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.
With the first week of the bracket complete, we’ve gotten mostly the expected results. That’s not surprising in a first round where many of the matchups will be fairly one sided. That trend continues today as the 1999-2000 team faces the 2005-2006 squad. Here’s where the bracket currently stands.
1999-2000 Lightning (19-47-16, 27th place)
The 99-00 season was preceded by the second ownership change in less than two years. After Art Williams bailed on the team, William Davidson who owned the NBA’s Detroit Pistons bought the franchise. Under Davidson, the organization would achieve its first stretch of sustained competitiveness. But that wouldn’t start until two years following the 99-00 team. This group was still overmatched after years of bad management.
In that first season under Davidson’s ownership, the team borrowed heavily from the owner’s other hockey team. Unfortunately, that was an IHL team. Davidson appointed Tom Wilson (no not that one) to run the team. Wilson then hired Rick Dudley as General Manager who hired Steve Ludzik as head coach. The three had success in the IHL but that didn’t translate to the NHL.
The following season, John Tortorella would take over as coach and shortly after, Jay Feaster would become the new General Manager. That duo ultimately led the team to its first and only Stanley Cup and guided the franchise to multiple playoff appearances.
On the ice in 99-00, the team didn’t show much to spark optimism. Vinny Lecavalier in his second season was the only real source of excitement. He scored 67 points, which was nearly 20 better than Frederik Modin in second. On the blue line, Pavel Kubina in just his third season and second full season was the best defender. Any team relying on two players that young to lead them is probably going to struggle. That was the case with this group as the front office had not yet had time to surround them with any sort of depth.
The record speaks for itself. They fell short of twenty wins and finished second last in the NHL. At the time, this looked like just another year of failure for the Lightning. But looking back, this was the first year of a new era in Lightning hockey. Under new ownership and with better management, the team would get much better over the next couple of years as both Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis would both join the team the following season.
2005-2006 Lightning (43-33-6, 16th place)
Up until a little over a month ago, the biggest “what if” in Tampa Bay Lightning history was “What if the 04-05 lockout never happened.” The Lightning have the unfortunate distinction of being the team that missed an entire season immediately following a Stanley Cup victory. We’ll never know what would have happened in that lost season but they were certainly positioned well to make another run.
As we’ll get to later in the series, the 03-04 team wasn’t a fluke winner. They were one of the best teams in the league that year led by several of the best players in the league. They kept most of their firepower on offense coming out of the lockout but where they got much worse was in net. Nikolai Khabibulin who was a key part of the cup run signed a free agent contract with Chicago as the new salary cap made it impossible for the Lightning to retain him.
The team replaced him with John Grahame and Sean Burke who, to put it nicely, couldn’t replicate Khabibulin’s performance. Neither could break a .900 save percentage on the year combining to give the Lightning the 5th worst goaltending in the NHL. No matter how much offense a team has, winning with that kind of play in net is near impossible.
On offense, the team still racked up points. Brad Richards scored a career high 91 and Vinny Prospal a career high 80. Lecavalier and St. Louis followed with 75 and 61 of their own. That kind of showing from the forwards is enough to keep a team in contention but for the Lightning, it wasn’t enough to make them a real threat in the postseason.
After a full year without hockey and struggling to get enough saves to win, the Lightning barely made the playoffs and lost in five games to the Ottawa Senators in what was technically their Stanley Cup defense.
This version of the Lightning never got back to the heights they achieved in 03-04. They would have a similar season the following year and then fall out of playoff contention before entering the catastrophic OK Hockey years.
And now for the fun part. Let us know which of these two teams you think is best. For me, this is one of the more lopsided matchups so far in the bracket. Yes, the goaltending on the 05-06 team was a problem but the 99-00 team was so short on talent that it’s hard to see them matching up against the post-Cup group.
Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team
This poll is closed
Today’s News and Notes
Unless I’m missing something, literally nothing happened in hockey yesterday. If I did miss something, drop it in the comments. But as far as I can tell, everyone took off on Sunday, which seems about right given the state of things right now. So instead of news, here are pictures of Scott Wedgewood’s dog.
Tonight in #BoltsPets: Honored to introduce the one and only Captain Wedgewood of the @wedgewall family!— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 19, 2020
He is a Bernedoodle and will turn two at the end of this month. His fashion sense is impeccable and we have full confidence in his superhero abilites. pic.twitter.com/yZTxmOKtNO