The Tampa Bay Lightning have had one of the best seasons of not just the 21st Century, but in the NHL altogether. While their next game is Saturday against the Washington Capitals, the Lightning are poised to break the both the wins record (which is held by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings with a total of 62. Tampa has 59 with five games left) and the points record (set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens with a total of 132. Tampa can tie that mark if they win the remaining five games on their schedule.
However the Lightning are in good company as there have been other teams in the past who’ve shown how dominant they can be for the regular season. The 2009-2010 Washington Capitals were the first non-Original Six team to put up over 120 points in a regular season. The Chicago Blackhawks had an incredible 2012-13 season, but the lockout that occurred during that season might put them lower on some analysts’ lists. There have been multiple seasons by the Edmonton Oilers (1983-84, 1985-86), Detroit Red Wings (1995-96, 2005-06), Montreal Canadiens (1943-44, 1944-45, 1972-73, 1975-76, 1976-77, 1977-78) and Boston Bruins (1929-1930, 1938-39, 1970-71).
One thing is assured: Championships are never assured for these sensational regular season teams. Within the last 30 years, especially for the Detroit Red Wings, high octane teams like the 1995-96 Red Wings and the 2009-10 Washington Capitals were eliminated within the first two rounds of the playoffs. While those teams failed, the Tampa Bay Lightning have had 2 games played within five days, enough time to rest for the upcoming postseason and keep going.
Tampa is a smarter team especially with Jon Cooper as the Coach and Team Captain Steven Stamkos getting better and pushing the team into playoff-mode since February. This doesn’t seem to be like a team that will be out early, but history has taught fans before that failing to learn from the past will allow repetition.
The National Hockey League 2018-2019 season has been filled with fun, close contests and questions. Some of them are finally being answered, such as playoff positioning, elimination and qualifications.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the first team in the 2018-2019 season to qualify and lock a playoff berth, and while the roster is stacked with phenomenal players, many seem to think their coach Jon Cooper, the league’s most tenured coach with one team (stated in Sports Illustrated), is the most deserving and the most obvious choice for the Jack Adams award, given to the best coach of the regular season in the NHL.
It’s true that Cooper isn’t just a mastermind at not only tactics and keeping his players engaged and focused on a daily basis, he’s also had a knack of fixing issues and holes that have exposed the Lightning in situations such as last year’s Eastern Conference Championship implosion, in which the Lightning sunk Game 6 and Game 7 to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals. As Sports Illustrated showed in one of their early 2019 issued magazines, the Lightning, thanks to Cooper and his staff see this season and this postseason as something they want to avenge and put behind them. They’re focused on playing their best, especially on the Power Play, a part of the game where the team with the most players on the ice (minus the goalie) is on offense for a minimum of two minutes.
While Cooper is an outstanding pick, there are cases around the rest of the league. Barry Trotz, who was the coach of the champion Capitals last year, is with the New York Islanders this year, due to the Washington organization declining to give him a much bigger contract. Trotz had the Islanders in first place for over two months in probably the toughest division in the Eastern Conference.
There’s also the division rival Montreal Canadiens’ coach Claude Julien, who’s given his team a shot at the seventh or eighth seed. He might be my personal pick considering the organization traded away their top scorers before the season began and have yet to fall flat. The Canadiens have competed and proven they can have an advantage against some playoff caliber teams in their conference, even if their best player on the team is goalie Carey Price.
Other good candidates include Bill Peters for his handiwork in Calgary, Rod Brind’Amour of the Carolina Hurricanes, and mid-season hire Craig Berube of the St. Louis Blues.