Considering how last year ended for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the buying out of longtime captain Vincent Lecavalier, fans didn’t really know what to expect coming into this season.
The Lightning currently sit third overall in the Eastern Conference standings, securely in a playoff spot, after ending the season out of the playoffs and in the basement.
Many hands helped in bringing about this team’s turnaround but one name that stands out is rookie head coach Jon Cooper.
Cooper has led a team that suffered from goaltending woes, defensive woes and a disappointment for Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and company to one of the best teams in the East.
This has all been accomplished without F Steven Stamkos, who was injured earlier this year and has been out with a broken leg since November.
Cooper is making a case, and a very strong one, for winning the Jack Adams trophy awarded to the best NHL head coach.
Some may feel that Bruce Brodreau of the Anaheim Ducks will win it or Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche. With all due respect, Cooper is accomplishing something greater.
He is winning consistently with a club dressing 12 rookies and a more inexperienced goaltending tandem. He also is teaching his squad how to bounce back. Unlike the Ducks or the Avs, the Lightning has not had a significant losing streak above four games while the aforementioned teams have had losing streaks of five and nine respectively.
Some may point to the team’s record this year and say it reflects mostly on the play of Ben Bishop and that it is more of the goaltender making the coaching look good. While Bishop may be playing outstanding in his first year as a starting net minder, he doesn’t score the goals that help the team win. Having said that, Bishop isn’t stealing every W that this team gets either.
Cooper has convinced others to step up in the absence of Stamkos as well.
The rookies on this squad have combined to score over 100 points on the season leading all NHL, which is astounding for their first year of play as squad. Contributions have come from all over the ice and some players such as Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are even being considered for the Calder award.
The success of the rookies is well mentioned but other players are thriving under Cooper. Some of the veteran players such as defensemen Sami Salo and Eric Brewer are returning to a more competitive form and Victor Hedman is having a career year this year as he is tied for the league lead in goals. This effect goes beyond a hot goaltender.
It’s hard to win games in the NHL, it’s also harder to consistently win and Cooper doing this with apparent ease and hasn’t suffered a significant losing streak along the way—all without their best scorer in Stamkos.
If this team continues the stellar play from the first half and after the Olympic break, Jon Cooper will go from one of the candidates to the front-runner of being named the best NHL coach for the 2013-2014 season.