TAMPA — Jon Cooper said he wants the Tampa Bay Lightning to embrace their potential to three-peat as Stanley Cup champions.
The Lightning will raise a banner honoring their 2020-21 championship to the rafters here prior to their season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS). It will hang to the right of their 2019-20 championship banner.
But the hunger for more hasn’t waned with success.
“Even just taking a look around and meeting with the leadership group, they’re genuinely excited for the year in a time when they have an excuse not to be,” Cooper said.
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said another championship would place them in the dynasty conversation in all professional sports. No NHL team has won three in a row since the New York Islanders won four consecutive championships from 1980-83.
It hasn’t happened in the National Basketball Association since the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-02). The last time it happened in Major League Baseball was the New York Yankees (1998-2000). It has never happened in the National Football League.
Cooper said he would eventually speak with former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, who lives in the area, about what it was like for them going for their third World Series title in a row.
“From top to bottom, you look at the greatest teams ever and it’s hard not to say the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s weren’t one of them, and they never did it,” Cooper said. “That’s how hard it is. Like, nobody really gets to do this.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins remember feeling the same level of excitement about their chance for three straight championships after they won the Cup in 2016 and 2017. Their bid ended against the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Eastern Conference Second Round.
“It’s hard to win one, let alone two,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “But when you have a good team and you’ve had success and you have faith and belief in your group, then anything’s possible. That was the mindset of our team going into that season. I would not imagine it’s much different in Tampa.”
It isn’t despite some significant changes to the Lightning’s depth chart.
Their entire third line from the past two seasons is gone with Yanni Gourde going to the Seattle Kraken as part of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Blake Coleman signing a six-year contract with the Calgary Flames and Barclay Goodrow being traded to and signing with the New York Rangers.
Tyler Johnson, a fourth-line forward last season who could move up into a top-six role when needed, was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I’d be concerned about them losing their entire third line,” TNT analyst Keith Jones said. “I don’t think we can underestimate how important they were to their success. It’s a big reason why those three players were basically torn out of there to go to new teams to try to help their new respective teams get over the hump. They’re going to be missed. It would be an incredible feat if Tampa is able to get that third Cup in a row based upon the players that they lost.”
But the Lightning seem less concerned.
“Change is always good,” Cooper said. “Not drastic, but a little bit of change isn’t a bad thing. We miss the guys who are gone, no question. But when you replace them with the character that we did, you pull for those guys. It’s been a seamless transition so far.”
Tampa Bay signed veteran forwards Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Perry lost to the Lightning in the past two Cup Final series, in six games as a member of the Dallas Stars in 2020 and five with the Montreal Canadiens last year.
“He’s heard a lot of stuff about that Montreal series and the Dallas series already,” Stamkos said.
Zach Bogosian returned on defense, replacing David Savard, who signed with the Canadiens. Bogosian won the Cup with the Lightning in 2020.
Brian Elliott is the new backup goalie to Andrei Vasilevskiy, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner who is 34-14 with a .932 save percentage, 1.90 goals-against average and six shutouts in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games the past two seasons.
Defenseman Cal Foote and forwards Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk are on the roster after being extras during the run last year.
“If anything, we can fall back on what we did last year and how we embraced that challenge, especially missing our best player in ‘Kuch’ (Nikita Kucherov) for the whole year,” Stamkos said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we knew if we could just get to the playoffs … that’s why we didn’t care we finished third in the division. It wasn’t a big deal for us. We just wanted to get in.”
That’s the motivation for the Lightning now as they prepare for opening night, for another banner raising ceremony in front of a full house and for a grind that, if successful, will lead them to an opportunity to three-peat.
“We just can’t rest on what has happened the past two years,” Stamkos said. “The start is critical to any season and I think maybe even a little more so for our group now. Let’s get off to a really good start. Especially when you have a team that has been together for as long as we have, that’s when you take advantage is at the beginning of the year when some teams are just feeling out their rosters, guys are getting a chance, everyone is not dialed in on their special teams.
“We know we’re going to talk about the three-peat. We know we’re going to talk about the playoffs. But the goal right now is to get off to a really good start.”
NHL.com columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika and independent correspondent Wes Crosby contributed to this story