Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning goalies coach Jean on hot seat

Being an NHL goaltenders coach is not a high-profile job.

Work is done before team practices, when goalies refine technique and positioning. Perhaps a teammate helps out by taking a few shots.

But when it comes to Lightning goaltenders coach Frantz Jean, the spotlight is about to shine brighter, the scrutiny turn a little sharper.

Tampa Bay has hitched its goaltending wagon for next season to Ben Bishop, 26, and Anders Lindback, 24, who between them have played just 103 NHL games.

Jean is now their guide.

Given the Lightning, except for January-May 2011 with Dwayne Roloson, has not had a reliable net presence since Nikolai Khabibulin during the 2004 Stanley Cup run — and Tampa Bay's goaltending in three seasons under Jean has not been better than 21st in the league — that is pressure.

General manager Steve Yzerman preferred to call it "an exciting opportunity for Frantz" but added, "Fair or unfair, over time he will be judged on the success of our goaltenders."

"For a coach, it's exciting," said Jean, 42, whose contract is expiring and who is expected to get a new deal. "Any time you get young players, they are eager to learn. The work ethic is high. That makes it real interesting for a goalie coach to come in to work every day."

•••

For Jean, the chance to mentor Bishop and Lindback is like starting with a clean slate.

Tampa Bay's goaltending has been a revolving door, with Bishop, Lindback, Roloson, Mike Smith, Dan Ellis, Dustin Tokarksi, Sebastien Caron, Mathieu Garon and Cedrick Desjardins all getting starts during Jean's time.

Add a generally shaky defense and the results have not been good. In 2010-11, Tampa Bay was 21st in the 30-team league with a 2.80 goals-against average. It was last in 2011-12 with a 3.34 GAA, and entered Friday 27th at 3.04.

But the lack of continuity in net makes judgments impossible, Yzerman said: "We've got to be fair. That includes me, you, the fans. All the critics out there have to give (Jean) an opportunity. He hasn't had a goaltender to spend a lot of time with that we can judge the effect positive or negative. But I can tell you he's very bright, very professional, and I'm comfortable with the methods he's teaching our goaltenders."

"Blue-paint strong and shooting-lane hockey," is how Jean described his philosophy. "Everything is based on being well-positioned in the (crease) and being in the shooting lanes. It's the confidence of being at certain areas of the crease. It's about what you feel you are covering in the net."

It is a philosophy forged during 12 seasons with Moncton of the Quebec junior league, where Jean's goalies allowed the league's fewest goals four times.

Jean backstopped the University of Moncton to the 1994-95 Canadian national championship and in 2009 and '10 was goaltending consultant for Canada's summer national under-18 teams that won gold at the prestigious Ivan Hlinka tournament.

"A great coach, an awesome guy," said Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who played for Jean at Moncton. "He was great technique-wise, and for my mental game, taking care of myself and learning that aspect, too, getting rest at the right time. He definitely helped me moving on to pro hockey."

•••

Not all relationships go as smoothly. When Roloson in March 2012 went through a mini-resurgence in an otherwise dreary season, he said it was because he stopped using drills Jean recommended.

Mike Smith in 2010-11 under Jean was demoted to AHL Norfolk. He signed as a free agent with the Coyotes that offseason and last season was fourth in voting for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league's top goalie.

Both declined to comment.

But Tokarski, a former Lightning prospect whose statistics surged after his February trade to the Canadiens and he began playing for AHL Hamilton, said his work with Jean was not an issue.

"A very good goalie coach," Tokarski said. "I don't think he was the reason for me being traded."

And Ellis, who also struggled in 2010-11 for Tampa Bay, said he just didn't have time before being shipped to the Ducks in February 2011 to absorb what Jean taught.

"He wants you strong on your feet, strong pushes, strong stops," said Ellis, now with the Hurricanes, who added that he teaches some of Jean's techniques at his own summer camps. "Another part is where to recover to when you're down. (Smith) and I, neither of us had enough time to learn. In a season, you're trying so hard to learn so many things, you catch yourself thinking at times. But the system is great. It's just a matter of sticking with it."

"It does take time," Jean said. "That's why I'm a big fan of stability. Stability gives you time to bring some adjustments."

With Bishop and Lindback, Jean's time is now.

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