It seems that over the last couple of years, the Tampa Bay Lightning have done everything right, with the rather gargantuan exception of winning a Stanley Cup. Well, by wisely signing coach Jon Cooper to an extension with two weeks to go before the playoff tournament begins, they’ve given themselves an even better chance of reaching that one accomplishment.
Why? Because it simply checks off yet another box in a season in which the Lightning have checked off almost all of them. The uncertainty surrounding Barry Trotz’s future obviously did not hurt the Washington Capitals during their playoff run last spring, but by signing Cooper, the Lightning have completely removed any level of doubt surrounding their head coach. By signing him to a three-year deal worth between $3.5 million and $4 million a year, which is believed to be the terms, the Lightning not only rid themselves of any uncertainty, but they got themselves a huge bargain. (Although when you compare the tax rates in Florida to New York, Cooper will actually be pretty much in line with Trotz when it comes to take-home pay.)
The economies of scale aren’t the same, but the reality is Cooper is making third-line money for being a top-line coach, one of the best, if not the best, in the NHL. And speaking of supply and demand, don’t think Lightning GM Julien BriseBois didn’t look around and realize that there will be an overabundance of coaching vacancies this summer. Should Cooper go on and lead the Lightning to the Stanley Cup, it would not be a stretch to suggest that he would have attracted Trotz or Mike Babcock money and term. Heck, he might have attracted it even if he doesn’t win. Is there a single team in the NHL that will be looking for a coach that wouldn’t be more than happy to exceed both a three-years term and $3.5 million to $4 million per to get a coach of Cooper’s ilk?
“I make more money now than I ever thought I’d make in my life,” Cooper told The Hockey News during the all-star break. “If I get an extension, wherever that path leads me, I hope it takes me to a Stanley Cup. If they want me to stay, which I want to do, we’ll make that happen.” When it was suggested to Cooper that saying that might not be his best negotiating strategy, he responded with three simple words. “I don’t care.”
So it becomes a situation that is best for the Lightning and best for Cooper. It’s hard to believe there is a franchise in the league that is more suited to, and in sync with, the man behind the bench. It’s interesting that Cooper’s extension was announced March 26, because that is seven years and one day after Lightning GM Steve Yzerman pulled Cooper up from the Lightning’s farm team and gave him the coaching job. Cooper had already interviewed with the Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals and had been passed over for both jobs, but Yzerman knew that wasn’t going to keep on happening. Since then, the Lightning has taken on the identity of the man behind the bench and Cooper’s track record for both dealing with superstars and helping to create them by incorporating young players into the lineup and developing them properly is without peer.
In Cooper, the Lightning get to keep the man they groomed and with whom they grew. Cooper gets to stay where he always wanted and now will get multiple stabs at winning Cups with a lineup that could still set the NHL’s all-time wins record – aided, of course, by 3-on-3 overtime and shootouts – and isn’t going anywhere soon. The Lightning’s window of opportunity for winning a championship is wide open and will stay that way for a couple of years. BriseBois and Lightning ownership obviously was of the mind that Cooper is the man who could bring it across the finish line. And really, if the Lightning do fail to realize their goal, does anyone really think it will be because Jon Cooper allowed himself to get out-coached?
Now all the Lightning have to do is go out and win the thing. There will be pressure to be sure, but barring any untimely injuries, every single excuse has been removed from this team. The Lightning could very well transform these playoffs from a tournament to a coronation the way they’ve played to this point. And now nobody will be wondering where the coach is going after it’s all done.