There was fitting background noise when winger Ryan Malone spoke about new starts in a crowded hallway. The Tampa Bay Lightning veteran shared optimism for the first full season under coach Jon Cooper but on the other side of a wall deep in Tampa Bay Times Forum workers hammered away on thin pieces of sheet metal. Malone tried to speak through the racket. But the irritating noise carried muffling his voice in the process. He paused asked someone what the heck was going on and then finished his thought. "Can you hear me?" Malone said. Most would call what is happening with the Lightning a rebuilding job. Players reported to training camp Wednesday the first step in moving past a bizarre 2012-13 lockout-shortened campaign that included Guy Boucher's firing as coach Cooper's hiring winger Martin St. Louis and center Steven Stamkos closing as the NHL's top-two points earners while Tampa Bay finished with 40 points (third-fewest in the league) and missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. Cooper disagrees with the reconstruction label. To him perspective is relative: If a team finishes in the top half of the standings it's reloading; rebuilding suggests a negative connotation a franchise searching to find its way. Clearly he believes in his vision. "It all kind of means the same thing" Cooper said. "Everybody has got the same common goal. I can't sit here and say we're rebuilding. We've kind of built from the ground up." The Lightning through Cooper will have a chance to prove as much. They closed 5-8-3 under him during a disappointing 18-26-4 season. Their postseason hopes were all but lost by the time he arrived from the AHL's Syracuse Crunch last March. His work late last season was a trial run a head start on gaining comfort for a year when Tampa Bay will face a steep task in an Atlantic Division that includes five returning playoff teams: the Boston Bruins Toronto Maple Leafs Ottawa Senators Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings. The Lightning have tried to become faster and younger. Perhaps as many as nine players who appeared in Syracuse last season will compete for up to four open jobs among the top 12 forward spots. Expect newcomers such as winger Geoff Walker a free-agent signee and winger Jonathan Drouin the third overall pick in the NHL entry draft in June to work to make an impact too.
Jon Cooper ready for first full season as Lightning coach
Fox Sports Florida | Sep 13