The Tama Bay Lightning spent Wednesday cleaning out their lockers, taking a full-organization picture with the Prince of Wales trophy and speaking with local media one last time.
The offseason now officially begins for the Lightning.
In a lot of ways, Wednesday’s exit interview session felt like the last day of school: friends saying goodbye, wishing each other well before heading off for the summer to spend time with family and vacation.
A handful of players along with GM Steve Yzerman and head coach Jon Cooper were available to answer questions about the Bolts’ incredible Stanley Cup run, the difference between winning and losing in the Stanley Cup Final and expectations for next year.
Here are the highlights from a bittersweet final day inside the Lightning locker room.
- Yzerman said the organization’s No. 1 priority in the offseason is to sign Lightning captain Steven Stamkos to an extension.
“He did everything that we asked of him,” Yzerman said of Stamkos’ performance this season and in the playoffs. “He put the team ahead of himself. He played injured, he played hard and he did everything he asked. He’s a tremendous leader.”
Yzerman added that he’d like to see the Bolts’ special teams improve in the offseason. He didn’t think that would be done by adding new personnel but rather by repositioning current personnel.
“I don’t see a dramatic change to this team really,” Yzerman said of the impeding free agency period. “It’s a good group.”
- Cooper thought his team had chances to win Game 1 or Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final and were unlucky to head into Game 5 with a 2-2 split.
“I think we could have taken advantage a little bit of those early games,” he said. “When we came out of here 2-2, maybe they felt differently, maybe we could have been up 3-1 coming here and have a little bit more of a chance to close them out. But, ultimately, they found ways to win the games that were in the balance.”
- Stamkos was told of Yzerman’s comment that he was the GM’s No. 1 priority of the offseason and was asked how long you wait before starting to focus on a new contract.
“It’s not up to me right now. We just went through a pretty grueling playoff. We’ll take some time to regroup. For me, that stuff will take care of itself. Whenever that happens, we’ll deal with it then. You just want to really relax and get away from the game a little bit. It’s so hard that it just ends the way it did. You come back to the rink today and you expect to just go out there and practice and get ready for the next game. But I think this is when it kind of kicks in when you’re doing this and cleaning out your stall and the offseason begins.”
- Lightning All-Star center Tyler Johnson arrived in the locker room clean shaven. He said he was glad to get rid of the two-month-long beard he had acquired.
“It was weird, I walked outside and had a little breeze on my chin. It had been a while for that. I like to have a little hair, but that was a bit much.”
Johnson wore a soft brace on his right wrist, the result of an injury he picked up in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“You just try to push (the injury) aside. Everybody’s feeling something at this point,” Johnson said. “It’s a grind, especially in the playoffs. You can’t use your injury as an excuse just because everyone else has one too.”
- Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said the Lightning learned a lot about themselves during the extended playoff run.
“We battled throughout some adversity the year and going into the Final with Johnny’s and Bish’s injury was not ideal for us. But they battled so hard, and it did everything it took for them to play in those games. That shows the character that we have on the team. We’re excited about the future. We have a great team here. Things are looking good for us.”
- Stamkos was asked if he can see himself in another uniform.
“That’s obviously a tough question,” he said. “I’ve been here for so long, and this is my home now. I love it here. It’s been unbelievable to really see the transition since I came here to now. It’s night and day, and obviously it starts with the Mr. Vinik and what he’s been able to do, not only with this team but in the community. When you go on a run like this, everything gets magnified, and the city has been unbelievable.”
Bishop said this offseason will be much different than the last when he was rehabbing a wrist injury.
“I’m excited,” he said. “Last year, with the wrist surgery, I couldn’t work out much. It’ll be fun to work out a little bit more this summer. I’m looking forward to it.”
- Hedman was asked about the attention he received from the international media for his play in the postseason and the talk of him being one of the favorites for next season’s Norris Trophy.
“I think I got better as the playoffs went deeper and deeper,” he replied. “I think the whole team, we played better the more that was at stake. For us, it was just all about that.”
- Stamkos on the team returning virtually intact next season: “It’s a young core, and that’s the exciting part. It sucks that we got this far. You feel like we really had a great chance, and we truly felt that way. We showed it. You saw how tight this series was. There’s still some work to be done. The exciting part is this group is going to be here. We’ll have another chance.”