Last Word On Hockey brings our Team of the Decade series. We will dive into the best player at each position this decade for every organization. The biggest and best at each position, with the most memorable moments in franchise history. Here is the Tampa Bay Lightning decade lineup.
Tampa Bay Lightning Decade Team
The Tampa Bay Lightning have made great strides during this decade. At the end of the 2009-2010 season, the Lightning were the fourth-worst team in the Eastern Conference. By the end of the 2018-2019 season, they tied a league record with 62 wins. It wasn’t until the 2013-2014 season when things came together for them. During that year, head coach Jon Cooper had his first full season as the coach and had many of their core players like Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson become regular NHL players, and they finished second in the Atlantic Division. Since that season, Tampa has been one of the best teams in the NHL.
The Lightning had some great playoff runs during the decade. They made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015, and they made it to game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, 2016 and 2018. The Stanley Cup has escaped their grasp so far, but they are a threat to win it every year.
Left-Wing: Ondrej Palat (2013-Present)
Ondrej Palat’s career trajectory has been similar to that of the Lightning. Palat was a seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft but rose to become the best-left winger on one of the best teams of the decade. Since the 2013-2014 season, no team has gathered more points than the Lightning, and no Lightning left-winger has scored more than Palat’s 328.
Palat is a dependable forward for the Lightning who can play in all situations. He is fifth in penalty kill time and seventh in power-play time for Tampa Bay during the decade. His plus 131 is best on the team during the 2010s. Considering how much penalty kill time Palat has had, to be on the ice for 131 more goals then given up is impressive.
Palat can be a great secondary scorer for the Lightning when he’s healthy. He has never played a full season since his rookie 2013-2014 season. However, he’s always on pace for just over 0.5 points per game.
Centre: Steven Stamkos (2008-Present)
Steven Stamkos is one of two players who have played the entire decade as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. And Stamkos wasn’t just one of the best players for the Lightning in the 2010s; he was one of the best players in the league. He led all Lightning players in goals (399), assists (387) and points (786) in 724 games. League-wide, Stamkos is fifth in points and second in goals. He is known for being deadly with shooting one-timer from the left face-off circle.
Stamkos emerged as a superstar during the 2010s. During the 2009-2010 season, he scored 51 goals, tying him with Sidney Crosby for the most goals scored. Two years later, Stamkos scored 60 goals, being the only player in the decade to score 60 in a season. He was considered one of the best players in the world until he missed most of the 2013-2014 season because of a broken tibia. Since then, he hasn’t been consistently near 50 goals and is not in the conversation as one of the top five NHL players. However, when he’s healthy, he has scored between 64-98 points, so he continues to be a superstar.
Two notable moments stand out in the 2010s for Stamkos. During the 2011 playoffs, Tampa was in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins. Early in the second period, Stamkos took a slap shot to the face that broke his nose. However, he returned during the period with a cage on and played in the rest of the game. The video is below. In 2016, Stamkos became one of the biggest names to be heading towards free agency in years. His hometown Toronto Maple Leafs pursued him hard, but he re-signed with Tampa two days before free agency began.
Right-wing: Nikita Kucherov (2013-Present)
Nikita Kucherov is second in team scoring during the decade. In 515 games, Kucherov has scored 221 goals and 326 assists for 547 points. He has emerged as one of the best players in the world. Last season he scored 128 points, which is a point total that no one has surpassed since Mario Lemieux scored 161 points and teammate Jaromir Jagr scored 149 points in the 1995-1996 season.
What makes Kucherov so deadly is he is one of the fastest skaters, best goal scorers and best playmakers in hockey. Most superstars can claim to be the best in one or two of those areas, not three. Kucherov has scored nearly 40 goals since the 2016-2017 season, his 143 goals are fourth in the league, his 245 assists is second, and his 398 points is also second since the 2017-2018 season. He also finished second in the 2017 NHL all-star game fastest skater competition.
“I think the thing that makes him so dangerous is just, he’s got so many different strengths,” said Crosby. “You think about his speed. He creates a lot of separation in the neutral zone, gets odd-man rushes with that. And then his shot’s super dangerous. He doesn’t necessarily need to be on top of the goalie or near the net to score. He can score from a pretty considerable distance. On top of that, he sees the ice well. So if you’re taking away (space), if you’re tight to him, he can find the open guy.”
Left Defence: Victor Hedman (2009-Present)
Victor Hedman joins Stamkos as the only two players to play the entire decade with the Lightning. Hedman has played the most games in a Lightning uniform during the decade at 762. He leads all defencemen in goals (105), assists (368) and points with 473. Hedman is second on the team in assists during the decade and third in overall scoring. Defensively, he leads all defenceman in ice time/per game at 23:01, second in takeaways per game, and first with a plus 116. He has also won the Norris Trophy once and nominated twice.
