Tampa Bay Lightning
Yzerman's retooling of Lightning well under way
Some players said goodbye for the summer on Monday; others, for good.
That's how it happens every time the Lightning gather to clean out locker stalls and pack up hockey bags.
When the team misses the playoffs, as Tampa Bay has five of the past six seasons, those handshakes hold a bit more meaning. Changes are sure to be made before the team assembles for training camp in September.
General manager Steve Yzerman promised there would be changes to try to get the Lightning back into the postseason and make it an annual event instead of a passing anomaly.
“Our group will change, how dramatically I'm not prepared to say yet, but we'll explore options as far as improving the areas we feel need to be addressed,'' Yzerman said. “We have players coming up from Syracuse (of the American Hockey League) next year that will have an opportunity to make this team. So, things will be different; they need to be different.''
In reality, Yzerman already has made big changes.
His first move was firing head coach Guy Boucher and replacing him with up-and-comer Jon Cooper, who led Tampa Bay's farm team to an AHL title last season and has worked closely with many of the Lightning's top prospects.
Then, at the trade deadline, Yzerman acquired goaltender Ben Bishop from Ottawa for rookie Cory Conacher to shore up the team's play in net.
The salary cap drops from $70.2 million to $64.4 million next season. With the Lightning having nearly $61 million already committed to the cap, there appears to be little wiggle room for Yzerman to work the free-agent market. That leaves trades as the most viable route for changes.
Either way, there is a general feeling that with the talent already on the roster, the addition of Bishop to compete with Anders Lindback in goal and a full training camp for Cooper to implement his system, the team is not far from turning the corner toward playoff contention. Tampa Bay also will add a top talent in the NHL entry draft in June.
But no matter what the changes are, the first part of any turnaround starts with those already in the room.
“We know we have the talent in here, we show it in spurts,'' said center Steven Stamkos, whose 29 goals were second in the league behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin (32). “We know there will be some changes. You never have the exact same guys year after year. And you know you can make changes, but it still falls on the core bunch of guys that have been here the past couple of years from when we were winning and now third to last in the league now.
“The management and ownership and coaching staff, there has been an element of patience that, frankly, I know won't be there next year. There is no more time to talk about what-ifs, we need this or we need that. It's up to us in here and I'm definitely part of the group.''
Cooper will no doubt have a voice in whatever personnel changes are to be made. And in his one month and 15 games on the job, the new coach thinks he got a good feel for the players who are on the roster, what they can handle and who likely needs to be moved.
“It was a great evaluation in so many different ways, whether it was on the ice, off the ice, in the weight room, personalities — it was great,'' Cooper said.
“You have to think they play hockey two-and-a-half hours a night, so how do they act the other 21-and-a-half hours? For me, it was just the right amount of time. And it just makes us that much farther ahead going into next season.''