After the announcement in December that AMALIE Arena would host fans in a limited capacity when the NHL season started, Tampa Bay Lightning fans have been looking forward to raising the Stanley Cup Championship banner on opening night against the Chicago Blackhawks. However, due to the increase of COVID-19 cases in the community, the Lightning have decided not to admit fans until Feb. 5, which includes at least eight home games to start the season.
When the Lightning revealed that they would delay attendance for the foreseeable future, many fans took to social media to implore the team not to raise the banner until fans are allowed back into the arena.
While the disappointment is understandable, raising a banner mid-season is the worst thing the Lightning could do this year.
Once the Puck Drops, Last Year is Irrelevant
Raising the Stanley Cup banner is the final note of the victory parade. Once it is in the rafters, the fanfare should settle down, and the puck can drop on the 2020-21 season; the celebration is over, done. To wait weeks into the season to perform this final ceremony would be an unnecessary distraction for the players. The Lightning already have a difficult task ahead as they try to repeat as champions; the last thing they need is to add fuel to that fire.
Teams hate extended opening ceremonies — both at home and on the road — and celebrating a Stanley Cup Championship after the new season has started will likely ruffle some feathers on opposing benches, as no player wants to be reminded that they lost. Not to mention, once the puck drops on this coming season, the Lightning’s collective focus should be on the Central Division and not rehashing last season’s accomplishments.
Athletes are creatures of habit and do not enjoy hiccups in their routine. In the “Tampa Bay Lightning 2020 Stanley Cup Champions” film by Cinedigm — reviewed by The Hockey Writers’ Eugene Helfrick here — Kevin Shattenkirk purchased morning coffees for himself and Victor Hedman from the coffee truck in the playoff bubble. He mentioned that the two or three days that he forgot were the games that the Lightning lost.
Little things like that are common among players, and asking them to sit through a celebration of the Cup after the start of the season would fall into a taboo area for some of the players and staff — on par with touching the Cup before winning it or shaving during the playoffs.
Players are not the only ones who hate having to delay the start of a game due to a ceremony. Most coaches are eager to get the game going after delivering their final pregame speech to the team so they can use that energy to establish the control of the flow of play early on.
Win the Cup Without Fans, Raise the Banner Without Fans
The banner raising ceremony — and ring presentation — is for the players, coaches, and staff members of the organization. Yes, it is another way for the teams to connect and share their accomplishments with their fans, but especially in the middle of a global pandemic, this season has created new circumstances.
While it makes the experience more fulfilling to raise a banner in front of a crowd, it is not necessary that fans need to be there. The Lightning spent the entirety of the playoffs playing in an empty arena, so it would be fitting to raise their championship banner in an empty arena as well.
Plus, the fans had the Stanley Cup parade to celebrate with the team. That was their moment to connect with the players and share in the jubilation of winning a championship last season. The parade was for the fans — and Tampa had one of the better ones in recent memory.
The next time you visit AMALIE Arena, when you look up into the rafters and see the 2020 Stanley Cup Championship banner, you won’t remember when they raised it, but you will remember how they won it.
Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.