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Location: Tampa, Florida
Stadium: St. Pete Times Forum
Conference: Eastern Conference
Division: Southeast Division
1992-now, Tampa Bay Lightning; [NHL]
The Tampa Bay Lightening was one of the teams to be awarded a license in the National Hockey League expansion in 1990. Henry Lee Paul, Mel Lowell and Phil Esposito led the team by their lobbying efforts that resulted in an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins at the Florida Sun Coast Dome. The game was attended by a crowd of over 25,000 fans who reasserted the popularity of hockey in southern Florida to the National Hockey League. Financial troubles were boiling just below the surface and the deal was almost rejected. Though Kokusai Green came in with a fresh infusion of cash like a godsend and a restructured deal was signed by the National Hockey League. December 1991 saw the National Hockey League welcome two new expansion franchise teams i.e. Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators expansion franchises.
The Tampa Bay Lightening was the first to sign Manon Rheaume in a minor league contract. Rheaume, thus, became the first female player to play in any of the four major professional sports. She played one period of the pre-season game against the St. Louis Blues. The Tampa Bay Lightening played their first game against the Chicago Black Hawks at the Lakeland Civic Center in Lakeland and beat them with a score of 7-3 again. The teamís offense was led by ex-Vancouver Canuck Brian Bradley who would go on to represent the Tampa Bay Lightening in the All-Star game later that year.
Despite owning various firsts, the Tampa Bay Lightening had a disappointing first season. They finished at 53 points and did not make it to the playoffs. The next two seasons were even more disappointing as the Tampa Bay Lightening did not even make it to the playoffs. The last nail in the coffin was the deteriorating financial situation of the team that led to an Internal Revenue Service investigation. The Japanese partner was determined to withdraw his ownership stake but was unable to find a suitable partner to do so. The team also lost some of its star players including John Cullen, Troy Mallete, Dino Ciccarelli and Vladimir Vujtek to various injuries. The teamís best player Chris Gratton was signed to a multi-year offer sheet by the Philadelphia Flyers since it was unable to match the $16.5 million deal offered by the Flyers. The Philadelphia Flyers, however, agreed to send Mikael Renberg and Karl Dykhuis to the team for the four first round picks.
This resulted in below average performance from the Tampa Bay Lightening since they won only seventeen of a total of eighty two games in the next season. The next two seasons (i.e. 1998-99 and 1999-2000) were not much different where the Tampa Bay Lightening team won 19 games each. The young talented drafted by the team starting paying off in the 2002-03 season and the Tampa Bay Lightening team quite an impression in the playoffs under the leadership of coach John Tortorella. They faced the Washington Capitals in the first round and made a comeback by claiming a six-game series in which they lost the first two games.
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