Jon Cooper has been named as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team announced Monday. He will replace the recently dismissed Guy Boucher. Cooper had been the head coach of Tampa's AHL affiliate the last three seasons.
Cooper led former Tampa affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, to the Calder Cup in the AHL last year, guiding the team to a franchise record 55 wins that was highlighted by a 28-game winning streak. That is a North American professional hockey record. This season, Cooper has guided new Lightning affiliate Syracuse Crunch to the best record in the AHL -- 39-18-3-5.
General manager Steve Yzerman had told reporters that he didn't want to hire a temporary replacement but, rather, a coach who would be with Tampa Bay for "years to come."
"We are very pleased to introduce Jon as our head coach today," Yzerman said in a statement. "He has had success at every level he has coached and is extremely familiar with our organization, as well as our players. He has a tremendous record at all levels and we feel he is ready to make the move to the NHL."
There was speculation that Lindy Ruff, fired by the Buffalo Sabres earlier this season, would be a lead candidate along with Cooper. Ruff's experience running an NHL bench may have been enticing to potentially steady the ship.
Instead, Yzerman kept it internal and replaced one coach in his first NHL job with another. It might be a risky play for the GM, but had Yzerman not hired Cooper, he would have almost certainly lost Cooper to another team.
Cooper, who was hired into the organization by Yzerman early in his GM tenure, was one of the hottest names last offseason for NHL jobs and was sure to generate heavy interest this offseason if Tampa Bay had retained Boucher or gone in a different direction.
Cooper is also a fantastic story, having climbed the coaching ranks from Michigan high school hockey up to junior in the North American Hockey League and United States Hockey League before embarking on his pro coaching career with the Tampa organization in the AHL. He has won a title at every coaching stop along the way.
The NHL is a different story, however. Cooper inherits an underachieving team with a dire goaltending situation that may have ultimately doomed his predecessor.
Though the playoffs might be a longshot this season, the Lightning have pieces in place to be a solid team in the near future. Having been in the organization, Cooper has already dealt with a lot of Tampa's young talent, so it could be smooth transition in the short term as well.
It will be Yzerman's job to address some key player-personnel needs, but the coaching move will allow the general manager to focus on just that.
Cooper hasn't experienced a lot of failure during his career, and while the stakes have never been this high, the end goal remains the same.
This opportunity has been a long time coming for a guy who started on the bottom rung of the coaching pyramid. Cooper was actually a lawyer full-time before closing his practice in 2003 to focus on his coaching career.
Looks like he made the right call.