Lightning Retro Profiles is a series of profiles on former Lightning players. Some are well known to fans even today, some not so much. These Retro Profiles will highlight some of the names from the Lightning’s past. What kind of player they were, what they did with the Lightning, and their contributions to where the team is today.
Next up in the series is goaltender Daren Puppa. It’s always hard, especially for an expansion team, to find a goaltender that can help cover up some of their issues (see the Seattle Kraken as the latest example). Puppa came to the Lightning shortly after their entry into the NHL as an expansion team and gave them a solid option in net and helped the Lightning to their first playoff appearance.
Before the Lightning
Despite being from Ontario, Puppa did not go the OHL route after being drafted by the Belleville Bulls in the OHL Priority Selection draft in 1982. Instead, he remained in the GNML for his draft year and was selected in the 4th round, 74th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. Puppa went off to college and played for RPI for two seasons before turning pro.
Puppa began his profession career in 1985-86 with the Rochester Americans in the AHL, appearing in 20 games, and also made his NHL debut with seven games for the Sabres. He saw playing time in the NHL and AHL over his first three professional seasons before making it to the NHL full time with the Sabres in 1988-89. He earned a nod in 1989-90 as he finished 2nd in the Vezina trophy voting and was named to the Second All-Star team after posting a 31-16-6 record for the Sabres.
He continued to play for the Sabres through the 1992-93 season and was traded mid-season to the Toronto Maple Leafs where he played eight games and one playoff game for the Leafs. After the season, he was left exposed in the 1993 Expansion draft with the Florida Panthers claiming him and then the Lightning claiming Puppa in the expansion draft phase II.
With the Lightning
In 1992-93, the Lightning played four different goaltenders, primarily Pat Jablonski, Wendell Young, and Jean-Claude Bergeron. David Littman also made one appearance. No goaltender won more than eight games or had a save percentage of .900% or a GAA under 3.5. Suffice it to say, the Lightning didn’t get the best goaltending in their inaugural year, but also weren’t a great team either, so....
The Lightning to Puppa! While Puppa had declined from his earlier successes in Buffalo, he was the best thing the young organization had seen in net and provided some stability. He played the bulk of the starts for the next three seasons for the Lightning. He played in 63 games in 1993-94 posting a 22-33-6 record with an .899 SV% and 2.71 GAA, a definite improvement from the previous season. He further improved on that in the shortened 1994-95 season with a 14-19-2 record with a .905 SV% and 2.68 GAA.
It was in 1995-96 though when the Lightning saw the roster come together and make a run to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in team history. Puppa posted a 29-16-9 record with a .918 SV% and 2.46 GAA. His performance earned him a third place finish in the Vezina trophy voting and he became the first Lightning goaltender to be named a finalist for the Vezina as he carried the Lightning on his back to that memorable first round series against the Philadelphia Flyers in the old Thunderdome.
Unfortunately, back and shoulder issues would de-rail the rest of Puppas career as he appeared in only 50 more NHL games aftrer the 1995-96 season and he retired during the 1999-00 season.
Puppa finished his 15-season career with 429 games played, a 179-161-54 record, .897 SV% and 3.04. For the Lightning, he ended up 77-91-26 with a .905 SV% and 2.70 GAA over seven seasons. He also appeared in four playoff games for the Lightning going 1-3, earning the first playoff win for the Lightning in franchise history.
Since retiring, Puppa has lived in Tampa working as a Realtor and is seen from time to time at alumni events.