The Tampa Bay Lightning and assistant coach George Gwozdecky have agreed to part ways, the team announced today.
Assistant Coach George Gwozdecky is leaving the Tampa Bay Lightning to pursue other opportunities, Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman announced today. Gwozdecky has been with the Lightning on head coach Jon Cooper's staff for two seasons, most recently helping the franchise to the 2015 Eastern Conference Championship and a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
"Jon Cooper and I, along with the entire Lightning organization, would like to thank George and his family for giving us the past two years," said Yzerman upon making the announcement. "He helped turn a young, unproven team into the Eastern Conference Champions and we appreciate his professionalism and dedication."
Gwozdecky joined the Lightning on August 9, 2013 after serving as the head coach at the University of Denver for 19 seasons. At Denver, Gwozdecky won back-to-back national championships (2004, 2005) and was named National Coach of the Year twice (1993, 2005). He also served as head coach at Miami (OH) University for five seasons and his 593 collegiate wins as a head coach rank 11th all-time in the NCAA.
"I have fulfilled my obligation with the Tampa Bay Lightning and I am going to take some time away to consider my next career step," said Gwozdecky. "I would like to thank owner Jeff Vinik, GM Steve Yzerman, coach Jon Cooper and the entire Lightning staff for two very memorable years."
In two seasons with Gwozdecky as an assistant, the Lightning won 96 of 164 regular season games, making back-to-back playoff appearances. The team begins the 2015 offseason after losing the Stanley Cup Final in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks. En route to the Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning defeated the Detroit Red Wings, the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers.
Gwozdecky was hired two seasons ago to join Jon Cooper's staff, along with Rick Bowness; Bowness was tasked primarily with penalty kill and defensive responsibilities while Gwozdecky focused on forwards and the power play. But while Bowness works visibly in tandem with Cooper on game days from behind the bench, Gwozdecky has instead been an "eye in the sky".
With that being the case, it's not too much of a logical leap to infer that Gwozdecky's input was mostly tactical -- X's and O's based stuff -- while head coach Jon Cooper handled the day-to-day managing of the personnel and roster, specifically on the power play. But if the formations, alignments, entries, and set-ups Tampa Bay has used over the past two seasons are primarily Gwozdecky's design, then letting him go (whatever the circumstances) speaks to wanting to improve a power play unit that has struggled mightily in a few key areas since Gwozdecky joined the staff.
The sputtering, inconsistent power play and it's repeated failings have been well-documented here since early in the 2014-15 season; in Gwozdecky's two season in Tampa Bay, the Lightning ranked 29th in 5v4 shot generation both seasons, actually getting significantly worse in Year 2 (from 78.23 CF/60 to 75.73 CF/60) while the league leaders stayed up over 110 CF/60 at 5v4. The power play notably went 2/34 in their first round series against the Detroit Red Wings this spring, and while it's true they have the shooting talent to go on hot streaks, they lacked a structure that could consistently get them good opportunities.
So the Lightning enter their offseason with an opportunity, not only to add significant high-end talent at this weekend's draft, but with an open position for a coach with experience running a power play capable of generating shots and chances at a better clip than Gwozdecky managed over the past two years. The Bolts' roster is loaded with high-skill forwards and puck-movers on the back-end (with real potential power play stars coming in the form of Slater Koekkoek and Anthony DeAngelo), and they should absolutely be more lethal at 5v4 than they have been under Gwozdecky's watch.