People might quibble with a move here or there, but many would agree that an already sneaky-good Tampa Bay Lightning team got quite a bit better this summer.
Maybe that’s why head coach Jon Cooper seemed a little nervous about giving up that “sneaky” part while chatting with NHL.com.
“Make us seem like just a nice, humble, go-lucky Tampa Bay Lightning,” Cooper said. “Not like we’re going to come out and kick everybody’s [behind].”
Playing the underdog can be a lot more comfortable than being prohibitive favorites, especially when you go through a regular season as turbulent as the Bolts did in 2013-14.
Combine great offseason moves with all the trials from last season (injuries to key players like Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop along, the Martin St. Louis drama) and it’s tempting to pencil the Lightning in as a top East contender, but Cooper is right to note that what did go right last season isn’t necessarily a given to swing their way once more.
“We probably made more moves than people thought we would make. But we needed to address some issues at certain positions,” Cooper said. “A lot of our season may have been masked by some outstanding goaltending by Ben Bishop, but the playoffs was a bit of a wake-up call for us.”
Why it’s kind of difficult to pump the brakes
Those of us who get excited about offseason moves really do struggle to dampen expectations for this team, though.
The Lightning were already a top-10 possession team in 2013-14 and seem primed to hog the biscuit even more after adding Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison. The Bolts could be a nightmare to deal with if their young forwards make significant progress, especially with Jonathan Drouin possibly making “the jump” in 2014-15.
This team didn’t just mark off a few boxes in the “prospect hype” and “fancy stats” categories, either. If you’re the type who values “grit and hustle,” re-signing Ryan Callahan while adding Brenden Morrow and Brian Boyle for cheap likely inspires kudos. (The bigger deal might be adding Evgeni Nabokov as veteran insurance if he can merely be adequate next season, as Anders Lindback proved to be a pretty disastrous backup.)
As much as Cooper jokes – probably nervously – about how quickly the Lightning have progressed from “bottom feeder” status to critical darling, the salary cap era opens the door for quick turnarounds with sharp management. That seems to be the case in Tampa Bay, which only puts more pressure on Cooper. Then again, isn’t this the kind of stuff that makes sports more enjoyable in the first place?
/Imagines Cooper grimacing with disapproval