(Ed. Note: August is known to be a very quiet month in the hockey world. As we wait for September to arrive and training camps to begin, let’s learn a little history about all 30 teams. Behold, our summer A-Z series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to drop some knowledge on us! Add your own choices in the comments!)
A. Amalie Arena
First it was Detroit. Then, Montreal. Then New York. And finally, Chicago. I’m not boasting about how many Original Six teams Tampa defeated on their way to last season’s final loss -- I’m talking about the fanbases the Lightning pissed off due to Amalie Arena’s “Florida zip code only” ticketing policy. Tampa might be too young for any real rivalries, but they're trying hard, here! I wish I could say something like “-- and get used to it!” but who knows?
I spent the week after that fateful Monday, June 15th, 2015, pretending that I wasn’t crying into my coffee. I couldn’t distract myself, either, because while Tampa’s locker room was listening to “We are the Champions” echo through the Blackhawks’ arena, the discussion on hockey internet was all about whether the Blackhawks were simply an awesomely perfect team or an awesomely perfect dynasty. But I digress.
Not only were the founders of the Tampa Bay Lightning a pair of former Blackhawks (the Esposito brothers, more about them below), but the Blackhawks were the very first team Tampa ever played on October 7, 1992. Tampa won that game, 7-3, pissing off historic Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz in the process.
It’s ironic in the most poignant way that the first team Tampa played was also the team that Cup-blocked them in Game 6 of last season’s Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks have definitely earned their spot in Tampa’s history, but I’m pretty sure roughly 50% of Tampa’s residents have thrown away their red clothing. (The other 50% are probably from Chicago.)
C. Cooper, Jon
Who’s the snarkiest, most quotable Lightning coach ever? That’s right, it’s John Tortorella. But following in his footsteps as the Lightning’s head coach from 2013 to the present is Jon Cooper. Dubbed by Puck Daddy the “most interesting man in hockey,” Cooper was a lawyer who gave up law to become a hockey coach. If you've ever listened to one of his press conferences about a potentially injured player, love it or hate it, you’ll notice that Cooper clearly hasn't left the lawyer (or the snark) behind.
After this past year's playoff run, Coop’s story is well known. In the words of NHL’s Dan Rosen, "Cooper's journey looks like a road map drawn up by a sadistic travel agent." He has coached at nearly every level of hockey from the NAHL, to the USHL, to the AHL (bringing the Norfolk Admirals to a Calder Cup win in 2012), to the NHL, and has won the ultimate prize at every level but this one.
And he's done every part of the job, too, from driving the van on USHL road trips, to making up on-the-fly (cough) strategies for slaying stray arena bats (you read that correctly), to pretending to check his phone so that his players could lead him to the visitor's locker room at NHL arenas. He also managed to get his NHL team to the playoffs as a freshman coach in the league, garnering him a Jack Adams award nomination in 2014.
Where will he go from here? Expectations for next season are sky-high after Tampa’s appearance at the Stanley Cup Final, but if there’s one thing Cooper has proven to friends and foes, it’s that he soaks up knowledge quickly -- and spreads his special brand of sass in the process.
D. Dan Boyle
It’s true that Tampa has Victor Hedman, so maybe we don’t miss Boyler as much as we used to, but he was as much a part of the 2004 Cup win as any of the forwards. Tampa was fortuitous enough to trade a fifth-round pick for this undrafted Panthers player in 1998, but many years and a Cup later, the Lightning gave him away for basically Matt Carle, a handful of seeds, and a goat. In Boyle’s time with Tampa he was the highest-scoring defenseman, tallying at least fifty points in three of his six seasons. He was also excellent on the powerplay, which...yeah, fine, we still miss Dan Boyle.
E. Esposito, Phil and Tony
Tony and Phil Esposito are Tampa’s dearest founders, the two men who dug deep into their pockets to start the franchise for $50-million in the late 80s-early 90s, debuting in the 1992-1993 season.
The brothers also took on the unenviable task of teaching us southerners about the game. Phil often tells the story that in the first-ever Tampa game, right after Chris Kontos scored a hat trick, ushers began to bounce fans for throwing their hats onto the ice. He had to explain that no, as weird as it might seem in the south, hat tossing really is part of hockey!
