Ask Gary: Could this Lightning season be costly?

by Gary Shelton on January 7, 2017 · 3 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

If the Lightning continues to play embarrassing hockey and miss the playoffs, do you think John Cooper pays the price? Despite all the injuries, this is an uninspired hockey team that often forgets the fundamentals -- I would think someone has to be held accountable. This means the coach.

Barry McDowell

I don't think it means the coach's job this year. I think, this year, he's protected because he lost his best player for most of the season.

Remember, when the Bolts re-signed Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman and Alex Killorn, it didn't make them better players. They have skill, but I don't look at the Lightning and see a smothering defensive team. I see a team that is struggling to keep up defensively. From Andrej Sustr's healthy scratch on Thursday night, it's safe to say that Jon Cooper sees the same.
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This is a team that has been in the final two and the final four in the last two years. I don't think you dump the coach just because this has been an ordinary year. I could be wrong -- hockey has sometimes pulled the plug awfully fast -- but I don't look at the Bolts and see a juggernaut. I see a nice little team, but it's certainly susceptible to missing the playoffs.

We like to fire. It makes us feel in control. But sometimes, the best action is to stay the course and wait for your team to get healthy.

Cooper has worked very well with Steve Yzerman in his history. But I wouldn't blow him out because he had one bad season. Would you?

If Mike Smith leaves the Bucs to take a head coaching job next season with another team, how disruptive, if any, will that be to the Bucs season-over-season improvement program?

Scott Myers

You never want to lose a coach you like at any level, Scott. It would certainly hurt.

But when Dirk Koetter put this staff together last year, I have to believe that he thought Smith might be gone after a year. You'd think he planned for that with his other hires. If you look back on it, the Dolphins never quite replaced Bill Arnsbarger. But the Patriots did just fine plugging in when Romeo Crennel left. Good staffs have guys who can step in.

It doesn't look as if Smith is an overwhelming favorite anywhere. He's talked to Jacksonville and San Francisco and San Diego. But teams have taken their time filling their vacant positions, haven't they?

Still, it only takes one franchise to look at Smith and say "He's done it as a head coach. He isn't just the flavor of the day. His Atlanta teams were very, very good, and he did a nice job in Tampa Bay last year. I'll trust my franchise to him."

One of the things working against Smith is that he isn't a hot young offensive assistant, which always dazzle owners. To me, that works in his favor. But the last time I looked, I didn't own a franchise.

What will Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey do when they are faced with a "meaningless" game after their team has missed the playoffs? Will they mail it in then too? I don't want them on my team. That type of 'me first' mentality creates a bad culture in the locker room. What say you?

Michele Forte

I was disappointed in the stance that both players took. I wrote that. Still, when you consider the injuries some players have had (Melvin Bratton, Jaylon  Smith, Willis McGahee, Marcus Lattimore), and the amount of money involved, it's a little easier to understand.

I will say this: It would be a negative grade for both players. For me to take either, they would have to clearly be the highest-rated back on the boards. I'd take Dalvin Cook over both of them.

You're right. Cleveland has played meaningless games for years. San Diego. Buffalo. The Jets. How many meaningless games did Barry Sanders play for Detroit?

At some point, it can't be about the money. At some point, a player owes something to his teammates and to the program that helped make him a No. 1 pick to begin with.

A lot of people have written that these guys are actually smart for skipping bowl  games. But how about conference title games? You can get hurt there. How about rivalry week? You can get hurt there. Football players, real football players, play.

 Do you think Steve Yzerman has erred by not trading Ben Bishop for a much needed defensemen? Even if he wanted to make a trade now, at this point in the season would a potential trading partner be willing to give up an impactful player for a soon to be free agent goalie coming off the injured list?

Larry Beller

It's hard to say that Yzerman erred when we don't know what any proposed trade would have been. Conceptually, I know the Bolts need to move a goaltender before the expansion draft, and I know they need a defenseman. So it's easy to connect the dots and say that's what they should do.

But what if the proposals that the Lightning have received are grade C defensemen for what you consider a grade B-plus goalie. (An A in some years).

You're right, Larry. I'd be cautious to give up an impact player for "a soon to be free agent goalie coming off the injured list." Bishop is going to have high salary demands, which is something that any team trading for him is going to have to consider.  But that's an argument that the pickings might be slim for Yzerman.

I know this: Bishop is a good goalie, and the trade deadline is coming up. If Bish can get back int the lineup and prove he's healthy (his health history is another reason I might be slow to trade for him) then I think there is a chance the Bolts move him. Frankly, I was surprised he wasn't traded in the draft.

Might it be that the rest of the league doesn't value Bishop as much as Lightning fans?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller January 7, 2017 at 9:15 am

Looking back I think it was the Lightning management that overvalued Bishop the most. The need for another top defenseman was apparent during the playoffs last year and it should have been addressed in the off season. It seemed like the Lightning’s plan was to have Bishop carry the team one more time unless Vasilevskiy proved he could be No 1 which would allow them to trade Bishop before the deadline. Bishop getting hurt and not really having a great year anyway sabotaged those plans. Meanwhile the defensive problems have only become worse. The Lightning’s season is clearly on the brink at this point and Lightning fans will be looking for someone to blame if they miss the playoffs.

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Gary Shelton January 8, 2017 at 12:56 am

I think the Lightning thought they’d have better offers for Bishop at the draft.

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Larry Beller January 8, 2017 at 8:03 am

I think that’s exactly what happened and they probably thought they could get by with the same team since they made a good run last year without Stamkos for the playoffs. The defensive play has regressed this year as has the overall team. Injuries have a lot to do with it but that’s not the only problem with this team. If they don’t make the playoffs Yzerman is going to have to restructure the team with more toughness and add some guys who are physical. Our smaller, skilled guys are getting pounded way too often because there is nobody to protect them. JT Brown can’t be our tough guy.

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