Lightning live long enough to become the villain

Justin Cuthbert and Julian McKenzie discuss the Lightning's legacy after their three-peat bid comes up two wins short.

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: You mentioned conduct. How are you feeling about the Lightning? As a hockey team, I think we both agree, more respect for them. How about any change in respect based on the way they acted in game six, the way John Cooper conducted himself in the Stanley Cup Final? Or are you just chalking up any potential negative emotions or feelings toward them as, hey, this was a really emotional series, it's an emotional time in their life, it's understandable that they would act up just a little bit? Or do you even think they acted up at all?

I mean, we saw things like Nikita Kucherov throwing his gloves at a trainer. We saw Patrick Maroon try to take out Josh Manson's-- I don't know-- leg, I guess, after they scored that second goal. You saw Steven Stamkos shooting a puck at the referee after that goal. And of course, the cliffhanger from Cooper not giving the Avalanche the respect that they deserved after their game four victory.

Anything change in your mind with the lighting? Or did they sort of gain back that respect with how they acted once they did officially lose and miss out on the opportunity to three-peat?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I don't have any personal feelings about how the Tampa Bay Lightning went about their business. But in seeing how everyone else reacted to how Tampa Bay conducted themselves over these last few games, I feel as if they turn themselves even more into a villain than they already were because before this postseason, the big knock on them was $18 million over the salary cap.

The big thing on them was, OK, they found a way to, quote, unquote, "cheat" and get through to the playoffs. And that's why they won. Congratulations and all that. I don't believe that, but that's what people were saying.

This postseason, or at least this Stanley Cup Final, with the way people were acting and things that were being said, I think this particular finals run, more than ever, entrenches the Tampa Bay Lightning as maybe the primary villain of the National Hockey League right now.

And look, in sport, I think you need heroes, and you need your villains. And while a lot of people, especially us, can appreciate the fact that a team like the Lightning could be as great as they are, can put themselves in a position where they can make history, if they would have capped off a three-peat and won the way that they did, we would be talking about one of the most remarkable performances in the Stanley Cup Final.

And people would hate it, considering the way that they went about this Stanley Cup Final, the weird cliffhanger, which was followed up by a nothing press conference the very next day. We're talking about one of the bigger letdowns.

John Cooper, who I have a lot of respect for, tried to WWE it with the cliffhanger. And the very next day was like, you know what? My bad, guys. I'm sorry. That's a waste. I was waiting back to see.

As a media member, I'm thinking, OK you riled up everybody. I don't know. That was just kind of weird. But I'm going at it from a media perspective.

But I'll just say this, the Tampa Bay Lightning, I think, still deserve a ton of respect for how they've gone about these last few years. They've gone about keeping their team under the cap. This was a team at one point before they went the whole $18 million over the cap or whatever, they were within a couple hundred bucks of the salary cap top. It was very close and dicey for this team. They still deserve a ton of respect for how they've been able to build their franchise in the salary cap era.

And I'm still willing to call them the best team of the salary cap era. But I feel as if, between this year-- and maybe some people felt with the way they celebrated last year's championship, that if you didn't think the Lightning were villains, I think now it's fair to say they're the biggest villain in the National Hockey League.

And that's OK. You need villains and heroes to go about sports. You need them.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: I think I'm with you. I think they lived long enough to become the villain.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Because I think everyone at the start, the bubble season, coming back from that disappointment versus Columbus, I think we wanted to see excellence rewarded because that's rarely something that we see or maybe something we don't see enough. And people wanted the lightning to get their due because they were a team to admire, and they still are, clearly, a team to admire.

But they had to take on a different personality to become the team that won two in a row and threatened to win three in a row. And I do think that, you know what? When you haven't lost in so long, you forget how to lose a little bit. But that's OK, because as I mentioned, this is really emotional.

This is everything. You pour your heart and soul into this. And it's everything. And when it doesn't go your way, of course there's going to be a bit of a reaction. And when you haven't felt those emotions in a while, the emotions of losing and not having it go your way, there's going to be a response, especially when emotions are that high.

It's OK to be the villain. They are the villain now. I hope the villain comes back and plays another starring role in a Stanley Cup playoffs because it makes it more interesting. The Lightning have done so much for the NHL over the last three seasons. Their excellence has been rewarded. But their excellence has helped raise the profile of the league. Their excellence was on display for ESPN and TNT. These are all really good things.

And the fact that a team full of heroes with Cale Makar with rosy cheeks and 23, can barely drink, and is the nicest guy in the world, wholesome as hell, beat that team, it just adds a really, really entertaining, engaging, intriguing, fascinating layer to what was a great season. So I have not lost any respect for the Lightning. If anything, I've gained more. But that doesn't mean they weren't sore losers a little bit in this series.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I think, you know what's funny? You mentioned what they've done over the last three seasons and how they've helped raise the profile. We also have to mention the fact that they're doing this in one of those Sun Belt markets that a lot of people would say, oh, Gary Bettman is trying so hard to make work. Not only are they winning, you can look at the Tampa Bay lightning as arguably the best organization in the league in how they run everything from Jeff Vinnic all the way down.

So the Lightning deserve a lot of credit. And they have done everything possible to put that embarrassment from 2019 where they win the Presidents Trophy and get swept in the first round behind them. And in a weird way, also, kind of, you need that particular year to explain why the Tampa Bay Lightning have become villains.

If you were in a position where you had your best possible year and you wiped out spectacularly and everybody had memes all on you, waiting to dig into you, and you found a way to shut everyone up by winning the very next year, you'd act like an asshole too. I think that plays a big role into why the Lightning act the way that they are. You need to act a certain way to win games, to win big playoff series and all that.

But I think it's especially notable once you've been in a particularly embarrassing position, and you are not only able to rise above that but surpass that, as a way to ensure that you never feel those feelings ever, ever again. I can't help but think of that 2019 year as a villain origin story. That is basically it, the origin story of a team, basically to quote Harvey Dent, just living long enough to see itself become the villain.

I am in love with the fact that we are making "Dark Knight" references on this podcast, a brilliant movie, arguably the most important one in the 21st century. That's not the podcast we're trying to do right now.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: It's a minor miracle that I was able to reference anything in popular culture accurately.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: You've got to give yourself more credit, man.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: I mean, I don't watch movies. I'm a TV guy. Don't watch movies. But I did watch that movie. It was a great movie. I'm probably going to spend some time watching the latest. I won't even say new, because it's probably been out for like two years. But I will watch the latest "Batman" at some point this summer, because--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: It's been out for a couple of months, not that long.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: OK, that's not bad. That's not bad. That's not bad. I feel slightly better about myself.

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