Phil, who was also Tampa’s first president and GM, is still a beloved figure in the Lightning organization, and contributes color commentary and analysis to game call.
F. Fedotenko, Ruslan
First it was the New York Islanders. Then, Montreal. Then, Philadelphia. And finally, Calgary.
This time, I actually am boasting about the teams Tampa defeated on their way to the 2004 Stanley Cup victory. The final series against Calgary was hard fought, with Calgary winning the first, third, and fifth games. In Game 6, Brad Richards scored two goals for the Lightning, and Marty St. Louis scored the game-winner in overtime to send the series back to Tampa:
But Game 7 was all Fedotenko's.
He scored both of the only two goals of the game, the only two Tampa needed for victory. Fedotenko, an undrafted left-winger who came to Tampa from the Flyers in 2002, scored 12 goals in the playoff run, almost equalling the 17 he scored in 77 games during the regular season. Fedotenko spent four seasons with Tampa, and will be forever remembered as the hero of Game 7.
With Dave Andreychuk as captain, the Stanley Cup-winning team was made up of the following men who will be forever engraved on the memories and hearts of Tampa fans: Dmitry Afanasenkov, Dan Boyle, Martin Cibak, Ben Clymer, Jassen Cullimore, Chris Dingman, Ruslan Fedotenko, Pavel Kubina, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Lukowich, Fredrik Modin, Eric Perrin, Nolan Pratt, Brad Richards, Andre Roy, Darren Rumble, Cory Sarich, Martin St. Louis, Cory Stillman, Alexander Svitov, Darryl Sydor, Tim Taylor, Shane Willis, and Nikolai Khabibulin in net, backed up by John Grahame.
Specifically the record number of them that Tampa scored in 2014-2015. Here are some of the other records from Tampa’s stand-out season:
Tampa led the league with 259 regular season goals, a franchise record.
Tampa set a franchise record of 50 regular season wins.
Ben Bishop set a franchise record with 40 wins, breaking the record he set in 2013-2014.
Steven Stamkos hit his 4th season of over 40 goals.
Tyler Johnson scored the Bolts' first-ever playoff hat trick in the ECF game 2 against the Rangers.
Johnson scored the most playoff goals in the league and tied for the most playoff points.
Johnson had the most playoff game-winning goals.
Tampa Bay became the first team to beat 3 of the Original 6 on the way to the SCF. (Can we have a rival yet or no?)
They are not rivals, sadly. Tampa is too wet-behind-the-ears to have any actual rivals, unless you count the Florida (Seattle?) Panthers. And it’s especially not a rivalry now that Bishop’s BFF Brandon Prust (see gif below) has been traded out of the division. But if Tampa had a rival, would the Canadiens be it?
On the way to the SCF in 2004, Tampa defeated the Canadiens in four games. They paid the Bolts back a decade later with the same embarrassing record, and last season Tampa faced them again. The 2014-15 Tampa team was so humiliated by the loss that I always sensed animosity rising from the ice before each game -- and if there’s any proof of that, Tampa let them win exactly twice in eleven games last season.
Again, they aren’t officially rivals, but Cooper did no butt-kissing during last season’s series either. The snarkiest quotation about the Canadiens and their multiple-prize-winning goaltender came from Cooper: “[Carey Price’s] numbers against the Tampa Bay Lightning are very...pedestrian,” he said, and I could just imagine his smirk. Are they enemies yet?
In honor of Bishop’s long lost Canadien BFF, here’s a gif from the season:
GIF: Prust didn't even try not to take Bishop down pic.twitter.com/4GuCsDD4wl
— Stephanie (@myregularface) March 17, 2015
I. Ice Palace
Who else is a little sad that our noble Canadian ice prince Stamkos doesn’t play in a place named the Ice Palace? This was the original name of Tampa’s home arena before it was renamed to the St. Pete’s Times Forum in 2002, to Tampa Bay Times Forum in 2011, and finally (with the addition of partner Amalie Oil) to Amalie Arena in 2014. But it’ll always be the Ice Palace in our hearts.
