Jon Cooper and his Tampa Bay Lightning are building one of the strongest minor-league systems in the league.
For the second consecutive year the Tampa Bay Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate is in the Calder Cup Championship. Despite coaching changes and numerous callups, the Syracuse Crunch could bring home the second consecutive Calder Cup to the Lightning organization. There are some big things that the Lightning can take away from their AHL affiliate’s success.
Last season, as the Norfolk Admirals, the Lightning’s AHL affiliate won the Calder Cup after a league best 113-point regular season. This year, the Crunch are battling back after falling behind 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate—the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The success of Tampa Bay’s prospects should bring a sense of optimism to the fans, and here is why.
Entering his first full season in the NHL, Jon Cooper will be able to make his mark on the Lightning like he did in the AHL.
Jon Cooper was hired in 2010 to coach the Norfolk Admirals. In his second season, he took the Admirals to the Calder Cup Championship, and won the 2012 Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s best coach. In 2012-13, he coached the Syracuse Crunch to a 39-18-3-5 record before being promoted to the Lightning’s head coaching position.
The importance of minor league coaches cannot be stressed enough and Cooper is one of the best. He takes a group of young men and molds them into future NHL stars, as well as players who know the game of hockey.
The Crunch players were given such a strong foundation that even after Cooper’s departure, the team hasn’t struggled. Another Calder Cup finals only adds to the legacy being created every day by Cooper.
Tyler Johnson is building some serious momentum in this year's playoffs.
One of the admirable things about the Lightning is that the team never quits. Even down 4-0 early, the Bolts play hard until the final whistle. That mentality runs throughout the organization, including the Crunch.
Down 3-0 to the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Calder Cup Finals, the Crunch took two wins away from the Griffins on the road. Now, the Crunch have an opportunity to finish off the historic comeback with two more home games (June 18, June 20).
Even after a coaching change, Syracuse has kept fighting and it’s not just what they are accomplishing that is impressive. It’s also who is doing the leading that should excite fans.
Ondrej Palat has 25 points in 17 Calder Cup games. He is showing off every aspect of his game on the brightest stage in the AHL.
It would be easy for the stars of the Crunch to sit back and focus on their upcoming NHL careers. Players like Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat, Radko Gudas, Brett Connolly and Tyler Johnson could all cash it in and look forward to the NHL, but they are the ones leading the way.
Palat has 25 points in 17 playoff games. Johnson has 21 including a team-high 10 goals. Panik has 13 points and a team-high 57 penalty minutes in 15 games.
The future stars for the Lightning are shining on the brightest stage the AHL has to offer. That hunger should help the Bolts in the future as they look to build on the foundation set by Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.
If the Lightning can have half as much success on the road as the Crunch do, they will be in a good spot for years to come.
One of the most glaring weaknesses of the Tampa Bay Lightning in recent years is winning on the road. This year, the Lightning were 6-16-2 on the road. The year before they were 13-22-6. But, the year they made the Eastern Conference Finals, they were 21-14-6.
Syracuse has dominated the road. They went 7-1 on the road this postseason. The Crunch picked up a 30-13-0-2 record away from home in the regular season. If Cooper can bring even half of that success to the Lightning, they will be playoff contenders for years to come.
2004 was the highlight of the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise, but if these young stars can build on their success it won't be the only bright spot for long.
A winning culture in a locker room is invaluable. Many of the veterans in the Tampa Bay locker room understand what it is like to win a Stanley Cup. The Bolts aren’t that far removed from hoisting their own Stanley Cup (2004).
Teaching young players what it's like to win as a team can be a tedious effort. The Syracuse Crunch players already know what it's like to win. They have tasted success as individuals and as a team, which has only added to the hunger in the locker room.
The organization is all in on winning. From the owner Jeff Vinik to the minor-league system, the Tampa Bay Lightning are cultivating a winning culture. For fans, this should be as exciting a time as ever.
The Bolts have all of the pieces in place to succeed. It has all started with the Syracuse Crunch.