Wild Accusations: Tampa Bay’s Team First Philosophy

NHL Tampa Bay Lightning Steve Stamkos

Alright. What is going on in Tampa Bay? Since Steve Yzerman took over, Marty St. Louis has demanded a trade, Steven Stamkos (reportedly) wants out, and now Jonathan Drouin has asked to be traded.

This is a team that made the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Why the mass (desired) exodus?

These aren’t run-of-the-mill players either. St. Louis was Tampa’s Captain when he asked. Stamkos is the current Captain, and Drouin is the former 3rd overall draft pick. Pretty high profile guys, wouldn’t you say? So what’s going on in Tampa to make these Star players want to leave?

Well, the St. Louis situation was due to an initial Olympic snub so you could maybe argue that situation as an outlier, but I believe the Stamkos and Drouin situations are similar (and if you really, the fact that Yzerman would leave St. Louis off the Olympic team in the first place makes that situation similar as well).

Here’re the situations in Tampa: Steven Stamkos wants to be a Center and Head Coach Jon Cooper, supported by the GM, thinks Stamkos is better off on the Wing. Jonathan Drouin wants to play in the NHL; Jon Cooper thinks differently. On its face, both situations are pretty cut-and-dry. The players aren’t happy, so they want to leave. But, with two big stars wanting out, don’t you think a-small-hockey-market-team Tampa Bay would be trying to work something out with the players in order to keep them?

Again, Stamkos is a former 60-goal scorer (at the Center position, under a different Coach, giving his desire some credibility) and their current captain. And Drouin can do this. It seems pretty nuts that the Lightning could lose both of these super talented players, but that’s the situation they’re looking at right now. Both players are unhappy with their usage and the organization isn’t budging, so who is in the wrong?

Well, aside from the fact that Drouin should probably hold a little more clout in the league before demanding a trade, I really don’t think either side(s) is in the wrong. The players want to be used a certain way, and they have their reasons; while the organization wants to use the players in another way, and they have their reasons. IT’S JUST NUTS THAT YZERMAN COULD LOSE THREE STAR PLAYERS IN SUCH A SHORT TIME.

Here’s the deal. Steven Stamkos scored 60 goals (FYI: That’s a lot) as a Centerman and obviously thinks playing Center gives him the best chance to do that again. Jonathan Drouin was a star player in Junior Hockey and wants that same opportunity in the NHL. Unfortunately for the players, Jon Cooper and Steve Yzerman are telling Stamkos playing Center isn’t his best chance, and Jonathan Drouin hasn’t earned the right to get the opportunity, and the organization is willing to lose them before acquiescing to the players’ desires.

Why? Well because Yzerman has Red Wings bloodlines and Jon Cooper has won everywhere he’s coached, that’s why.

The Lightning organization helmed by Yzerman and faced by Cooper, clearly believe that their philosophy is more important than any individual player and will jettison anyone who doesn’t want to buy in.

Yzerman learned this as a player, way back when Scotty Bowman told him he had to change his game and sacrifice personal statistics for the betterment of the team. And, even after six straight 100-point seasons, Yzerman was willing to listen to his Coach and make the change. So, if Yzerman was willing to do it, than every other player should be willing to do it too.

I know this feeling all-too-well. When I played, I was a shot-blocker. If there was an opportunity to get in front of a shot, I’d do it, and now, when I see players get out of the way, or lift a foot, I—subtly—lose my mind.

And I get it. I’ve spoken—at length—with former players and coaches who all have legitimate reasons for players to not block shots, but no matter the reasoning in the back of my mind, I can’t help but think, “block the #$%ing shot!” because I was willing to do it when I played.

We’re all like this with something. It’s human nature. I did it this way, so you can suck it up and do it too.

-I walked to school every day; you can do it too.

– We didn’t even have cell phones; you can get through a dinner without texting.

-I blocked shots; you should too

-I became more of a two-way player in the NHL because my Coach wanted me to; you can do whatever the Coach asks of you now

(These are all, roughly, equivalent)

So I get why Yzerman has little sympathy for Stamkos if Stamkos is upset with having to do what the Coach asks. He sacrificed; players who play on his team will sacrifice. Plain and simple.

Yzerman respects the Coach position. And, like I said before, why shouldn’t he? Cooper does nothing but win, which also means, Cooper is going to be very steadfast in his beliefs as well. Whatever decisions he’s made in the past have worked out for him, so he’s not going to go changing his coaching philosophy for one player, 60 goals or not. 3rd overall pick or not.

Part of me respects Yzerman and Cooper for being so strong in their beliefs. Part of me wonders what the heck they are doing.

I think most people always use the New England Patriots as benchmarks in these situations. Bill Belichick has his Next Man Up philosophy and no player is bigger than the team. Belichick will bench you if you’re late; cut you if you fumble; and trade you if you speak out of turn, even if you’re a future-Hall-of-Famer. This is all well and good, but Belichick also has Tom Brady, and when have you ever heard of Tom Brady being punished?

Is Tom Brady the perfect employee? Maybe. But more probable is that he’s done some things wrong in his career, but Belichick has handled those things “internally.” Flat out, you’re out of your mind if you think Bellichick hasn’t made some concessions for his Quarterback.

So, the question becomes, are the Lightning losing their Tom Brady? Well…probably not. But they are probably trading their Randy Moss. And I know, I know. Trust me, I know (I live in New England). The Pats won after they traded Randy Moss; but what if they could’ve won more if they had just worked it out? Part of you has to wonder, especially if you’re a New England fan.

But listen, if the Yzerman-Cooper Lightning churn out as many championships and winning seasons as the Pats do, than every person in Tampa will be more than more than happy. I just don’t see it happening.

You can say that St. Louis, Stamkos, and Drouin aren’t Tom Bradys, but if they aren’t, who is? If there was no Tom Brady, do you think Belichick would be so willing to get rid of any player at any time? Probably not. The Lightning are in real danger of losing every Randy Moss they have, with no Tom Brady left over to save them (are these football analogies getting difficult to understand yet?).

Personally, I’m a big believer in the team-over-individual philosophy so I’m really hoping this all works out for the Lightning. But I’m also a believer that the team is bigger than the philosophy.

Coaching a team is all about working with the team. You have to put your players in the best position to succeed and sometimes that means altering your game plan. Now, if Stamkos playing Wing and Drouin working on his game in the minors are their best individual positions to succeed then great. That’s that and if the players refuse to buy in, then see ya. What I worry is that even Coaches and GMs can believe in their own hype too much and make bad decisions just because they want to do it their way.

Yes, Yzerman has Red Wing bloodlines and yes, Jon Cooper has won at every level, but that doesn’t necessarily make them great at the NHL level. Success and pedigree don’t always translate to the highest levels. Chip Kelly was great in NCAA football…need I say more?

What if Jon Cooper is only telling Stamkos he’s better at Wing because he wants some sort of credit for Stamkos’ success? Think about it. Stamkos scores 60 at Center but never wins a Stanley Cup. Cooper shifts him to wing and Stamkos gets a ring and all people will talk about is how Cooper convinced one of the biggest stars in the NHL to alter his game. It’d be the Scotty Bowman treatment. It’s great, in theory, unless you’re trying to force it, and I have a hard time believing Stamkos isn’t good enough to be Tampa’s 1st line center. Again, he scored 60!

My point is, Yzerman and Cooper better be damn sure they are in the right on both these players because when it comes to professional sports management, you’re the “new wiz kid” right up until the minute you’re not. It’s great to say next man up; but you better have Tom Brady if you’re going to.

What do you think?