Who’s next in Lightning Hall of Fame?

by Gary Shelton on March 23, 2023

in general

Vinik recognized need to honor past./TIM WIRT

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Even in the bad times, they are the best franchise in the area.

And so, when the Tampa Bay Lightning announced their first class of Hall of Famers last week, they hit every note. There was no debate, no arguing, no splitting of hairs. As these things go, they were three-for-three.

Phil Esposito? Perfect. This is his baby. Sure, a Hall of Fame career in Boston came first, but it was Esposito’s idea to bring a hockey franchise to Tampa Bay. It was Esposito who scraped together the money, who converted the glorified barn known as Expo Hall, who decided on the players and the coach.

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Espo loved this franchise so much he ended up working for a beancounter named Steve Oto. He was fired by Art Williams, who left Tampa Bay before he could figure out what a hockey team was supposed to do on third down. He watched as the team grew from being awful to being a champion, a team that outgrew everything but Esposito's love for it.

Marty St. Louis? Perfect. Yes, St. Louis' Lightning career should have ended better. But no one provided this team with better memories. His Game Six goal against Calgary in the Stanley Cup Finals remains the best moment of this franchise. He played better than his size, which is a perfect metaphor for this team.

Lecavalier? Perfect. He was the team's first super talented player, a burden he carried his entire career. But he was amazing to watch, and watching him grow as a player was special. It wasn't his fault that Oren Koules overpaid him to the point the team could no longer afford him.

Ah, you think. But who now? Who are the next three?

Oh, all you to do is look at the current team to find candidates. Jeff Vinik will go into this Hall someday. Steven Stamkos will go in. Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jon Cooper.

The thing is, the book isn't written on any of those guys yet. And putting them into a Hall of Fame, even a new one, doesn't feel right.

So who does the team induct next year?

Oh, there are candidates. Brian Bradley, the first all-star. Brad Richards, the first Conn Smythe winner. Nikolai Khabibulin. Tony Esposito. Terry Crisp. Jay Feaster.

Here are my three votes:

  1. John Tortorella, coach: Yes, he was often in a very, very bad mood. You could time some of his press conferences with a stopwatch. But he demanded every player look in the mirror and self-evaluate. He took over a bad franchise and guided them to a Stanley Cup win, and if the sport hadn't outgrown his budget, he might have gotten close again.

2. Dave Andreychuk, forward: Andreychuk covered ground that most player's egos won't allow them to do. He was a scoring machine, a star. And then he came to Tampa Bay and personified leadership. He was here to say the things a player doesn't want to hear from a coach. He was the perfect complement to the young talent of that first Stanley Cup team.

3. Brad Richards, forward: In his time, Richards was the Brayden Point of his team. He was unstoppable in that first Stanley Cup run. In my mind, Richards barely gets the nomination over Bradley. A lot of people don't remember how good Bradley was. But if you're limiting to three, Richards is definitely on the second line.

Again, this team is three Cups into history now. There will be a lot of players to honor. Ben Bishop. Pavel Kubina. Vinny Prospal. Ondrej Palat.

And that's cool. Fans should have their memories.

The Lightning caught onto to that. Perfect.

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