The Good, the bad and the ugly
Best trade: Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and defenseman Stan Neckar from the Coyotes on March 5, 2001, for right wing Mike Johnson, defenseman Paul Mara, center Ruslan Zainullin and a second-round draft choice.
Worst trade: Center Brad Richards and goalie Johan Holmqvist to the Stars in Feb. 26, 2008, for goalie Mike Smith, center Jeff Halpern and left wing Jussi Jokinen.
Craziest story: When the Flyers made a $16.5 million, five-year offer to Lightning free agent Chris Gratton, general manager Phil Esposito tried to have it invalidated by saying numbers on the fax (remember those?) from the Flyers were smudged. But an arbitrator ruled otherwise. So the Gratton trade cash-strapped Tampa Bay tried to make with the Blackhawks was scuttled. Esposito declined to match the Flyers' offer but on Aug. 20, 1997, ended up trading the big center to Philadelphia for wing Mikael Renberg and defenseman Karl Dykhuis.
BIGGEST CROWD: Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Flyers was watched by 28,183 in the ThunderDome (now Tropicana Field) on April 23, 1996, still an NHL playoff record.
Worst power play: General manager Brian Lawton on Feb. 24, 2010, fired assistant coach Wes Walz and elevated AHL Norfolk coach Jim Johnson to replace him — without consulting Lightning coach Rick Tocchet. Tocchet banished Johnson to the press box for games. Guess what? Lawton was fired by new owner Jeff Vinik.
"I said 'hockey.' They thought I said 'sake.' "
— Esposito, on how he sold owning the Lightning to the original Japanese investors
Worst season: In 1997-98, Tampa Bay was 17-55-10 with two 16-game winless streaks and a 1-12-1 run to end the season. After a loss during one of those streaks, then-Times beat writer Tom Jones said to wing Mikael Andersson, "I don't even know what to ask you." Responded Andersson: "I don't know what to tell you."
Worst pep talk: On Nov. 11, 2008, coach Barry Melrose, after a heated locker room meeting with his team, was seen walking the streets in Sunrise while players practiced. The next night, the Lightning lost 4-0 to the Panthers; the night after that, 4-3 to the Red Wings. The day after that, Melrose was fired after going 5-7-4 in 16 games.
Best 1-2 punch: If you didn't see Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis as linemates in 2006-07, you missed something. Lecavalier, at center, had 52 goals and 108 points. St. Louis, on right wing, had 43 goals and 102 points. As much as we relish the St. Louis-Steven Stamkos combination now, Lecavalier and St. Louis were better with machinelike precision and a sixth sense about their game.
Best war of words: After Melrose was fired, he accused co-owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules of interfering with his coaching. Barrie called Melrose's game preparations, "negligence."
Best absentee owner: Bill Davidson, owner of Palace Sports & Entertainment in Auburn, Mich., bought the Lightning on June 28, 1999, for the arena lease and the surrounding land in Tampa. After his partners with land-developing experience died, Davidson's interest in the Lightning waned. Still, he owned the team when it won the Cup and spent to the cap after the 2004-05 lockout.
Worst owners: Barrie did not have any money, and Koules, as far as running a team goes, did not have a clue, though they did draft Stamkos.
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ightning founder Phil Esposito said Tampa Bay's 2004 Stanley Cup championship means more to him than all the goals he scored in the NHL and the two Cups he won with the Bruins.
"When your kids do something that is just unbelievable, you are so proud of them. You can't believe it," Esposito said. "For me, the Lightning was like my kid. It was like my baby. I still feel that way."
Awarded to the Tampa Bay area on Dec. 6, 1990, the Lightning played — and won — its first game on Oct. 7, 1992. It made the playoffs for the first time in 1996 and eight years later won the Stanley Cup.
With the Lightning entering its 20th season, what better time to name its all-time team.
Some big names did not make the top six (one at each position), including center Brad Richards, MVP of the 2004 Cup run, and center Steven Stamkos, a 60-goal scorer who might be the team's best player right now. But this is a list of cumulative accomplishment.
Many might miss left wing Fredrik Modin, perhaps the most underrated player in Lightning history; goaltender Daren Puppa, who led the team to its first playoff berth; left wing Rob Zamuner, perhaps the franchise's best defensive forward; and Pavel Kubina, whose 72 goals lead all Lightning defensemen.
All are noteworthy. As Esposito said, "When your kids do something that makes you really proud, it really makes you feel good."
