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Ruff, Cooper could be on Yzerman's list of candidates

Sunday, 03.24.2013 / 11:19 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Ruff, Cooper could be on Yzerman's list of candidates
NHL.com examines five potential candidates to replace Guy Boucher as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Guy Boucher's former assistants, Martin Raymond and Dan Lacroix, will handle the coaching duties for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday when they play at the Winnipeg Jets.

How long the Raymond-Lacroix split lasts remains to be seen, but it doesn't figure to be much longer than just the one game.

The Lightning play again Tuesday at home against the Buffalo Sabres.

If you believe some of the speculation that began Sunday morning, when the hockey world woke to the news that Boucher had been fired, Tuesday night could be quite an interesting one because Lindy Ruff's name among the most talked about as a potential full-time replacement for Boucher.

Ruff spent 16-plus seasons coaching the Sabres before being fired earlier this season. He knows Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman, knows the Eastern Conference, and probably is hungry to coach again since he didn't leave Buffalo on his own accord.

However, it's all speculation until Yzerman makes the next important piece of Lightning news official.

For now, though, it's fair to consider Ruff as a top candidate for the Lightning job. He at least makes NHL.com's list of the top choices Yzerman likely will pick from:

Lindy Ruff

Not only is Ruff a veteran coach who has been to the Stanley Cup Final and has 571 career wins in the NHL, Ruff has a previous working relationship with Yzerman -- he was an assistant coach and Yzerman the executive director for Canada at the 2010 Olympics.

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However, there are two questions to consider with Ruff:

Does Yzerman want to sign a full-time veteran replacement for Boucher right now or wait until the offseason, when the pool of candidates likely will grow?

Does Ruff want to take a new job now or wait until the offseason, when it's likely more teams will be looking for coaches of his ilk?

Neither question has an answer -- yet.

Jon Cooper

The coach of the Lightning's American Hockey League team probably will be in the NHL next season, so Yzerman has to consider if he wants to get the jump and bring Cooper to Tampa Bay right now.

Cooper, 45, currently is in his third season coaching Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate. This season, his Syracuse Crunch are first in the Eastern Conference with 86 points after 65 games.

He was the AHL's Coach of the Year last season and led the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup, coaching several of players currently in Tampa Bay, including Cory Conacher, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Dana Tyrell. He also won a championship in the United States Hockey League in 2010.

However, since Yzerman dipped into the AHL for Boucher three years ago, does he want to do the same thing again?

Cooper would be the most obvious choice if Yzerman chooses to go the AHL route again.

Mike Sullivan

He may fall far behind the first two candidates listed here, but if Yzerman is looking for a coach with NHL experience, Sullivan at least fits the bill.

He has been the top assistant to New York Rangers coach John Tortorella since 2009. He previously was the coach of the Boston Bruins for two seasons, from 2003-06, totaling a 70-56-38 record. He took Boston to the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs but was fired after they struggled in the first season following the 2004-05 lockout.

Sullivan also worked with Tortorella in Tampa Bay, so he is familiar with the market.

More importantly, Sullivan is considered a taskmaster and the Lightning may need someone like that now. He has also been managing the in-game defensive changes for the Rangers, who are in the top five in the League in goals-against per game for the third straight season.

Defense has been Tampa Bay's biggest problem for the past two seasons.

Mike Haviland

If you go by the philosophy that Cooper would be the only AHL coach Yzerman would consider, you might immediately knock Haviland off the Lightning's short list. He's currently an associate coach with the Norfolk Admirals, the Anaheim Ducks' AHL affiliate.

However, Haviland has NHL experience and a Stanley Cup ring, which he won with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 as an assistant to Joel Quenneville.

Haviland also has head coaching experience at the ECHL and AHL levels.

He was the AHL Coach of the Year in 2007, when he led the Admirals to a 50-22-8 regular-season record. He also won two championships in four seasons as a coach in the ECHL.

Jacques Martin

Martin appears to fit the criteria Yzerman could be considering, which likely is the reason TVA Sports' Louis Jean reported on Twitter that a source told him Martin is a "viable option" for the Lightning opening. Martin works for TVA Sports as a panelist on Jean's talk show.

Martin is a veteran NHL coach with more than 1,200 games on his resume; he is a strict, defensive-minded coach; he and Yzerman have a previous relationship.

Among other meetings, including Martin's time coaching against Yzerman when he was a player for the Detroit Red Wings, Martin was an associate coach for Canada at the 2002 Olympics, when Yzerman was one of Canada's alternate captains.

Martin has been on the sidelines since he was fired by the Montreal Canadiens last season, but he has won 613 games, four division championships and has taken his teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs 12 times.

Wildcard choice: Dallas Eakins

Eakins is the coach of the Toronto Marlies, the Toronto Maple Leafs' AHL affiliate. Like Cooper, Eakins is a rising star in the NHL coaching world who would be a candidate for any and all NHL coaching jobs that open in the offseason.

However, Eakins' contract stipulates that he stays with the Maple Leafs' organization through the end of the 2012-13 season. So unless the Leafs release him from his contract, the only way Eakins becomes the coach of the Lightning is if Yzerman names an interim replacement for Boucher now and waits until the end of the season to hire Eakins.

Eakins led the Marlies to the 2012 Calder Cup Finals, where they were swept by Cooper's Admirals in four games. The Maple Leafs' current roster is littered with players that Eakins coached, including Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin, Leo Komarov, Mark Fraser, James Reimer and Ben Scrivens.

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