A baker’s dozen years ago, members of the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisted the greatest trophy in professional sports: the Stanley Cup. Here’s a look back at the team’s history in the years since.
June 7, 2004, is a date all fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning should know. On this date, the Bolts captured Hockey’s Holy Grail with a Game 7 win over the Calgary Flames at the St. Pete Times Forum to cap their first and, to-date, only championship season. Longtime radio announcer Dave Mishkin exclaimed the words that have been replayed over and over and will live in infamy for their exuberance.
“The Lightning have won the Stanley Cup!”
His call made Complex’s 2011 list of “The 50 Greatest Play-by-Play Moments in Sports History.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning franchise has had its ups and downs in the years following the team’s Stanley Cup conquest. The 2004-05 NHL lockout forced the team (and its fans) to wait a year to hoist the Stanley Cup Champions banner. It also deprived them the glory of serving as reigning league champs for a full year, with many members of the squad playing abroad (with Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards teaming up for Ak Bars Kazan, then in the Russian Superleague).
The Bolts limped into the playoffs in the 2005-06 season and were eliminated in five games by the Ottawa Senators. The following year, they were gone in six, courtesy of the New Jersey Devils.
Then the 2007-08 season happened, the first frame of a three-year skid in which the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to make the playoffs. Head Coach John Tortorella got the axe after the 2007-08 campaign, in which the team managed a paltry 31 wins and finished dead last in the standings.
The subsequent 2008-09 season was actually worse for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team was sold from Art Williams’ Palace Sports to Oren Koules’ — producer of the Saw horror franchise — OK Hockey in 2008, and things were looking gruesome indeed. The Lightning won nearly 25 percent fewer games, with a total 24 victories, finishing with only 61 points, but introduced Steven Stamkos to the NHL.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2009-2010 season saw things turn around. Sure, the Bolts missed the playoffs by at least four wins, but the OK Hockey group sold the team to current owner Jeff Vinik. He fired coach Rick Tocchet and general manager Brian Lawton the day after the season ended and lured Steve Yzerman away from the Detroit Red Wings’ front office, installing him as the new GM.
The next year, under head coach Guy Boucher, the Lightning made it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals, falling to the eventual Cup champion Boston Bruins. The 2011-12 season saw Tampa Bay miss the playoffs again, but also saw Steven Stamkos set a franchise record with 60 goals for his second Rocket Richard scoring trophy.
Another lockout claimed half of the 2012-13 season, shortening it to 48 games. A shorter season meant fewer frustrations, as the Tampa Bay Lightning finished next-to-last in the Eastern conference with only 40 points. But that season was more notable for the departure of captain and fan favorite Vincent Lecavalier, whose untenable contract was bought out by the team.
In the 2013-14 season, the Lightning saw another Stanley Cup mainstay depart Tampa Bay, as newly-minted captain Martin St. Louis was swapped for New York Rangers captain and now Lightning alternate captain Ryan Callahan. Stamkos, who suffered a broken tibia in November, missed most of the season, returning in March; he was elevated to the captaincy after the St. Louis’ trade. The Bolts made the playoffs, only to be swept by the Montreal Canadiens.
The Lightning made their second bid for the Stanley Cup in the 2014-15 season, knocking off half of the Original Six in the process. After defeating Detroit in seven games, Tampa Bay dispatched Montreal in six and the New York Rangers in seven. The Bolts lost in the Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
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The journey ended one series sooner in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2015-16 season, falling in the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The season was also notable for forward Jonathan Drouin’s trade request becoming public, and his subsequent suspension by the team after failing to report when he was sent down to the Syracuse Crunch, their AHL affiliate. Drouin was eventually recalled and made his mark in the team’s postseason play.
The Tampa Bay Lightning did not qualify for the playoffs at the end of the 2016-17 season, despite pushing hard to the very end. The season saw Stamkos leave early with another injury, the emergence of Nikita Kucherov, and the departure of fan favorite goaltender Ben Bishop, who was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for backup Peter Budaj to free up salary cap space, elevating Andrei Vasilevskiy to full-time starter.
What is your favorite memory of the Tampa Bay Lightning? Where do you see the team headed in the 2017-18 season?