J. John Tortorella
When trying to decide what to share about Torts, I thought about his propensity to, um, express emotions on the bench, toward the players, fans, and media. Never one to pull his punches, he's inspired articles like 'The 5 Best John Tortorella Moments of All Time' and 'The Top 5 Craziest John Tortorella Moments.' There are too many to choose from, and this one reporter named Larry Brooks should probably have that honor.
So instead, we'll simply remember him as the coach that won Tampa's Cup and a Jack Adams for the Cup-winning season, and feel grateful for the fire in him that changed the team's culture right when it was stagnant.
K. Khabibulin, Nikolai
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes in 1992, a contract dispute led him to play the 1999 season for the IHL’s Long Beach Ice Dogs. Tampa saw the opportunity to pick up a good goaltender and slid right in, trading Paul Mara, Ruslan Zainullin, Mike Johnson, and a 2001 second-round pick for Khabibulin and Stanislav Neckar.
Not only was Khabibulin the first Russian goaltender to win the Stanley Cup with Tampa in 2004, he also has one of the most ironic nicknames in hockey. This man, nicknamed “The Bulin Wall,” sure wasn’t German, but the Wall part was right -- he’s still tied for a league record of most shutouts in a playoff series.
L. Literal Lightning
Once upon a time, St. Pete Times Forum was an adequate but not fabulous arena. Then, Tod Leiweke (Lightning CEO from 2010 to 2015) and Jeff Vinik made a historic walk around the arena and dreamed of cool things. "How can you be named the Lightning and not have a signature effect in the building?" Leiweke said.
From that walk, Tampa’s Tesla Coils -- the largest in the world -- were born in 2011. The two coils, which float high over sections 305 and 318, shoot 45 feet of lightning around the Amalie ceiling. These two-million volts are contained by the rubber-clad fists of Amalie’s electrician, who reportedly checks off 28 important safety items before flipping the switch. The coils fork out into the darkness at the start of every game and after each Lightning goal, and they never get old.
M. Melrose, Barry
Which well-regarded hockey analyst with stately silver flow also has no ability to coach the Lightning? That’s right, it’s our shortest-tenured coach. Playing exactly sixteen games behind the Tampa bench, Melrose was Tortorella’s successor in the 2008-2009 season.
Melrose was an analyst at ESPN when he wistfully mentioned on air that he “missed having a dog in the fight.” Unfortunately, then-owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules were listening, and handed Melrose his first coaching job since he was fired from the LA Kings fifteen years before. Melrose inherited a rookie player fresh from the OHL in Stamkos, and a veteran 'C' who’d been profoundly injured at the end of the 2007-2008 season in Lecavalier.
The rest of the team struggled after a series of poor personnel moves, including a trade that sent the heart of Tampa’s defense, Dan Boyle, to San Jose -- but Melrose’s coaching didn’t help. One player famously told ESPN that at training camp, Melrose’s system was “shinny hockey with a few fights thrown in for good measure.” Initially signed to a three-year contract, Melrose made the mistake of saying on-air that Stamkos was not ready for the NHL. This angered owner Barrie, who somehow saw Stamkos’s worth, and that, as they say, was that.
Some say it’s foul play for a supposed superfan to simply be an employee paid to create buzz, but after the Tampa Astronaut marketing campaign came to an end with the regular season, Malektronic owner Ben Malek realized that the astronaut had become more than just a gimmick. He decided that instead of selling his expensive front-row seats at Amalie Arena, he’d keep them throughout the playoff run -- and let the astronaut continue to cheer on the team. Publicity stunt or not, the astronaut soon became an unofficial mascot, and spawned some of Tampa fans’ favorite playoff moments.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the Red Wings for planting the seed of Tampa Bay’s philosophy in the current regime of GM Steve Yzerman. It’s thanks to the Red Wings that Tampa patiently drafts Russians, for example, as well as skilled guys who might need to mature in the press box, but who will ultimately make highlight-reel plays. (We have faith that you’ll follow in the footsteps of your favorite player Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Drouin!)
