The Tampa Bay Lightning understand winning hockey like supreme justices know the law. With two Stanley Cup championships and 11 playoff series wins over the past three, the Lightning have earned the equivalent of a doctorate in playoff success.
But coach Jon Cooper that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to fresh look at what they do. That’s what he has appreciated about Jeff Blashill joining his Lightning staff.
“What I like about Blash is that he has brought in a unique perspective, different than what we’ve had,” Cooper said. “There is nothing wrong with a staff changing. Little tweaks, like how you tweak teams. Tweaking your staff I think is pivotal too at times. He’s done that…different idea, fresh new everything. Do we use all of it? No. Do we use some of it? Darn right we do.”
Derek Lalonde reflects as on his time as a former Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach under Jon Cooper and what winning the Stanley Cup meant to him as Detroit faces Tampa tonight on Bally Sports EXTRA. #LGRW | @ThinkFordFirst pic.twitter.com/CsTaBmPgWW
— Bally Sports Detroit (@BallySportsDET) December 21, 2022
Cooper hired Blashill to replace Derek Lalonde after the latter accepted general manager Steve Yzerman’s offer to coach the Red Wings. With hockey’s version of the double switch, the Red Wings boast 35 points this season in 32 games. That’s two points more than Blashill’s Red Wings had at the same point in 2021-22.
Meanwhile, the Lightning, with Blashill as an assistant, have 41 points this season in 32 games. That’s five points less than they had last season at this point.
However, the comparison has an apples to oranges component. The Lightning are missing two regular defensemen (Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta), plus crucial forward Ondrej Palat. They couldn’t afford to keep them because of salary cap issues.
“(Blashill’s) perspective has really been refreshing,” Cooper said.
Another unique element of this double switch is that Cooper, Lalonde and Blashill are long-time friends. Not just acquaintances. Good buddies. Plenty of ribbing. Frequent laughter. Considerable history
That’s why going from Lalonde to Blashill hasn’t been a difficult switch for Cooper. He was tight with Lalonde and he’s tight with Blashill.
“I have been pretty fortunate that guys I’ve worked with or been very close with we’ve had the opportunity to bring in (to Tampa Bay),” Cooper said. “It’s been a great transition for me. People, say, ‘Oh, you are bringing in your buddy…but they are also at the top of their profession.”
It’s not uncommon for former head coaches to end up as assistants or associate coaches on other teams. For example, Andrew Brunette was Florida’s head coach for most of last season. This season, he’s an assistant coach in New Jersey. Bob Boughner was San Jose’s head coach last season and now he’s Lalonde’s associate coach.
“There’s probably a little bit more adjust for Blash and Boughner to go from heads to assistants,” Cooper said. “But in saying that, they were long-time assistants before they were heads. It’s been intertwined in there. But you have good guys, knowledgeable guys, experienced guys, guys who want to win, so everyone just meshes together. That’s happened with us and (the Detroit) staff.”