Heading into the 2016-17′ season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were easily the team to beat. Many hockey analysts and writers had them picked to win the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference, and Stanley Cup. Their closest competitor couldn’t hold a candle to them in terms of experience handling adversity or anything thrown their way.
Put simply, the Lightning had no flaws. There was zero reason for anyone to doubt this team’s ability to turn it up a notch when needed and win games they’re expected to win.
Fast forward three months and the Lightning are out of the postseason picture and, perhaps more alarming, one point from falling into last place in the Atlantic Division. They can talk the talk but when it comes to taking action, forget it. They can play a solid 20 minutes, then get thoroughly dominated and pushed around in a must-win game during the next 35-40 minutes.
Injuries have certainly played a role in the Lightning’s free fall down the standings. With Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, both shelved for a good chunk of the season, there’s clearly a leadership void within the dressing room and on the bench. Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle have stepped up at various times but it isn’t enough. One would think that means it’s time for the coach to speak up and demand action.
Head Coach Jon Cooper hasn’t done that or anything else to spark this Lightning team. That raises the legitimate, albeit unpopular, question about his job security. Should he be fired or is this merely one down year in which the injury excuse can be thrown around like candy?
To me, it might be time to let him go. His demeanor simply isn’t working with the Lightning anymore. He’s even mishandling big games at crucial times. Look at Tuesday nights tilt with Boston. Down a goal and with the net empty, he refused to put arguably the team’s most productive player in Jonathan Drouin on the ice at all during the final three minutes. I’m sorry but that’s unacceptable with the season literally on the line.
Cooper does have a good track record, having won at every level he’s coached. He did lead the Lightning to the Stanley Cup finals in 2015 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last year. Those are good reasons to keep him around if there weren’t such high expectations, with general manager Steve Yzerman pulling off some miraculous moves in re-signing the core of this team in hopes of putting everything together and achieving something special.
For the record, Yzerman has openly stated that he has no plans of canning Cooper. However, the St. Louis Blues didn’t intend to fire Ken Hitchcock, a move they made on Wednesday following a loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The New York Islanders recently cut ties with Jack Capuano as well and the results have been amazing. New York hasn’t lost in regulation since firing Capuano, now sitting a mere three points away from a playoff berth.
Will Yzerman pull the plug on Cooper? Crazy as it may sound, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s inability to consistently win games could not only cost them a playoff spot but their coach a job.