The Tampa Bay Lightning officially came into existence on December 20, 1991, when the National Hockey League granted an expansion franchise to a group of investors headed by Japanese corporation Kokusai Green Company, Limited, making the Lightning the first professional sports team in North America to be owned primarily by a non-North American entity.
The team joined the NHL the following season, 1992-93, and finished dead last in their division with 53 points. That first season, which was just before the league realignment, the team was a part of the Norris Division. Their 53 points wasn't nearly enough for a playoff berth when that division's leaders, Chicago (103 points) and Detroit (102 points) dominated most of the rest of the division. They didn't do much better in any of their seasons since, although they did make the playoffs following the 1995-96 season, losing their only playoff series that year, 4-2 against the Philadelphia Flyers, who would go on to lose round two to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers. The Lightning continued to flounder after their one good season (1995-96), and could be counted on for an easy win for most teams.
Finally, the Lightning got their game together and dominated during the 2002-03 season, in which they won their first-ever division title, just edging out the Washington Capitals, with 93 points. Washington, in fact, would be the Lightning's first round playoff opponents, a series which the Lightning won 4-2, though they went on to lose the Eastern Conference semifinals 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils, the final game in that series going to triple overtime.
An interesting footnote in the Lightning's history is that prior to their inaugural season, they granted a tryout to one Manon Rheaume, an Olympic goalie, who was unlike any other professional hockey player in the fact that she's female. Rheaume played in one preseason game against the St. Louis Blues, and lost, after giving up four goals on twelve shots. Obviously, she didn't make the team, although no other woman has ever suited up for an NHL team since she did in 1992.
Given the reputation of most expansion teams and how most people expect them to suck for their first few seasons of existence, the Lightning now seem to feel like they're ready to compete consistently in the NHL, lead by Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Lecavalier is the captain as of the start of the 2006-07 NHL season. Former captains include Chris Gratton, Rob Zamuner, Mikael Renberg, Bill Houlder and Paul Ysebaert (now retired; he finished his career at the end of the 1997-98 season with the Lightning). Interestingly, the team had no captain from 1992-93 until the beginning of the 1995-96 season.
The Lightning, who finished runner up to the Detroit Red Wings for the President's Trophy in 2003-04, pulled off a major coup that season by winning not only the Eastern Conference Finals against heavily-favored New Jersey, but also the Stanley Cup Finals against Calgary for their first-ever Stanley Cup.
The team was the only one to gain a playoff berth for the 2006-07 season to have been outscored by their opponents (253 goals for, 261 goals against). They sunk like a stone right from the get-go during the 2007-08 season, getting eliminated from playoff contention a month before the end of the season, despite a great season by Lecavalier. Star player Brad Richards was traded to Dallas at the trade deadline, but that was probably for the best, as the Lightning sank down to the bottom of the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs. After finishing at the bottom of the NHL, the team fired head coach John Tortorella and hired former LA Kings coach and ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose to coach the team. Some viewed this as a publicity stunt; they may have been right. Melrose was fired only fourteen games into the season. He returned to ESPN afterwards.
While Tampa is a bit more than a stone's throw away from Canada and the northern United States, a hockey craze has been steadily ensuing there, given the Florida Panthers' rather unsuccessful years since they lost their one Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1995-96.
The Lightning have had a number of recipients of the NHL's annually-given performance awards -- John Cullen won the Bill Masterson Trophy following the 1998-99 season, Brad Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy at the conclusion of the 2003-04 playoffs, and Martin St. Louis won the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the NHLPA-voted MVP, also in 2003-04. Head coach Tortorella won the Jack Adams Award as the league's best coach in 2003-04 as well. By all accounts the Lightning had a banner year in 2003-04.
The lockout following their Stanley Cup victory seems to have taken the wind out of their sails as they have twice been eliminated from the first round of the playoffs and missed the playoffs altogether (three years running as of this writing) while stinking up the place with terrible hockey, terrible coaches (Tortorella moved on to the New York Rangers after the lockout) like Melrose, and unbalanced trades. New general manager Steve Yzerman is building the team around Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and young sniper Steve Stamkos, whose 51 goals in 2009-10 lead the league.
The team's jersey colors are white (primary: home jersey), silver (features), navy blue (trim) and black (primary: away jersey). Home games are played at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida. The team has not retired any player numbers yet in their short history, though the league retired Wayne Gretzky's number 99 upon his retirement in 1999.