Unlike the Original Six of the NHL, most current franchises don’t have the longevity to have meaningful generational arguments about who were the all-time best players for the team. In the case of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a franchise that has only been around since 1992 there have been many forgettable players.
In the twenty-three years of existence there have been some consistently spectacular players who should make up the Mount Rushmore for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The four individuals that set themselves apart from the 376 players (at the start of this season) who have donned the Lightning Bolt sweater for at least one NHL game.
Before we get to these fantastic four, an honorable mention must be made to the six players who round out the organization’s Top Ten.
In no particular order:
Brad Richards – The only Conn Smythe Trophy winner for the franchise. Drafted by the team in 1998 and played eight seasons for the Lightning. Fourth all-time in games played, goals, and total points and third in assists.
Brian Bradley – The only original Lightning on my list. Played first six seasons in Lightning history and is still seventh in goals and sixth all-time in assists and total points.
Dan Boyle – In the history of the team’s defensemen, Boyle is second in goals and first in assists despite being only fifth among blue liners in games played.
Nikolai Khabibulin – Until recently was the team’s all-time leader in games won by a goalie. Led team to its only Stanley Cup Championship in 2004.
Ben Bishop – Overtook Khabibulin this season with most wins by a goalie and is still only 28 years-old and safe to say he will set a mark that will be tough to beat.
Victor Hedman – The best is in front for this young defenseman. At 24 years of age, he is already 13th all-time in games played and fourth among defensemen. When the dust settles on his career barring any unforeseen events, Hedman will take his place among the very best all-time of the team.
On to the Mount:
Again, in no particular order:
Vinny Lecavalier – The face of the franchise for 14 seasons. Number one all-time in games played and goals. Number two in assists and total points. Not only was he the Lightning’s first superstar, he was stellar in the community. His number four should be the very first number retired by the organization.
Marty St. Louis – There is still a large contingent in Tampa that is upset at St. Louis for the perceived petulance surrounding his departure from the team and the city. Doesn’t matter. For 13 seasons, St. Louis packed his lunch pail and gave every ounce of blood, sweat and tears to make himself and his Lightning teams the best. Who could ever forget the overtime Game 6 goal in Calgary? It sent the 2004 Stanley Cup Final to Tampa for the pivotal Game 7 won by the Lightning. He is number two in games played and goals scored and number one in assists and total points.
Dave Andreychuk – It is true that Andreychuk only played four seasons for the Lightning but those were four critical seasons and he lost one year to the 2004-05 lockout. To emphasize the importance of Andreychuk to the organization, he was captain for three of his four years with the team and is still a face of the franchise as Vice President of Community and Corporate Affairs.
Listen to long time play by play radio announcer of the Lightning, Dave Mishkin talk about what Andreychuk meant to the team:
Steven Stamkos – Hard to believe that this 25 year-old captain has already played eight NHL seasons. With many big games still in his future, Stamkos has already played in more games as a Lightning than all but four players. He is also third all-time in goals and total points. Once general manager, Steve Yzerman inks Stamkos to the deal that effectively keeps him in Tampa for the rest of his career, Stamkos will be number one in the franchise for every statistical line.
There you have it, the Mount Rushmore of the brief history of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The four faces that have brought distinction to this expansion franchise. The Founding Fathers as it were for the Lightning organization. At one point, all four were selected as captain of the Lightning. The players who with their play, their dedication and their character laid the foundation for the Tampa franchise as a solid member in the NHL in a market that was not known as a hockey town.
In time, the career numbers will change and there may be other players that will rise up the all-time charts. But with almost a quarter century in the books, it appears that the Tampa Bay Lightning have done very well for themselves as an organization and Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Dave Andreychuk and Steven Stamkos are proof of that accomplishment.