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The case for... Jon Cooper

After Cooper led the Bolts to a record-setting regular season, Bryan Burns makes the case for Jon Cooper to win the Jack Adams Award

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Four Tampa Bay Lightning players and coaches are up for honors at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 19, tied with St. Louis for most in the League.

Victor Hedman tries to repeat as Norris Trophy winner after becoming the first Bolt to claim the award last season.

Nikita Kucherov makes a strong case for the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award, given annually to the League's regular season MVP as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the NHL Players Association, respectively.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is in Las Vegas for a second-straight season with hopes to bring home the Vezina Trophy after finishing third in voting a year ago.

And Jon Cooper will be hard to pass up for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach considering he led the Lightning to 62 regular season wins, tied with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most all-time in League history.

In the past few days, we've made the case why each is worthy of his respective award.

The final case…Jon Cooper

The Tampa Bay Lightning's all-time franchise leader for wins with 304 (and counting now that he was re-signed to a multi-year contract extension late in the regular season), Jon Cooper was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award once before, finishing third behind winner Patrick Roy of Colorado and Mike Babcock of Detroit. That season, Cooper led the Lightning back to the postseason for the first time in three seasons.

This time, Cooper has a strong argument to win the award for the second time in Lightning history (John Tortorella was the first in 2004) after guiding Tampa Bay to a historic 62 wins and 128 points during the regular season.

Cooper's competition for the Jack Adams is fierce, however.

Barry Trotz took over a New York Islanders team that finished second to last in the Metropolitan Division standings and gave up more goals than any other NHL team in 2017-18 and led them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a second-place finish in the Metro behind the strength of a defense that allowed a League-fewest 2.33 goals per game.

St. Louis' Craig Berube took over for Mike Yeo in late November with the Blues in last place in the Central Division and engineered an unprecedented turnaround all the way to the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

Of any of the trophies handed out at Wednesday's NHL Awards ceremony, the Jack Adams might be the most hotly-contested with a legitimate argument being made for each of the finalists.

Here's why we think Cooper has the best case.

 

Historic heights
If you look strictly at the numbers, Jon Cooper is the runaway winner of the Jack Adams.

The Tampa Bay Lightning won 62 games during the regular season to tie the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most victories in NHL history. Cooper's Lightning team was one of just three NHL teams all-time to reach the 60-win plateau and the only to get there in the salary cap era.

In doing so, Cooper became one of just two coaches all-time to lead a team to 60 or more regular season wins.

The other?

Scotty Bowman, considered by many to be the finest NHL coach of all-time.         

Tampa Bay accumulated 128 points in 2018-19, the fourth most in NHL history and the most in the salary cap era.

Still not convinced by those numbers?
How about Tampa Bay's special teams, which featured the top power-play unit in the League at 28.2 percent and tied for the best penalty kill at 85 percent (the Lightning PK actually claims first all to itself when that percentage is rounded to the nearest hundredth), becoming just the second team ever to lead the League in power play and penalty kill (also: 2015-16 Anaheim).

Tampa Bay's 28.2 percent power play ranked 10th best in the NHL all-time.

And how about this for consistency.

Under Cooper, the Lightning held first place in the overall NHL standings since their 26th game on November 29 and never relinquished that position, becoming one of just three teams all-time since the implementation of the 82-game schedule to gain first place that early in the season and stay there. Tampa Bay won its first-ever Presidents' Trophy in franchise history as a result.

Handling adversity
The Tampa Bay Lightning didn't just breeze their way to 62 wins and 128 points.

They faced adversity along the way, from losing their starting goalie for a month of the season to holding a giant target on their backs and taking every opponent's best shot night in and night out.

Jon Cooper guided the Lightning through all of it masterfully to put up historic numbers.

When Andrei Vasilevskiy suffered a left foot fracture during a practice in Pittsburgh on November 14, things could have turned south quickly for the Lightning.

The Bolts were coming off consecutive losses: a 6-4 home defeat to Ottawa -- a game which Tampa Bay led 4-2 after two periods - and a 2-1 defeat in Buffalo, the only time all season the Lightning lost back-to-back games in regulation.

Now the Lightning were going into Pittsburgh with backup goalie Louis Domingue in net for the foreseeable future and the very real possibility of a losing skid hitting the squad, a downturn seeming all the more plausible when the Penguins sprinted out to a 2-0 lead in the first period behind a pair of power-play goals.

Cooper, as he did masterfully the entire regular season, righted the ship. The Lightning benefitted from multiple power plays at the end of the first period going into the second, and Brayden Point netted a hat trick over a span of :91 seconds between the two periods to push the Bolts into the lead. Tampa Bay would go on to register a 4-3 victory over the Penguins, Domingue stopping 28-of-31 shots, and the Lightning would get a second-straight win two days later in Philadelphia with a 6-5 overtime win against the Flyers.

With Vasilevskiy out, the Lightning didn't miss a beat, Domingue posting a 11-2-0 record (Eddie Pasquale earned his first career NHL start along the way and spearheaded a 6-5 shootout win in Detroit) to put the Lightning squarely in first place in the league standings and create separation from their competitors, something unfathomable when Vasilevskiy went down.

By the All-Star break, the Lightning enjoyed a five-point lead over the rest of the NHL. They were 13 points ahead of their nearest competitor in the Eastern Conference.

By the end of February, that lead had mushroomed to 13 points over the League and 17 points in the East. On March 9, almost a full month before the end of the regular season, Tampa Bay became the first NHL team to secure a playoff spot.

With nothing tangible to play for over the final weeks, Cooper continued to push his troops to historic levels. The Lightning went 11-3-0 after their postseason clinch, including a 3-1-0 record over a four-game road trip in the last week of the regular season, often against teams scrambling for postseason positioning or ones trying to make the playoffs, to secure their 62nd win and spot in NHL history.

Cooper deserves plenty of the credit for keeping Tampa Bay focused on its mission, shrugging off the apathy that easily could have settled in.

Conclusion
St. Louis' Craig Berube and the New York Islanders' Barry Trotz are both worthy finalists, and, really, no one should be shocked if either's name is called when the Jack Adams is handed out.

But based on the historic regular season the Tampa Bay Lightning completed, one that hasn't been seen in the NHL for over 20 years, Jon Cooper has to be the selection as the League's top coach.

Remember too: Voting for the Jack Adams takes place at the end of the regular season, so postseason results bear no weight in determining a winner.

With that out of the way, it's hard to find a reason not to pick Cooper.

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