Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman addressed the media during a press conference Tuesday morning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, sharing insight into the thought process that went into naming Jon Cooper as the team’s new head coach following the dismissal of Guy Boucher on Sunday.
Prior to fielding questions about the shift in coaching, however, Yzerman first addressed the state of the players, whom he said “have been pretty quiet.”
The Bolts general manager then went on to laud his players’ professional attitude throughout the entire process, adding that all of them had been “respectful” both of the decision to make a change and to Boucher and Yzerman themselves.
But it was those same players, Yzerman said, whose attitude and spirits shifted even after a 3-2 win at Florida on March 12, indicating to him that a change needed to be made.
“Really it’s a sense of mixed emotions,” Yzerman said. “Everyone feels a sense of responsibility for the coach being let go, so I would assume there is some guilt and some sadness on their part.”
Yzerman also said he did not blame the players for the ultimate outcome of Boucher’s fate, but rather looked at the situation objectively and acknowledged that he was not completely satisfied with the way each player on the team has performed thus far, admitting “we’re a ways away” from competing for a Stanley Cup.
Steve spoke with media Tuesday morning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum prior to the team's Sabres match-up.
“Every player will be evaluated at the end of the season, and we take into account where each player fits, this year, next year, and of course where salary comes into it, but I certainly do not want to make any predictions or threats that these guys are going to be gone and that they’ve under-performed.”
Prior to specifically fielding questions about Cooper, Yzerman wrapped up the first portion of the presser by expressing that his expectations at the beginning of the season were obviously different than where the team stands now, but that the team’s hope is still to make the playoffs with the Southeast Division “still up for grabs.”
“We've got some areas that have to be improved and addressed,” Yzerman said. “We're 14th in our conference. At start of the year we expected to compete for playoff spot.”
As far as Cooper is concerned, Yzerman said he had made up his mind as to he wanted as Boucher’s replacement as soon as he made the announcement that Boucher had been relieved of his duties.
Yzerman said he had no real conversations with former Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff about the position, but he did contact Ruff by phone on Monday to inform him out of respect what he was doing and what decision he had made.
“It was important to me, out of respect for Lindy, to tell him that I had already made my decision prior to letting Guy go and that this was the direction I was heading in,” Yzerman said. “Had Jon not been in the organization, and I didn’t know him as well, then maybe I would have gone in a different direction.” “But I know him, and I know there were other options that might have been the safer thing to do, but this is my decision and I’m 100 percent confident that this is the way I want to go,” Yzerman continued. “I’ve watched him and I’ve thought for a long time he would make an outstanding coach.”
So, why it took so long to officially name Cooper head coach, especially considering Yzerman’s own words in which he said he had his mind already made up at the time of Boucher’s dismissal?
“Jon’s a tough negotiator,” Yzerman joked. “But I felt it was not only best for the team, but best for Guy Boucher as well. I contemplated over the past seven to 10 days [whether to wait until after the season] but I looked at it and there were still 16 or 17 games left, and with the way things were going the last week, I thought it’s not fair for anybody to continue this way.”
For the record, Yzerman also added that the decision to bring in Cooper now as opposed to after the season was not affected by any thought of losing Cooper to another NHL team looking to fill a head coaching vacancy.
“I knew he was the guy and the risk of losing him had no impact [on the decision],” Yzerman said. “He comes in and he has a better understanding of these guys. He’s watched all of our games and he knows our players in terms of how they play and what they do.”
With that said, Yzerman said he will let Cooper coach the team, although Yzerman himself will make suggestions, but ultimately on-ice decisions will be made by Cooper.
“I’m not going to sit down with him and tell him that I want the team to play this way or that way. That stuff has to be his decision,” Yzerman said. “I believe a coach and a general manager have to have a strong relationship, but ultimately you have to let him do his job.”
Yzerman concluded the media session by acknowledging Boucher’s efforts, but again reiterated that the decision was not made to be critical, but rather to serve the best interests of the hockey team for the short-term and the long-term.
“I hope he is still a good friend of mine because I worked closely with him, I spent a lot of time with him, I know how hard he worked, I know how much he cared and how much he believed in what he was doing.”