Red Wings fans are also adorable. For Tampa's first rivals in the team's first playoff series in a few years, they gave the Lightning such a gentle breaking-in. I’d beg these guys to be Tampa’s rivals, but I think the Red Wings have been around long enough that everybody else has first dibs.
Adam Erne. Anthony DeAngelo. Mitchell Stephens. Andrei Vasilevskiy. Brayden Point. If you aren’t familiar with these names, you should be.
The Lightning's most famous UFA, Stamkos, has a contract that needs renewing in the summer of 2016, sparking the return of #Stammergeddon. Also in 2016, Tampa has to contend with the following RFAs who made their marks in the playoff run of last season: Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, JT Brown, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Cedric Paquette. A year later, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat are due for raises. How will Tampa contend with the cap and still keep the team competitive? They obviously can’t keep all of these players happy, so eyes must turn to the newcomers.
Get to know these names, and be prepared to be surprised. (Thanks, Yzerman!) For example, please watch as Tampa’s goaltending future, Andrei Vasilevskiy, makes a highlight-reel save on a Predator.
Squeak describes the noise that one of Tampa’s fine men made when they realized they’d just won last season’s Eastern Conference Final. I don’t know their individual voices well enough to pick out which of these mic’d up fellows screamed so hard he went super-sonic, but I’m guessing it’ll be locker room fodder for seasons to come. I’m honestly grateful that we got to hear it, blush-worthy as it was. Sometimes, when I want to flood my heart with feels, I watch the video all over again.
Hey, Rangers: Tampa took your captain, took Brian Boyle, took Stralman, and bounced you out of the Eastern Conference Final. Also, Espo called you “a bunch of animals.” Don’t you hate our guts? Can’t we be rivals? Please? You say the Islanders already have that distinction? … Dammit.
R. Rhéaume, Manon
Rhéaume, the first woman to ever play in men’s Junior A hockey, was signed by Tampa in 1992. She played two preseason exhibition games with the club, one in 1992 and another in 1993, and remains the only woman to have played in the NHL.
She has since won gold medals in the IIHF Women's World Championships of 1992 and 1994, and silver at the Nagano Olympics in 1998. She’s also had a son, and at the time in life where women her age (like me, ok) feel exhausted just getting up and going to work, she still plays beer-league hockey!
Sometime this year, filming begins on a movie of her life with the working title of Between the Pipes. If the Tampa Bay Lightning organization doesn’t screen this movie at Amalie Arena, I’ll be mightily disappointed.
S. [Toronto native] Steven Stamkos
Whenever Stamkos’s contract nears due date, Toronto journalists start writing imaginative articles like, “Steven Stamkos clearly not Lightning coach's favourite.” Tampa fans generally retweet such articles with the hashtag #Stammergeddon, or as is the case this year, #Stammergeddon 2.0 -- and this summer, we’re once again watching curiously to see if Stamkos’s pen hits contract paper.
Contract issues aside, last season was a pivotal one for Stamkos. It was his first full season since a profound leg injury kept him out of the lineup for four months in 2013-2014. His injury made him miss the Olympics, and rocketed then-freshmen Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat to Calder nominations for stepping up in his absence. His injury also broke up a great Tampa first line forever -- upon Stamkos’s return, Marty St. Louis was already traded to the Rangers, and Stamkos was immediately handed the 'C.'
This season, Stamkos emphatically rebounded from his injury with his fourth 40-goal season, and saw the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career. Perhaps this shortened off-season is part of why he’s moving slowly on contract talks, but until he signs, we’re all looking forward to the next article out of Toronto.
Pierre McGuire said that the original “Triplets” were Marty St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Brad Richards. Tampa fans might dispute this a little, because the “P” of the “MVP” line was actually Vaclav Prospal, but there’s no disputing that the three McGuire named are central to Tampa’s history. Since these men have departed from Tampa, the team has had the ironic fortune of seeing two of them blow past their former team in the playoffs.
Marty, Tampa’s captain for seven whole months, went to the Stanley Cup Final right after being traded to the Rangers. It’s still painful to praise this guy too much -- he’s not ours any more, after all, and I’m not getting into that sticky mess. In his time with Tampa, Marty won the Art Ross twice, the Lester B. Pearson and Hart Trophy in his Stanley Cup year, and the Lady Byng in 2010, 2011, and 2013. Someone else will have to take over being “most gentlemanly” now, because Marty retired in the summer of 2015. He’ll forever be remembered in Tampa as a Stanley Cup champion, our 'C,' and...as a Ranger.
