Quick note: For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases “you know,” “and,” and “but”.
Question: ... [Special teams] in terms of overall success moving forward, as small a sample size as you’ve got. Penalty kill, power play being as good as they are...
Cooper: Well, special teams help you win hockey games. You look over an 82 game year, you can pinpoint, “Oh my gosh. Our power play pulled this one out for us. Our penalty kill pulled this one out for us.” But you’re just looking for consistency. That’s one thing we’ve tried to stress with our group is, “You don’t have to score every time on the power play, but just don’t suck the momentum away from us.” If you really think about it, if you just go 1-for-5 every game, by the end of the year, you’re one of the top power plays in the league. The players don’t think that way. They want to - they have to go 5-for-5 or it’s a failure. We just talk about momentum and we’ve had a pretty good run so far - I know it’s been short - our PP’s [power play] been pretty good, but our PK’s [penalty kill] been excellent.
Question: Jon, it seems to me it’s a pretty good time to be a Tampa Bay Lightning guy. ‘Cause, you know, with the ESPN magazine ranking. You guys are expected to do some special things this year. You got a good team - no drama in the room, nothing. This just seems like it’s a really...
Cooper [chuckles]: I know. We’re just the boring Tampa Bay Lightning now. It’s like rare [laughs]. Actually, the one thing - just to say something about Jeff Vinik. For somebody to come in and take - you go through all the sports teams in North America - and he delivered on a promise that he said to Tampa when he took over the team seven years ago. It wasn’t fluff and it’s gone way beyond hockey. How he’s developing the city, how he’s just donating to charity, and how he’s just made everybody feel good about the city and the Tampa Bay Lightning. And yes, does it help that we’ve had some success? But I think it’s just a byproduct of that. It’s a pleasure to be part of the organization and I’m just really happy for everybody involved, especially him.
Question: How do you compare it, to say, this time last year? When there was a little bit of drama surrounding a couple of guys, their situations on this team. It must be kind of welcome to be able to just go to the rink and play hockey.
Cooper [smiles]: It is. Especially in today’s day of social media and everybody knows what everybody’s doing. Especially coming to Toronto - with Steven specifically - it was a big decision for him. Not too many guys go into their UFA years at 26 years old with the statistics and résumé he had. So it was understandable that it was going to be the news it was. It was just tough because I know it weighed on him. As much as we were sitting here saying, “Oh it’s just white noise. Blow it off. Don’t worry about it.” For sure it had an impact on him. You just see this year, coming in, and just the success he had in the World Cup with Canada - it’s just all about hockey now. It’s the same with Kuch. Now we’ve got - there’s other guys now, like Bishop - that are probably going to have these conversations are going to come up later. It’s the fact that everybody wanted to stay together. You can sit here and say, “Oh, did guys take less money? Did guys do this? What did they do to stay?” Everybody wanted to stay and they found a way to stay. We got to keep everybody together and I think that’s - it just kind of shows you the group we have that nobody put their ego first and that’s why we’re actually in the “no drama Lightning” right now.
Question: A little more big picture I guess - What kind of tone does it set for the organization to have Steve Yzerman as GM, given the way he conducts himself and the way he conducts business.
Cooper: Well - just to go back to Jeff Vinik - I think one of the things that’s really helped us is Jeff hired Steve Yzerman to do what he’s doing. There’s no nitpicking, no over management. I think a lot of that’s trickled down to myself as well. Steve hired myself and our staff to do a job and he lets us do that. We’re always in constant communication, but there’s never ever somebody stepping over bounds to, “You gotta do this or you gotta do that.” It’s, “What can we do together?” That’s kind of how it’s been and that’s why it’s a pleasure to work for Steve. He’s been a great GM, for not only for our team, but for myself.
Question: Jon, do you take some personal pride in the fact that everyone wants to stay here? I mean, you’re the coach, right? They’re playing for you. You’re kind of the first boss in the line
Cooper [chuckles]: We’re all part of this. I guess you sit here and take some consolation in the fact that guys don’t think you stink. Or, at least if they do, they don’t say it publicly [smiles]. But no, we’re all in this together. We’ve all come up together. Even though Stamkos and Hedman didn’t play in the minors with us - which a lot of these guys did - they all have the same drive and attitude coming up. They all buy into the way we want to play and how we play. I think it’s all a part of it, but I’m just a tiny part of this. There’s a big picture of, “It’s the Tampa Bay Lightning,” and I’m just happy to be a part of it.
Question: There was a time when the Lightning were the youngest team in the league and had lots of fresh faces. What do you think it’s like, on the other side there?
Cooper: I just think I saw a stat that said ten percent of the league is rookies this year? I don’t know - am I out of line? Something like that. That kind of speaks to it all, because I don’t consider ourselves an old team. I bet if you did the numbers on the ages, we’re still in the bottom third of age, but it almost feels like we’re a little bit of a veteran team now. We’ve played 43 playoff games in the last two years and I think that’s tops in the league. We have not won the Stanley Cup, which is our ultimate goal, but we’ve done a lot of winning together. Situations are arising now that we’ve seen before that now we know how to handle ourselves. It’s pretty comforting, with still a pretty young core, age-wise. We’ve really grown, I guess, mentality-wise. That’s why it’s almost weird to sit here and say, “Yeah, we’re kind of a veteran team,” with how young some of our guys are.