It only seems fitting to compare the 2003-04 Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning to today's Bolts.. This season, the Lightning set a number of franchise records that have not been topped since the 2003-04 season, yet there are a number of things between the two clubs that remain different. Let's take a look back in time to see how the team of 2003-04 matches up with the 2013-14 lineup a decade later.
Much like how forward Brad Richards went on to lead the Lightning in scoring and capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs in 2003-04 at the age of 23, forward Ondrej Palat has serious potential among the Bolts of today. A seventh round pick in 2011, Tampa Bay expected Palat to be good, but he has since exceeded expectations as one of the top rookies in the NHL. Palat, also 23, not only led the Lightning at the end of the 2013-14 regular season for points (59), but he was the only rookie this season to earn Rookie of the Month twice (January, March). He also led all rookies for points since the start of the 2014 calendar year.
Trouble in Paradise
While netminder Ben Bishop was the difference maker in assuring Tampa Bay remained in the conversation come the 2014 postseason, his status for the playoffs has been put into question after suffering an upper body injury. Since Bishop was sidelined, Anders Lindback has come in and performed spectacularly in his absence. Up-and-comer Kristers Gudlevskis has also come in and shown he is a solid candidate too. A situation like this occurred in 2003-04. Although Nikolai Khabibulin was never injured, he did have stretches where his performance took a dip. Backup goaltender John Grahame relieved Khabibulin in those instances and performed admirably, posting a 18-9-1 record in 29 games played.
The Fountain of Youth
With a possibility of 13 different players who could make their Stanley Cup Playoffs debut this season, the 2003-04 team was also centered around youth. Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Freddie Modin and Vincent Lecavlier led the charge in postseason scoring and were all under the age of 30. They were also anchored by teammates such as captain Dave Andreychuk and defenseman Darryl Sydor, who added a veteran presence. While this season’s veteran presence comes from a youthful core themselves – captain Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, etc. – many of the Lightning newcomers have played deep into the playoffs while in the American Hockey League the past two seasons.
Building the Bolts
Ten years ago, the salary cap didn't exist so teams could more easily spend money. That meant teams often acquired players in a “win now” scenario. During the 2003-04 season, the Lightning were able to secure blueliner Darry Sydor to do just that. Sydor was not just a veteran defenseman, but had won a Stanley Cup with the 1998-99 Dallas Stars, making him a valuable commodity with a win-now mentality in mind. Now with Steve Yzerman at the helm and a salary cap in place, the present is as important as the future, as the Lightning praise patience in allowing their prospects the proper time to develop (i.e. forwards like Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, etc.) and adding key veteran players via trade or free agency to fill the gaps (i.e. forwards Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan) with the hopes of resigning them.