Ask Gary: Dissecting the Lightning defeat

by Gary Shelton on April 20, 2019 · 2 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays

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Saturday, 3 a.m.

The consensus is the Lighting demise in the playoffs is not the fault of any one player, coach, play or strategy. It was a total team/organization effort. Nobody seems to have a solution for how to fix it but a serious of questions comes to mind.

1) Is Jon Cooper hockey’s version of Tony Dungy? A good coach who wins a lot of games and gets to the playoffs but not able to push his talented team over the hump and win a championship in Tampa Bay.

2) The Lightning core players are all locked up with lucrative, long term, no-trade deals. And most of them don’t show up in the playoffs. Are they all too comfortable so that when adversity happens they don’t have the fire-in-the-belly attitude needed to meet the challenge?

3) Is the Lighting style of offense first, push up the defense to score, not well suited for the playoffs when referees allow holding, interference, cross checking, slashing, etc that slows down speedy, offense-oriented style of play? Isn’t it true that defense wins championships in hockey too? Defense is an afterthought to the Lightning.

Larry Beller

Larry, some interesting questions there. Great food for thought. I’m not sure there are definitive answers in the wake of a disappointment, but I’ll offer one guy’s opinions. Deal?

Sure, there are some similarities between Dungy and Cooper. Both built excellent franchises that had trouble getting over the hump at the end. But I don’t think there is any question that Dungy’s run was the finest the Bucs have seen. I don’t really buy into the “can’t win the big one” argument. They said that about Don Shula. They said it about Tom Landry. They said it about Bobby Bowden. But in the end, they all won.

There have been 53  Super Bowls. But only 13 men have won it more than once. Only four have won it more than twice. And none of those guys started where Dungy did. I criticized his offenses greatly when he was here. But except for Jon Gruden for one year, there has never been a successful run like his.

Dungy could have won the Super Bowl in 1999, but the Bert Emanuel call happened in St. Louis. He could have won it in 2000, but Martin Gramatica missed a field goal in Green Bay. Now, what was it about Dungy’s coaching that caused those losses?

I wonder if Dungy’s fate — being good but not good enough —  will eventually happen with Cooper, too. Eventually, a franchise gets weary of close-but-no-trophy finishes. But do you think the next Lightning coach will be better or worse (especially now that Steve Yzerman is gone).

I agree it was a total failure. Can you think of one player who was valiant in defeat? No player scored more than one goal. There were no heroes here. It was a disaster.

I think it’s unfair to say “the players don’t show up in the playoffs.” They didn’t this year, but last year they won 11 games. They were flawed, as we’ve often discussed, but it isn’t quite right to say they didn’t show up.

Cooper himself has said that this year’s team didn’t face enough adversity. I think that was part of this year’s problems. There was never a slump to pull themselves out of. They had a few injuries, but nothing that was catastrophic.

The style of play is a legitimate question than the front office needs to consider. Now, I don’t know that the style of play differed that much from that of the Capitals, who beat them last year, except that the Caps were much bigger and more physical. And as we’ve discussed, I think that’s an area that begs to be addressed. But it isn’t the same thing as whether the team pushes up the ice too much. But, yeah, defense is crucial. You need it to be tough for the other team to score.

Larry, in the echo of a meltdown of this size, there are bound to be hard questions asked. The team itself should be asking them. About defense. About physicality. About stars who didn’t produce in these playoffs. Nothing’s wrong with any question that is asked.

What percent of the Lightning’s disappointing 2019 post-season result is because of the Lightning players’ failings?

What percent of the result is because of the Lightning coach’s failings?

What percent of the result is because of the Blue Jackets players’ successes?

What percent of the result is because of the Blue Jackets coach’s successes?

Scott Myers

Interesting. I wish there was a definitive scale. I’m sure your answers to those questions would be different than mine, and mine would be different than the next guy’s.

I’ll answer, but understand that it’s okay if I assign less blame to the coaching than you do.

If we’re on a 100-percent scale, I’d start out by assigning 41 percent of the blame on the Lightning players. They’re the ones playing an ad-lib game. They’re the collection of stars who we expected to dominate.

I’ll give Jon Cooper 12 percent of the blame. He couldn’t protect a three-goal lead in Game One, and if the Bolts escape with that win, the series might have been different. But once the teams are on the ice, there really isn’t much a coach can do but jiggle the lineups. He can’t call a key play on third-and-one. He can’t call an end-around pass. I don’t give hockey coaches much of the credit when they win (unless it’s a huge upset), either.

I’d give the Blue Jacket players 23 percent of the credit for their win. They owned every big moment. Here’s how stupid I am. If the team’s played again, I’d still pick the Lightning. Which is an amazing way to say how good the Blue Jackets were.

That leaves 24 percent of the credit to John Tortorella. Give the guy credit. He made his players believe, and he devised a system to allow it. The Jackets owned the middle of the ice in this series. When Tortorella retires, they’ll talk about his Stanley Cup first, but they’ll talk about this series right afterward.