Victor Hedman is a massive presence on the ice because he is 6’6 and 230 pounds. He is also an excellent skater. His size and stick reach, combined with this skating ability, allows him to take up a lot of space quickly and make it difficult for forwards to get around him. And at his size, he’s able to push around most forwards. Offensively, he is intelligent, has the elite passing ability, that combination allows him to pass the puck up the ice to open teammates. Watch the video below for more proof. His skating ability and good shot allow him to get open for goals.
Hedman’s rookie season was in the 2009-2010 season. He had a lot of promise as the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, but he got on the radar as one of the NHL’s best defencemen during the Lightning’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. He played 24 minutes a game and had to stop Chicago’s most skilled forward, Patrick Kane. After Chicago won the series, Kane said that Hedman is “probably the toughest guy to play against in the league,” outside of the players on Kane’s team. Five years later, players still think that highly of him. During the past two seasons, the NHL players have voted Hedman as the league’s best defenceman.
Right Defence: Anton Stralman (2014-2019)
Anton Stralman has played the second-most games for a Lightning defender during the decade at 355. He is also second to Hedman in every offensive category for defencemen. He signed as a free agent on July 1, 2014, and exactly five years later, he left as a free agent for the Florida Panthers. During his five seasons in Tampa, Stralman was a smooth-skating two-way defenceman, who could play a lot of minutes, was solid defensively, and who could chip in offensively.
During his time in Tampa, Stralman played a dependable 22 minutes a night. His 1.13 giveaways a game were the third-fewest among Lightning defenders in the decade and his 1.01 takeaways were third-best, so he had excellent puck management. He was a plus 100, which is second among Lightning defencemen and was always above 50 percent even-strength Corsi for percentage except for his final season. Therefore, the Lightning usually won the shifts when Stralman was on the ice.
His first two seasons as a Lightning were his best. He scored 39 and 34 points and received Norris Trophy votes during both seasons.
Goalie: Ben Bishop (2013-2017)
This was the toughest position to choose for Tampa’s team of the decade because Andrei Vasilevskiy has been fantastic as well. However, Bishop gets the edge because his playoff performance has been better than Vasilveskiy. Tampa is lucky that they have had two great goalies during this decade.
In 2013 Tampa Bay traded for Bishop from the Ottawa Senators in a lopsided deal that saw the Senators only acquire Cory Conacher. At the time, Bishop has shown flashes of being a starting goalie in Ottawa but was never a starter because Craig Anderson was blocking his path. He got his chance with the Lightning and flourished. In 227 regular-season games with the Tampa, Bishop has 131 wins and leads all Lightning goalies with save percentage (.921) and goals-against average (2.28) during the decade. His 21 playoff wins and .926 save percentage in the playoffs is tied with Nikolai Khabibulin for the all-time lead among Lightning goalies. In the 2015 playoffs, Bishop backstopped Tampa to game six of the Stanley Cup Finals before falling to Chicago. They have not made it back to the Finals since.
Ben Bishop is 6’7 and 210 pounds, so he nearly covers the whole net, he is also positionally sound, so shooters have a tough time finding holes due to both factors. Bishop also has the athleticism to scramble and make an unreal save when the time calls for it, but he prefers to make the easy looking save. He was nominated for the Vezina Trophy twice in 2014 and 2016 as a member of the Lightning. He was also tenth in Hart Trophy voting during those years.
Amazingly, Andrei Vasilevskiy is an honourable mention here, considering he is the only Lightning goaltender to win the Vezina Trophy. But that shows how good an underrated Ben Bishop was. Vasilevskiy became Tampa’s starting goalie in the 2016-2017 season and has not seen his save percentage drop below .917. In the 2018-2019 season, he had a .925 save percentage and a 2.40 goals-against average to win the Vezina. However, Vasilevskiy’s .919 regular-season save percentage drops to .912 in the playoffs. It is not terrible, but if he could pick it up, the Lightning are nearly unstoppable.
Vasilevskiy is not the only player in this honourable mentions list that has a major NHL award during the decade. Martin St. Louis has three Lady Byng trophies and an Art Ross Trophy in the 2010s as a member of the Lightning. He was fantastic for Tampa Bay during his four and a half seasons with the Lightning in the decade. He would use his elite playmaking ability to set Steven Stamkos up for goals. St. Louis would have made the team of the decade, but Kucherov has played more games than him and scored more points as a right-winger. In 2017, Martin St. Louis was the first member of the Lightning to have his number (26) retired by the team.
Alex Killorn also deserves an honourable mention at left-wing. He has played the most games for the Lightning at left-wing than anybody else. Similar to Palat, Killorn is a player that is responsible on both ends of the ice. However, Palat is a little bit better offensively than Killorn. Palat has scored 18 more points than him even though Killorn has played nearly 100 more games.
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