Tampa, Fla. — Jon Cooper is good friends with Derek Lalonde and Jeff Blashill. Lalonde and now Blashill have been assistant coaches under Cooper, the two-time Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning head coach.
When Lalonde replaced Blashill as head coach of the Red Wings, Cooper wasted little time contacting Blashill and gauging Blashill’s interest in coming down to Tampa.
From where Cooper sits, they are two talented coaches who have elevated, and will continue to strengthen, whatever coaching staff they’re on, in whatever position.
“We’ve had fantastic coaching staffs here the last few years,” Cooper said. “When Newsy (Lalonde) came in, and now Jeff, that is a big part of an organization. It’s the part that goes unnoticed. The head coach sits in front of the camera a ton but he’s only as good as the sum of his parts and, to me, you need assistants that get it. They contribute, they work hard and as great as friends as I’ve been with Jeff, we really haven’t worked a ton together.
“So, to watch what he brings to the table, it’s been fantastic for us. When you lose somebody like Derek, you’re hoping to replace him with somebody equal to or better. We’ve done that with Jeff. We’ve been extremely fortunate.”
Lalonde was on the Tampa staff for four seasons. He won two Stanley Cups and narrowly missed a third last season when Colorado defeated the Lightning in six games.
Lalonde’s coaching skills, along with Tampa’s prolonged success, is what may have attracted general manager Steve Yzerman to hire Lalonde as the Wings’ head coach, Cooper said.
“He’s got a winning pedigree,” Cooper said. “He was here for four years, from the lows of the lows in 2019 (four-game sweep in first round after winning 62 regular-season games) to the highest of the highs the next few years after that. Newsy has been a winning coach everywhere he’s gone. He needed to learn the NHL game and he came here and that’s what he did. He learned the NHL game and got to watch how you deal with stars and new guys and all that stuff.
“If there’s one thing that Derek really brings to the table, it’s he’s got a great feel for the guys in the room, a great feel for the game. I’m not surprised they’ve having the success they are.”
The Wings were only two points from Tampa in the standings heading into Tuesday’s game. Cooper, whom Yzerman hired when he was general manager of the Lightning, believes Yzerman felt the Wings were ready for the next stage in their development after rebuilding the last several seasons.
“They brought these guys along, and when he realized it’s time to win, he went out and made some real wise, astute decisions and brought in NHL players,” Cooper said. “They’ve turned the corner from that rebuild time to win now time, and their window is open now. Steve went out and got a goalie and all the things necessary to put this team in position to win, and that’s how you’re supposed to do it.
“It’s now the time for Detroit.”
Cooper made sure to add he cheers for Lalonde, just as he did for good friend Blashill — just not when the Lightning are on the schedule.
“He (Lalonde) is not the first assistant coach I’ve coached against, but it doesn’t hide the fact we’re close friends and I cheer for him,” Cooper said. “You want people coming from your organization, you want them to do well.
“Just not tonight. The very same as it was every time we coached against Jeff.”
Forward Elmer Soderblom took part in the Wings’ morning skate Tuesday, as he gets closer to a return from a lower-body injury.
Soderblom hurt himself blocking a shot on Nov. 8. He hasn’t played for nearly a month, but Lalonde feels a return to the ice could be soon.
“He’s coming. He had two real good skates and he’ll get hammered again (after Tuesday’s morning skate) with a long skate,” Lalonde said. “I would expect him maybe by the weekend.”
But don’t expect the Wings to reinsert Soderblom immediately into the lineup. Given Soderblom’s length of absence, a conditioning stint in Grand Rapids is likely.
“It’s up to Steve with what he wants to do, but I’m sure because he (Soderblom) has been out as along as he has, he’ll see some time in GR,” Lalonde said.
Soderblom, a towering 6-foot-8 forward, made a big impression in the exhibition season, made the Wings’ opening night roster, and had two points (both goals) in 13 games before getting hurt.