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Lightning strike twice with Yzerman, Cooper combo

Aug 15, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

Steve Yzerman AP

They don’t have the hardware of, say, Dean Lombardi + Darryl Sutter or Stan Bowman + Joel Quenneville, yet the Tampa Bay Lightning’s front office duo of GM Steve Yzerman and head coach Jon Cooper seem like they have the potential to do something special.

Sure, they both took very different paths to this very intriguing fork in the road, yet both appear bright and nimble enough to do some damage in the 2014-15 season and beyond.

Yzerman: an All-Star as a GM?

It’s true that Yzerman inherited franchise players Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman from the previous regime, yet he’s been very forward-thinking in building the team into what many believe will be a contender. The team is currently bursting with young scorers – many of whom were drafted by Yzerman & Co., including late gems like Ondrej Palat – while sporting an enviable array of defensemen and some nice options in net.

Ben Bishop might be “the guy” for now, yet his contract opens the door for 2012 first-rounder Andrei Vasilevskiy to eventually fight for the No. 1 spot. More than a few NHL teams likely envy such flexibility.

Yzerman also made the best of the Martin St. Louis trade situation and made some of the shrewdest signings of this offseason, so the situation looks pretty rosy right now.

A unique take behind the bench

While Yzerman’s name pops out for obvious reasons as a Hall-of-Famer and an executive groomed in Detroit’s front office, Cooper flies under the radar as an underrated head coach.

He took an unusual path to head coaching in the NHL, but that “outsider” perspective might just come in handy. If the NHL follows what seems to be a trend in the NFL when it comes to optimism and open-minded behavior from bench bosses, Cooper could very well be ahead of the curve.

That breath of fresh air feeling seemed apparent even in an early Grantland feature back in 2013:

“One GM told me,” he said, “and I’ll never forget this: ‘The NHL can be toxic and negative. You don’t have that in you. Don’t lose that.’ I’ll always take that with me.”

After going 5-8-3 in an abbreviated stint in 2012-13, Cooper coached the Lightning to a promising 46-27-9 record (101 points) last season, so there’s evidence that he’s on to something, even if his team suffered a first-round sweep.

Big challenges ahead

Naturally, all of these positive prognostications could look pretty silly if the Lightning fall flat over the next couple of years.

Yzerman faces a serious challenge in keeping that young core together once entry-level and second contracts run out; the knives would only sharpen if he fails to keep Stamkos from eventually bolting for Toronto when he becomes a UFA.

Also, as strong as this team looks on paper, the Lightning’s last surge came when Guy Boucher was prowling the bench. It’s easy to assume that everything will continue to trend up when the team isn’t far removed from failures.

… Which brings us to Cooper, aka the guy with inherently shakier job security. Boucher went from media darling to “Where are they now?” features (he’s coaching in the Swiss league) with dizzying speed, so the Lightning need to keep climbing or Cooper’s doubters will multiply.

***

This is a fascinating time for the Lightning franchise, as so many signs point up … yet there is so much work to be done. From the look of things, Tampa Bay has the right duo for the job, though.

  1. lowenni - Aug 15, 2014 at 11:42 PM

    Two people who could’ve won awards last season–and Yzerman is my early pick for GM of the year this coming season. Cooper won’t win the Jack Adams unless Tampa finishes first or second in the conference (which is possible), just because they’re not going to be the surprise they were this season. Yzerman has truly established himself as one of the best GMs in hockey–what an amazing hockey mind he has, first as a legendary player and now as a fantastic GM. He handled the St. Louis situation very well and got a great return, and added some very good complimentary players in free agency and through trades this summer. I don’t think they’ll make the Finals this year just because the young players may need another year to develop (their inexperience really showed in the playoffs) but what an exciting team this will be in a few years. Four years from now there will be a Battle of Florida with all the young talent Florida and Tampa are stockpiling.

    • jinx21fan - Aug 16, 2014 at 12:00 AM

      The thing I like about Stevie is he did an apprenticeship as well. He didn’t just say “okay I’m retired make me a GM”. He literally could not have done better in the St. Louis situation, I think he fleeced Sather.

      • lowenni - Aug 16, 2014 at 12:29 AM

        Totally agree. To get back a great leader in Callahan, even if pricey, plus high picks for a player who is nearing the end of his career was pretty impressive. He’s got a tremendous amount of respect around the league from his days as a player and is only building up his legacy.

  2. gbart22 - Aug 16, 2014 at 6:15 AM

    I don’t want to throw cold water on this but can they actually win something first before we start singing their praises. It seems to me since day 1 of yzermans hiring I’ve been reading what a great gm he is and he hadn’t even won an nhl game yet as a gm. The media to me has been desperate to claim how great he is and it feels to me like it is just because of who he was as a player. I don’t know what yzerman as a gm is yet and quite frankly neither do any of you, we can speculate, but it is entirely too early to tell. I read similar articles about yzerman and Boucher just a few years ago then they were terrible the following season. They rebounded this past season but mostly thanks to the fact they got an extremely hot goalie in bishop who put up one heck of a great season. Can he do it again? Or is he one of those flash in the pans we’ve seen all too often.

    Lets just relax with the yzerman is a great gm talk until he is actually worthy of it. They could blow up this year and yzerman could lose his job

    • jinx21fan - Aug 16, 2014 at 8:32 AM

      Well, he does have a couple of Olympic Gold Medals to his resume. Ummm what Stanley Cup winning executive was beating down the door in Tampa Bay that he stole the job from?

      • avscup - Aug 16, 2014 at 10:14 AM

        What do gold medals have to do with NHL GM evaluations?

      • dueman - Aug 16, 2014 at 11:35 AM

        Maybe because he won them as a GM….The Olympics might not be the NHL, but it was NHL players, so winning the medals does say something about how good of a GM he is. Plus, just look at Tampa, and tell me that he hasn’t made them a better team…

      • redwinger6 - Aug 17, 2014 at 6:50 PM

        He won the Gold as Canada’s GM, a country that could probably put two teams together that could medal. That doesn’t take anything special

    • kj4bolts - Aug 17, 2014 at 9:30 AM

      You’re making a good point yet I think you are also missing the point. The GM can only set the team up to win by making the best choices in players and prospects. According to their play and the media, he has done that. He has brought in great staff to compliment the changes in the organization when he was first hired such as Al Murray and Jon Cooper. Over the past several years, he has brought in prospects to grow within the organization. Our farm system now ranks in the top 5. A trade of a top prospect got us Ben Bishop. We had several nominees for awards this past season by prospects and trades he has made happen.
      From the start, he has indicated that the rebuild would take years to really see the difference, this past season showed that difference. The season after he was hired was due to a good team, a hot goalie and a coach that brought a “new” approach that worked. Was it destined to last? You saw that it didn’t. (And I really like Boucher.) But even then our team was just starting it’s rebuild so there should have been no expectations.
      Now there is, and rightly so. Yzerman has done a great job in setting this team up for success now and in the future. Now it’s on the team to do what they look like on paper to be able to do.
      A note – if this team somehow falls flat and doesn’t make the playoffs this year, then it will be an internal affair and not on the GM; he won’t be fired.

  3. vbcaps - Aug 16, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    Going to be an exciting team to watch this year

  4. rupp246 - Aug 16, 2014 at 7:24 PM

    Bishop is the key.

  5. redwinger6 - Aug 17, 2014 at 6:52 PM

    It’s not that hard to take a bad team to mediocrity, a little harder to take mediocre to good. Going from good to contender is tough, and contender to winner is even harder. Let me know when he turns TB into yearly contenders.

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