The last official day of the season, the one after your last game has been played, is always a pretty somber affair. For teams that had a bad year, it comes almost as a relief and something to look forward to as they sink to the bottom of the standings. The end of something bad that hopefully leads to better days ahead.
For teams that make the playoffs, it comes suddenly. One night, you’re fighting to stay alive in an effort to advance and the next morning, it’s just over. For this year’s Lightning team, it was kind of a combination of both of those things.
Regardless of the circumstances, unless you’re the team that wins the last game of the season, there’s a standard protocol to how things are conducted on the last day. The atmosphere is subdued and the players talk in hushed tones mostly about regrets, a little bit about accomplishments and then hopes for the future.
Personally, I think that’s a show they’re putting on for the benefit of the media and fans. I’m sure they are sincerely unhappy about the season being over and why, but knowing how the mind of an athlete works, I’m also sure they’re already over it and thinking about what comes next, be it contract concerns, where (or even if) they might be playing next season, scheduling workouts or just the hassles and logistics of moving. Frankly, that’s what you want from players on your team, the ability to acknowledge, recover and move on.
But the Lightning followed that standard protocol yesterday at Amalie Arena and here’s what they had to say:
“You just can’t have multiple loss streaks and we had a couple of those. I mentioned last night the stretch after Thanksgiving and the stretch after New Years. Those are the two that probably did us in.” - Head coach Jon Cooper
“We could have won one more game and we would be in probably, but that’s “if.” We had to play better in the first half of the season. The second half of the season was great, but you can’t make the playoffs in this league if you’re not going to play the whole season.” - Ondrej Palat
“We were that close to being in a playoff spot when 30-something games out it didn’t look really good. For us, we take positives out of that. But I think just in terms of season, there’s got to be more urgency. You realize that making the playoffs is really tough in this league. With the parity in the league, it’s difficult. We just have to be ready and have that sense of urgency throughout the entire season.” - Alex Killorn
“I’ve never been in this position before. Whether it be in juniors or anything. The last five years, we’ve had some pretty good runs. It’s one of those things where you can honestly say it just sucks. It’s not a fun time. It’s not where we want to be, we want to be in the playoffs. That’s where the fun hockey is. Now we’re going to be even more motivated for next year.” - Tyler Johnson
“You kind of look at the whole season as a whole. You kind of see the games that maybe you should have won, where you lost some points, where you were expected to win some games. It was definitely tough in that way.” - Andrej Sustr
“I mean we didn’t make the playoffs. That’s the big thing. I don’t think about my goals.” - Nikita Kucherov
“I think it was after Thanksgiving we went 2-7-1. Right after New Years we lost four straight. Losing three straight at home just a few weeks ago. If you look at those segments, those weren’t good enough. We’re only three points back of what our total was last year when we finished second in our division. I guess that’s how close it was. Missed out on 94 points, usually that’s enough to get you in.” - Victor Hedman
“Ultimately, the - We can pat ourselves on the back for a job well done getting ourselves to 94 points, but ultimately 94 points wasn’t good enough. I stand here addressing you today in the second week of April when in past years we’ve been doing this in May and June. I always say, “Judge us after 82 [games].” It was a hell of a run we made. 94 points can get you in most years. It got you in in the other [Western] Conference. It just didn’t get us in because there were eight other teams that did better than that. We can’t accept that. Ultimately it’s about winning in this league. You take a lot of the other positives that have come out of this. From our owner to a fan base that’s just rabid about hockey and, as I said last night, a love affair between the team and the city. They want to see playoff hockey. Over the last two years, we’ve brought families together and friends and our watch parties. It’s all been kind of part of our culture. Not to have that this year is tough to swallow. You look at this season and think, “It was good. It just wasn’t good enough.” That has to change. We’ve set a standard here that is extremely high. I guess this was - to me this is our mulligan. Now we’ve got to come back next year with a renewed focus and understand there’s going to be competition for jobs. We’ve got to be better. That’s it.” - Cooper
“Well, our goal at the start of the season was to make the playoffs. We failed in that goal. Along the way, a lot of things happened - good and bad. Nonetheless, here we are today... We as a team, we got humbled a little bit here. I know there was a lot of injuries, but ultimately I don’t think injuries are the reason we did not make the playoffs. It didn’t help by any means, but we’ve got to figure out ways to win games. There’s teams that are in the playoffs today that battled, overcame similar situation to us this year to make it into the playoffs. - GM Steve Yzerman
“Every year’s different whether you win the Stanley Cup or you don’t make the playoffs. You go through - there’s different hurdles, different speed bumps. In the end, we didn’t make the playoffs as a team. We’re part of the team. Did we - ultimately, we were three points less than last year. Does that make us a failure season? No. We grew as a team. We grew as a coaching staff. We had to change things a little bit to help put us in a position to win games and it worked out. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. You bank the ones that did and use it as experience and move on. It was growing for everybody. It was growing for us as an organization. We’ll be better for it.” - Cooper
“We showed everybody how good we can be when we play the right way, we play as a team, we [are] defending well.” - Palat
