When Tampa Bay Lightning fans talk about the best defensemen to ever suit up for their organization, two names who immediately come to mind are Victor Hedman and Dan Boyle, and for good reason. Hedman is one of the best defensemen currently in the league, and Boyle is statistically top-two in Lightning history in points. Both players played vital roles in the Lightning winning Stanley Cups (Hedman in 2020, and Boyle in 2004).
With that said, another defenseman who can be considered one of the best in franchise history is Pavel Kubina. While Boyle might have been the face of the blueline on that 2004 championship team, Kubina was a key player in his own right. He had been there many years and contributed so much for them statistically, both defensively and offensively.
Climbing to the Top of the NHL Mountain
Kubina was drafted in the seventh round (179th overall) by Tampa in the 1996 NHL Draft. He was playing over in the Czech Republic where he grew up, suiting up for HC Vitkovice.
During the 1996-97 season, Kubina went from his Czech team over to the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League (WHL). The Warriors selected him previously in the CHL Import Draft. He had his biggest offensive breakout in his young career at the time, netting 12 goals and tallying 32 assists for 44 points in 61 regular-season games. The offensive production continued in the playoffs that year with Kubina getting two goals and five assists in 11 games.
The 1997-98 campaign saw Kubina mostly in the AHL with the Adirondack Red Wings. He totaled 12 points in 55 games (four goals and eight assists). He would also make his NHL debut, playing in 10 games for the Bolts that year. He scored his first goal in the league and also provided two assists in that span.
1998-99 was when Kubina became an NHL regular. He played in 68 contests for Tampa, potting nine goals and accumulating 12 assists. Over the next bunch of years, Kubina gradually became one of the best defensemen in Lightning history in points. He was very reliable on the backend along with Boyle. The two were a solid one-two punch on defense for Tampa, and they both chipped in offensively as well. It made the Lightning dangerous from all cylinders of the ice.
Kubina’s stats with the Lightning are below:
- 1997-98: 1 goal and 2 assists for 3 points in 10 games
- 1998-99: 9 goals and 12 assists for 21 points in 68 games
- 1999-00: 8 goals and 18 assists for 26 points in 69 games
- 2000-01: 11 goals and 19 assists for 30 points in 70 games
- 2001-02: 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 points in 82 games
- 2002-03: 3 goals and 19 assists for 22 points in 75 games
- 2003-04: 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points in 81 games
- 2005-06: 5 goals and 33 assists for 38 points in 76 games
The high point for Kubina with Tampa was the 2004 postseason run. Kubina was a force defensively while contributing four assists in 22 playoff games. He played a significant role on a defense that also included Boyle, Brad Lukowich, Cory Sarich, and Jassen Cullimore among others.
It was a deep roster in general, with offensive threats in Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Fredrik Modin, Cory Stillman, and then-captain Dave Andreychuk; as well as a brick wall between the pipes in Nikolai Khabibulin. The group went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, and they defeated Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames in seven games.
Other NHL Stints
Kubina stayed in Tampa one more season before heading to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006. They had a stacked blueline themselves in Toronto, including stud defensemen in Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe. Kubina had his two best statistical seasons while as a member of the Leafs, racking up a career-high 40 points in back-to-back seasons (2007-08 and 2008-09).
He played there for three campaigns before joining the Atlanta Thrashers for the 2009-10 season. He was traded by Toronto to the Thrashers along with forward Tim Stapleton for defenseman Garnet Exelby and winger Colin Stuart. He still had that offensive game even after leaving the Tampa Bay area all during his time with the Leafs and Thrashers.
- 2006-07 (Toronto): 7 goals and 14 assists for 21 points in 61 games
- 2007-08 (Toronto): 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points in 72 games
- 2008-09 (Toronto): 14 goals and 26 assists for 40 points in 82 games
- 2009-10 (Atlanta): 6 goals and 32 assists for 38 points in 76 games
Kubina became a free agent in the summer of 2010. He and the Lightning decided to reunite on a two-year contract. A lot of the Tampa roster was different from when Kubina left in 2006. Lecavalier and St. Louis were still helping run the ship, but other talents were contributing as well in Steven Stamkos, Simon Gagne, Teddy Purcell, and Ryan Malone among others. The blueline consisted of players including Hedman, Mattias Ohlund, Brett Clark, and Randy Jones.
Kubina put up solid numbers, fitting in fairly well with the new Bolts core. He chalked up four goals and 19 assists for 23 points in 79 regular-season games, helping Tampa clinch a postseason berth. He added two goals and an assist in eight playoff games as well. He then split his final NHL season with Tampa and the Philadelphia Flyers. He notched 11 points in 52 games with the Lightning (three goals and eight assists), while getting four assists in 17 games with Philly. His last NHL action was the 2012 postseason, where Kubina posted an assist in five games for the Flyers. He announced his retirement in 2013.
Behind Hedman and Boyle, Kubina is one of the best defensemen the Lightning ever had. He helped the franchise win that first-ever championship, and was a part of building the Tampa franchise in their early years. The Lightning were going into their sixth NHL season when Kubina debuted for them in the 1997-98 campaign. He played a major role in the growth of the organization over his time there and was a solid weapon for them on the blue line both in defense and offensive production.