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Lightning's Yzerman shows guts with hire

Give Steve Yzerman this much: he has guts.

Just two days after firing a coach he hired out of the minor leagues with no NHL experience, the Lightning general manager is set to replace him with … a coach out of the minor leagues with no NHL experience.

That takes guts. Because, let's face it, if Jon Cooper doesn't pan out, he will be the last coach Yzerman ever hires in Tampa Bay.

When you're a young GM hiring coaches, you get one mulligan. Yzerman just used his when he fired Boucher. He can't afford to mess up this one. He knows that and that's what makes bringing in Cooper such a surprise.

The easy choice would have been to hire veteran NHL coach Lindy Ruff. No one would have questioned a move like that. Ruff's name was cropping up among Lightning fans well before Boucher was even given his walking papers.

You bring in Ruff, he sends a few jolts of electricity into the veterans, gets the team on a roll and maybe even into the playoffs. Everyone's happy.

That would have been the safe hire.

Instead, Yzerman went for the bold move, the outside-the-box decision, the dare-to-be-great hire.

We just don't know if it was the smart hire.

But I like it under one condition: This has to be just the first move in a series of sweeping changes in the Lightning organization.

It's time to blow this thing up. Clean house. Start over.

No one wants to hear that. No one wants to hear that you're about to add three more years to your three-year plan. Patience and potential do not sell season tickets.

But have you been paying attention? Have seen this current team play? Do you really think it could hang with elite teams such as the Penguins, Blackhawks and Ducks?

Look at the standings. The Lightning is closer to being the last team in the league than being the last team in the playoffs.

What's the goal here, people? Shouldn't it be to be a Stanley Cup contender every year instead of being good enough to just get into the playoffs this year? And, in case you hadn't noticed, the Lightning isn't even good enough to just get into the playoffs.

You bring in Ruff when you think you're close to being a competitive team. You bring in Cooper when you're trying to build this thing back the right way from the ground up.

Look at Cooper and what he does well.

He has proven himself as a teacher, a communicator, a developer of young talent. The players who played for him in the minors won a championship there and then have come up to the Lightning and made an impression.

They're fast. They're hungry. They are the future.

Now make them your present.

With Cooper in charge, build around those kids. Build with those kids. Put them together with still-young-superstar Steven Stamkos and defenseman Victor Hedman. Give Anders Lindback time to be the No. 1 goalie most hockey experts think he can be.

Meantime, start packing everyone else's bags.

Convince Vinny Lecavalier to waive his no-trade clause while convincing another team that they absolutely need Lecavalier to win a Cup. If that doesn't work, buy him out in the offseason.

Ship Marty St. Louis off to a playoff team that needs one more veteran goalscorer. Take whatever you can get for defensemen such as Eric Brewer and Sami Salo. Eventually, when he's healthy, part ways with the oft-injured Ryan Malone.

In return, get young players with promising futures, load up on draft picks and let Cooper work his magic without the pressure of having to win this second.

Do all this and Cooper is the right choice.

However, if the plan is to bring in Cooper, make no other changes, give him the same roster of underachievers that Boucher was saddled with and expect him to work a miracle, then this coach will have the same results as the last coach. This team needs way more help than a few scheme changes taught in a different accent.

Finally, there is this thought: Cooper was going to be an NHL coach next season with someone. What if Yzerman was fearful of losing his minor-league coach to another team and figured he would rather have Cooper than hiring Ruff or some tired retread such as Jacques Martin or Terry Murray just for the sake of hiring someone with NHL experience?

If that was the case, Yzerman is making the right call.

Even so, the hire takes guts.

Now let's see if Yzerman has the guts to make all the other difficult changes necessary to put this organization back on track.

Lightning's Yzerman shows guts with hire 03/25/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 12:49am]
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