There was nothing more ironic than seeing our 2004 Conn Smythe and Lady Byng winner, Richards, hoist the cup over his head in a Blackhawks jersey.
Tampa's third-round draft pick from the same year as Lecavalier, Richards won the World Cup of Hockey with Canada in his Stanley Cup-winning year (he joined the Canadian Olympic team in 2006, but Team Canada was beaten by Russia in the quarterfinals). The Lightning missed him mightily after he was traded to Dallas in 2008, where he continued to play excellent hockey, setting a career points high in 2010. Since then he’s joined the Rangers, Blackhawks, and Red Wings, and I strongly suspect we’ll have the (mis?)fortune of seeing Richie again very soon in a playoff run.
The fates of these two are better than Lecavalier’s. Whenever Tampa plays the Flyers, a sad hashtag makes its rounds on Twitter: #FreeVinny.
Tampa’s 1998 first overall pick, Lecavalier still has his jersey worn with pride at Amalie. At age 19, he was made the youngest 'C' in NHL history until the record was overtaken by Sidney Crosby in 2007. Vinny won the Rocket Richard in 2007, and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy and NHL Foundation Player Award in 2008. Charismatic and popular with fans and the league alike, Vinny attended the NHL All-Star Game in 2003, 2007, 2008 (as captain), and 2009. Now that he’s a Flyer, fans long for a chance to boo him whenever he touches the puck. Think you could make that happen, Flyers? #FreeVinny
Speaking of Triplets, did you know that Tyler Johnson was passed over in three NHL drafts? And that he’s both American and short? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, it’s because this story was shoved down our throats by media who were desperately bored of the Blackhawks last season. Johnson became not only Tampa’s hero, but one of Tampa’s main narratives (along with “Who the hell is Jon Cooper?”). Johnson’s notoriety is a blessing and a curse, because as successor to Martin St. Louis’s short-and-sassy role becomes RFA in 2017. If Stamkos gets paid what he deserves, will they be able to afford to keep Johnson?
There would be no Tyler Johnson without his equally talented left-winger Ondrej Palat. The story of their meeting in the AHL is already out there, and along with last season’s addition of right-wing Nikita Kucherov, these fraternal Triplets became one of the best forward lines in the league.
But did you also know that they’re super adorable, spawning the hashtag #SquadGoals whenever they show up in gif form? I’ll share my favorite cute Triplets moments, because I can:
U. U (<-- Horseshoe)
Everybody knows that Carey Price is one hell of a goaltender, and much was made of comparing Bishop’s numbers to that of Price’s in last season’s playoff run. The weird part was that despite the disparity in skill, Bishop’s team kept winning -- almost as if scoring goals is part of hockey too, Habs. One of the zingers from the series came from PK Subban, who remarked after a game that he thought “Bishop sort of was sitting on a horseshoe.”
Obviously Bishop wasn’t going to let that go unaddressed, and when Tampa won the series in six games, guess what was taped to the seat of his stall?
V. Vinik, Jeffrey
Thank God for Mr. Vinik. Tampa's been through some frankly colorful times since Phil and Tony bought the club in the 90s, somehow surviving the alleged Yakuza owners Kokusai Green, fundamentalist Christian Art Williams, and a bunch more folk before Vinik purchased the team in 2010 from Oren Koules and Len Barrie.
Vinik endeared himself to Tampa fans this past playoff run by descending from the press box (he doesn’t often sit in his own owner’s box) to cheer with fan group Sticks of Fire -- making him firmly “one of us,” but with a whole lot more money. Since coming to Tampa, he's also made himself vital to the growth and development of downtown. This past season he unveiled his plans for Vinikville, which will be an arts, entertainment, medical research, and restaurant district centered around Channelside, the riverside park near Amalie Arena.
Vinik has already distinguished himself among Tampa's owners for treating the franchise and fans excellently, and is well on the way to changing the shape of the city, too.