I’m shocked at the Bolts getting swept in the first round. I did not think it could happen but it did. The Blue Jackets look very good, how do you think they will fare the rest of the way?  I would like to think the Bolts lost to the 2019 NHL Champions.

Richard Kinning

I don’t see them getting past the next round.Boston and Toronto have had a series to watch and to plan. I think the Blue Jackets will be good, but there was a reason they barely made the playoffs this season.

Then again, what do I know. NHL history is filled with low seeds playing well, and Columbus seems to have found itself. I’m slow to convince, so I say the Blue Jackets lose their next series. But what do I know? I thought they’d lose the last one?

I was not ready for hockey to be finished in Tampa. What is everyone going to watch next?

Richard Kinning

Hockey isn’t finished. Just the Lightning part of it. Most years, I’ve found the NHL playoffs more compelling than the NBA, where the playoffs are just starting.

There is plenty of playoffs on your TV, Richard. Enjoy it.

I’d also say this. I find this Tampa Bay Rays team to be likable. They play hard, and they have great pitching.

You also have the NFL draft next week. You don’t have to turn over to Game of Thrones yet.

The Bucs have some serious cap trouble. How do you think they fix that this year? Or do they?

Richard Kinning

It’s easy. They cut some players. That’s part of the reason that Gerald McCoy’s future is in doubt. He’s got a year, maybe two left, and it doesn’t look as if Tampa Bay will challenge in the meantime.

I still say it’s amazing that a team that won five games — and was lucky to win five — is this close to the cap. If I owned the Bucs, I’d ask serious questions about that.

But these days, a team can get out of cap trouble merely by trimming a few guys.

I just found out that the Bucs pick No. 5 again this year; that is a very good spot.  The last time we had that pick we got Cadillac Williams. That did not work out so well considering some of the people we passed on.  Look into your crystal ball and let us know who we get and why.

Richard Kinning

I actually thought Cadillac was a nice pick until he wrecked both knees. The team needed a back, and his start was historic. There wasn’t enough talent around him, though.

Who would you have taken at No. 5 that year? Pacman Jones went sixth, and his career has been a mess. DeMarcus Ware would have been a nice pick-up, but there aren’t a lot of players storming Canton, you know?

This year, I’ve leaned toward Devin White, the linebacker out of LSU. But his teammate, Greedy Williams, has to be tempting, too. Let’s see who falls into their laps.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller April 20, 2019 at 7:51 am

So what you are saying in a nice way is that I swung and missed on 2 of the 3 questions. Well in baseball that would get me in the Hall of Fame right? But you are probably right. The Copper / Dungy comparison is interesting to a degree but at the end of the day it means nothing. Now if Cooper gets fired a couple of years down the road because the team continues to fail in the playoffs and a new coach comes in to win the Cup in his first year, then that comparison would become really interesting.

I should have said the Lightning stars didn’t show up in this year’s playoffs. That is indisputable. Not everyone had their long term deal when the team was winning playoff games in past years. Now that they do, the team collapsed once the going got tough.

But in the final analyses the most valid points are the Lightning style of play in the playoffs needs to be adjusted so defense is valued more and the makeup of the team has to be addressed. They just have too many small forwards who can’t compete well in playoff style hockey. You and I have agreed on that in the past. Hopefully the new GM addresses it.

I think too that Hedman’s injury was a huge contributor to this massive fail. Even in the 2 games he played he wasn’t his normal self. His absence left a huge hole. McDonagh was awful and could have felt the pressure to do too much with Hedman out.

It stinks that we have this great team but no Stanley Cup to show for it. Makes me wonder if it will ever happen for this group.

There is a lot to be done before next season with the free agents who will be leaving. How much can really be done to change the team’s makeup due to salary cap issues? How much should be done? Yzerman is in Detroit now and it’s up to the new GM to deal with those tough decisions. How good is he?

Next year’s team has to carry the stigma of this year’s epic playoff fail all season. How heavy will that weight become? Will we see the team start it’s inevitable decline? So many questions to be addressed in future Ask Gary segments.

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Gary Shelton April 20, 2019 at 9:53 am

Your questions are valid. We don’t know how Julien BriseBois will be. We don’t know how much hangover this will cause on next year’s team. We don’t know if the Lightning can maneuver around the cap (by letting certain players go in the expansion draft or via trade). This loss seemed to put the Bolts at a crossroad without a map.

I wasn’t counting if I agreed or disagreed with how many questions. Larry, I just give my opinion, ok? It doesn’t make me right. But I covered Shula, and he used to talk about the “can’t win the big one” question a lot. So did Bowden. I never really bought into that. Dungy obviously could win the big one; he did. He just won it once, however. But the question of a coach plateauing before the title game isn’t new. Remember Mary Schottenheimer? He was the kind of playoff failure after good seasons.

I agree that the Bolts missed Hedman. Still, Stamkos, Kucherov and Point didn’t produce, and that’s a separate issue.

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