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Lightning has tough call on next coach

WINNIPEG — If, as speculation suggests, the Lightning's options for a new coach are down to former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff — the presumed front-runner — and AHL Syracuse coach Jon Cooper, there couldn't be a more stark choice for GM Steve Yzerman.

Ruff, 53, fired in February after 16 seasons with Buffalo, knows the NHL ropes. He also has ties to Yzerman and Tampa Bay players Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos through Team Canada.

Cooper, 45, became a hot commodity after leading AHL Norfolk last season to the Calder Cup championship, and he gets much credit for developing the Lightning rookies who this season have been called up from Syracuse and have played so well.

If the Lightning doesn't hire Cooper, there is a chance next summer he will get a head coaching job with another NHL organization.

"A tough decision for Steve Yzerman," said former NHL player Nick Kypreos, a television analyst for Canada's Rogers Sportsnet.

Yzerman on Sunday declined to talk about his plans other than he wants a new coach in place "as soon as possible," and, "I have a plan for what I want to do."

Former Flames coach Craig Button, an NHL Network analyst, said "the best experienced coach out there by far is Lindy Ruff. It's not just about this year, it's going forward and Lindy knows the Eastern Conference."

Besides, Button added, after hiring Guy Boucher out of the AHL, "does (Yzerman) want to go that route again with Jon Cooper?"

"I think Jon Cooper is a really good coach," Button said. "I think he has a lot of good qualities, but (Yzerman) has to ask himself what's best for his team now."

On the other hand, Kypreos said Tampa Bay's stable of young players nurtured by Cooper gives Cooper a unique advantage.

"I think they'd be more apt to go with the guy they know than the guy they don't know," Kypreos said.

"You worked with a guy for a certain amount of time. You invested in him. If you bring in Lindy Ruff and you give him a four- or five-year deal, you're in a position where you could also lose Cooper. It's a crapshoot."

Asked if he had a preference, St. Louis did not answer.

"That's Steve's job," he said. "Let's let Steve do his job."

ASSISTANTS: Assistant coaches Dan Lacroix, Marty Raymond and Steve Thomas were behind the bench Sunday against the Jets, and Yzerman said their fates likely are tied to the new coach.

"The coaches on our staff, we're working through that process right now," Yzerman said. "Number one, we have to do what's right for our organization and, number two, we'll do right as best we can for all the individuals in this organization.

"There may be some rearranging, some changing of responsibilities, but we have to have our coach in place first."

STAMKOS FINE: Stamkos, who looked a bit wobbly Saturday after he hit the end boards hard while checking Senators D Mike Methot, said he had a stinger in his left shoulder but on Sunday had no ill effects.

MORE INJURIES: RW B.J. Crombeen is day-to-day with a previously unreported lower-body injury. Crombeen had two fights Saturday against the Senators, including in the second period against Methot after Crombeen said Methot's hip check clipped his knee. … RW Pierre-Cedric Labrie left Sunday's game midway through the second period with an upper-body injury. He is day-to-day.

ODDS AND ENDS: Stamkos had a tough night in the faceoff circle, losing 11 of 16. … Defensemen Marc-Andre Bergeron and Brian Lee also were scratched.

Lightning has tough call on next coach 03/24/13 [Last modified: Monday, March 25, 2013 1:10am]

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