Considering the Tampa Bay Lightning are about to make the franchise’s second ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Final and first since beating the Calgary Flames back in 2004, some may find it odd that I have chosen this moment to put together a revisionist history piece on the Eastern Conference Champions. In actuality, the fact the Bolts managed to beat the New York Rangers in Game Seven on Friday evening is what drove me to write it at all.
For the second consecutive year, the Lightning put together a rather impressive regular season campaign and after falling short of reaching their goal during last year’s playoffs, they will be vying for Lord Stanley’s mug starting next week. Not too shabby at all for a team many did not seem sold on being able to put it all together in the post-season. To their credit, Tampa Bay has done exactly that and regardless of how things play out in the Final, this group looks poised to be among the very best in hockey for the foreseeable future.
The Steve Yzerman – Jon Cooper Show
While the vast majority of their success is on the players, both the coaching staff and management team have played key roles in their climb to the top. Jon Cooper has done nothing but win hockey since taking over for Guy Boucher behind the Lightning bench in March of 2013 and is now widely considered to be one of the best coaches in the game today. Same goes for Steve Yzerman, who along with the club’s scouting staff, has been the architect of what we see out on that ice.
This past Monday marked the five-year anniversary of Yzerman’s hiring by the organization and while he has had few missteps along the way, the one he would likely love to have a Mulligan on occurred at the 2013 National Hockey League Entry Draft. On that day, the Bolts had the good fortune of watching defenceman Seth Jones essentially fall into their lap but instead of taking advantage of the situation running to the podium to call his name, Stevie Y and company decided to out-think themselves by selecting Jonathan Drouin with the third overall pick of the draft.
An Unfortunate Miscalculation
While no one was overly surprised to see Nathan MacKinnon go at No. 1 to the Colorado Avalanche, the fact both the Florida Panthers, who selected Finnish centre Aleksander Barkov and Lightning passed on the Portland Winterhawks star blueliner baffles me to this very day. The Panthers were lucky enough to correct their blunder by winning last summer’s Draft Lottery and selecting Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick in 2014, but Tampa Bay missed their chance.
With a forward group that currently consists of Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Steven Stamkos the Lightning have a very nice mix and look to be perfectly positioned for the coming years. The story is pretty much the same in goal, where Ben Bishop is carrying the mail in the here and now but waiting in the wings is arguably the best goaltending prospect on any team in the league in 20-year old Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Victor Hedman Is The Real Deal
Can you imagine how good this group would look if they had a top pairing of Jones and Victor Hedman to anchor the blueline for the next decade? Don’t get wrong, Tampa Bay is clearly capable of holding their own with the defence they currently have and should continue to be a force to be reckoned with over the next number of years. With that said, having those two on the backend could have given the Bolts the potential of having one the best tandems in recent NHL history.
At the end of the day, Jonathan Drouin will probably have himself a very nice career with the Tampa Bay Lightning but something tells me he won’t have near the impact Seth Jones will over the course of their respective careers. Hindsight can be wonderful thing and from a hockey perspective, watching two great players skate alongside one another for an extended period of time would have been a treat for fans to watch but my guess is those who cheer for the Tampa Bay Lightning will gladly settle with what Mr. Yzerman has been able to build during his tenure with the franchise.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.