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Lightning eager to move forward after last season, coach says

Cooper discusses what he learned from playoff loss, strength of conference, Maroon signing

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Jon Cooper knows the questions will follow the Tampa Bay Lightning all season.

After a history-making 2018-19 that saw the Lightning tie the NHL record with 62 regular-season wins (62-16-4) before being stunned by the Columbus Blue Jackets in a four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Tampa Bay coach can see his players are determined to move on from that disappointment and redeem themselves this season.

But the Lightning can't earn that redemption during the regular season. They only can do it by having success in the playoffs. And they must get there first.

"I think we can move on from it, but I don't think we'll be able to because I think we're going to be asked that question in every media scrum from now until the end of the year," Cooper said after the Lightning's 2-0 preseason loss against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Wednesday. "What goes on in the room, we're focused on trying to get back to the playoffs. We can't rectify what happened unless we get back."

Video: Andrei Vasilevskiy claims the No. 1 spot on the list

That's the motivation for the Lightning as they go through training camp and prepare for their regular-season opener against the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena on Oct. 3. Cooper expects reaching the playoffs to be a tougher challenge for all the teams in the improved Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.

He discussed that, his process of moving on from last season and more in an interview with


Did you sense your players were eager to get started after the way last season ended and the long summer that followed?

"The one thing I've found, whether you go all the way or you get knocked out in the first round, when the season ends and the Stanley Cup is awarded to a team, that's kind of when summer begins and that's kind of the same for everybody. The difference for this year, though, is rarely do we have players come back early. Part of the reason is the heat in Tampa is tough. It's a tough place to train and stuff like that and the ice is difficult. But this year the lion's share of our team and a lot of prospects were all in town weeks before. So from just that alone you can tell guys were eager to get back."


How much time did you spend after the season assessing what went wrong in the series against the Columbus? And when did you put that aside and begin looking ahead to this season?

"When our season ended, Washington was still the Stanley Cup champs and it's painful to watch for another month and a half when you felt you had a chance to be battling until the end. So after St. Louis rightfully won the Stanley Cup, that's when you can kind of turn the page. I've been in that handshake line (at the end of the Cup Final) and I want to be on the other side of it someday. You look at that and I had some personal friends who were on that team and acquaintances that also coach and manage the team, so I was extremely happy for them.

"But when you see that joy on their faces you know why you're in this game. The pilot light gets lit, and just as the players are, you're eager to get back and get the season going again."


Did you learn anything about yourself from that loss against the Blue Jackets?

"I think after every year you learn something. The thing is, all you ever hear is about us not winning in the playoffs, the way we went out. But someday I'm going to look back, a couple times during the summer you looked back, and say, 'Hold on a second here. We did win 62 games during the year so we're doing something right.' I just think it was a perfect storm for Columbus and a perfect storm not for us, but they earned the right to beat us. You kind of just have to remember that feeling and that urgency when it comes playoff time is something that we can't take for granted."

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Kucherov


Looking at the Atlantic Division, the Florida Panthers appear to have gotten stronger in the offseason with some of the changes they made. With the teams that already were strong in the division, does that make getting to the playoffs more difficult?

"It's not just the division; it's the conference. Just look around the Eastern Conference and how everybody upgraded. It kind of has a different feel than what happened in the West. A lot of teams elevated their game and we're going to have to do that as well."


What excites you about your team heading into the season?

"They're a fun group to coach and I feel like we're in every game. When we have (goalie Andrei) Vasilevskiy backstopping the team, I think we're always given a chance. We've got some fabulous players, and like I said, it's just an exciting team to coach and proud to be a part of it."


You have a relationship with Pat Maroon that dates to your time coaching him at the junior level in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) with Texarkana and St. Louis. But did him being part of that St. Louis Blues team that won the Cup and knowing what it takes factor into you wanting to sign him?

"I can't sit here and say in June and July that we knew we were going to land Pat Maroon. I'm not saying this is the reason we (signed) him, but I think most teams or all teams that have won in the last 25 years have had a (previous) Stanley Cup champ on their team. I'm not saying that's the reason why, but it's good to have guys that have experience and somebody with his size (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) and ability, and his physicality is something we haven't had as much, so he was kind of a fit for us at the end of the summer."

Video: Pat Maroon joins the show to talk about his summer

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