1. Lightning

Jones: Three Tampa Bay pro teams, three different directions

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, left, and Bucs head coach Lovie Smith, right. [DIRK SHADD | Times; BRENDAN FITTERER | Times]
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, left, and Bucs head coach Lovie Smith, right. [DIRK SHADD | Times; BRENDAN FITTERER | Times]
Published Nov. 11, 2014

One team's coach is doing great. Another team's coach: not so much. And the third team is looking for a leader. Spanning the globe — well, both sides of Tampa Bay — to bring you the constant variety of sports, here's a Two Cents look at the men in charge of local teams.

The Lightning

Riding a six-game win streak, Jon Cooper's Lightning is tied for the best record in the NHL with 23 points. It is on pace for a franchise-record 125 points. Can it keep up that pace? Probably not. But the Lightning is racking up victories despite not having top defenseman Victor Hedman. Several other key players — Ryan Callahan, Brett Connolly, Alex Killorn — have missed time due to injury. And despite leading the team with 10 goals, Steven Stamkos hasn't been consistently dominant. Those goals have come in five games.

But scoring runs deep, which is why the Lightning is second in the NHL with 3.8 goals per game. The Lightning should be able to withstand injuries to anyone not named Ben Bishop, who has been sensational with a 9-1-1 record. It might even be able to afford losing Stamkos for a game here or there.

You have to figure that Stamkos will find a more steady scoring pace and, believe it or not, the Lightning looks like it has another gear to go. It still hasn't had that many complete 60-minute games. If you look at Cooper's coaching career, his teams generally play well in his first full season then really take off in his second. This is his second. Save your money for the playoffs. It could be a deep run.

The Bucs

Lovie Smith's Bucs are free-falling at 1-8 and might go 1-15. Already there are calls for his job, but that won't happen anytime soon. And it shouldn't happen anytime soon. Smith deserves and is going to get longer than one season, maybe even two, to clean up this mess. The Bucs do not want to get into a pattern of changing coaches every two years. Plus, they are still paying Greg Schiano for another couple of years and will pay Smith for several after this one. The Glazers aren't going to pay three coaches at once. So forget the "Fire Lovie'' talk.

Perhaps the Bucs vastly overrated their talent. Even Smith admitted Monday that starting 1-8 was not part of any "master plan."

"Disappointed, very disappointed,'' Smith said. "Even with all we've done, with what little we've done, there's still an opportunity if we change things. That's where I am as a coach."

The Rays

Two more candidates for the manager's opening have been added to the list: Barry Larkin and Doug Glanville. Interesting names, especially Larkin. The Hall of Fame shortstop does a splendid job as a broadcaster on ESPN, and you can tell that he gets the game. Then again, there's a big difference between sitting in a cool TV studio and on the hot seat of a dugout. He managed Brazil in the World Baseball Classic, but that's the extent of his managing experience. Still, he played 19 seasons in the bigs. He knows how the rodeo works.

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Players and many fans seem to be pushing for the Rays to hire bench coach Dave Martinez, and maybe he eventually will be the Rays' choice. But it's good to see a wide and diverse pool and that they aren't just handing the job to Martinez simply because he already has a parking space at the Trop. He should only be hired if he's the best fit. I still think Raul Ibanez is the most intriguing name on the list.


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