Cooper on Lightning offseason moves and tempering expectations
Lightning coach Jon Cooper has been pleased with the team's offseason acquisitions, believing it has taken a step forward.
Cooper feels the defense got shored up in trading for Jason Garrison and signing Anton Stralman, and the team is more stable in net with veteran backup Evgeni Nabokov. Cooper thought the re-signing of veteran Ryan Callahan was huge, thinking it paved the ways for others wanting to come to Tampa Bay.
And the Lightning got a little tougher with the signing of Rangers 6-foot-6 center Brian Boyle.
But Cooper isn't ready to say the Lightning has made it.
"I've never seen a team, on paper, win the Stanley Cup," Cooper said.
To Cooper, the Lightning is still very young at forward, with the lone veterans Callahan, Boyle, Valteri Filppula and Steven Stamkos. Filppula is the only forward who is 30 or older. With 19-year-old Jonathan Drouin expected to crack the roster, as well as Nikita Kucherov and Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay may have - believe it or not - got younger.
And while the Lightning made the playoffs last season, there's no guarantees.
"We still have to pull this team together," Cooper said. "Every single year things change. We were the 28th team picked to be a bottom feeder and we came out to be third in the East. Well you've got to be leery because there's teams that are picked at the top that don’t live up to expectations. i think anybody is, they're crazy if they're picking us up at the top, but we made the playoffs this year, so usually teams that make the playoffs, people are going to think of them as a playoff team.
"And we just have to understand, you just don’t throw your sticks in the middle of the ice and become a playoff team. We have to have the same work ethic we had last year, and I'm sure people are going to look at us with a little different expectation now that we’re a playoff team. But you want that challenge. We’re excited about that. But lets temper the expectations a little bit, and you look at how really inexperienced we are up front."
General manager Steve Yzerman said the team, which pushed hard for Jarome Iginla in free agency, could try to get another veteran forward. Those are tough to find, and Yzerman said it'd most likely have to come through a trade.
But Cooper thought Yzerman did an "unbelievable job," slowly putting pieces of the puzzle together, being selective.
"I don’t think we ended up going into the summer thinking we were going to land two defensemen that were going to walk right into our lineup and we did, so tip your hat to Steve for pulling that off," Cooper said. "And I think one of the underlying things that goes hidden in all this is we got Ryan Callahan signed. People don’t forget he could have walked and opened himself up to 29 other teams. He chose to stay here, and I think right there, was a huge sign that Tampa might be a place for guys to come and play. And we're really excited."
Cooper, on signing veteran backup goalie Evgeni Nabokov.
"Don’t underestimate bringing in a veteran goaltender, because though Ben Bishop had a phenenomal year, he's still relatively inexperienced in the NHL, and I think to have somebody else to go in tandem with him that’s been through the rigors of the NHL for a long time, I like what we’ve done."
Cooper, on signing Stralman to a five-year, $22.5 million deal.
"First of all he's a really quiet player, but he just seems to do everything right. He gets the puck, he makes the first pass. You watch as a coach, who is he defending against? He's always defending against top lines. He's a top four defenseman on a team that went to the Stanley Cup final. He got assignments against big time players and had success. Then you take into account, we had one of his former teammates signed so you get to find out a little bit more personality of how they are in the room and everything seemed to fit."
Cooper on signing Boyle to a three-year, $6 million deal
"We knew he was going to bring somebody that’s played playoff games, and in a lot of them the last couple years. The same with Anton, couple guys with that kind of experience, are gonna come in and help our room. And it’s a position we filled a void when Nate Thompson departed, but we filled a void getting six inches taller. And we have a small forward group, size is something that was a little bit of urgency for us and we attained that."