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Jon Cooper: Last season still hurts but Lightning can only ‘learn from it’

The coach is ready to move on from the early postseason exit with a motivated team in a new season.
Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper gives direction during drills on the first day on the ice at the beginning of training camp at the Ice Sports Forum on September 13, 2019 in Brandon, FL. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Sep. 13
Updated Sep. 13

BRANDON — Jon Cooper has turned the page. He’s looking at the new Lightning season with a different team. But that doesn’t mean the coach is over April’s first-round playoff collapse against the Blue Jackets.

“When that happens to you, it’s crushing,” he said Friday.

How crushing? Cooper doesn’t want to rehash it, but …

“No one can go back and change what happened. You can just learn from it,” he said at training camp, which continues at 9 a.m. Saturday in sessions open to the public at the Ice Sports Forum.

MORE SPORTS: Seeing is believing, Todd Bowles’ defense carries the Bucs

As general manager Julien BriseBois did Thursday, Cooper said the Lightning won’t overreact to being swept after tying the NHL record with 62 regular-season wins. There’s no overhaul, just tweaks. There was too much good from last year’s regular season to blow up the team.

Cooper likes the pieces the Lightning added in the offseason and particularly that they did it without giving up any of their core.

The fact of it is that 30 teams are unhappy with how their season ended last year. Maybe not all of them are as unhappy as the Lightning, but only one won the Stanley Cup.

“You look at (coach Bruce) Cassidy in Boston,” Cooper said, referring to the team that lost the Cup final to the Blues. “They had a great year and a great run, but I don’t know that he’s feeling any different than I am.”

The silver lining for the Lighting — maybe tin more than silver — is that players had a long offseason to recover, work out and come back motivated. Cooper said players did well in their fitness tests on Thursday’s first day of camp and camp has a different feel.

“There’s a lot of jump. They’re probably a little bigger and stronger,” Cooper said. “Looking at what happened the first day, it was a really good start.”

The 62 players in camp are split into three groups each day, one of mostly players from rookie camp and two a split of AHL and NHL players. Two groups scrimmage each day — Saturday’s are at noon — giving the coaches and management many opportunities to see players in different lights.

At this point, it’s not about lines and defensive pairings, but getting a look at what players can do. They were sent off after last season with lists of things to target, so now coaches see who did what in the offseason.

Cooper isn’t penciling players into places, but he plans to give Mikhail Sergachev “ample time” with Victor Hedman as he figures out his top defensive pair, for example.

MORE LIGHTNING: Lightning start training camp with looming question: Are we there yet?

BriseBois said they plan to carry their eight defensemen on one-way contracts in the NHL. That means the back end is set as far as the roster but up in the air in terms of the lineup, especially with newcomers Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Schenn entering the mix.

Cooper called Shattenkirk a “savvy, slick player that can see the ice and has vision,” and cited his experience playing for the United States in big games internationally. Like the Lightning, Shattenkirk has something to prove after being bought out by the Rangers after last season.

The Lightning have eight goalies in camp, which works out to two per group, and Louis Domingue and Mike Condon on their own. BriseBois said the team doesn’t want to risk an injury to either Domingue or Condon, and both will be placed on waivers and sent to the AHL if nothing changes. He is looking for a new organization for Domingue, though.

There are openings at forward. The Lightning don’t like to put a prospect in the press box as a healthy scratch when he could be playing in the minors, but a spot in the lineup could be available.

“New season, different team,” Cooper said. “Let’s get after it.”

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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