What does Jon Cooper bring the Tampa Bay Lightning?

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Over the past few seasons, my faith in Guy Boucher as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning has slowly dwindled.

Once one of his staunchest defenders amidst the many cries for his head, over the past few weeks I’ve slowly come to the realization that Guy Boucher as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning simply wasn’t working any more.

It’s been difficult to admit, as patience has been a hallmark of the Steve Yzerman era in Tampa Bay. But at some point, a change has to be made. This team was no longer competitive, and that had become abundantly clear. They were getting killed in first periods of games, in puck possession, in their own zone, everywhere, and only a few players here and there seemed motivated at all to stop the bleeding.

It’s hard to say how much of that falls on Guy Boucher’s shoulders, but he’s the one to take the fall for how poorly this club has played since the 2010-2011 playoff run in his first season.

Enter Jon Cooper, head coach of the Norfolk Admirals, then Syracuse Crunch as the AHL affiliate of the Lightning, he of the 28-game winning streak and Calder Cup Trophy.

Oh, and he’s also won titles in both the NAHL and USHL.

While much of the hockey media in other markets suspected free agent coach Lindy Ruff to be the eventual coach in Tampa Bay, those in tune with Steve Yzerman’s plan for this franchise knew it was Cooper all along.

From an NHL.com report:

“It’s quite a tribute to Steve Yzerman, Jeff Vinik and the organization they are building that they are proud to promote from within. I look forward to getting to know the players and getting to work right away.”

Like the team itself, Cooper has worked his way up the pipeline. His success at a lower level has earned him the position. Organizational depth and promotion from within have been the road map for rebuilding this franchise into an annual contender. This hiring is just the next logical step in that progression.

Cooper was absolutely the right call in this situation, and not just because the Lightning would almost certainly have lost him to another NHL team in the off season.

Unlike Boucher, who had gotten away from many of the facets of his system that made the team successful in his first season, Cooper seems to preach a puck possession system that, when executed properly, can lead to his teams dominating the game.

How else do you explain a 28-game win streak in a sport so filled with random chance events?

It’s unclear the immediate effect Cooper will have on the team’s possession metrics, but another advantage Cooper seems to have is a lasting ability to motivate his players, who all seem more than willing to go out and battle for him night in and night out, something that seemed to be missing with Boucher’s squad the past few seasons.

It’s relevant to note that a lot of the rhetoric surrounding this hire has been heard before in the Yzerman era — hotshot AHL coach, “all he does is win”.

But is Cooper the guy Boucher was supposed to be? Or just another page in the same story?

Guess we’ll see.


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