Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Yzerman open to change, but Cooper's job is safe

TAMPA — Coach Jon Cooper led an intense, two-session practice Tuesday afternoon at Amalie Arena, with Lightning players displaying the urgency you'd expect from a team fighting for its playoff life.

If there are any changes made to help turn Tampa Bay's season around, it won't involve the coaching staff or Cooper, who isn't going anywhere.

"I think (Cooper) is doing an excellent job," GM Steve Yzerman said Tuesday.

Cooper's seat shouldn't be hot, not with him leading the Lightning to the Stanley Cup final and Eastern Conference final in back-to-back years. And this season, Tampa Bay (19-19-4) has had to use 32 different players due to a slew of injuries, including to Steven Stamkos, Ben Bishop, Anton Stralman and Nikita Kucherov.

The biggest problem for the Lightning is goals against (2.98 per game, 25th in the league), including 22 during its four-game losing streak. The team badly needs to acquire a defenseman to help dig out of its hole, six points back of the second wild-card spot.

"You can put Scotty Bowman on the bench and it's not going to change the fact they've got gaps on their blueline — big, massive gaps," said TSN analyst Craig Button, a former GM. "When you've got gaps on your blueline and within that group, you get exposed against deeper teams. That's what's happening to the Tampa Bay Lightning."

The Lightning has an elite No. 1 defenseman in Victor Hedman, named a first-time All-Star Tuesday. Button likes Stralman in the top pairing, and veteran Braydon Coburn, but said there's a wide gap between them and the likes of Andrej Sustr, Nikita Nesterov and Jason Garrison.

"Those problems won't go away until another player comes in on the blueline," Button said.

Yzerman is trying but said the trade market is as difficult as he has seen, mostly due to the flat salary cap. And if the Lightning wants to get a top-four caliber defenseman like a Jacob Trouba from the Jets, it's not going to come cheap.

The question remains whom Yzerman is willing to part with to make it happen. Does Tampa Bay have any "untouchables?"

"We have our core and I want to add to that core," Yzerman said. "Over time, your core has to change, that's the reality, you can't afford to keep everybody. They age, they mature. Are players untouchable? Yes. Because I want to build around the core.

"But at some point, to address needs, if there's something really good out there, you're probably going to have to give up something really good in order to do that."

For now, as Hedman said, "it's the guys in the room that have to do it."

The Lightning continued Tuesday to work on defensive zone details, from positioning to one-on-one drills. Tampa Bay's schedule doesn't get easier, with back-to-back Thursday and Friday (against Columbus) before a six-game, 13-day West Coast trip.

"Everybody's got to check their egos and be honest with one another," veteran center Brian Boyle said. "We have to decide whether or not we want to make a change as individuals or as a team. There's a lot of holes in our game."

Cooper understands the fans' frustration. He realizes because the Lightning has won, it has set a standard. "We're frustrated, we know where we've been and want to get back there," Cooper said.

Yzerman praised Cooper for how he has handled the injuries, the ever-changing lineup. The team is getting healthier, with Bishop potentially playing Thursday or Friday, when Boyle and Coburn could return (Slater Koekkoek was sent to AHL).

"Our team competes really hard, and I think (Cooper) and his staff have done a really good job," Yzerman said. "I like the way we play. I like the style. We've got to improve in some areas.

"The type of (style) our coaches led by Coop want the team to play I'm very comfortable with. We'll get through this and these situations make us all better."

Comments

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Lightning-Avalanche

Could tell just how much Ryan Callahan meant in the Lightning dressing room by hearing teammates talk about his latest injury. Steven Stamkos said he was "sick to my stomach." Brayden Point called him a "heart and soul player." Teammates all saw how ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning journal: No easy answers on replacing injured Ryan Callahan

Lightning journal: No easy answers on replacing injured Ryan Callahan

The good news for the Lightning is that GM Steve Yzerman is hopeful RW Ryan Callahan will be ready to go in 3-4 weeks when his upper body injury is re-evaluated. The hard part, however, is finding someone to replace the veteran wing. "I don’t know if...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning trying to replace ‘heart and soul’ Ryan Callahan

Lightning trying to replace ‘heart and soul’ Ryan Callahan

With veteran wing Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks with an upper body injury, the natural question is who will fill his shoes?"I don't know if anyone can," coach Jon Cooper said.That's not to say the Lightning (26-6-2) can't win without Callahan....
Updated: 4 hours ago
Q&A with Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx about the Lightning’s next generation

Q&A with Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx about the Lightning’s next generation

DENVER — There might be one team in hockey hotter than the Lightning.It is Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, Syracuse.The Crunch has won 10 straight after Friday’s victory over Providence. Why is this important? While the AHL is a developmental league, the ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

When Lightning wing Ryan Callahan took a nasty spill into the boards Thursday night, it didn't look good.Turns out, it wasn't. Callahan will be sidelined indefinitely with an upper body injury, evaluated after three to four weeks, per GM Steve Yzerma...
Published: 12/15/17
When you think you’ve got Brayden Point figured out, a surprise awaits

When you think you’ve got Brayden Point figured out, a surprise awaits

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Center Brayden Point is the Lightning’s calmest player, both on the ice and off, according to Victor Hedman.Point’s soft-spoken nature belies his baby face and 5-foot-10 frame. "I’ve never seen him angry before," Hedman said.That ma...
Published: 12/15/17
Ryan Callahan injury makes Lightning win ‘bittersweet’

Ryan Callahan injury makes Lightning win ‘bittersweet’

The Lightning's 4-1 victory over the Coyotes Thursday night still featured the usual post-game music in the dressing room.But there was more of a somber tone with veteran right wing Ryan Callahan's right arm in a sling. Callahan, who got hurt on a na...
Published: 12/15/17
Lightning routs Coyotes for sixth straight win

Lightning routs Coyotes for sixth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. — As much as the Lightning has been rolling, it remembered how it lost twice last season to the Coyotes.That included blowing a one-goal third-period lead at home down the stretch, with Tampa Bay missing the playoffs by a point."You l...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Lightning’s Mikhail Sergachev earns more minutes, praise

Lightning’s Mikhail Sergachev earns more minutes, praise

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes center Clayton Keller is very familiar with fellow rookie Mikhail Sergachev, the dynamic Lightning defenseman. They both were top 10 picks in 2016, Keller at No. 7 and Sergachev No. 9 to Montreal. They faced each other in th...
Published: 12/14/17
Mikhail Sergachev earning trust – and more minutes with Lightning

Mikhail Sergachev earning trust – and more minutes with Lightning

Coyotes center Clayton Keller is very familiar with fellow rookie Mikhail Sergachev, the Lightning defenseman.They both were picked in the top-10 of the 2016 NHL Draft, Keller at No. 7 and Sergachev No. 9 to Montreal. They faced each other in three w...
Published: 12/14/17