Boucher: Could Bolts Be In NHL Stadium Series?
The NHL’s Stadium Series games seem set to be a regular event during hockey season for the foreseeable future. This past week saw three successful games in outdoor venues, including one at Dodger Stadium that got Sun Belt puckheads talking. If Californian teams were highlighted, surely we can’t be that far behind. When will more nontraditional market teams get their chance to participate in one of these events? Could the Lightning be a big enough draw to be featured on that big of a stage? Possibly, but it would have to be done right.
Let’s face it. The odds of the NHL hosting an outdoor game in Florida are slim to none. Forget it was warmer in Los Angeles than Tampa in the days leading up to the first contest of the Stadium Series. The most obvious match up would be the instate “rivalry” between the Bolts and Panthers. “Rivalry” is used rather loosely here as there is a huge disparity between the two clubs in a number of ways. If the Panthers can’t pack their home games on a regular basis, the chances of people turning up to see that game in a stadium are pretty much nil.
Canadian teams manage to pack the Forum with fans that are happy to have easy access to tickets and great weather while they’re here. They come to Florida anyways, could a Tampa vs. Montreal or Toronto be a big enough event to tempt the NHL to gamble on a sunshine state game? Maybe, especially if the rumors about an “outdoor” game in Arizona in the coming seasons pan out. If the Lightning are given the nod for one of these games it will most likely be as the visiting team. The exposure would be invaluable for a franchise that is largely unknown despite having one of the league’s most dynamic players on their roster.
One of the biggest obstacles facing Tampa Bay is the fact that they don’t really have any rivalries with other teams. Lightning fans may see teams like Boston in that role, but one playoff series doesn’t make a rivalry. That route may not be available until some real animosity builds between hockey clubs for more than a series. Instead of focusing on two teams’ history with each other, this game would have to be a tale of star players. Steven Stamkos vs. Phil Kessel. Stamkos vs. Alex Ovechkin or Stamkos vs. Claude Giroux. The last option may be the most intriguing.
The Lightning and Flyers have a little history. The Bolt secured their first playoff win against Philly in 1996. They battled through a seven game Eastern Conference Finals in 2004 which eventually saw Tampa Bay come out victorious. There was the infamous game two seasons ago which saw the Flyers stalling the puck on national television in the face of Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 system. The most recent chapter of the story came last summer when Vincent Lecavalier signed with the Flyers after the Lightning bought out the remainder of his contract. There’s definitely a story to be told there, and that seems to be a big part of the selection process.
If outdoor games are going to become a regular part of the NHL’s season they should open up the participation to more teams. A case can be made for including the Bolts going forward. There’s definitely a story to tell if the angle is right. The Lightning already have two known and well decorated players in Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. If they can continue to have success, they will be very difficult to ignore in the landscape of the league.
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