The Tampa Bay Lightning's new Head Coach Jon Cooper flew into Tampa on Tuesday night to meet with his new team and his message was quite clear. He is here to make a playoff push regardless of how impossible that sounds for a team that is 13th in the Eastern Conference.
"To hear somebody say the playoffs are history I don't know....until the final buzzer goes in the last game of the season, I'm coming to make the playoffs," he said during a press conference ayt the Tampa Bay Tims Forum before Tuesday's game against Buffalo.
Yes, it is a long-shot for the Lightning to make the post-season this year; they're just five points away from being last in the NHL. But you could look at it another way: Tampa Bay is only six points from a playoff spot. The Lightning would not only have to go on an impressive run to make the postseason, the teams in front of them would have to stumble.
Cooper is no stranger to improbable feats though. Last season, he coached the Norfolk Admirals to an AHL-record 28 consecutive wins and won the Calder Cup.
"If somebody said to me last year is any team from the American Hockey League or the NHL going to win 28 games...I don't think anyone would have agreed with that," Cooper said.
Since 2006, Cooper has won four championships in three different leagues. He won the Clark Cup with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL in 2010, the Robertson Cup in back-to-back seasons with the St. Louis Bandits of the NAHL in 2007-2008, and topped it off with the Calder Cup win with the Ads in 2012.
When Cooper took over as the head coach of the Gamblers in 2008, the team saw a 50 point improvement from the previous season, setting a USHL record.
Cooper's track record was enough for Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman to hire him.
"I've watched him and thought for a long time this guy is going to be an outstanding coach. We were going to make a change and we've got him right here so this is the guy I want to go with," Yzerman said during a press availability earlier in the day.
Yzerman has worked closely with Cooper over the span of three seasons since his iniital hiring as Tampa Bay's AHL head coach and feels confident with him behind the bench, although Cooper has no NHL experience.
"I know there were other options that could have been the safer thing to do," Yzerman continued. "Had Jon not been in our organization, I may have gone a different way. But this is my decision and I have no doubt that this is the way I want to go,"
When Yzerman offered Cooper the job, Cooper quipped about his plan to throw a monkey in the works regarding the 2013 NHL draft.
"I was talking to Steve and I said ‘Are you sure you want to do this?' and Steve said I am sure I want to do this' and I said 'Well, if you are going to do this I'm really going to try and screw up your draft pick.'"
Jokes aside, Cooper approaches situations with an "anything is possible" mindset. For Cooper, a team cannot win without a similar attitude.
"There's been a certain type of swagger with the teams I've coached, and you have to have that to win," Cooper said. "You respect your opponent but you don't fear them. When you have that attitude with a team, anything is possible."