— John Swan (@Captain_Swan) April 10, 2015
This is the emotion that every Tampa fan felt during game 5 of last season’s Stanley Cup Final when Bishop, injured and possibly out of his gourd, skated way, way, out of his crease to play the puck -- only to be cross-checked by an extremely confused Victor Hedman. After this happened, I got a Facebook message from a coworker who doesn’t regularly follow hockey: “Um. Shouldn’t he stay near the net? What just happened?” All I could do was facepalm. Here is that moment that will haunt us forever, in a gif. (Trigger warning, Tampa fans.)
Or, according to Dictionary.com, love of foreigners.
What Ukranian-Canadian became one of Tampa’s most beloved figures, to the point that we kept him from ever returning home to Canada? That’s right, it’s Dave Andreychuck, former Tampa 'C' and current VP of Corporate and Community Affairs. Initially drafted by the Sabres in 1982, Chuckie was briefly a Leaf, a Devil, a Bruin, an Av, and a Sabre again before deciding to sign on with Tampa in 2001. Even though the Leafs claim him as “Uncle Dave,” it’s not like they ever put a brass statue of him outside of their arena like Tampa did -- for the distinction of captaining our team to Stanley Cup victory.
Y. Yzerman, Steve
Yzerman is like Mary Poppins: practically perfect. There’s not much more about his storied career that’s left to be said, except for the fact that I’m glad Toronto filled their GM position before a truck full of discretely unmarked Canadian dollars made its way due south. Vinik lured Yzerman to Tampa in 2010, and in the off-season before the 2010-2011 season, Yzerman made moves that helped the team become a strong contender almost immediately.
In his first moves as a GM, Yzerman traded for Dwayne Roloson to join Cedrick Desjardins in net, signed St. Louis to a four-year contract extension, traded for Simon Gagne, drafted Brett Connolly, and acquired Dominic Moore and Pavel Kubina among others. These investments in just the right personnel sent Tampa to the conference final for the first time since 2007, where Tampa pushed the Bruins to seven games before losing by exactly one goal (and no, I still don’t wanna talk about it).
The next few years were marked by slow, steady growth and an interesting combination of drafting, trading, and signing that has led to the team we have today. Some of the trades have seemed painful (Brett Connolly, Yzerman’s very first draft selection as Tampa’s GM, got sent to the Bruins in exchange for some picks, for example, and my own favorite Radko Gudas recently became a Flyer), but given Tampa’s record lately, who am I to judge? Under Yzerman’s watch, Tampa is on its way to becoming a perennial Cup contender like his Red Wings, making us all firm believers in the Yzerplan.
Congrats to Stevie Y for winning GM of the year!
The kind you put on your face. Tampa doesn’t have the luck of a player named Zetterberg, so I’ll end with a reminder to visiting teams that glowingly pale hockey player skin probably needs lotion before heading to our beaches. Tampa had one of the best home records in the league last season, just sayin’.
Tampa is more or less the same team as the one from last season’s SCF. Will they make it back? The teams around the East are looking dangerous (I’m looking at you and your offensive talent and your Holtby, Washington Capitals), and there’s no telling whether the team will have the same combination of health, luck, and skill again. Despite that, pending any Stamkos contract uncertainty, Tampa's got at least one more season in them before the cap lures away team's second line.
Here’s to 2015-2016, and hopefully making some team care enough about the Lightning to have an actual, honest-to-God rivalry! (Please?)
Meet the author: Achariya Rezak is a Lightning fan and Solar Bears correspondent for Pension Plan Puppets. People might mistake her for a Leafs fan, but she’s actually Tampa’s double-agent for detecting Stamkos kidnapping plots. She might also secretly be a Leafs fan.
Previous A to Z Guides: Anaheim | Arizona | Boston | Buffalo | Calgary | Carolina | Chicago | Colorado | Columbus | Dallas | Detroit | Edmonton | Florida | Los Angeles | Minnesota | Montreal | Nashville | New Jersey | NY Islanders | NY Rangers | Ottawa | Philadelphia | Pittsburgh | San Jose | St. Louis
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