Tampa Bay Lightning: 50 Greatest Moments In Franchise History

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Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4. Phil Esposito Awarded NHL Franchise, Tampa Bay Lightning Are Born

Date: December 6, 1990

The National Hockey League came into existence all the way back in 1917 with only a handful of teams participating. Once the Great Depression pretty much leveled many of the teams in the league, it would be restructured. By the time the 1942-43 season rolled around there would be just six teams competing for the Stanley Cup. These are the teams who would come to be known as the Original Six.

Hockey has come a long way since those days. Now, there are 30 teams in the National Hockey League vying for the greatest trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup. However, there was a day back in 1990 where things would change in the National Hockey League, and even more specifically, right here in the Sunshine State.

In the 1989-90 season, there were just 21 teams in the National Hockey League; however, the winds were about to change and three more teams would be added to the league over the course of the next two seasons.

On December 6, 1990 things would change in Tampa Bay forever. Former New York Rangers captain and prolific goal scorer Phil Esposito had put in a bid to the National Hockey League to be granted a franchise that would call the Tampa Bay area home.

While there were many who doubted hockey would survive in a place that is better known for its sunshine and beaches than snow and frozen ponds could ever survive in the National Hockey League, there were people like Esposito who believed. On December 6, 1990 then-NHL President John Ziegler would stand up in front of the world and announce that Phil Esposito and the Tampa Bay Hockey Group had been awarded the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A few weeks later, on December 20, 1990, the NHL Board of Governors awarded Tampa Bay a permanent franchise, who would make their debut in the 1992-93 hockey season.

Even after the franchise was awarded, there were still some people who believed hockey didn’t belong in a place like Florida. The good news is the Tampa Bay Lightning were determined to prove their detractors wrong, and in the 1995-96 season the Bolts would make their first post season appearance. In the 2003-04 season, the Lightning would achieve what some thought impossible and fulfill their dreams of winning the Stanley Cup.

It has been 25 years since Phil Esposito would be awarded the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise, and 23 years since the Lightning took the ice at Expo Hall for the very first time, but as they say…the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Without the determination and skill of Phil Esposito, the Tampa Bay Lightning would not be the team they are today.

It is because of this grit and determination that a statue of the Lightning’s first Owner and President Phil Esposito now resides right outside the grand staircase of the Amalie Arena for all to gaze upon and pay tribute to the man, who without the Tampa Bay Lightning would not exist.

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