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Yzerman only wanted Cooper for new Lightning coach

by Lonnie Herman

TAMPA -- According to Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, it was a 3-2 Lightning victory at the Florida Panthers on March 12 that set his thought process in motion that a coaching change was needed.

"After that win, the atmosphere around the team was down," Yzerman said Tuesday, prior to the Lightning's game Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres. "We came back and played three more games and won two out of the three. Going on the road to Toronto, I had a sense that the atmosphere had changed, and watching the team play, the emotion, and trying to read the situation -- after watching the scenario play out over the last couple of weeks, the decision was made over a few days and just culminated with watching the game in Ottawa [a 5-3 Lightning loss which saw the team fall behind 4-0 in the opening period] I felt it was best for the team and I felt it was best for Guy Boucher at that point."

The Lightning announced Sunday that Boucher had been relieved of his duties, and a day later named Jon Cooper, the coach of the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, his replacement.

Cooper, the eighth full-time coach in team history, will make his debut Friday when the Lightning host the New Jersey Devils. Assistant coach Daniel Lacroix and player development coach Steve Thomas will share the coaching duties Tuesday.

Yzerman said once he decided to fire Boucher, he had no doubt Cooper was the coach he wanted.

"He's got three years in the American Hockey League, but most importantly, he was in our organization for three years," Yzerman said. "I've seen him, I've watched the man. I've seen how he coaches and how his teams play. I know the man so I was comfortable making the decision. This is my decision and I'm 100-percent confident. I have no doubt this is the way I want to go."

But there was some hesitation on the timing, with Yzerman first considering holding off on promoting Cooper until the offseason. Eventually, though, Yzerman realized he couldn't wait.

"With the way things were going the last week, I just thought, 'You know what? It's not fair for anybody to continue this way,'" Yzerman said, "and we'll make the change now and give Jon an opportunity to get to know the players, the players to get to know him, and it will make him better prepared for next year."

With the coaching change official, Yzerman said he might not be done making changes.

"I think it's fair to say without being specific, am I completely happy with the performance of every player on this team? No, I'm not," Yzerman said. "That's not a threat. The reality in this League is that you don't just wheel them in and wheel them out. Just simply to make a trade is a difficult thing to do. Again, we assess every player -- where they fit and where they fit next year. I don't hold the players responsible, but everyone is assessed."

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