Why the Lightning are the most impressive Cup champions of the salary-cap era

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

Evil has prevailed. Tampa Bay has captured a second straight Stanley Cup. The Great Lightning Heist has been completed.

This is how we’re supposed to react to this victory, right? That the “cheaters” won?

That the team that was $18 million over the salary cap after reuniting with star winger Nikita Kucherov in the playoffs — missing the entire regular season after hip surgery, unfit to play in Game 56 on May 10 but scoring two goals in Game 1 of the playoffs on May 15 — twisted the NHL’s financial rules like a balloon animal to spend their way to another championship?

Well, that’s not right. They were actually $19.7 million over the cap in the playoffs, according to CapFriendly.

Isn’t that hilarious?

Spare me the whining. Everyone played under the same rules. Everyone played in the abbreviated season, just like every playoff team played in the same bubble when the Lightning won last summer. Tampa Bay just played better than everyone else, on the ice and off the ice.

They’re the most impressive champion of the NHL’s salary-cap era for their superior management and player development; their audacious team construction; and for taking advantage of every single benefit they had under the league’s suffocating financial system, from the lack of state income taxes in Florida to long-term injured reserve.

You’re not outraged that they “cheated.” You’re outraged that your team wasn’t smart enough to work the system, or deep enough to make the playoffs with a former MVP sidelined for 56 games.

That they’re not good enough to win a Stanley Cup, let alone two in a row.

That they’re the Tampa Bay Lightning, and you’re not.

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