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Coaches like McLellan, Cooper changing NHL mold

by Kevin Weekes

I was talking to Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper the other day and there was just something about the way he conducted himself. It was just him being a human being; so refreshing. There's no yelling or false bravado. It then dawned on me how the way coaches address their players has changed in the NHL.

You don't see yelling or intimidation anymore. You don't even see that from Philadelphia Flyers coach Craig Berube, and he collected more than 3,000 penalty minutes as a player. That's the irony. Look at the job he's done and how he's galvanized that group.

This is how coaches are doing their job in today's NHL. I'm going to get back to Cooper, but Todd McLellan is another guy who illustrates that. And it's working wonders for the San Jose Sharks.

San Jose looks as good as I've ever seen them, which says a lot because they've had a lot of very good teams over the years. Doug Wilson and McLellan and that staff have done a great job.

They're playing faster than they've ever played. You watch those guys play, it's almost like they're playing in fast forward. What I really like about their game is that they just keep attacking you. The depth in their lineup is impressive. Look at the month that James Sheppard had. Go to any hockey market -- Chicago, New York, Toronto -- and ask fans if they know who James Sheppard is.

His monster month really exemplifies how deep that team is. With 14 points in 20 games, Sheppard was voted the player of the month for February/March on a team with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski.

That tells you everything you need to know about the job McLellan is doing.

Let's get back to Cooper and the Lightning, who like the Sharks have clinched their spot in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. People weren't giving them much of a chance this season, just looking at so many young guys who were promoted from the American Hockey League and playing under an AHL coach. But I love Cooper's demeanor.

I've known Steve Thomas for a long time and he's a world-class person on that staff; the same for Rick Bowness. When you have a coaching staff like that, it just goes a long way as a player. You don't feel like there is someone biting on your neck behind the bench and chewing on your ear. They hold you accountable if you make mistakes, but they're going to do it in a respectful way where they don't obliterate or challenge your character. Pay attention to how those guys conduct themselves. It sets a nice tone for the team; there are no head games with those players.

You don't have to be a star player. As long as you bring your attributes to the table on a daily basis, it's a fun environment. It's one of the best NHL dressing rooms I've been in this year, in terms of the atmosphere and the vibe. Your coaching staff has a lot to do with that.

This is the National Hockey League, it's the best League in the world. You've got 700 players out of 7 billion people on the planet who play in this League. You want to come to the rink and have fun and feel that joy. Have that feeling every time you get to the rink that you're excited to be there. That is what the Tampa Bay Lightning have created.

There are still some guys who are steadfast about being taskmasters. You can't do that, it's outdated.

The key here is we're in the people business. Ultimately, whether you're the great Scotty Bowman or Phil Jackson or Joel Quenneville or Ken Hitchcock, you have to understand that the player is a different player. They learn and function in different ways. They're younger than they've ever been. The world is a very different place. How you interact with people via technology is very different. If you don't evolve, we know what happens.

You can hold people accountable. Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien is a guy who loves structure, but still treats people with respect. Joel Quenneville is a great example. He's evolved in a great way.

If you don't evolve, it could be curtains.

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