For the Lightning, these are the days worth savoring

by Gary Shelton on July 2, 2021

in general

Cooper has his team two wins from title./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 4 a.m.

John Cooper is better than John Tortorella.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is better than Nikolai Khabibulin.

Nikita Kucherov is better than Brad Richards.

It sounds like heresy, doesn't it. For so many years, the members of that 2004 Lightning team have been the gold standard around here. If you wanted to compare greatness, that first Stanley Cup champion was where you started. That was the team that changed the Lightning from being the worst franchise in pro sports to the successful Bolts we have grown to admire.

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But now, as this team stares yet another Cup in the eye, it is time to acknowledge it: These are the days of the Lightning franchise. These are the days that are golden.

So say it with me:

Brayden Point is a better overall player than Vinny Lecavalier.

Victor Hedman is better than Dan Boyle.

Steven Stamkos is better than Dave Andreychuk.

I do not say these things lightly. I covered that 2004 team, and they are entrenched in my memory. They made an unbelievable run -- although the post-season scheduling gave them some breaks. The trip from nowhere is always special.

But the franchise has grown, and it is on the verge of back-to-back titles. Such a mini-dynasty never happens around here.

Jeff Vinik is better than Bill Davidson.

Julian BriseBois is better than Jay Feaster.

Ryan McDonagh is better than Pavel Kubina.

Look at Cooper. He inherited a different team -- a more successful team -- than Torts. They are different men. Torts was a drill sergeant, a man who snapped and snarled and molded untested talent. Cooper is calmer, more cerebral, more careful in what he says. Tort's success was brief -- largely because ownership lost interest. By comparison. Cooper has been in the playoffs seven times and he's had three trips to the finals.

Say this for Cooper. If his team can close the deal (it leads Montreal 2-0), it will have won Cups in two of the strangest seasons. Last year, the Stanley Cup was held in a bubble, which turned into the world's longest road trip. This year, it was thrown into a makeshift division that was hockey's toughest. Going through the Panthers, Hurricanes, Islanders and Canadiens has been tougher than any run the Bolts have faced.

Davidson, in his day, was the best owner the Bolts had had. Before him, you judged ownership by whether they could pay their bills. But Davidson was a basketball man, primarily. He didn't love his team's success the way Vinik does.

If there is one player the current Bolts can't measure up to, it's Marty St. Louis, who had the best year of his Hall of Fame career in 2003-04. St. Louis won the MVP award (the Art Ross). He scored a career high 38 goals that year, and added nine more in the post-season.

Alex Killorn is better than Vinny Prospal.

Blake Coleman is better than Corey Stillman.

Ryan McDonagh is better than Jason Cullimore.

Look, no one is trying to lessen a team of champions. That 2004 team was special, and it deserves to be remembered forever. It wasn't that team's fault that the entire league shut down the year after, denying the Bolts a chance to repeat.

It's just that these days are better.

This team is better. It's deeper. It's grittier. It's better on defense. It's special teams are better.

Granted, St. Louis was better than Ondrej Palat.

Freddy Modin was better than Yanni Gourde.

Darryl Sydor was better than David Savard.

But when you get down to it, today is better than yesterday.

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