A Brief History of the Tampa Bay Lightning

When hockey fans speak of some of the greatest cities to host an NHL team, venues in sunny Florida don't often come to mind. Accordingly, it was a bit surprising when brothers Phil and Tony Esposito put together an investment group to bid on an expansion franchise for Tampa, but bid they did, and for a mere $50 million brought professional hockey to the sunshine State.

Tampa's first season of play was 1992-93 when their home games were housed in the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Despite a hot start that vaulted them to the top of their division early on, they wilted under the strain of being the league's newest member and finished in last place. For many fans the most memorable moment of that inaugural season was when Manon Rhéaume took the crease as Tampa's goalie, becoming the first and last woman to appear in an NHL game.

The following year the Lightning moved the Thunderdome in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, the new digs and a handful of veteran players didn't change the one-ice result; last place was theirs again for the second straight year. The team would experience several more up and down seasons that included their first playoff appearance in 1996, yet another move to the Ice Palace to start the '96-'97 season, serious financial troubles, and the eventual sale of the team in 1998 to insurance mogul Art Williams.

Williams couldn't make it work and sold the team a year later to Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson, but to his credit, in his short tenure as owner he cleared the team's debt and signed some players that would be key to a future Stanley Cup run. One of the those players was a young but promising center, Vincent Lecavalier.

New ownership and better management, coaches, and players all combined to help Tampa Bay finally reach the NHL pinnacle in 2004. After a season in which the team finished with 106 points, the Lightning disposed of Eastern Conference playoff opponents in the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadians, and Philadelphia Flyers. They went on to defeat the Calgary Flames in seven games to win their only Stanley Cup Championship.

Since the glory days of the 2003-2004 season Tampa Bay has remained respectable, though the last two season have not been kind to them. The '09-'10 roster still has some good talent including Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Jeff Halpern, and Alex Tanguay, but goal tending is their biggest weakness. Will they make the playoffs in 2010? Only time will tell.

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