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Lightning Round: Which team is better? Before the Cup or after?

Today, 2002-03 goes up against 2005-06 on Brad Richards’ birthday!

Tampa Bay Lightning v Boston Bruins
BOSTON - NOVEMBER 30: Brad Richards #19 of the Tampa Bay Lightning lines up in position for the faceoff against the Boston Bruins during their NHL game on November 30, 2006 at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Lightning 4-3 in shootout overtime.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

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.

Believe it or not, but today is Brad Richards’ birthday! Born on May 2nd, 1980, Richards had his highest point total season with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2005-06 season — the season we are voting on today! The 2005-06 season is going up against the 2002-03 team that was on the opposite side of the Stanley Cup Championship, which makes for an interesting debate.

Do you like the team on the verge of a Cup, or the one still swimming in the spoils of victory?

2005-2006 Lightning (43-33-6, 16th place)

Coming out of the lockout and entering into a new salary cap world, it’s impressive that this team stayed as solid as it did. They lost Nikolai Khabibulin and rental Corey Stillman, but they found away to keep virtually everyone else and make the playoffs in a much tougher conference than the year before.

With a better opponent, they might have been able to get further than a first-round knockout, but the Ottawa Senators were a very good team on the rise and a season away from their only Finals appearance in franchise history with a stacked roster of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Zdeno Chara, and a 41-year-old Domink Hasek (still posted a .925 sv% in the regular season!)

It’s easy to brush away the flaws of this team, they had won the Cup the previous year, after all. Despite a bottom-10 power play and penalty kill to sink an otherwise average team, the 2005-06 Lightning might just have been an early analytics star well before its time.

For a team that finished 16th in the standings, the 2005-06 Lightning were fourth in shot share! They had a 54% shots on goal percentage, out-shooting their opponents on average by four shots per game, which was also fourth in the league. The only teams they were behind in these categories were the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, and Edmonton Oilers, all strong teams at the time.

Unfortunately, it seems like a 23rd ranked power play, 20th ranked penalty kill, 23rd ranked shooting percentage, and 27th ranked save percentage killed them. All of these numbers are more-or-less luck, though I guess losing the Khabi-boo-man was a pretty big deal.

2002-2003 Lightning (36-25-21, 12th place)

It’s hard to believe in this era that the fifth-youngest team in the league would be one year away from Stanley Cup glory.

But I guess it makes sense when you have a pair of number one centers in Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards both at the tender age of 22. Ruslan Fedotenko was also only 24, and the first pair of Dan Boyle and Pavel Kubina had an average age of 25.5. It’s funny to think they were the fifth youngest team in the league despite 39-year-old Dave Andrechyuk weighing them down in the stat.

Funny enough, this team also had a 22-year-old Sheldon Keefe, who is now coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs and will likely run into the Lightning sometime during the 2020 Playoffs. Marc Bergevin was there, too, but he only played one game.

It’s hard not to like this team; Richards, Lecavalier, Vinny Prospal, and Martin St. Louis all with strong seasons. Vinny and MSL each with 33-goal seasons. They only won one round in the playoffs, but they finished first in the South East (for the first time in franchise history!) and only lost to the eventual Cup winners in the New Jersey Devils.

The Vote

So, what’s your poison? The team on the verge, or the team that had just won it all? There’s pros and cons to both teams. Both were fairly mediocre in the larger NHL in terms of both regular season points and playoff successes, but each had something special going for them. A secret analytics darling, or the first division title in franchise history.

Poll

Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    2005-06
    (8 votes)
  • 78%
    2002-03
    (30 votes)
38 votes total Vote Now

Lightning Links

  • No.
  • Old friend Eddie Pasquale is staying in Europe, it seems.
  • ESPN did a piece on all the moving parts going on to help bring sports back in a safe and stable way. There’s a lot, and containing the virus rigorously at the beginning seemed to be the best solution that got away.

Nevertheless, sports corporations are getting creative.

  • There’s a lot of chaos surrounding the NHL and their plans for holding the NHL Draft in June. There’s a lot of speculation being thrown around and not all of it makes sense with the other. We’ll likely have a clearer picture on Monday as the league makes their decision over the weekend. Right now, we have no idea other than there’s the possibility of an expanded playoff bracket, better lottery odds for the bottom teams, and TV network pressure to air something new (like the Draft). I’ve just thrown a bunch of links and tweets below demonstrating the craziness going on right now.