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Lightning Round: choosing between the Stanley Cup winners

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and talking possible 2020 playoff formats.

NHL: MAR 10 Lightning at Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 10: Tampa Bay Lightning Right Wing Nikita Kucherov (86) skates with the puck during the NHL regular season game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 10, 2020, at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, ON, Canada.
Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via 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.

It’s such a shame that the only two Stanley Cup Champions in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s history are going up against each other in the Quarter Finals of our bracket challenge. Who made this thing?

“But Hardev, the 2020 Lightning haven’t won the Cup yet,” you exclaim. Ah, but yes they have, my fellow fan, I reply.

You see, according to The Athletic and their video game-style analytics simulation made by Dom Luszczyszyn, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in six games. The Lightning apparently had a 75% chance of winning the series heading in and they found a way to pull it off.

If you want to read more about the series — including fanfic fake interview quotes and player strength weightings based on their stats on the ice — it’s behind their paywall in the link below.

“The many different heroes on the Lightning’s redemption tour will all take their turn holding hockey’s holy grail. There were deadline acquisitions Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, who brought needed toughness and grit. GM Julien BriseBois had paid a hefty premium, but it proved well worth the gamble.

“Flags fly forever, right?” coach Jon Cooper said.”

But seriously, the 2019-20 Lightning haven’t started the playoffs yet and with all the craziness surrounding COVID-19 in sports, it won’t be easy to predict what might happen.

The league is already looking to expand the playoffs for more teams, providing the bottom teams better odds at winning the lottery for the NHL Draft that might take place in the next month.

How will the Lightning fare in a 24-team playoffs? What might one look like? What happens to the first-round pick the team gave up? And what does the slow start mean for their seeding?

2003-04 Lightning (46-22-8-6, 106 points, Champions)

Like the NHL we’re heading into now, the NHL back in 2004 was much different as well. We really are talking about two teams on either side of a 15-year old era.

What can we say about the ‘04 Lightning that hasn’t already been said? They were a powerhouse in a small market (at the time) in a league when the big markets can complete free reign in terms of spending on their players.

They beat the Islanders, Canadiens, Flyers, and Flames. In hindsight, it feels like the Lightning were pretty lucky, only going up against one top-10 team in the league (Philadelphia), but surely it means something that they got through four hot teams (okay three, sorry Islanders) that were also having incredible playoff runs. The Bolts had a great regular season, which put them in good position to avoid other top teams for as long as they could (that’s the point of the regular season, Gary) and made the most of it.

Now that I say the old format aloud, what the hell is the current playoff format, Gary!? Parity? Geography? Boston vs. Toronto and Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia guaranteed every year? Ugh.

I actually find it pretty ironic that the last hockey played before the league tried to introduce more parity, the winner beat a 12-seed. Parity wasn’t the only reason for the lockout, the money system in the league was broken, but it certainly was part of the narrative.

2019-20 (43-21-6, 3rd place, only 70 games played, Champions?)

So, let’s talk about the 2020 playoffs. Or more correctly, what they 2020 playoffs might look like. There’s an awful lot of speculation that the league will want 24 teams in the tournament in order to make up for lost revenue in the regular season. The league is desperate for teams like Montreal, Buffalo, Chicago, and the NY Rangers to play games again in order to get their sweet sweet TV money. That might come at the expense of the top teams that earned their positions higher in the league.

With there also being strong reports of a host city being selected to be the venue for all the games, divisions might not matter. If divisions don’t matter, the top eight teams in the league could potentially earn a bye, with the next 16 teams playing a pseudo-first round. The Lightning are, thankfully, the fourth team in the league, and won’t be privy to the playoffs in this fashion.

However, the league is dumb, and most definitely will want their “geographic” matchups to be played as much as they can. That could mean the top two teams in each division earn a bye (this also includes the Lightning, thankfully), and the next eight teams in each conference play through a wild card round . Or, they could go with the top six teams in each division and the top two in each division get a bye , but they would be losing the Rangers and Chicago in this format.

Wild Card Format examples:

PIT vs. MTL

CAR vs. NYR

TOR vs. FLA

CBJ vs. NYI

Divisional Format examples:

TOR vs. BUF

FLA vs. MTL

PIT vs. NYI

CAR vs. CBJ

All of this sounds really silly, which is why I’m considering it as a thing the NHL will do.

This is adjacent to the bracket, but I would like to know what you think. Do you think Buffalo should be allowed in the playoffs? They only managed 68 points in 69 games. Not even Bettman-500! Or do you think having teams that were somewhat in the race, like the Rangers and Canadiens, are okay for a Wild Card first round. The Lightning are lucky they turned it around as early as they did, otherwise the Leafs would’ve stayed past them and earned a bye.

Or do you think this whole 24-team thing is the worst idea ever and will put an asterisk on the entire season. I’m kind of leaning towards that one, myself.

Poll

Which 2020 playoff format do you endorse?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    24 teams (Divisional)
    (0 votes)
  • 34%
    24 teams (Wild Card)
    (12 votes)
  • 65%
    16 teams
    (23 votes)
35 votes total Vote Now

I’ll throw in a second poll. One I expect will be a landslide.

Poll

Which playoff format do you endorse?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    Conference (pre-2013)
    (24 votes)
  • 29%
    Divisional (current)
    (10 votes)
34 votes total Vote Now

The Vote

And, of course, the poll I was supposed to make. I guess with the 2020 playoffs unfinished and the simulation one behind a paywall, it’s likely we’re going to have a pretty convincing result. Even comparing regular seasons, 2019-20 comes off as second best by a mile. How do you beat a championship with COVID-19?

Poll

Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    2003-04
    (29 votes)
  • 25%
    2019-20
    (10 votes)
39 votes total Vote Now

Lightning Links

  • A verdict on the AHL season will be coming shortly after Friday’s conference call among its board of governors. Like the ECHL, we expect the AHL to close the doors on the season and try its best to play games next season.
  • Our friendenemies over at PPP have a great article on possible high value USHL draft-eligible players for the 2020 NHL Draft. Since it’s all but certainly going to be happening before the playoffs, it’s a prudent time to look at it.