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.
As we move closer to the end of the first round, we continue to move through some rather lopsided matchups. The 05-06 team prevailed comfortably over the 99-00 group yesterday. And today, we continue with two Tortorella era teams going against each other. The 02-03 team faces the 07-08 squad. Here’s where the bracket stands as of this morning.
2002-2003 Lightning (36-25-21, 12th Place)
While the 03-04 team is quite obviously the best team of the Tortorella era, the team from the year before the club’s first Stanley Cup Final run holds a prominent place in the hearts of Lightning fans. This was just the second time the franchise had ever made the playoffs and the first time they won a playoff round. For a team that was in its eleventh season in the NHL, the fans had waited a long time to experience playoff success.
The 02-03 group showcased the core that would lift the Cup the next season. Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards, and Martin St. Louis all scored between 70 and 80 points. Vinny Prospal joined in the party with 79 points giving the Lightning four forwards over 70 points. Dan Boyle continued to lead the way on the blue line after joining the team in a trade the year before. Cory Sarich and Pavel Kubina joined him at the top of the Lightning defensive depth chart.
In net, Nikolai Khabibulin continued to give the team credible goaltending. John Grahame also had a solid year as a backup.
The Lightning finished first in the relatively weak Southeast Division that year posting 93 points to edge out the Washington Capitals by a single point. Winning the division was another franchise first for this group.
The Bolts faced those same Caps in the first round. After losing the first two games, they stormed back to win four in a row and win their first ever playoff series. St. Louis led the way in the playoffs with 12 points while Boyle was second with 7. The dream season ended in the second round as the Lightning lost to the New Jersey Devils in five games. Those Devils would go on to win the Cup that year.
By any measure, the 02-03 season was a resounding success. Tortorella in his second season took the team farther than they had ever been. The young core showed they had the skill to compete at the top level and the front office succeeded in surrounding them with enough veteran talent to be a threat in the playoffs. The team entered the following season with plenty of optimism and justified it all by winning the franchise’s only championship.
2007-2008 Lightning (31-42-9, 30th Place)
As thrilling as the 02-03 season was, the 07-08 season was the opposite. William Davidson’s Palace Sports & Entertainment had been trying to sell the team for about a year. That would ultimately come to pass in February of 2008 as the OK Hockey group led by Oren Koules and Len Barrie began their awful stretch of running the franchise.
In fairness to them, they took over a team that was clearly having issues. Just four years removed from their Cup championship and with much of the same core group of players and coach, the Lightning had devolved into being one of the worst teams in the NHL. And in fact, they would finish dead last that season. Depending on your preference, this has a case for being the worst seasons in franchise history.
After the season, the team disintegrated with Tortorella being fired, Jay Feaster quitting, Dan Boyle being shipped off to the Rangers, and the new owners bringing in TV personality Barry Melrose to coach the team.
All of that was preceded by an almost equal meltdown on the ice. Lecavalier and St. Louis did their parts scoring 92 and 83 points respectively but the team got very little from its depth. Brad Richards and Vinny Prospal both played well but missed twenty games each, which kept them both under 60 points for the season.
Dan Boyle played just 37 games depriving the Lightning of their best player on the blue line. And in net, the team turned to a hodgepodge group of Johan Holmqvist, Karri Ramo, Mike Smith, and Marc Denis — none of whom could break a .900 save percentage. The poor goaltending combined with the injuries, the lack of depth, and the general organizational dysfunction ultimately sunk the Lightning back to the depths of the worst parts of the 90s.
The franchise would flounder in those depths for two more seasons before Jeff Vinik purchased the team and pointed them back in the right direction.
Now for the fun part. Cast your vote for which of these teams should move on to the second round. Based on the seeding, this is the most lopsided matchup we’ll get in the bracket and after revisiting these seasons, that feels like an accurate assessment. The 02-03 team was a gateway to the most fun season in franchise history. The 07-08 team was a gateway to one of the most embarrassing seasons in franchise history.
Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team?
This poll is closed
Today’s News and Notes
Former Lightning prospect Artyom Sergeyev is reportedly close to returning to North America to play in Sunrise for the Florida Panthers. Seregeyev never made it to Tampa playing two seasons between the Crunch in the AHL and the Everblades in the ECHL.
Sergeyev is a 6’1”, 207 lbs right-handed defenseman who prefers staying in his own zone and shutting down the opposition. In his younger days, he showed offensive upside as a junior player, but that didn’t carry over once he joined the professional ranks.
He will be 28 in February and has played in the KHL for the last five years. He has spent the last two seasons with Salavat Yulaev, where he produced eight goals and 21 points in 110 games.
Early in the day, the Blue Jackets also announced a signing out the KHL adding forward Mikhail Grigorenko. The contract was reported to be worth $1.2 million for one season and bring the skilled forward back to North America after spending the last three years in Russia.
The 25-year-old Grigorenko had 22 goals and 42 assists in 217 career NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche and Buffalo Sabres from 2012-17. He was the 12th overall pick by Buffalo in 2012 and can play all three forward positions.
The native of Khabarovsk, Russia, has spent the past three seasons with CSKA in the Kontinental Hockey League, with 46 goals and 70 assists in 147 games from 2017-20. Kekalainen said he’s noted improvement in the player since he was in the NHL.
But later in the day, the NHL rejected the contract stating that the window for signing players with Grigorenko’s status is not yet open. Because he was originally drafted in the NHL, Grigorenko is not eligible to sign as a free agent until the normal free agency period opens on July 1st. The same rule would apply to Sergeyev mentioned above meaning that Florida will not be able to complete that deal until July 1st as well.
The Ottawa Senators announced yesterday that they hired Brian LeBanc to run their business operations. It would take several paragraphs to detail the myriad ways the Sens organization has tortured its fans over the last few years under Eugene Melnyk’s incomprehensibly incompetent ownership so we’ll just say that we hope for their sake the addition of LeBanc goes better than every other decision Melnyk has made recently.
The Senators’ recent history of executives is rather bleak, to say the least. Tom Anselmi, Nicolas Ruszkowski, and Jim Little all had increasingly brief stints with the organization, so if the team can hang on to LeBlanc, it could serve as a sign of better things to come.
We’ll have to wait and see.
In non-hockey news, RJ Anderson reported yesterday evening the Major League baseball is considering options that would include playing baseball in empty stadiums in Florida. The article specifically mentioned Tropicana Field, which has a dome and could host multiple games per day. The articles says the league is considering at least one plan that would involve three hubs with one being in Florida and the others in Texas and Arizona.
On Monday, multiple league sources informed CBS Sports about a different idea that has been discussed in recent days. In this arrangement, the league would have teams stationed in one of three hubs: Florida, Arizona or Texas. The clubs would then make use of the local major- and minor-league (or spring training) facilities.
One source even expressed guarded optimism about the idea’s chances of coming to fruition.
Ballparks in St. Petersburg (Florida), Phoenix (Arizona), and Arlington (Texas) each have roofs, retractable or otherwise, that would safeguard against rainouts and other extreme weather, allowing for multiple games to be hosted at those sites per day.