No. 7: Tampa Bay Lightning

Ultimate Standings 2012

Updated: September 7, 2012, 12:04 PM ET
By Max Klinger | ESPN The Magazine

Last year's rank: 2
Title track: 23 (tie)
Ownership: 9
Coaching: 18 (tie)
Players: 24
Fan relations: 4
Affordability: 14
Stadium experience: 9
Bang for the buck: 27

Stasis is an ugly word, but not when it means you're at the top of the rankings heap yet again. The Lightning followed up last year's No. 2 overall mark with a repeat top-10 performance that saw impressive results in nearly every category we score. Let's face it: The Bolts are a model of Sun Belt hockey economics. Fans love owner Jeffrey Vinik, who last season not only pledged $10 million over five years ($50,000 a home game) to local charities but re-signed local favorite and overall roughneck Steven Stamkos to a five-year deal. Stammer responded by leading the league in goals, and fans responded by ranking the Lightning tops in all of hockey for "owners and players who show their appreciation to the fans." They may have narrowly missed the playoffs, but they kept fans engaged by giving each season-ticket holder a jersey with an embedded microchip that gives them discounts throughout the stadium (best fan relations in the NHL). And they kept the particles charged at the Forum by adding lightning-spewing Tesla coils and the largest hi-def, center-hung scoreboard in North America as part of $48 million in offseason renovations (hockey's second-best stadium experience). All of that while offering one of the cheapest cost-per-game in the league. Now if they can just bolster the defense (most goals allowed in 2011-12), they might just catch lightning in a bottle for the second time in their short history.