Cooper says Stamkos has been 'unreal' to work with
Anytime the Lightning faces a team from a large Canadian market, inevitably the focus of questions surrounds the ongoing contract saga of captain Steven Stamkos.
That was the case again Monday morning with the Canadiens in town. And while Stamkos admits he didn't expect to be in the situation he's in right now - unsigned after Christmas in the final year of his deal - he didn't shed much new light on the negotiations.
The biggest development, if you can call it that, was coach Jon Cooper addressing Stamkos' mindset and his relationship with the All-Star center. Stamkos has denied the reported rift between he and Cooper.
"I’m coaching the team, he’s leading our team and scoring goals for us and that’s what we are here to do and really that’s all we care about," Cooper said. "My relationship with Steven, from Day 1, he’s been unreal to work with. We couldn’t ask for a better captain. When things are going on in the room, he approaches me, I approach him, he tells me what is going on. He’s probably the guy I talk to the most on the team because he is our captain. And we’ve had a lot of success together. I’m pretty proud of him, with all the decisions he has to make, he has performed. Our whole focus is we have to get this team to the playoffs."
Cooper also praised Stamkos for how he's handled the contract saga. He said the two addressed the issue for only a few minutes over the summer, and Stamkos has shown little signs of letting it impact his play.
"He has a big part of his future ahead of him and the decisions he has to make, I don’t think too many people at his age have to make the decisions he has to. But you would never know it,’’ Cooper said. "You would think he is signed and sealed for another eight years and that’s how he’s approached it throughout the year. That’s how he’s approaching it now and that’s why he’s a pro."
More from morning skate: There is a game to be played tonight, and an important one, as the Lightning trails the Canadiens by just four points in the Atlantic Division. "It’s big," Stamkos said. "You look at how close it is, I don’t think any team in our division should think they’re out of it by any means. Four to six points, you can make that up pretty quick in this league, especially against divisional opponents. It's a good opportunity for us to get right back in the mix for ultimately first in the division.".. The Lightning appear to be getting healthier, as Brian Boyle (upper body) could return to the lineup tonight against Montreal. Cooper said C Tyler Johnson (upper body) is "close," though appears iffy for tonight. Jonathan Drouin and Ondrej Palat, who both skated this morning, are more likely to return later in this homestand. "You’ve got to err on the side of caution because you don’t want this to happen again," Cooper said... There was no sign of Mike Angelidis at today's skate, so he could be headed back for AHL Syracuse, which makes sense with Boyle coming back....Cooper didn't have any update on when G Andrei Vasilevskiy will rejoin the Lightning, though it would appear likely Vasilevskiy remains with AHL Syracuse on his conditioning assignment through Tuesday's game against Hershey. G Kristers Gudlevskis is backing up Ben Bishop, who will start tonight... Forward Jonathan Marchessault, riding a six-game points streak, drew a heavy media crowd today from his native Quebec. Cooper noted the 2013 trade deadline deal to acquire Marchessault might not have received many headlines, but has paid off "massive dividends." It looks like former D Mark Barberio could play for Montreal tonight..