TAMPA, Fla. -- He had 16 games behind the bench to finish last season, but Jon Cooper opened his first training camp as the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
Cooper, who joined the Lightning from the club's American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, went 5-8-3 with a team hurt by injuries and which finished 14th in the Eastern Conference, but there is no discounting how much that brief spell leading the team has proved invaluable for him.
"Just getting to know the landscape helped," Cooper said. "The travel, the day-to-day operation, everything that goes on in the League, meeting the media on a daily basis, just things that you don't plan for to take up your time and all of a sudden your day is gone and you don't know what happened with it. That was big for me in the month I was here.
"The second big thing was getting the relationship with the players, being able to find out, in anticipation of this year, who could play where. Moving in, I just have a better grasp on the team."
And that knowledge provides a major head-start.
"I just think that it would have taken until November for me to get to know what I already know now," Cooper said. "So we're way further ahead."
The advantage goes both ways. Cooper knows his way around the Lightning locker room, while the players know what to expect from him.
"We kind of know what he is going to bring and what he wants from us," veteran forward Ryan Malone said. "As a player you have to be prepared and be ready. You can't worry about the coach's decision. You have to be ready to go for yourself and the team."
Having a new coach who is a known commodity before camp opens could prove a huge advantage for the Lightning.
"Having Cooper last year for the last few games helps with knowing what to expect when he is talking about systems or how he wants to play," Steven Stamkos said. "I think that will be on our side."
But there may still be surprises ahead.
"The players, in the 16 games, didn't see the real Jon Cooper," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "They will see a lot of it over the next three weeks."