Steve Yzerman

Lightning strike twice with Yzerman, Cooper combo


They don’t have the hardware of, say, Dean Lombardi + Darryl Sutter or Stan Bowman + Joel Quenneville, yet the Tampa Bay Lightning’s front office duo of GM Steve Yzerman and head coach Jon Cooper seem like they have the potential to do something special.

Sure, they both took very different paths to this very intriguing fork in the road, yet both appear bright and nimble enough to do some damage in the 2014-15 season and beyond.

Yzerman: an All-Star as a GM?

It’s true that Yzerman inherited franchise players Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman from the previous regime, yet he’s been very forward-thinking in building the team into what many believe will be a contender. The team is currently bursting with young scorers – many of whom were drafted by Yzerman & Co., including late gems like Ondrej Palat – while sporting an enviable array of defensemen and some nice options in net.

Ben Bishop might be “the guy” for now, yet his contract opens the door for 2012 first-rounder Andrei Vasilevskiy to eventually fight for the No. 1 spot. More than a few NHL teams likely envy such flexibility.

Yzerman also made the best of the Martin St. Louis trade situation and made some of the shrewdest signings of this offseason, so the situation looks pretty rosy right now.

A unique take behind the bench

While Yzerman’s name pops out for obvious reasons as a Hall-of-Famer and an executive groomed in Detroit’s front office, Cooper flies under the radar as an underrated head coach.

He took an unusual path to head coaching in the NHL, but that “outsider” perspective might just come in handy. If the NHL follows what seems to be a trend in the NFL when it comes to optimism and open-minded behavior from bench bosses, Cooper could very well be ahead of the curve.

That breath of fresh air feeling seemed apparent even in an early Grantland feature back in 2013:

“One GM told me,” he said, “and I’ll never forget this: ‘The NHL can be toxic and negative. You don’t have that in you. Don’t lose that.’ I’ll always take that with me.”

After going 5-8-3 in an abbreviated stint in 2012-13, Cooper coached the Lightning to a promising 46-27-9 record (101 points) last season, so there’s evidence that he’s on to something, even if his team suffered a first-round sweep.

Big challenges ahead

Naturally, all of these positive prognostications could look pretty silly if the Lightning fall flat over the next couple of years.

Yzerman faces a serious challenge in keeping that young core together once entry-level and second contracts run out; the knives would only sharpen if he fails to keep Stamkos from eventually bolting for Toronto when he becomes a UFA.

Also, as strong as this team looks on paper, the Lightning’s last surge came when Guy Boucher was prowling the bench. It’s easy to assume that everything will continue to trend up when the team isn’t far removed from failures.

… Which brings us to Cooper, aka the guy with inherently shakier job security. Boucher went from media darling to “Where are they now?” features (he’s coaching in the Swiss league) with dizzying speed, so the Lightning need to keep climbing or Cooper’s doubters will multiply.


This is a fascinating time for the Lightning franchise, as so many signs point up … yet there is so much work to be done. From the look of things, Tampa Bay has the right duo for the job, though.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan
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Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.

Full Sparks: Leafs rookie posts shutout in NHL debut

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Exactly 366 days ago, Garret Sparks was tending goal for the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears.

What a difference a year can make.

On Monday, Sparks — the 22-year-old netminder just recalled from the AHL Marlies — was the big story in Toronto, posting a 24-save shutout over Edmonton in his NHL debut.

Sparks’ debut came after the in-form James Reimer went down with injury and Jonathan Bernier struggled mightily to start the year. A seventh-round pick in 2011, Sparks was taken 189 spots behind the guy lined up across from him tonight — that’d be Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in ’11.

So yeah, Sparks might not be high on pedigree. But he’s certainly full value for what he’s achieved.

The former OHL Guelph standout went 8-2-1 with the Marlies this year, with a .938 save percentage and 1.90 GAA. Those numbers impressed the club’s brass and afforded him the chance to get a spot start against the Oilers.

And needless to say, it went well.

Leo Komarkov provided two-thirds of the Toronto offense on the night, scoring both the opening goal and insurance marker (into an empty net) to put him on 10 goals for the year. Komarov’s offensive outburst is nearly as surprising as Sparks’ emergence; prior to this season, the gritty Finn had never scored more than eight goals in a single NHL campaign.

Nazem Kadri scored the other goal for the Leafs, who are now 8-11-5 on the year.

As for Edmonton… well, the scoreline says it all. The club has just six goals in its last five games and has been shut out twice (the other occurred last Monday, in a 1-0 loss to the Caps). The defeat dropped the Oilers to 8-15-2, putting them right in the Western Conference basement next to Calgary, with 18 points.

New York, New York: Rangers snap slump, Isles win second straight

Oscar Lindberg

It was a good night in NYC.

In Manhattan, the Rangers snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over the ‘Canes at MSG and, while that was going on, the Isles won their second straight with a victory over the Avs in Brooklyn.

Nice little Monday, that.

Let’s begin with the Rangers.

Heading into tonight’s action in arguably their worst slump of the season, the Blueshirts got goals from Mats Zuccarello, Oscar Lindberg, Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard to edge the ‘Canes. While it was hardly an oil painting — New York was out-shot 36-22 — the club will gladly take the win, and the positives that came with it.

Like the power play, that went 2-for-4 on the night with Zuccarello’s and Lindberg’s tallies. And the fact the club was able to withstand the loss of d-man Kevin Klein, who exited early in the first period — despite missing a steadying presence that plays over 21 minutes per night, the Rangers’ remaining five d-men (Ryan McDonagh, Keith Yandle, Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle and Marc Staal) all played at least 20 minutes save Yandle, who clocked in at 19:43.

The Rangers also got a solid outing from Henrik Lundqvist, who made 33 saves on 36 shots. Jordan Staal, Victor Rask and Chris Terry scored for Carolina.

Now, over to Barclays.

The Isles overcame Blake Comeau‘s game-opening tally in the first to win 5-3, thanks to a three-goal barrage in the final period.

Head coach Jack Capuano will no doubt be pleased with the balanced scoring across the board, as five different Isles found the back of the net: Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas and Mikhal Grabovski, with Cizikas’ goal proving to be the eventual game-winner.

The win was also sweet given it came with backup netminder Thomas Greiss in goal. The victory pushed him to an impressive 7-3-2 on the year, putting him in the conversation among the NHL’s top second-string goalies.

For the Avs, tonight’s loss will sting. It was another unremarkable outing from Semyon Varlamov (four goals on 27 shots, an .852 save percentage) and a forgettable night for three of Colorado’s best players. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene combined to go pointless on the night, with a minus-8 rating.

And yes, I just referenced plus-minus.

Update: As longtime and cherished PHT commenter bcislesman pointed out, I neglected to mention Wednesday’s Rivalry Night game on NBCSN — between the Rangers and Isles! Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty on it in the coming days. A reminder the game will be available on TV and via NBC Sports’ Live Extra at 8 p.m. ET.