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.
Today’s match-up features a powerhouse team that set a franchise record for wins (since eclipsed) versus one that missed the playoffs despite having a 60-goal scorer.
2017-18 Lightning (54-23-5, 3rd)
Nice and relaxed from its first round bye, the 2017-18 squad enters the fray with some pretty impressive credentials. Their 54 wins and 113 points are both second in franchise history. Six players reached the 20-goal mark while Nikita Kucherov became the first Lightning player to record a 100-point season in over a decade.
Young Brayden Point showed that his rookie season wasn’t a fluke as he potted 32 goals and did this to future hall of famer Zdeno Chara in the playoffs:
Frankly, that was borderline elder abuse. Oh, and Point also recorded a hat trick in just 91 seconds that season. So yeah, he had a pretty good sophomore effort.
Speaking of the playoffs, things looked pretty good as the Lightning finally found a way to beat the New Jersey Devils in the post season, dispatching them in five games. Then, following an embarrassing 6-2 loss in Game One against Boston, they smoked the Bruins in four straight to return to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years.
Much like their previous venture into the penultimate round of the playoffs they held a three-games-to-two lead in the series before losing the final two games to the Washington Capitals. In a somewhat more impressive collapse than their ECF loss to Penguins a few years before, the Lightning completely forgot that you can’t win playoff games if you don’t score goals. Braden Holtby shut them out in Game 6 and Game 7 to send the Caps to the Finals where they would win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Good for them.
Was the excellent regular season and the fact that they were one game away from making the Finals good enough to get this team to advance?
Guy who you might not remember played for this team:
Matthew Peca was part of the infamous 2011 Lightning draft where all six players drafted appeared in the NHL (Adam Wilcox finally made it into a game for the Sabres in 2017-18). After spending four seasons at Quinnipiac, he joined the Crunch in 2014-15 for a few games. He followed with four strong seasons in the AHL while making brief appearances with the Lightning. In 2017-18 he made it into 10 games for the Bolts and recorded 2 goals and 3 assists.
Seeing a log jam of forwards ahead of him in Tampa, Peca signed a two-year deal with Montreal following that season. He did appear in 39 games with the Canadiens in 2018-19, but spent the bulk of last season (this season?) in Laval before being traded to Ottawa.
2011-12 Lightning (38-36-8, 21st)
Sometimes you advance in a tournament not because you’re a good team, but because you’re not as bad as your opponent. Such is the case with the 2011-12 squad. They had a pretty easy first-round match-up as they took on the 40-loss 2001-02 team.
For some reason (old goalie) the 2011-12 team couldn’t summon the same magic that the previous season possessed during their run to the Eastern Conference final. Some of the key players like Sean Begenheim (9 playoff goals) jumped ship while injuries took their toll on others (Vincent Lecavalier - 64 games played, Ryan Malone - 68 games played, Victor Hedman - 61 games played).
The biggest issue was in net as Dwayne Roloson lost his mojo and his starting job as he scuffled to a 3.66 GAA, .886 SV%, and only 9 quality starts out of 31. Still, the team seemed to be flirting with a playoff spot with Mathieu Garon doing an ok job in net and Steven Stamkos scoring every goal in the NHL. Then Garon was hurt after the trade deadline and things faded away.
Not only was the goaltending situation in flux, the defense in front of the goaltenders were constantly changing. Twelve different players suited up on the blue line with only Brett Clark and Eric Brewer managing to play in all 82 games.
Even if the end result wasn’t great, there was the 60-goal season from Stamkos that kept fans entertained all season long. There was also a trade at the deadline that was good back then - Steve Downie to Colorado for Kyle Quincy, who was flipped to Detroit for Sebastien Piche and a first round pick - but it ended up being even better as the Lightning took Andrei Vasilevskiy with the pick.
Guy who you might not remember played for this team:
One of those twelve players to suit up as a defender for the Lightning, Commodore came over from the Red Wing at the trade deadline for a conditional seventh round pick (the condition of the Lightning did not happen so they basically got him for nothing).
While the Lightning were more than happy to throw him out on the ice (he averaged 14:03 of ice time in his 13 games with the Bolts) Detroit didn’t mind getting him out of the Motor City based on his simmering feud with head coach Mike Babcock. A battle that has raged long enough to have its own mention on Wikipedia.
Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team
This poll is closed
News from around the hockey world
With the NHL announcing their agreements with European hockey leagues on Tuesday, there was a minor flood of signings across the league on Wednesday including Rasmus Sandin’s little brother, Linus, who signed with Philadelphia. The Lightning did not jump into the mix, nor were they expected to.
Many of these players will start their career in the AHL next season, if there is an AHL season in 2020-21. In his weekly “31 Thoughts” column Elliotte Friedman writes about the possibility of the league shuttering its doors next season if they aren’t able to play in front of fans.
Twelve of the thirty-one teams in the league are locally owned (including the Syracuse Crunch). Those teams don’t have the financial backing of an NHL ownership group and rely heavily on ticket revenue. If their are no fans, there is no money.
It would be interesting to see what would happen if the premier development league of the NHL shuts its doors for a season. Would teams send their players to the ECHL or to Europe? Would the league expand rosters? Luckily, with the situation as fluid as it is it’s all speculation at this point.
The NHL does seem to be working on some plans that would indicate they still want to conclude the 2019-20 season. Communication was sent out to players to consider steps that need to be taken should they return from their homes to their respective teams’ cities.
For instance a player should take into consideration a city may have a requirement that anyone arriving into the city has to self-quarantine for two weeks before joining any workouts. So if the league resumes workouts by the middle to end of May some Europeans may want to consider jumping on a plane pretty soon.
The league was also very careful to point out that no decisions have been made yet and it is all dependent on what local government and health officials advise based on the current situation.
So, in the meantime we wait.
Stay healthy folks.