
Shawn Ferris dove deep into some penalty kill analysis at Hockey Graphs yesterday. He ties the data he tracked to video to provide some additional context around how teams can generate more offense while shorthanded.
The rarity of shorthanded goals lengthens the amount of time it takes to derive any conclusions from them to the point that even an entire season is not long enough to dissolve much of the randomness behind them. However, understanding what controllable factors help create shorthanded goals, and applying them to your process, is important. We know that deploying better offensive players, controlling more entries, and passing after those entries all lead to more shorthanded goals over time.