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Time To Celebrate Our Tampa Bay Lightning

Sure wish I was writing a different article today. I was scheduled to do the Game 7 recap on The Scrum. That game would have been last night. It wasn’t to be. Like many of you I was expecting a much different outcome. Since the Game 6 loss, I’ve gone through the last eight seasons of this franchise and one thing is clear. It’s time we celebrate our Tampa Bay Lightning. They have given us every ounce of blood, sweat and tears during this time. From the Triplets leading the way in the 2015 Cup to this Stanley Cup Final and everything in between. 

The resume of this organization since the 2014-15 season is damn impressive. Many of you know the stats. The Lightning were in the conference finals in ‘15, ‘16, ‘18, ‘20, 21 and ‘22. Six Conference Finals in eight years. They were in the Cup Final in ‘15, 20, 21 and ‘22. That’s four Stanley Cup Final appearances in eight years. Oh yeah, they also won those two Cups in 2020 and 2021. This stellar performance makes it worthwhile to celebrate our Tampa Bay Lightning

Conference Final History

The NHL established the Conference Finals in 1982. No Eastern Conference team has been in six Conference Finals in eight years except Tampa. In the Western Conference, two teams have bested the six Conference Finals in eight seasons. Edmonton was in eight Conference Finals in ten years from 1983 to 1992.  The Colorado Avalanche were in six Conference Finals in seven years from 1992 to 2002. Those Edmonton teams are considered one of the best teams ever because they won six of those eight appearances. The Colorado teams of that time are not in that same discussion because they lost four of those six appearances. 

This leads me to the conclusion I have come to regarding our Boys in Blue. They are an NHL Dynasty. I realize this is a subjective term. But as I’ve written in the past, I have been watching the NHL since the 1965-66 season. Doesn’t make me an authority but I have seen my share of the NHL. I’ve watched the teams already designated as dynasties since the original expansion and I truly believe the Lightning teams since the 2014-15 season through today qualify as an NHL dynasty. 

Merriam-Webster defines a dynasty as: a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time. I believe the Lightning teams over the last eight seasons qualify. The abundance of winning shows their power. They have maintained the position of being one of the best teams in the league. The only question is whether this eight year period qualifies as a considerable time?

Dynastic Run

In the press conference on Tuesday, General Manager Julien Brisebois listed off the accomplishments since the 2014-15 season. No team in the salary cap era (since 2005) can match the level of success in any eight year period the Lightning have achieved. No team in the cap era has won more than two Cups in a row. In the cap era, no team in the league has been to six Conference Finals or four Stanley Cups in any eight year span. So, theoretically the Lightning are the best Salary Cap Era team.   

Maybe you think I’m being too much of a homer. That’s ok, if you prefer, listen to what Scotty Bowman said of these Lightning teams. When asked, he said “I don’t know how you can’t call it a dynasty with what they’ve done. If it’s good enough for arguably the best NHL coach of all-time, it’s good enough for me. 

When Jeffrey Vinik bought this franchise. In the press conference announcing this purchase, he said his goal was to make the Tampa Bay Lightning a world class organization. In hindsight, we all know he accomplished this but the franchise he bought was in shambles. The previous owners were the anti-Vinik. They bungled so much that whispers were heard throughout the league that the franchise might be relocated. Then the Vinik era began.

I’m sure I’m not the only Lightning fan who figured this new owner was saying the same things new owners of sports teams have been saying forever. But Vinik was different. We saw him hire Steve Yzerman who hired Julien Brisebois who hired Jon Cooper. This was the beginning. No one was talking dynasty, in all honesty, we were just hoping they would make the playoffs. Boy, did they exceed all our expectations.

Witness To History

Think about what we as fans have seen in this time. We saw the baby faced offensive juggernaut of The Triplets. Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov gave us a glimpse of what was to be. We also saw them develop into NHL stars. Andrei Vasilevskiy was 20 years old when he played in his first Stanley Cup Final subbing for Ben Bishop in the 2015 Final against Chicago. There are only four goalies in NHL history to win more than 60 Playoff Games who have also won 2 or more Stanley Cups and with a Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy. Three of those are already in the Hall of Fame. Patrick Roy, Billy Smith and Ken Dryden. Yes, Vasilevskiy is in that elite group. The kicker is he’s only 27 years old.

We saw the development of Steven Stamkos into one of the best captains in the league. The fact that he’s still lights out on the power play is icing on the cake. How about the emergence of Victor Hedman as one of the best defensemen in the league and a perennial Norris Trophy finalist. The photo of these two cornerstones of this team after Game 6 tugged at my heart. Hedman’s arm around Stamkos watching the Avalanche celebrate was poignant. At one point back before Jeff Vinik bought the team, these two at 19 and 18 years old were the only hope we had for this team. How far they’ve come. Not to diminish the play of Alex Killorn, Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli through the last few years. 

There were also players acquired through trades that made huge impacts along the way. Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman come to mind. This year’s trade deadline acquisitions, Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul were critical in the just completed postseason. Also, players like Ryan Callahan and later Ryan McDonagh were instrumental in developing and maintaining the successful culture for the Lightning.

Celebrate Our Tampa Bay Lightning

We also saw players that were integral in the success of the team but are no longer here. Brian Boyle, Yanni Gourde, Anton Stralman, Valterri Filppula, Braydon Coburn and Cedric Paquette. These guys gave us their all and we will never forget them for that effort. I don’t have enough space to list them all but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention players like Dan Girardi, J.T. Miller, Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Schenn. Forgive me if I neglected to mention someone who deserves recognition for their part in this run. 

As I’ve written above, I’ve seen a lot of hockey since my first game. I would submit the following rank of the best teams I’ve seen in my lifetime. 

  1. Montreal Canadiens of the 1970’s 
  2. New York Islanders of the early 1980’s
  3. Edmonton Oilers of the late 1980’s 
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning from 2015 – ?

Lastly, I don’t believe this group is done. Yes, I realize that every year Brisebois has to be a magician with the salary cap. His track record is proof enough for me. Currently, the 19 players under contract for next year have an average age of 29. I know some of you think that is way too old. But drilling down on this shows that this includes Corey Perry, Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare, Pat Maroon and Brian Elliott. Taking this fourth line and backup goalie out of the mix and the average age drops to 27. This group will be a contender for a long time to come. That’s what Dynasties do.

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