SAN JOSE, Calif. — General manager Steve Yzerman checked an "important item" off his to-do list Friday.
No, not that one.
The Lightning announced a contract extension for coach Jon Cooper, 48, whose current deal was set to expire after this season. The extension is believed to be for at least three years.
Though Cooper's status had created nowhere near the attention as that of captain Steven Stamkos, also in the final year of his contract, this deal ensures continuity and certainty for both sides.
"There's no place I'd rather be," Cooper said. "For this to happen, I couldn't be happier."
Cooper said Yzerman first approached him in the offseason and there were no "bumps in the road" in negotiations, no doubt a deal would get done. Yzerman said there's no significance to the timing of the announcement, which comes as the Lightning (12-11-3) is struggling after reaching the Stanley Cup final in June.
Cooper is 112-70-23 since taking over in March 2013 and was a finalist for the league's coach of the year award in 2014.
"I'm very pleased with the job Jon is doing," Yzerman said. "I like the way our team plays. I like the style of hockey we play. I think it's a style that is conducive to having success in the NHL."
Stamkos said players were happy for Cooper, though many had no idea he was up for renewal.
"He's had tremendous success in the league as a coach so far," Stamkos said. "Our team this year has struggled a bit, but look at what he's done in his career. He's deserved what he's got, so we're very happy for him."
The Lightning's season so far is unfamiliar territory for Cooper, who never has finished with a losing record in stints in the USHL, NAHL, AHL, and NHL. He led the Lightning to the playoffs in each of his first two full seasons. Cooper said "our script isn't written yet" and the team shouldn't be judged through 26 games heading into tonight's game against the Sharks.
"I look at myself personally and as a coach. I've been on a pretty good run here for quite a number of years," Cooper said. "This is different. It's a different challenge. Is there a sense of urgency after 25 games that we never really had to worry about? There's no question. We can find out a little bit about ourselves throughout the year.
"Not that you ever want this to happen, but it's definitely opened my eyes. When you're winning and everything is going right, you keep your same routine, same things going on because it's working. When it's not going so well, it opens your coaching mind a little to say, 'Okay, what can we do different; how can we fix this?' Don't dwell on the problem, find the solution. That's what we're trying to do as a team. It's invigorating."
Players and staff say Cooper's demeanor and systems haven't changed. "I think that rubs off on the players' minds knowing their head guy is not panicking and he's going to stay the course," assistant coach Steve Thomas said.
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
But Stamkos said Cooper has shown more of a stern side.
"I think it's obviously very easy when things are going well," Stamkos said. "When things aren't, there are times, obviously, when our play hasn't been great that he's had to step up in his disciplinary style, and obviously a lot of people don't see that side of him. You see the joking side of 'Coop,' (and) a lot of guys respect him because of that. But at the same time, behind closed doors, he demands a lot of us, and we've seen that side a little bit more in the past because our record hasn't been that great. We deserved that negative stuff."
Cooper said that for the most part, his contract saga wasn't a distraction: "You're human, so there's something on your mind. I knew I had a deal expiring at the end of the year. We've been on the same page since Day 1, just a matter of inching a little either way."
Cooper called it a privilege to coach in the NHL and an honor to be with the Lightning, noting the respect he has for Yzerman and owner Jeff Vinik. He appreciates how he and his family have been treated.
"You want to be part of that."