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Too soon for slumping Lightning to make dramatic changes

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. [Times files]
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. [Times files]
Published Dec. 11, 2016

TAMPA — During a prolonged slump like the one the Lightning is facing, it's easy for fans to demand a shakeup.

Fire coach Jon Cooper.

Trade goalie Ben Bishop.

Neither action is expected to happen anytime soon. While Tampa Bay may eventually deal Bishop, a pending unrestricted free agent, there doesn't seem to be a sizable market for goaltenders. That could change by March's trade deadline, but GM Steve Yzerman said it's "very possible" Bishop remains in Tampa Bay the rest of the season.

Cooper isn't going anywhere. He's in the first year of a multiyear extension signed a year ago last week. And after leading the Lightning to back-to-back lengthy playoff runs, Cooper is going to get the chance to work through one of the toughest stretches of his tenure.

It doesn't mean Cooper should be absolved of blame for the Lightning underachieving. The constant line shuffling hasn't seemed to work. Teams have clearly adjusted to Tampa Bay, which has often seemed out of synch. It's fair to question some lineup decisions, specifically on defense, with struggling Nikita Nesterov seeing too much ice.

"Ultimately, I'm the head coach of the team," Cooper said. "We are all in this together. So when things aren't going well for them, you need to look in the mirror yourself, 'How can I help these guys get better?' Because we're not in the finger-pointing business. … We all wear that together, that's part of why we've had success and why I know we'll get out of this."

The team is still playing hard for the coaching staff. Anyone who watched the intense, 90-minute practice last week in St. Louis will agree, or last weekend's back-to-back. It was, however, troubling that the Lightning didn't respond better in Thursday's 5-1 loss to Vancouver after Cooper gave the players Monday and Tuesday off.

Yzerman said he likes this team. He'll look to improve via trade but acknowledges those are hard to make in a salary-cap world. You need a partner.

For now, it's up to the current team to play up to expectations. Or eventually, changes may come.

"I just think that if a team is not winning, that team doesn't stay the same," C Brian Boyle said. "We love each other, we want to stick together. We've got to start winning. We're running out of time."

QUESTION MARK: It has to be concerning that wing Ryan Callahan's surgically repaired right hip continues to nag him, forcing him to miss his sixth straight game Saturday. The hip bothered him for most of the second half of last season, requiring June surgery. Whether Callahan returned too soon (Oct. 30) is hard to answer. But you understand why Cooper said the team is being cautious so that it's not a "long-term" issue, considering the veteran is in the third year of a six-year, $34.8 million deal.

SLAP SHOTS: D Slater Koekkoek was upset at his latest demotion to AHL Syracuse Friday, and it's hard to blame him. You can argue the former first-round pick deserves more of a chance to stick in the NHL. … Callahan said more than $200,000 was raised for his foundation at Tuesday's launch party. … Captain Steven Stamkos, on crutches after last month's knee surgery, has been rehabbing in Tampa and is expected to address the media this week for the first time since surgery.

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Joe Smith can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.


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