A divide between the coach and the captain is a narrative point that pops up repeatedly when talk of Steven Stamkos and his future in Tampa Bay rises.
Humor me, especially if you're a Tampa Bay resident, and tell me where and when the stressing of malaise between head coach Jon Cooper and team captain Steven Stamkos started? Better yet, when has it been suggested or confirmed locally from press or even us blog writers who are part of those covering the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise? That's not intended as a shot at the local press - be it the beat reporters, columnist or television media entities. That's also not a shot at fellow Lightning bloggers for creating this narrative. My intention is for the sake of the question itself: who started the story that Stamkos and Cooper are at odds? And what proof is out there - I don't mean conclusion-drawing out-and-out speculation because of how Stamkos has played or how Cooper has reacted to this-and-that, I mean in words, proof.
Seriously, give me some context that's actually more than speculative conclusion drawing that's been the state of things since the Lightning got on the center stage of the NHL late last spring with their Stanley Cup Final berth and Stamkos' contract drew closer to ending in Tampa Bay.
Memory says there was a quote from Stamkos in the days after Jon Cooper was hired by the Lightning about the challenge of adjusting to Cooper's game and what he wanted from his players, which I can't locate (I believe I read it in the Tampa Bay Times in the spring of 2013). Cooper is Stamkos' fourth head coach in his NHL career (Barry Melrose, Rick Tocchet and Guy Boucher being the others) and the first to take control with a broad-shift done in-season on the fly (partly caused by the system he was replacing - Guy Boucher's 1-3-1). Of course there's going to be a difficulty or challenge in that during an overall down season.
Where did the story start that Stamkos and Cooper are at odds or Stamkos dislikes Cooper? Citing sources in Toronto sort of sully the concept because of bias in the bring-him-home approach. It is often the approach to stars nearing free agency. We've already seen in Tampa Bay in the past with former team captain Vincent Lecavalier, who was always destined to join the Montreal Canadiens and never quite has. If I can call bias, of course anyone in Toronto can crow the same and point to me looking for some type of narrative angle form the local press who has more of a habit of living and dying with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers than with the Bolts.
If there truly are odds between Steven Stamkos and Jon Cooper, wouldn't something have been done already to change things for either the sake of the team? Wouldn't we have already heard of a coach/player/third-party arbitration or counseling meeting? I already cited Vinny Lecavalier and one of the grandest dramas in team history was his conflict in 2001-02 with then-Lightning head coach John Tortorella. Former GM Rick Dudley didn't know how to make peace between the two parties, and was sold on moving Lecavalier (a deal was worked out with the Maple Leafs) but couldn't get the support internally for the move, leading to Dudley's resignation from the club. Jay Feaster, who took over for Dudley, has written and spoken publicly about trying to find peace between Vinny and Torts, and the fact the Stanley Cup bears both of their names with the 2004 champion listing shows that it worked in the clubs favor. The stats for Lecavalier from 2002-03 through 2007-08 also exemplifies success playing under Tortorella.
The media story that contrasts everything I'm writing is from the winter of 2014 though - a rumor came out from New York that Martin St. Louis wanted out and the Rangers was his only destination he'd accept a trade to. The fact it came from a third-party - stress that, it was broken by Boomer Esiason and not a member of the hockey press - both made it absurd and gave it its greatest weight. While fans couldn't believe it to be true (I'm one of them), it proved to be a fact.
Stamkos and Cooper could indeed be at odds, but how it's been covered and how it's become iron-clad without a fact besides speculated opinion on line combos and the intention with word choice just makes it all into fart noises. What's real is Jon Cooper signed on to coach the Lightning a few more seasons before Steven Stamkos has done the same. The retention of Cooper comes with many fewer complexities than Stamkos. Yet with the success of the Lightning with both Stamkos and Cooper, head coaching isn't going to be part of the reason Stamkos stays or goes. The business of the sport and overseeing the roster and team success will be.