“We had all these young guys coming up - kind of guys that haven’t really proven themselves in the National Hockey League. For us, it was we needed to get points. That was the point in the season where if we didn’t start winning, it was going to be over pretty quickly. Those guys stepped up really quick. Like I always say, they brought a ton of energy to this team. When you have guys that are excited to play and want to play, it’s just the energy’s contagious throughout the room... I think it just speaks to the depth in this organization, the drafting they’ve done. These players have been huge for us, especially throughout the run - [Adam] Erne, [Yanni] Gourde, [Joel] Vermin - you could go through the list. Even when Kuch [Nikita Kucherov] and those guys are holding a lot of the scoring, a lot of the goals, and doing a lot of the offensive things - these guys were, like I keep saying, had a ton of energy and came to play every night.” - Killorn
“We want to win. We want to be in there. We weren’t happy with the way we were, and where we were at in the standings obviously. There’s a lot of teams that could have just quit, but these guys never wanted to quit. We want to keep on going. We wanted to keep trying to prove people wrong and get in... There were guys coming up or whatnot. I think that says about the quality of the depth in our organization. We have a lot of guys that can come up, fill roles, and play different things. I think you have have to give a lot of credit to the AHL team [Syracuse Crunch] down there of really getting these guys ready to play - and also the scouts finding them. I think our future’s pretty good here.” - Johnson
“With the way we played especially the the last few months is very encouraging. I guess we’ve got to know that it’s not going to be automatic that we’re going to play like this when we come back. It’s a new season, so we’ve got to start over again. A lot of positives coming out of the last few months... I’ve got to give a lot of props to Brayden Point, the way he played. He was really the only guy I hadn’t seen. With the World Cup, I wasn’t here for training camp. To see the way that he played, the maturity in his game, his consistency. It’s tough for a rookie to have that. He’s been performing better and better as the season went on, play in all situations. He’s got a really bright future ahead of him.” - Hedman
“There are a lot of positive things. We bring up some of the younger players and they all do very well. Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin all had very positive seasons, all moving in a really good direction in their careers. There’s a lot of things to feel good about... There are a lot of positive things here. We’re encouraged by a lot of the things. Ultimately, I think we’re all better, we all learned from it. The coaching staff, myself, even our players go through this experience again. It’s somewhat of - I guess a road to trying to win the Stanley Cup. We hit a major bump in the road and we’ll continue on towards that goal.” - Yzerman
HOPES FOR THE FUTURE
“Well, did you expect Brayden Point to make the team last year? I don’t think anybody did, including Brayden Point - which meant there was a roster spot taken. I think, just the ability - Can that happen again? For sure it can. Again, part of the message to the team was nobody can take anything for granted here. You’ve got to put the work in and now the excuse of, “You’ve played so much hockey over the last few years,” which these guys have - especially the guys that were in the American League back in 2012. Like every summer’s just - and then you throw in World Cups. This is now a summer where we can rest. That’s not always a bad thing, but we have to take advantage of it. As I said, there’s going to be a new group of guys coming into training camp next year. They’re all going to want to make the team. We will build the best team for the guys that are deserving.” - Cooper
“Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes, from the season, and come ready to play and have a good season next year... Everybody’s going to be healthy for next season. Everybody’s going to be ready. That’s probably one good thing.” - Palat
“You always want to have competitive camps. You always want guys fighting for jobs. That’s just the way it is. I think that competitive nature will foster a good team and things we want going forward. It’s always good to have guys in a competitive environment.” - Killorn
“...I want to be here. Tampa is my second home. Hopefully everything works out the way that I want it to... I don’t know. I mean I’m going to do whatever I can to make the team better. Depending on what’s asked of me, that’s all that really matters... I don’t know. We’ll find out. I mean I sure hope so. That’s what I’m hoping for.” - Johnson
“I can’t say a bad thing about the team chemistry now. We have a lot of great guys. It’s always fun to be around and come into the rink every day. Hopefully we’ll see a lot of faces back.” - Sustr
“I think we can sign all the players we need to sign.” - Yzerman
“We’re already motivated. This is a crummy feeling - no one likes this. I think you saw at the end of the year how motivated we were to get into the playoffs and really make a run. It’s what we’re going to be working for all summer. I know every day I’m going to be thinking about it.” - Johnson
“A lot of guys are heading down to Syracuse to play in the playoffs and get that experience as well. Everything is valuable and a huge plus for the future.” - Sustr
“It feels great. Like I said, I really like the group that we have in here. Some tough times with the trades. You leave going into the summer with all this speculation, but that’s out of the way now. Our only focus is coming prepared and ready to work next year. We’ve got to be a hungry group, desperate group coming back. You can’t take anything for granted in this league. You never know what’s going to happen. We know there’s 30 other teams next year that’s going to be just as motivated as we [are]. We’ve just got to make sure that we come prepared and ready to work right away.” - Hedman
“You need great goal-tending, but as a style of play, you need to keep the goals against down, keep the chances against down. We’ll strive to have a good power play against next year. Our penalty killing was up and down, but was very strong down the stretch. Not coincidentally, we won a lot of hockey games. We will continue to get back to being a really conscientious good defensive hockey team. Keep the puck out of our net, that’ll be an improvement. Hopefully we continue to be amongst the top teams in offensive production. We’ve got to get back to where our goals-against is among at least the top 10 in the league... We’ll look through free agency, we’ll look through trades to try and improve our team. Specifically, I can’t tell you I want to do this or that. Again, we’ll look at other ways. We need to get better. We took a step back here this year. We’ll explore all different - every way we possibly can to try and improve the team. - Yzerman