2014-15 is officially over. Physicals have been taken, lockers have been cleaned out, exit interviews have been conducted and the last handful of items needing autographs have been signed. Everything that happens from here on out is part of the 2015-16 season and beyond. The very last bit of business concerning this most-recently completed season is talking to the media one last time.
Prior to last season, general manager Steve Yzerman asked fans to have reasonable expectations. The bar is obviously raised. What's his expectation next year?
"Obviously, we want to make the playoffs, very simply. That's our goal; to make the playoffs, and we're going to have to get off to a good start to do that. To sit here today and talk about next year's playoffs, so much has to happen between now and then. Right now, it's players taking care of their injuries, preparing for their offseason; take a little time off and in a couple of weeks, get ready to train. It's important that we come out next year ready to go right off the bat. You look at L.A., You look at Boston. L.A. won the cup a year ago and Boston won the President's Trophy. They both had very good seasons and missed the playoffs. The margin for error is very slight so its important for us to get off to a good start. I'd start off by saying what we're looking for next year is to make the playoffs and go from there."
Coach Cooper talked about the difference between being swept by Montreal to end the 2013-14 campaign and how this season ended:
"I look back at last year and think about how we got swept and the sting and the anger. This will be a little different. There's most definitely going to be a sting because you get this close and there's just a really empty feeling at the end. To think we go on this two month journey together and it almost feels for naught... If anything we're going to take out of this is what you go through to get there. The complete sacrifice you need to make both individually and as a team to get to this point and that's learned experience. This isn't going to sneak up on anybody anymore. We know, holy cow, this is really tough to do. We can't sit here and accept, oh, we're naturally just going to make the playoffs next year. It's really hard to make the playoffs. And once you do, if you're fortunate enough to get in, what it takes to get there. I think that's what we learned. Yes, we were two games short but we know what it takes to get there now."
Regarding how "it almost feels for naught", something Steven Stamkos has mentioned:
"It felt empty for all of us. But when you find out that there were 17,000 people cheering your team on in your home arena while you're on the road, that clearly makes it not for nothing. Hockey has been alive in this community but it's really sprung to life in this run and I think if we've brought life to the sport with our fans and the marriage between our team and our fans, that's worth its weight in gold. And to see all the banners and everything around town that say 'Go Bolts'. Just the words of encouragement, whether you're walking across the street or you're in a restaurant, it's worth it. It's worth this journey we went through. I know we didn't bring home the big prize but I think our organization is in a better spot and hockey in Tampa is in a better spot. And if we made our fans feel awesome for two months, it's well worth it."
On keeping this group of players intact:
"We have a fantastic group and Stammer is the leader of the pack there. It goes all the way back to Bish (goaltender Ben Bishop). I look back at all the years I've coached and if I had to say one of the most issue-free teams I've ever coached, it's this one right here. All this team wanted to do was win. And nobody ever put themselves in front of the team and that's I think why we ended up where we are. "
"I don't anticipate there being much change to our team. What we have now is kind of what we wanted. We wanted a core and we wanted a leader. We wanted a goaltender. We wanted all that in place and we have it in place and I can't imagine it breaking up."
Brian Boyle on waiting to get back to work when training camp opens:
"That drive is obviously still there but you need to decompress, a little bit, mentally anyway. It's a grind. The season is long. You have to give yourself a little time. Even if you're itching to get back on the ice in a day or two, you need to make sure you're smart about things. This is a couple of hundred games in two years for me and the guys have played over a hundred this year. It's tough. But your body can handle a lot, especially when you're younger so it's nice to have a good young core group of guys and I'm sure they will be ready to go again soon."