Best Of The Rest: Tampa Bay Lightning – Brian Bradley

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Welcome to LWOS’ Summer Hockey Series, Best of the Rest.  Plenty of sites do a version of a 30 greats in 30 days series, but this year we are doing something a little bit different.  We want to look at the best player from each team who is not in the Hockey Hall Of Fame.  In order to do this there are some rules.  First the player must have been a significant part of this franchise (franchises include their time in a previous city… see Winnipeg/Atlanta) and must be retired for at least 3 years, making them Hall of Fame eligible.  To see all the articles in the series, check out the homepage here.

For being a relatively young franchise, the Tampa Bay Lightning have actually had a fair amount of players that could be considered for the Hall of Fame one day. Franchise points leader Martin St. Louis is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, with his two Art Ross trophies, a Hart trophy, and three Lady Byng’s sitting on his mantle, beside his 2004 Stanley Cup and multiple all-star appearances. His Cup-winning teammates Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards have likewise garnered major hardware during their careers in Tampa to go with lofty point totals.

Then there is of course the sublime Steven Stamkos, who had already taken home two Richard trophies at the tender age of 23 and that’s just the beginning of what he’s capable of. Sadly though, all of those players are still active in the NHL and none can be considered for the Hockey Hall of Fame just yet. Instead, we’ll go back to the club’s early days, to it’s first all-star and team leader, Brian Bradley.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Brian Bradley

Bradley was originally drafted in the 3rd round (51st overall) by the Calgary Flames back in 1983. His rookie season wouldn’t come until 1986 and he saw very limited action (only 6 games, though he did make an appearance in the 1986 Stanley Cup final), though he would follow that up with a solid 28 points in 40 games as a sophomore. However, he couldn’t find any room on a stacked Flames squad that was just two years away from winning a Stanley Cup, so Bradley spent the majority of the 1987-88 season playing on the Canadian national team before being dealt to the Vancouver Canucks.

He improved in Vancouver, notching two straight seasons of 40+ points and was even named “Most Exciting Player” by the club in 1989-90, when he scored a new career high in points with 48. However, despite a solid start to the 1990-91 campaign that saw Bradley post 31 points in 44 games, the Canucks were in need of defense and he soon found himself shipped off to Toronto in exchange for Tom Kurvers. After the trade, Bradley would not score another goal for the rest of the season.

His struggles in Toronto continued the next year, as he posted only 10 goals and 31 points in 59 games for the Leafs. By this time Bradley was already 27 years old, and it looked like he would never evolve into the same scorer in the NHL that posted back-to-back 100 point with the London Knights in junior. Subsequently, he was left open to the 1992 NHL expansion draft.

Bradley was passed over again and again by both the Lightning and their expansion cousins, the Ottawa Senators, until he was finally selected by Tampa with the 36th pick. It would turn out to be a massive stroke of luck for the Lightning, as Bradley would go on to have one of the best careers of anyone in that draft. To this point, Bradley was a known commodity, but his struggles with inconsistency and injury on multiple teams made it difficult for him to establish himself as solid offensive player. All that was about to change.

Maybe it was the sunny weather down south, or the opportunity for a fresh start, but for whatever reason Bradley had an offensive explosion during the Lightning’s inaugural 1992-93 campaign. Playing nearly a full season (80 games) for the first time in his career, Bradley notched 42 goals and 86 points on the way to his first all-star game and blowing his previous career highs out of the water (in fact, he had already surpassed his previous highs by the time he played in that 1993 all-star game in Montreal). Both totals were obviously Lightning club records, and would remain so for at least a decade until St. Louis rose to prominence.

As it stands, it was one of the finest seasons by a player in franchise history, and also one of the greatest turnarounds we’ve ever seen in an NHL career. He increased his goal total by 32 over the previous season in Toronto, and his point total by a whopping 55. Not only was he the team’s offensive leader on the ice, but he was also an assistant captain, a role he would play on the Lightning until his retirement.

Bradley followed that up with a solid, if unspectacular, 64 points in 79 games, but injuries were beginning to take their toll. Over his remaining four years with the franchise, Bradley would only post a point per game season once more (79 points in 75 games during the 1995-96 campaign, in which he helped lead the Lightning to their first-ever playoff berth) before he was forced to retire in 1998 at the age of 33.

He would leave the Lightning as the team’s all-time leader in goals (111), power play goals (37), assists (189), and points (300), though all those records would eventually be surpassed by multiple players, including the aforementioned St. Louis, Lecavalier, Richards, and Stamkos. Still, he remains at least 7th in nearly every major offensive category in club history and his 0.91 points per game as a member of the Lightning is third behind only Stamkos and St.Louis.

Despite his reputation as one of the greatest players in franchise history, his odds to make it into the Hockey Hall of Fame are long at best. He played only 651 NHL games over his career, and though his 503 points make for a very high points per game average (0.77), he just doesn’t have the overall numbers to be considered. He had just one season of more than 24 goals, and only two point per game campaigns during his career. When it comes to the usual benchmarks for Hall induction, all of his offensive totals fall far short.

He also never won an individual NHL award, nor did he win a Stanley Cup, though he was a two-time NHL all-star. Internationally, Bradley notched 41 points in 54 senior-level international matches with Canada, though he never won a medal in any tournament.

Over the course of the Lightning’s brief history, they’ve certainly had some players that will be worthy of Hall induction some day. But, when looking solely at Hall eligible players, there really is no other option than to pick the team’s first star Bradley. He’s definitely the best of the rest in Tampa.

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