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.
Round two continues. Today we have a couple of playoff teams meeting. One with lofty expectations and the other a final run at glory for the core of the Cup team of 2004.
2015-16 Lightning (46-31-5, 12th place)
Fresh and rested after their first round bye in this tournament, the 2015-16 team was plagued by one thing - lofty expectations. Coming off of a season where they surprised everyone by making it to the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, this team (as has every team since) was expected to make it back to the Finals and actually win it this time.
After all, pretty much the entire roster was coming back and the young players who were a bit starry-eyed in the playoffs had been properly grittified by having their hearts broken in Chicago the previous spring.
Well, that didn’t quite happen. They finished second in the Atlantic to the Florida Panthers (led by the ageless Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo). Nikita Kucherov led the team in scoring with 66 points. Steven Stamkos scored 36 goals despite missing the end of the season following surgery to treat a blood clot in his shoulder. Injuries to Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat cut into their production a bit. Jonathan Drouin struggled a bit in his second season with the team and they had a bit of a disagreement.
Still the 97 points the team recorded was good enough to keep them within the division in the first round of the playoffs and they dispatched the Red Wings in five games. It was a series that will be remembered for Dan Boyle’s “chicken dance” and this Renaissance painting:
After another 4-1 series win in the second round, this one a rather bland victory over the New York Islanders that contained very little of the animosity that featured in the Detroit series, the Lightning were back in the Eastern Conference finals to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It was a good series (Drouin was onside) despite the Lightning missing Steven Stamkos for most of it. Things didn’t get easier (Drouin was onside) when they lost Ben Bishop in the first game after his leg exploded while making a save. One of the injuries that gets lost in the wash a bit was Anton Stralman. He had broken his leg earlier in March and after the season, admitted that he wasn’t 100% when he came back.
Despite that, they gave the Penguins all they could handle and had a 3-2 series lead heading into Game Six at home (where Drouin was onside). After a pivotal goal was overturned in the first period (Drouin was...what a dumb rule, at least the NHL has stuck by their logic isn’t looking to change it).
The Lightning lost that game 5-2 and Game 7 back in Pittsburgh despite Stamkos returning to the line-up (where he just missed scoring a goal). Pittsburgh went on to win the Cup and the Lightning went home.
A guy from that team you might not remember:
Joel Vermin, a 7th round pick for the Lightning in 2013, made it into six games for the Lightning in 2015-16. He was called up in November as the Lightning were piling up bodies on the IR early in the season. During that recall he picked up one assist (on a Nikita Kucherov goal). He would have another brief recall later in the season. After spending the majority of the next season in Syracuse he would sign with a team in his native Switzerland where he played through the 2017-18 season.
2006-07 Lightning (44-35-5, 16th place)
In the first round this team took down the 2012-13 team pretty easily. After all, what do you expect from a team with a pair of 100-point scorers? This was a really good offensive team (fifth in the conference in goals scored) whose main flaw was an inability to keep the puck out of the net (eleventh in goals allowed).
It was also the last great run for the original Big Three of Vincent Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, and Brad Richards. Lecavalier and St. Louis became the first members of the organization to eclipse the 100 point and Vinny set a franchise record with 52 goals (since annihilated by Steven Stamkos). Richards chipped in with a healthy 70 points of his own.
It would also be the last run for those three as Brad Richards was shipped off to Dallas at the trade deadline the next season and the franchise fell into a general sense of malaise that wasn’t rectified until Jeff Vinik took over.
As much fun as it was seeing Vinny enjoy a career season, they were undone by the inability to find a consistent goaltender. Or at least a goaltender that could consistently keep goals out of the net. Marc Denis was the nominal number one goaltender, having been acquired by the team in the previous off-season at the steep price of two Fredriks (Modin and Norrena).
Unfortunately, Denis was outplayed by journeyman goaltender Johan Holmqvist who ended up leading the team in most of the counting stats. He played well enough to get them into the playoffs where they faced off against the New Jersey Devils.
He was perfectly fine, but the offense dried up a bit. The Lightning’s reliance on the Big Three to score hurt them as the Devils were able to bottle up the scoring from the other forwards (only three of the fourteen goals the team scored came from someone other than Vinny, Marty, or Brad) and the Bolts were sent home packing in the first round.
A guy from that team you might not remember:
Blair Jones made his Lightning debut in 2006-07 and picked up 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) in 20 games with Tampa Bay. He made it the NHL fairly quickly, getting called up in November of his first season of professional hockey. His lone goal that season came on February 6th against Sean Burke and the Los Angeles Kings in a 3-2 (SO) win. A solid player at the AHL level with Norfolk, he never made the transition to the NHL with the Bolts and was traded in 2012 to Calgary for Brendan Mikkelson.
This could actually end up being a close match.
Which is the better Lightning team?
This poll is closed
A lot has been made of the Lightning’s ability to find quality in the later rounds during the Yzerman/BriseBois Era, but what about their skill at finding gems in the first round? Geo explores their success or lack thereof (at least Cal Foote is still around).
Speaking of the draft, Max Bultman and Sean Gentile at The Athletic discuss some things that the NHL can steal from the NFL’s virtual draft presentation (and more importantly, some things they should leave alone). While NHL fans would be denied yet another opportunity to boo Gary Bettman (who is in the Hall of Fame), it would make more sense to have someone other than the commissioner play M.C. to the event. No need for him to stand in his basement and fumble over names on cards, just have him introduce it and let someone else from the league (or even a broadcaster) present the names.
One person who won’t have anything to do with the draft would be Chicago Blackhawks’ team president John McDonough who was fired on Monday. McDonough started working for the team in 2007 and was largely credited with it’s return to glory over the last decade. In the last two seasons McDonough and head coach Joel Quenneville have been severed from the organization that they led to three Stanley Cups. Could general manager Stan Bowman be next?
The Blackhawks lack of on-ice success may have been a party to McDonough’s abrupt departure, but he did leave the team in better shape than he found them. Although, NBC Sports ranking of teams with the best long-term outlook had them a lowly 22nd. That’s not great. The Lightning were a much more optimistic 2nd on the list trailing only the Colorado Avalanche.
Have a great day today everyone.