With the April 3 trade deadline just around the corner, there is a lot of buzz around the league with regards to player movement. While there was a “rumor” floating around which involved the Tampa Bay Lightning trading Steven Stamkos to the New York Rangers for Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik (per Rawcharge), there haven’t been any other credible rumors involving the Lightning. And while that rumor was obviously an early April Fool’s joke, I’m not writing up a punch line for you. Of course, with social media being the way it is, just about every trade deadline article posted since this past Friday may be easily questioned because of the April Fool’s “holiday” being so close to the deadline itself. However, I am not all that interested in fooling any of my readers.
The Lightning made a move firing Guy Boucher and calling Jon Cooper up from Syracuse to replace Boucher. My immediate reaction to the team now under Cooper is filled with positives. Regarding goal tending, Frantz Jean holds the job for managing goalies and has been questioned multiple times in the last two or three seasons. The biggest miss for Jean may have been the management of now Coyotes goal tender Mike Smith (currently on the Injured Reserve for the Phoenix Coyotes). Of course, it is not completely fair to say Smith should have been able to perform the way he does now with his new team. Smith’s mistakes were not skill mistakes, they were mental mistakes. It is extremely difficult for a coach to correct mental mistakes, and it seems a change in change in scenery cured most of Smith’s mental block. The situation with Dwayne Roloson seemed to be just a bunch of luck, as the team found lightning in a bottle (go figure) and saw a phenomenal second half performance from the aging goalie that almost propelled the team into the playoffs. This year, Anders Lindback has seen a solid amount improvement before injuring his ankle. While fans have a tendency to blame the goalies (and eventually the goalie coach), I do not feel that is always fair. Even while the Lightning were deep into a losing streak, Lindback managed to keep a .900 or above save percentage in the majority of games. It actually became our heavily potent offense that did not produce. No one ever seems to criticize the Lightning offense because guys like Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Cory Conacher (all of whom I myself favor) are deemed as untouchable. No one ever blames lack of scoring, which becomes really obvious in lost power play opportunities, for losing.
While the spotty goal tending still remains (although one game is not a means for fair judgement) the other aspects more manageable by Cooper showed some immediate improvement in his coaching debut Friday (3/29). Cooper has made a point to emphasize defense, which I think is something Guy Boucher did not do. Friday night, despite giving up four goals, the defensive schemes to be rather solid. There were no obvious mental lapses or missed assignments. The defensive play was definitely not perfect, but the system seemed much more organized with the team defending as a unit and playing off of each other. The offense came in the way it usually does. Stamkos scored two goals, one of which was a hustle and skill play, the other was a hockey-IQ play. Nate Thompson used pure hustle and a good amount of luck to score after flying between two defenders and Alex Killorn kept calm and cool and nailed a wide open net to tie the game with just 15 seconds left. Most of the questionable play came from Mathieu Garon, who arguable gave up 3 or 4 goals that should be stopped. However, Garon does deserve all of the credit in the world for staying tough and earning a shootout win. The a shootout puts all of the pressure on the goalie, and Garon kept his focus and earned the win.
If Friday is any representation of what is to come under Jon Cooper, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the Lightning. Back to the trade deadline however. While I have not heard any valid rumors involving the Lightning, I do think the Lightning would be open to a beneficial trade. Stamkos will not be traded under any circumstances. As everyone knows, Steve Yzerman has put a major emphasis on future planning and future success for the long term. Stamkos is, speaking of long term, a Jarome Iginla-type player. He is the face of the franchise and will likely be with the Lightning for the majority of his career. Trading Stamkos would completely destroy Yzerman’s plan of building a team that is successful for the long term. If Yzerman does want to make a move this season involving an NHL player, I feel that it may involve a player like Nate Thompson or even Teddy Purcell. Both of these players are solid, Thompson being the more physical of the two while Teddy is closer to being a finesse passing player.
The type of player Yzerman could be looking to acquire are defensive forwards. It’s mostly obvious at this point in the season that
Yzerman is going to look within the organization for defensemen, as evidenced by the call up of Radko Gudas, signing of Andrej Sustr, and others. However, defensive forwards may be the shallowest portion of the Lightning depth chart. Yzerman may look to trade a bottom six forward, or even a second line forward like Purcell to gain a defensive player. If Yzerman does make a move, look for him to make a move using offensive surplus to make up for a weakness in defensive forwards. While a lot of fans may argue that the bottom six forwards (lines 3 and 4) are completely defensive (and I agree with this), the team is missing a top 6 defensive forward. Stamkos, St. Louis, Conacher, Purcell, and others fit into the top two lines of forwards but none of them can be considered consistently great on defense. While Stamkos is improving his defensive play, he is not there just yet.
And speaking of improving, Stamkos was becoming more defensively aware under Boucher’s system. Under Cooper’s system, which is a highly defensive one, Stamkos and other offensive forwards should be able to improve their defensive skills at a much higher rate than before. Of course, that will take more than the next two and a half days to develop, so Yzerman, if he makes a move, will likely look for a defensive forward to insert into the top two lines of forwards. Whatever happens, Jon Cooper’s presence and the way he carries himself is reason for all Lightning fans to be excited for both the near future and the long-term.
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