Nikolai Khabibulin 2000-04
An argument can be made the Lightning would not have won the 2004 Stanley Cup without him. Richards was a deserving Conn Smythe winner, but Khabibulin — who during the regular season was close to losing his starting job to John Grahame — was 16-7 with five shutouts in 28 playoff games with a 1.71 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. Khabibulin was a victim of the season-killing 2004-05 lockout and ensuing new salary cap. General manager Jay Feaster, facing a one-or-the-other financial decision, kept Marty St. Louis instead, and Khabibulin signed with Chicago. Since then, Tampa Bay has used 18 goalies, most in the league, and Khabibulin, now with the Oilers, still has team career records of 83 wins, 14 shutouts, a 2.39 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
Dan Boyle 2002-08
Hardly anyone noticed when general manager Rick Dudley on Jan. 7, 2002, acquired Boyle from the Panthers for a fifth-round draft choice. But Boyle became a Norris Trophy (best defenseman) candidate and, arguably, the best blue-liner in team history. He certainly was the best puck mover, something the team hasn't had since July 4, 2008, when GM Jay Feaster traded Boyle to the Sharks under orders from then-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie. Boyle's 20 goals in 2006-07 and 252 career points are Lightning records for defensemen.
Roman Hamrlik 1992-97
The Lightning's first draft choice, Hamrlik set team records for defensemen with 49 assists and 40 power-play points in 1995-96. Taken No. 1 overall in 1992, Hamrlik was a solid two-way blue-liner who skated well, was physical and had a big shot. Most noteworthy was how he quarterbacked the 1995-96 power play. The Lightning was fourth in the league, at a team-record 20.8 percent, as it powered to its first playoff appearance. Hamrilk, traded on Dec. 30, 1997, to the Oilers for Bryan Marchment, Steve Kelly and Jamie Bonsignor (a salary dump considered one of the Lightning's worst trades), now is with the Capitals and has played 1,379 career games.
Dave Andreychuk 2001-06
Signed July 13, 2001, as a free agent, Andreychuk added more to the team than three 20-goal seasons, his 600th career goal and his run toward an NHL-record 274 power-play goals before retiring in 2006. The captain, who won his only Stanley Cup in 2004, led a core group of veterans that included center Tim Taylor and defenseman Grant Ledyard that taught a young team to understand what it takes to win. The best Andreychuk story? Once in Montreal after a team dinner at which players truly enjoyed themselves, Andreychuk made sure he skated ahead of his teammates during the next day's practice. The message: No matter how hard you party, always be ready to play. He now is in the Lightning's front office.
Vinny Lecavalier 1998-present
His production has slipped, and injuries have mounted, but Lecavalier still is one of the faces of the franchise. The Montreal native calls Tampa a second home, and his charitable contributions — his foundation donated $3 million to help construct the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg — solidified his position in the community. Lecavalier, 32, the team captain who was drafted No. 1 overall in 1998 by Esposito, holds Tampa Bay career records with 373 goals, 60 winners, 842 points, 107 power-play goals and 288 power-play points. He also had a team season record 108 points in 2006-07, when he earned the Rocket Richard Trophy with a league-best 52 goals.
Marty St. Louis 2000-present
Signed as a free agent on July 31, 2000, St. Louis was languishing during the 2000-01 season when he demanded more playing time from then-coach Steve Ludzik, who wisely acquiesced. St. Louis, 37, is second in team history with 319 goals, 57 winners and 832 points. It is in the playoffs, though, where he has shined even more with team bests of 33 goals, eight winners (three in overtime), 35 assists and 68 points. He scored, arguably, the biggest goal in Tampa Bay history: the overtime winner in Calgary in Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final that sent the series back to Tampa, where the Lightning won the title.
John Tortorella 2001-08
No matter what you thought of his people skills, Tortorella, who took over Jan. 6, 2001, after Steve Ludzik was fired, got the most out of his players. Even Vinny Lecavalier, with whom Tortorella famously clashed, said after playing in Russia during the 2004-05 lockout that he missed the structure of Tortorella's system. The coach's "Safe Is Death" philosophy — a term actually coined by assistant Craig Ramsay — helped the Lightning to four playoff appearances, Southeast titles in 2003 and '04 and the 2004 Stanley Cup title. Tortorella was fired June 3, 2008, by co-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie after missing the playoffs and going 238-216-38 with 36 ties. He now is in his fifth season as Rangers coach.