Is Cooper the best-ever coach of the Lightning?

by Gary Shelton on March 27, 2019 · 2 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Cooper gets Bolts' extension./JEFFREY S. KING

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

At the time of his hiring, Terry Crisp was the perfect coach. He was patient, and he was smart, and he was a great way for a new coach to say hello.

But Jon Cooper is better.

When he came aboard, Guy Boucher was a good idea. He thought outside the box -- heck, he lived outside the box -- and he led his team to overachievement.

But Jon Cooper is better.

Cooper is better than Jacques Demers. He's better than Steve Ludzig. He's better than Rick Tockett.

But as the ink dries on Cooper's new extension, two questions remains:

Is he better than Jon Tortorella?

And is he the best Lightning coach ever?

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Oh, it's a discussion. Torts was fire and brimstone. Coop is plans and blueprints. From time to time, Tortorella would light a player up. Cooper - at least outwardly -- is filled with praise. It's the same job, but the two have different ways to approach it.

Granted, Tampa Bay should be thrilled that the Bolts got Cooper's name on a contract. There is too much success to break it up now, Cup or no Cup. Cooper is as much a weapon on this team as Nikita Kucherov (well, almost) or Steven Stamkos or Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Doubt it? Then think about this: Who would you rather have on the Lightning bench in this year's playoffs?

If you go back in time, granted, no one was quite sure about Jon Cooper when he was hired. He had been a lacross player. He had been an attorney. He was replacing Guy Boucher, who less than a year and a half earlier had coached the Lightning to within one game of the Cup. No one would have expected this.

Still, if you're going to be fair, you have to say this. As of this moment, Tortorella has the only Stanley Cup in the room. In a bottom-line sport, that's a hard argument to get past. Whatever else you say about Cooper, the counter argument is "yeah, well Torts won the Cup." There is no comeback to that.

Yeah, yeah. Cooper  has reached three conference finals, and in all of them, you'd have to say that his team had a tougher playoff draw than Tort's Cup winners. Still, Torts won.

It was a tough time in the history of the Bolts when Tortorella took over. There were borderline players who thought they were stars, and there were stars who liked to coast a shift or two. The entire franchise needed a mirror to realize what it was and what it was not.

So give Torts credit for a bigger culture change. Under Torts, Vinny became Vinny and Marty grew into Marty and Brad transformed into Brad.

But give Cooper credit for developing players, too. The rise of Vasilevskiy has been amazing. Kucherov may be the league MVP. Stamkos has returned to stardom.

Overall, if you don't count the Cup Finals (Tortorella won his, Cooper lost his), then Coop gets the edge.  In his seven years, he's won 301 games. In his seven years, Torts won 239. Cooper has 64 post-season wins; with the Lightning, Tortorella had 24. Cooper's teams have 648 points. Tort's had 552. Cooper has a better winning percentage and a better winning percentage in the playoffs.

On the other hand, Torts won a Cup. And he had four years in which his team was first or second. (In six of seven, Cooper has finished second or higher).

Oh, there were mitigating circumstances. Torts last owners were Oren Koules and Len Barrie, who are still trying to figure out how to open a puck. Cooper has Vinik. Cooper has a far superior farm team. Cooper has the best team in hockey.

Consider this: Over the last two seasons, Cooper has led the Bolts to 235 points. Torts' best two-year total was 199. And after the Stanley Cup win, Torts never won another playoff series. He was 3-8 the two series he played in.

Then there was the approach. Torts had his players convinced he would step on their necks. Coop has his arm around their shoulders. Cooper is a tranquil lake without ripples. Torts is a tsunami.

Bottom line? I go with Cooper, and here's why. If Tortorella had not won the Cup -- and again, the Bolts had a relatively easy draw -- then it wouldn't be close. Cooper is far ahead in most other categories.

For the regular season,  of course it's Cooper. For the Stanley Cup Finals, it's Tortorella.

For now.

But check back in a couple of months.


Torts                                        Tale of the Tape                        Coop

7                                               Seasons (Tampa Bay)                        7

535                                                     Games                                     503

239                                                      Wins                                      301

.516                                            Winning percentage                   .646

552                                                     Points                                     648

4                                                      Playoff seasons                              5

24                                                    Playoff wins                                64

.516                                              Playoff win percentage              .563


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