There is an old saying of “show me a good goalie, and I will show you a good coach” in the world of hockey. Now unlike most clichés, where the quote is usually very superficial like “pucks in deep,” this one has a bit more meaning as in the NHL a really good goaltender can mask a really bad coach or a miscasted coach.
A good example of this is New York Rangers’ former head coach John Torterella and his goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist made Torterella look good, really good for a while but ultimately Torterella’s coaching style failed, as Lundqvist’s amazing play couldn’t save his job.
As the Tampa Bay Lightning’s head coach Jon Cooper is a finalist for the Jack Adams (coach of the year) award, there has been some talk that his goalie Ben Bishop, who is up for the Vezina award, made Cooper look brilliant in his first NHL season.
There are a few things that are in play against this idea, as it should be noted that Cooper is actually a really good coach who has the benefit of having Bishop on his roster.
The first thing to look at is Cooper’s previous success. Cooper came from the Norfolk Admirals/Syracuse Crunch affiliate. He won a Calder Cup in his first year with the Admirals. Not only did he win the AHL championship, his team also went on an unprecedented, record setting 28 game win streak. Both of these feats were completed without Bishop, who was with a different organization at the time.
Now let’s look at what he did for the Lightning outside of Ben Bishop because as everyone should know there are other players than just Bishop on the team.
Last season, where former Bolts’ coach Guy Boucher was fired, the Lightning sat 27th in terms of puck possession or Corsi percentage at 44.7 percent. This means the Bolts’ barely had the puck and could explain their dismal year in the shortened season.
This year, however, the Lightning sat 10th in the league with 51.7 percent Corsi. Their overall puck possession jumped 7 points in a year’s difference. All due respect to Bishop, he can’t take credit for that as he doesn’t shoot the puck. Cooper’s system and coaching style gets the credit for the increase.
Also about the teams who are above the Lightning in Corsi, nine out of ten of them made the playoffs including the Lightning.
Numbers aside, Cooper did other things to keep this team from flying apart. It’s been reported ad nauseam how injuries affected this team. They lost Steven Stamkos for most of the season to a brutal leg injury. The team had to compensate for that and Cooper juggled his lines to keep his team not only in the playoff hunt but also securely in a playoff spot during their star player’s absence.
He also kept the team together during the Martin St. Louis saga and coached them to some of their best hockey after St. Louis was traded.
After Bishop sustained an injury, many wondered whether the Lightning would even gain home-ice advantage. However, Cooper had his squad stay strong and with Kristers Gudlevskis and Anders Lindback only gave up two goals in the final four games.
Many who don’t follow the Lightning closely may think that Bishop’s record correlates with Cooper’s success and that Bishop makes his bench boss look good which is not the case at all. Jon Cooper’s coaching ability, systems and experience got him the record his record this year and the Jack Adams’ nominations.