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The Climb Continues

 The Climb Continues  2000-01

The 2000-01 season for the Tampa Bay Lightning can be characterized as a season of progress, setting up a promising 2001-02. While the team improved on the ice for the third consecutive season (including a franchise-record eight wins in March), a solid core of players emerged to lead the Lightning into the franchise's 10th season in 2001-02.

Offensively, the stories for the Lightning in 2000-01 were left wing Fredrik Modin and center Brad Richards. Modin, acquired a year earlier from Toronto, established himself as one of the better power wingers in the game with 32 goals and 56 points in 76 games. Only 26, Modin earned the honor of representing the Lightning at the 2001 NHL All-Star Game in Denver, and he made some noise in the process.

Confirming what many had speculated, Modin stepped up and won the Hardest Shot title with a 102.1 mile-per-hour blast at the NHL SuperSkills competition on All-Star Saturday. He followed that performance with four assists the following day in the All-Star Game, proving that he belonged among the league's elite players.

Richards -  story might have been even more interesting. Drafted in the third round by the Lightning in 1998, Richards and the Lightning didn't even agree on a contract until the 11th hour in the months leading up to training camp. While the 6-foot-1 native of Prince Edward Island entered training camp with only a decent shot at making the NHL roster, he finished the season as the team's leading scorer and placed second in the voting for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Outstanding Rookie.

In between, Richards tallied 21 goals and 62 points in 82 games, establishing new Lightning rookie records in every major offensive category. He also was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month for October, and finished the season as a surprise addition to the Team Canada's roster at the 2001 World Championships in Germany. In true Richards form, he led the team with six points in seven games.

The Lightning underwent more changes behind the bench in 2000-01, as
 John Tortorella was elevated to head coach after the dismissal of Steve Ludzik in January. Joining Tortorella mid-season was longtime NHL player and coach Craig Ramsay, who started the year as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.

In goal, Tampa Bay set itself up for a strong future through a pair of trades. The first step was the acquisition of Kevin Weekes from the New York Islanders at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft in Calgary. As Weekes emerged as a solid starter during the season, Dan Cloutier was dispatched to Vancouver on February 7 to make room for a more significant addition. That addition arrived a month later when two-time All-Star Nikolai Khabibulin was acquired from Phoenix with defenseman Stan Neckar. Khabibulin only appeared in two games after the trade, but served notice that the Lightning would have a formidable goalie tandem for years to come with an inspiring 4-2 victory in his first game at Florida on March 30.

Other additions to the roster who are expected to help lead the Lightning in 2001-02 were antagonizing winger Matthew Barnaby (from Pittsburgh via trade) and speedster Martin St. Louis (signed as a free agent). While Barnaby led the NHL in penalty minutes in 2000-01 and backed down from nobody, St. Louis enjoyed a breakthrough season with 18 goals and 40 points in 78 games.