Jon Cooper says his first 15 NHL games are a running start
Coach Jon Cooper is passionate about how he wants the Lightning to develop over time. The last thing he wants is a team that, in terms of the playoffs, is "out, out, out, in, out, out, out, in."
Cooper said the model should be the Red Wings, which this season made the postseason for the 22nd consecutive year.
The coach, who went 4-8-3 after Guy Boucher was fired, said of missing the playoffs, "It's somewhere we never want to be again." But 15 NHL games under his belt "makes us that much farther ahead for next season."
On the feel he got for the players: Fifteen games was a great evaluation. It was great in so many different ways whether it was on the ice, off the ice, in the weight room, personalities. It was great. Part of evaluating, too, is seeing how guys handle adversity, which we went through a little bit if you count our win-loss record. For me, it was the right amount of time. It just makes us that much farther ahead for next season.
On perhaps changing his approach ahead of a full season: My personality is not going to change. My style is not going to change. The one thing, if I was given advice from people who have been in the business for a long time was, ‘Coop you made it to this level being a certain way, do not change and don’t change for anybody. You were hired because of the way you were.’ So, for me, changing would be a disservice to everybody in the organization. In saying, ‘Am I going to be different?’ am I going to coach differently? My philosophy is not changing. Our approach will not change. We’re not going to come into a situation next year where we don’t know the players. I know which guys can play in certain situations now. Is ice time for guys going to change a little bit? Probably. If that means being different, I guess things will be a little different. But my approach is going to be the same as it was when I started coaching in 1999.
On what the team needs: Well, the one thing I have learned about this is there is a fine line between being in the playoffs and being out of the playoffs. I look at some of the teams that we’ve played down the stretch that were playoff teams. Did we lose the Boston game? We did. Did we lose the Montreal game? We did. Did I think we could have had both those games? I think we could have. Was goaltending the difference in those games? It wasn’t because of poor goaltending on our part it was because of outstanding goaltending on the other side. Did we beat the Ottawa Senators? We did. Did we beat the Toronto Maple Leafs? We did. You look at that and think, ‘Wow, those teams are going to be playing and we’re not.’ So, I think that line is close. We just have to change a couple pieces in the puzzle and integrate our mind-set, our philosophy, into these players and that takes some time. But we’re much farther ahead today than we would have been in September, October had our staff not come in at the time we did.
On staff changes: As much as we sit here talking about players being evaluated, everyone is being evaluated. But we’ve got a lot of really talented people in the organization. They’ve been a monumental help for me since I’ve been here. Will there be tweaks? There might be, but it’s still too early for that.
On his postseason message to the team: A big part of my message is just count on your hand the amount of months before we play another meaningful game and it’s unacceptable. That was a big part of the message. You sit there and when you really count it out, May, June, July, August, September. That’s a long time and that’s something I have not been a part of and something nobody in that room should ever accept.
On the team's window of opportunity to win with current core: If you’re getting to the point of, ‘These guys can’t play forever,’ that’s understandable. Marty just won the scoring race and Vinny for big portions of the year was hurt, but he also was almost a point-a-game guy when he was in; so, guys who have, to me, a lot of time left. At some point we’re going to sit here and say you may not win the scoring race next year. You may or may not but is it okay if you don’t win the scoring race but our team makes the playoffs. That’s something that those players want. Down the stretch when the team goal came up short in not making the playoff, we were pulling for those guys to win the scoring race. But the goals come October are team oriented. These individual ones are just a by-product. I don’t think, in the final act, that’s not what they want. They want the playoffs.
On what he sees for the team's future: It’s a fine line. You just don’t want to be the team, though, that’s out, out, out, in, out, out, out, in. The model should be the Detroit Red Wings who are in every single year. That’s more the mold we want to be in. We’ve set that in the minors. The team (at AHL Norfolk) hadn’t been to the playoffs before our regime got in there. We snuck in the first year. It didn’t last that long but we got in and then everybody knows what happened last year. I can’t predict what’s going to happen but I’ll take my chances with that team over the others. You need a lot of things to go your way, stay injury free, but it’s a mind-set these guys have down there that hopefully is ingrained in them, and if some of those guys make our team next year, we’re that much farther ahead because of these players with that mind set.
On the upcoming draft: From what I’ve been told, it’s a fairly deep draft. When you take a step back and look where we finished, if you’re going to be out, I’d rather be way out than fighting to the end and then falling short. It’s somewhere we never want to be again, but it’s a stark reality we’re there. There are a few high-end players in the draft. I think this is one of those drafts if you’re picking in the top six or seven you’re getting an impact player. We’re going to get someone god out of this one.