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Lightning coach wants to slow the bandwagon down a bit

Aug 3, 2014, 8:39 PM EDT

Jon Cooper, AP

People might quibble with a move here or there, but many would agree that an already sneaky-good Tampa Bay Lightning team got quite a bit better this summer.

Maybe that’s why head coach Jon Cooper seemed a little nervous about giving up that “sneaky” part while chatting with NHL.com.

“Make us seem like just a nice, humble, go-lucky Tampa Bay Lightning,” Cooper said. “Not like we’re going to come out and kick everybody’s [behind].”

Playing the underdog can be a lot more comfortable than being prohibitive favorites, especially when you go through a regular season as turbulent as the Bolts did in 2013-14.

Combine great offseason moves with all the trials from last season (injuries to key players like Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop along, the Martin St. Louis drama) and it’s tempting to pencil the Lightning in as a top East contender, but Cooper is right to note that what did go right last season isn’t necessarily a given to swing their way once more.

“We probably made more moves than people thought we would make. But we needed to address some issues at certain positions,” Cooper said. “A lot of our season may have been masked by some outstanding goaltending by Ben Bishop, but the playoffs was a bit of a wake-up call for us.”

Why it’s kind of difficult to pump the brakes

Those of us who get excited about offseason moves really do struggle to dampen expectations for this team, though.

The Lightning were already a top-10 possession team in 2013-14 and seem primed to hog the biscuit even more after adding Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison. The Bolts could be a nightmare to deal with if their young forwards make significant progress, especially with Jonathan Drouin possibly making “the jump” in 2014-15.

This team didn’t just mark off a few boxes in the “prospect hype” and “fancy stats” categories, either. If you’re the type who values “grit and hustle,” re-signing Ryan Callahan while adding Brenden Morrow and Brian Boyle for cheap likely inspires kudos. (The bigger deal might be adding Evgeni Nabokov as veteran insurance if he can merely be adequate next season, as Anders Lindback proved to be a pretty disastrous backup.)

As much as Cooper jokes – probably nervously – about how quickly the Lightning have progressed from “bottom feeder” status to critical darling, the salary cap era opens the door for quick turnarounds with sharp management. That seems to be the case in Tampa Bay, which only puts more pressure on Cooper. Then again, isn’t this the kind of stuff that makes sports more enjoyable in the first place?

/Imagines Cooper grimacing with disapproval

source: AP

Credit: AP

  1. endusersolutions2013 - Aug 3, 2014 at 9:06 PM

    Very likely to improve if Stamkos and Bishop healthy., while Boston could not due to cap issues. NYR lost multiple players to free agency, not signing equivilent players in the opinion of most. Pens D and depth still a question

    The challenge is for any of the EC teams, could they beat the winner of the WC finals (Hawks, Blues or Kings)?

    • billiam55 - Aug 3, 2014 at 9:28 PM

      boston is still gonna be the team to beat in the east.

      • alicesrightfootesq - Aug 3, 2014 at 10:10 PM

        Yes Boston University will be a force in Hockey East next season.

      • missmuse1976 - Aug 4, 2014 at 4:22 PM

        Alice: I love BU, I went there, in fact, but the Bruins are still a pretty powerful team, even with Iggy leaving.

  2. sharksfan97 - Aug 3, 2014 at 11:08 PM

    Watch out for Columbus.

    • scout202sport - Aug 4, 2014 at 3:28 AM

      Until they trade their best player to Los Angeles

      • storminator16 - Aug 4, 2014 at 7:17 AM

        Kings fans are starting to become too big for their britches.

  3. stakex - Aug 3, 2014 at 11:09 PM

    Tampa was pretty good last season, and made some solid additions. On paper at least, one would expect them to contend for winning the East.

    The one big question mark for Tampa is Bishop. He played great last year, but that was the first noteworthy season of his career. It could easily have been a breakout season, or it could have been a one hit wonder. If its the latter and he regresses this year, Tampa isn’t likely to be a contender.

    • elrock7 - Aug 4, 2014 at 2:00 PM

      Not a Tampa fan at all, but Bishop is the real deal. As a leaf fan I was glad the Sens traded him.

      It wont be long until he is top 2 or 3 in the league, if he isn’t already.

  4. blomfeld - Aug 4, 2014 at 12:52 AM

    “Los Reyes de Los Ángeles ganarán otra vez en 2015 !” … Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto

    GO KINGS GO !!! … TODAY, TOMORROW AND FOREVER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :) :) :)

  5. jacketsfan7 - Aug 4, 2014 at 1:14 AM

    Yes omg somebody said something about Columbus, I must be dreaming lol

    • storminator16 - Aug 4, 2014 at 7:20 AM

      The secret of C’Bus can’t be contained. The Jackets are good now and have a hell of a prospects pipeline. They have a chance at something special because that team plays and is built the right way.

      • i1theinternet - Aug 4, 2014 at 2:37 PM

        …And they’re in the Eastern Conference.

      • missmuse1976 - Aug 4, 2014 at 4:23 PM

        You guys have Hartnell now, which is pretty amazing. I’d love for him to be on the Bruins.

  6. tampabayirish - Aug 4, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    The key to Lightning winning the East is the play of a healthy Ben Bishop. Early last season he did cover up a lot for the mistakes of the 5 skaters on the ice. If they can play better in front of him (the new guys should help) and he can return to form from early last season, then the Lightning could very well win the East. Boston is the Beast of the East. You have to beat Boston in the playoffs to get a shot at the cup.

    • govtminion - Aug 5, 2014 at 8:34 AM

      And if I’m honest, as a B’s fan… no team in the East worries me quite as much as the Lightning. (With all due respect to the Rangers, Penguins, and Flyers, of course… and none at all for still-dangerous Montreal because like I said, B’s fan. ;) ) Tampa’s going to be interesting this year as long as Bishop stays healthy.

      …and that said, I’d have trouble looking at any of those Eastern teams, Boston included, and saying “this team can beat Chicago in seven games right now.” Maybe things will look different after the trade deadline, but for now I think it’s the Hawks’ championship to lose.

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