Vinny Lecavalier is gone. Playoff memories have faded. Five of the past six years on the outside looking in will do that. The new division is loaded with wolves, and the Lightning have the smell of mutton, the feel of a franchise ready to step back before it steps forward, yes, even with Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis and Steve Yzerman.
Then there’s the new coach. Yes, it’s still new for Jon Cooper, who came in late last lost season, won just four times in 15 games, took copious mental notes, but was possessed the whole time by the unearthly feeling that losing simply meant a higher draft pick, which in fact it did, third overall, 18-year-old scoring dervish Jonathan Drouin.
“It was weird,” Cooper said.
It was weird because Cooper has won anywhere he has been on his way up the hockey ladder. He never intends to feel that way again, even now, as hockey magazines and hockey experts peg the Lightning, who last season finished 28th in their 30-team league, for just such a fate this time around … 13th, 14th in the Eastern Conference.