The Tampa Bay Lightning franchise has been around for a quarter century. In that time, the various team general managers have pulled off some trades that have changed the course of not only a season but the organization in some cases.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as any surprise since the six individuals who have held the general manager spot for the Lightning include two Hall of Fame players in Phil Esposito and Steve Yzerman. Jacques Demers was at the helm for a season and Brian Lawton ran the show for two seasons.
Rick Dudley didn’t quite make it three full seasons but only one other person held the job as long as Esposito and Yzerman, and that was Jay Feaster, whose 2004 team won the only Stanley Cup in team history.
In reverse order, here are the top five trades in Tampa Bay Lightning history:
Offensive Defensive Presence
On Jan. 7, 2002, Dudley pulled off the fifth-best trade in team history when he landed defensive stalwart Dan Boyle from the Florida Panthers for the Lightning’s fifth-round draft pick. In a four-year period beginning with the 2002-03 season, Boyle averaged nearly 55 points a season as a blueliner.
During the Stanley Cup run in 2004, Boyle tallied 10 points in the 23 magical games that postseason. Anchoring the power play, the team has never found the right-handed defender to replace Boyle, as he became one of the team’s earliest salary cap casualties in 2008.
The deal that brought Boyle to the Lightning was an important cog for the team to win the only Cup in the history of the franchise.
The ‘Bulin Wall
Speaking of the Cup run, the Lightning could not have won without another Dudley deal that brought goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to the team in a March 5, 2001, deal with the then-Phoenix Coyotes. Khabibulin arrived with Stan Neckar for Mike Johnson, Paul Mara, Ruslan Zainullin and a second-round draft pick.
Khabibulin was unbelievable during that 2004 postseason. He won 16 of the 23 games the team played that spring. He saved 93.3 percent of the shots he faced and had a 1.71 goals-against average in those playoffs while also posting five shutouts.
The play from Khabibulin down the regular season stretch and in the playoffs earned him the ‘Bulin Wall moniker. He was a brick wall and helped lead the team to NHL nirvana.
Defensive Defensive Presence
The 2003-04 team had many top-flight players. The team’s roster was loaded: Dave Andreychuk, Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards, Dan Boyle, Pavel Kubina, Tim Taylor and many others. But on Jan. 27, 2004, Feaster may have solidified the Cup win with a trade with Columbus for defenseman Darryl Sydor.
Sydor was the shutdown defenseman that the team sorely needed. At 31 years old, Sydor helped the younger defensive nucleus already on the team. There was 25-year-old Cory Sarich in addition to Kubina (26) and Boyle (27). Sydor was the steady force among the defensive corps. After a season and a half, Sydor was another cap casualty and was traded to Dallas after the 2005-06 season.
Captain, My Captain
Near the trade deadline of 2014, Yzerman was in the middle of an untenable situation. His captain, Marty St. Louis, was demanding a trade, but in his 13th season with the Lightning, St. Louis had a no-trade clause, which meant he had the final say on any deal.
Despite the handcuffing, Yzerman pulled off a deal that was one for the books. On March 5, 2014, St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers for their captain, Ryan Callahan. This was the only captain-for-captain trade in NHL history.
Ten years younger than St. Louis, Callahan has provided the physical swag to the Lightning team that is still a part of his game. This trade would have been on this list if it had been a straight swap for the captains but the fact that Yzerman got New York to throw in two first round draft picks almost makes this the best deal in Lightning history.
After his first half season, Callahan was a free agent who signed a six-year deal with the Lightning. He then took it upon himself to act as a liaison for Yzerman that led to the team signing New York Rangers free agents Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle. All three former Rangers are still with the team.
Yzerman also gets credit for what can be considered the best trade in team history. Another deadline trade on April 3, 2013, brought Ben Bishop from Ottawa in exchange for forward Cory Conacher. Bishop has given the team its best goalie since the days of the ‘Bulin Wall.
A Vezina Trophy finalist for two of the three years, he has been the Lightning’s top goalie. Bishop’s solid play has led the team to three consecutive playoff berths, two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, and a Stanley Cup Final appearance.
The Lightning have been and are now serious Cup contenders and Bishop is the main reason for that lofty designation. Unfortunately, for Bishop and the team, the expansion draft could spell the end of the line for Bishop in a Lightning Bolt sweater.
There are other trades that didn’t make the cut but are notable for the impact on the franchise. Trades that had the team acquire players like Vaclav “Vinny” Prospal, Fredrik Modin, Andre Roy and Dwayne Roloson were significant for the growth and emergence of the Lightning organization.
With one Stanley Cup banner in the Amalie Arena rafters and four playoff appearances in the last six years, the team looks to contend for the next few years. Time will tell if Yzerman has to pull off a deal that makes this list for the team to earn its second Cup.