Thursday, July 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: No more oh-so-close. It's time for the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup

TAMPA — Time to win a Stanley Cup, boys.

For the past three seasons, the Lightning has come close. It has been a contender. The up-and-comer. The franchise full of potential. The team on the verge.

Three seasons ago, it finished second in its division. Two season ago, it went to the Stanley Cup final. Last season, it came within a game of going back to the Cup final.

All good stuff.

But sooner or later, you have to win the whole shebang. Sooner or later, you have to win a Stanley Cup.

Or else you wake up one day and realize that the window of opportunity is closed, that your best days are behind you.

"You got to make the best of every opportunity," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said.

That's because you never know when the next opportunity is going to come.

For instance, Johnson said, think about former Lightning forward Brenden Morrow. He reached the Cup final as a 21-year-old rookie in 2000 with the Stars. His next trip to the final didn't come until he was with the Lightning in 2015. He was 36.

RELATED: Find all our Lightning season preview stories at our Lightning page.

"I know that really resonated with me," Johnson said, "and I believe it resonated with everyone else on this team."

Little has changed with the Lightning over the past couple of years. The core of the team is among the best in hockey and remains the same: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Nikita Kucherov and Ben Bishop. Jon Cooper has established himself as one of the brightest coaches in the game. The Lightning has scoring, grit and the experience of going through just about everything a team can go through.

It has had major injuries to major players. It has had contract squabbles and uncertainty. It has had controversies, such as the Marty St. Louis trade and the Jonathan Drouin soap opera of quitting the team and returning to become a star last season.

This team has seen it all, survived it all, done it all.

Well, except win a Cup.

"It's hard to get there," Cooper said. "It's really, really hard. We've played more playoff games than any team the last two years. I can sit here and say our last couple of years have been really, really successful, but they haven't been what we've wanted. The ultimate prize is to raise the Stanley Cup."

So every year that goes by means the window is closing.

"Make your own window," Cooper said, somewhat defiantly. "Whether expectations are there or not, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. But as I look around — and I'm very fortunate to be a coach in the National Hockey League — if I was going to pick a team to be behind the bench of, it would be this one."

If there was ever a season in which it looked like the stars were aligned for Tampa Bay, it would be this one.

Stamkos' contract is done. Kucherov's contract is done. Drouin seems happy. Everyone except for Ryan Callahan is healthy, and he could be back in a few weeks.

And even if something was to go wrong, you get the sense that the Lightning would survive it.

"You never want go through these situations where major players get hurt at bad times," Cooper said. "(But) we've really learned to turn the page. You come to work every day and look at the 20 guys in the lineup and (ask), 'How are we going to win this hockey game?' "

More often than not, the Lightning has answered that question by going out and winning. There is no woe-is-me. There is no what-else-can-go-wrong? There is no packing it in and saying, "This just isn't our night or month or season."

TRAFFIC: Driving to the game? What you need to know to navigate downtown Tampa construction.

Still. The past three seasons have ended with a loss.

"We've been close the last two years, but close isn't good enough," Johnson said. "You don't really get anything for second or third place. That's not what you want."

The worry is that good teams are made up of good players, and eventually there's a salary crunch.

"You go deep in the playoffs," center Valtteri Filppula, "you tend to lose guys moving forward."

That will eventually happen to the Lightning. Before it does, however, there's one thing it needs to do, and it needs to do it now:

Win a Stanley Cup.

Comments
Hereís our Mount Rushmore for the Lightning

Hereís our Mount Rushmore for the Lightning

The Lightning just celebrated its 25th anniversary season — long enough to have a Mount Rushmore.Here it is:Marty St. Louis (2000-14)St. Louis is the all-time franchise leader in points and the only Lightning player to make the Hall of Fame aft...
Published: 07/13/18
Lightning names AHLís Derek Lalonde as new assistant

Lightning names AHLís Derek Lalonde as new assistant

The Lightning has completed Jon Cooper's coaching staff for the upcoming season, announcing on Thursday the hiring of Derek Lalonde, who spent the last two seasons as head coach of the American Hockey League's Iowa Wild.Lalonde, 45, has steadily work...
Published: 07/12/18
Lightning re-signs left wing Adam Erne to one-year contract

Lightning re-signs left wing Adam Erne to one-year contract

A busy few weeks of re-signing players continued Wednesday, as the Lightning brought back the last of their restricted free agents, signing left wing Adam Erne to a one-year, $800,000 contract for 2018-19.Erne, 23, was a second-round pick in 2013 and...
Published: 07/11/18
Lightning locks up Nikita Kucherov with 8-year, $76 million extension

Lightning locks up Nikita Kucherov with 8-year, $76 million extension

CLEARWATER — Nikita Kucherov could have waited a year, allowing the demand for a top young NHL scorer to escalate as he hit restricted free agency next summer.But when the Lightning made him an offer to become the highest-paid player in the tea...
Published: 07/10/18
Lightning signs Nikita Kucherov to richest contract in team history

Lightning signs Nikita Kucherov to richest contract in team history

The Lightning took another step toward securing its future Tuesday by announcing that right wing Nikita Kucherov will sign the richest contract in franchise history.Kucherov's eight-year contract extension will pay him an average of $9.5 million star...
Published: 07/10/18
Kucherov signing helps Lightning finish what it started

Kucherov signing helps Lightning finish what it started

TAMPA — The Erik Karlsson sweepstakes hasn't ended for the Lightning.But the Nikita Kucherov sweepstakes is over before it began.The Lightning has locked up its star right winger. An eight-year extension that begins in the 2019-20 season will p...
Published: 07/10/18
Meet the girl behind the Marty St. Louis sign

Meet the girl behind the Marty St. Louis sign

ST. PETERSBURG — When the call from the Hall came, there she was again.The girl with the "I (heart) U Marty" sign, in the newspaper again, this time on the cover of the June 27 Tampa Bay Times sports section. She was frozen in time, doing what ...
Published: 07/07/18
What might Lightning give up to get Erik Karlsson?

What might Lightning give up to get Erik Karlsson?

TAMPA — Shortly after the excitement of the real possibility Thursday night that the Lightning could be trading for defenseman Erik Karlsson, fans quickly came to an uneasy place: What exactly would Tampa Bay give up to get the two-time Norris ...
Published: 07/06/18
The Lightning advantage in Erik Karlsson trade talks

The Lightning advantage in Erik Karlsson trade talks

He wants to be here.This is the place.In case you'd missed it amid the gloom and doom of a Lightning season that came up short again, there are still people who want to play in Tampa Bay.One of them is Erik Sven Gunnar Karlsson of Landsbro, Sweden. T...
Published: 07/06/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Will the Lightning trade for Erik Karlsson?

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Will the Lightning trade for Erik Karlsson?

Rick Stroud returns from vacation to discuss reports that the Lightning will acquire star defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators.He also talks about reaction to Jameis Winston's three-game suspension, the Rays' crazy home stand and which p...
Published: 07/06/18