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BriseBois backs Lightning head coach Cooper: 'The best guy for the job'


Any rumours surrounding Jon Cooper's future with the Tampa Bay Lightning appeared to be put to rest Wednesday by general Julien BriseBois.

While some have wondered whether it's time for change after a second straight first-round exit in Cooper's 12th season behind the bench, BriseBois reiterated his faith in the two-time Stanley Cup-winning head coach.

"Like all the great coaches, it starts with leadership skills. Really high on leadership skills. Really high emotional intelligence. Never gets too high. Never gets too low. I think that allows him to weather the storms because there are storms," BriseBois said of Cooper. "This is a tough league. It’s a cutthroat business. The other teams are really good. They’re trying to win. We’re trying to win. It’s the elite against the elite.

"Coop, again this year, did a fabulous job. I love our coaching staff and love working with him. I feel privileged to be able to continue to work with him. I feel privileged to have been able to work with him the past 14 years going back to our Norfolk days.

"He’s a special coach and he’s the best guy for the job."

Cooper first took over as head coach of the Lightning for the final 15 games of the 2012-13 season. In his 11 full seasons since, the Lightning have missed the postseason just once and reach three straight Stanley Cup Finals from 2020-2022. 

The Lightning finished with a 45-29-8 record this season, reaching the playoffs as the top wild-card team in the Eastern Conference. The Florida Panthers eliminated Tampa Bay in five games in their first-round series, one year after the Toronto Maple Leafs dispatched the Lightning in six games in the first round. 


Lightning off-season outlook

BriseBois made it clear that Wednesday that he wants to re-sign captain Steven Stamkos after previously putting contract talks on hold. The general manager said he has already spoken to both Stamkos and his agent, stating he's "very hopeful" a deal can be worked out ahead of him reaching unrestricted free agency on July 1.

Other players set to hit the open market in July include trade-deadline additions Anthony Duclair and Matt Dumba. While BriseBois praised the contributions of both, he said it's too early to say whether they will be back with the team next season. Forwards Tyler Motte, Austin Watson and Mitchell Chaffee are also pending unrestricted free agents, along with defencemen Calvin de Haan and Haydn Fleury

BriseBois has already turned his attention to getting defenceman Victor Hedman signed to an extension as he prepares to enter the final season of his eight-year, $63 million contract.

"I talked to his agent yesterday, just very preliminary," the general manager said. "We’re going to circle back once we have time to debrief here. But, obviously, we’d love to keep Victor going forward. He’s an elite defenceman. He’s one of those special, all-time players and all-time great Tampa Bay Lightning and Bolt.

"He’s still super productive and I have no reason to believe that’s not going to be the case going forward. We have a better understanding of where the cap is, at least now and next year. There is a new CBA that’s going to come in at some point. There are rumours of expansion drafts. We’re trying to factor all that in, but the plan would be to keep Victor going forward, obviously."

Hedman, 33, had 13 goals and 76 points in 78 games this season, adding one goal and seven points in five playoff games. The Norris Trophy winner in 2018 and Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2020 has 156 goals and 728 points in 1,052 games, all with the Lightning.