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.
The second round of the tournament started on Saturday with the 03-04 team emerging from their opening round bye to win over the 09-10 team in the first unanimous vote. Today’s matchup will feature two teams who both participated in the first round as this year’s team faces the 13-14 team. Here’s a look at the current bracket.
2013-2014 Lightning (46-27-9, 12th place)
The 13-14 season was Jon Cooper’s first full season in Tampa. It represented the beginning of the current era of Lightning hockey, which has been the longest run of sustained success in franchise history. They haven’t reached the heights of the Tortorella era but they’ve maintained a higher level of play for longer.
This first season didn’t end in a deep playoff run though. Instead, they were swept in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens in a series that featured three one goal games including an overtime loss in the series opener.
The biggest issue in that series for the Lightning was goaltending. Ben Bishop who had taken over as the starter that season got hurt at the end of the regular season and wasn’t available for the playoffs leaving Anders Lindback in charge of the net. His .881 save percentage wasn’t good enough with Carey Price at the other end of the ice.
Cooper also probably hurt the team’s chances with his reluctance to play Nikita Kucherov. In Kuch’s rookie year, Cooper played him often on the fourth line and that continued in the playoffs where he played only two of the four games and average 11 minutes in those games. Given that he would become one of the best players in the league the following season, he probably would have been able to help had he been given the chance.
The Bishop injury and the lack of minutes for Kucherov will always be what ifs for that season. The same group of players made the Stanley Cup Final the next season so if things had broken a little differently, that group might have been able to make a longer playoff run. Instead, they had to settle for a quick first round exit.
2019-2020 Lightning (43-21-6, 3rd place)
Figuring out what to do with this year’s team is the hardest part of this bracket. As of today, we still don’t know whether they’ll get a chance to finish their season so we’re using an incomplete set of information to evaluate them.
When we started this process, it seemed unlikely the season would resume. But as the weeks have passed and sports leagues continue to show that they are serious about finding a way to play games, it seems more likely now that we’ll get some kind of empty arena finish to the season.
In terms of what the team has done so far, they’ve been largely what everyone expected them to be. When plays stopped, they were third in points but only two behind the St. Louis Blues with a game in hand. And that followed their worst stretch of play since the beginning of the year as they’d won just three of their last ten games.
The stars continued to be stars with Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos leading the way. But younger plays were also growing into their roles with Anthony Cirelli pushing for second line center minutes and Mikhail Sergachev showing he could handle a bigger workload at both ends of the ice.
For now, we can only judge this team based on what we’ve seen so far. But what we’ve seen is impressive. They looked poised to be the second seed in the Easter Conference playoffs with designs on another deep playoff run to make up for the embarrassing first round sweep the season before. Now we wait to to see if they get that chance.
Now the fun part. Vote for which team you think should make it to the quarter finals. This is a tough one for me as the 13-14 team had a good run and overachieved relative to expectations and judging the 19-20 team is hard. Everyone will have to come up with their own way of dealing with the incompleteness of this year’s team in deciding how they compare to the first playoff appearance of the Cooper era.
Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team?
This poll is closed
Today’s News and Notes
Mats Zuccarello expressed frustration in the way the Rangers seem intent on remaking the team in an interview with Swedish media.
The creative winger pointed out that taking less pay to be loyal was “nonsense” in light of how the organization has treated both him and Lundqvist. Zuccarellocalled the treatment of his friend and former teammate disrespectful, despite the need to give starts to Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. The former Ranger considered Lundqvist’s drastically reduced role to be unthinkable. Evidently, that was even more surprising to him than the Rangers’ decision to deal him to Dallas.
On Saturday, the Athletic reported that Tampa is in consideration as one place that could host NHL hockey if the league decides to go with a plan where a small number of sites would host all of the remaining games. This follows a similar report last week about MLB looking at the same type of idea and also considering Tampa as a possible place to resume games. It seems unlikely that both leagues would choose Tampa as that would put a strain on the hotels in the area and increase the traffic in shared spaces. With Tropicana Field being a dome and that being advantageous to MLB in trying to avoid any weather cancellations, it seems more likely Tampa would get baseball than hockey if both leagues settle on similar plans.
Whatever the league decides to do, they’ll have to involve the players in that decision and to get that process started, the league and the union have formed a committee to discuss returning to play.
According to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, NHLers John Tavares, Connor McDavid, James van Riemsdyk, Mark Scheifele and Ron Hainsey are part of the committee, along with Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, Colin Campbell and Steve Hatze Petros representing the league, and Don Fehr, Mathieu Schneider, general counsel Don Zavelo and divisional rep Steve Webb representing the Players’ Association.
Per Brooks, the group “has conducted a pair of conference calls over the past three days with regularly scheduled ‘meetings’ to follow.” Medical advisors from both the league and NHLPA have been included on the calls “when appropriate,” Brooks adds.