The Most Interesting Man In Hockey: Jon Cooper

For what it’s worth, my belief is that the best candidate for the Edmonton Oilers’ head coaching position is Jon Cooper, currently the head coach of Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk.

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Jon Cooper has never served as an NHL coach – head, associate, or assistant. All of his experience has come in other leagues. But when I first profiled Cooper back in March, I was highly impressed by the experience he does have.

He left his previous career (Cooper was a lawyer) to take up coaching full time in 2003 in the North American Hockey League. In five seasons he won the league championship twice, coach of the year honours twice, and compiled a 223-93-17 record. For good measure, he also helped develop an NHL’er (Matt Taormina) in a league that rarely produces them.

In the summer of 2008, Cooper was named coach and general manager of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers. The year prior, the Gamblers went 13-41-6 with a minus-94 goal differential. In Cooper’s first year with the team they led the league in regular season points and managed a plus-72 goal differential (a shift of 166 goals in a 60-game season). The next year, the Gamblers again led the league in the regular season and won the championship as well. In two USHL seasons, Cooper was named G.M. of the year twice and coach of the year once (and was roped into performing in the videos sprinkled throughout this piece). That got him a head coaching job in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals.

In Norfolk

Norfolk, under the guidance of a new coach (Cooper) and general manager (Julien BriseBois – recently passed over for the Montreal Canadiens’ G.M. position), may have only managed a first round loss in 2010-11, but that represented the best season any affiliate team of the Tampa Bay Lightning had experienced in a decade and a half:

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Season Team W L OTL T PTS GF GA GD Playoffs
2010-11 Norfolk 39 26 15 93 265 230 35 Rd. 1 loss
1996-97 Adirondack 38 28 2 12 90 258 249 9 Rd. 1 loss
2009-10 Norfolk 39 35 6 84 208 214 -6 N/A
2003-04 Hershey 33 34 5 8 78 203 218 -15 N/A
2001-02 Springfield 35 41 2 2 74 213 237 -24 N/A
1997-98 Adirondack 31 37 3 9 74 245 275 -30 Rd. 1 loss
2008-09 Norfolk 33 38 9 75 236 269 -33 N/A
2002-03 Springfield 34 38 1 7 76 202 243 -41 Rd. 1 loss
2007-08 Norfolk 29 44 7 65 213 267 -54 N/A
1998-99 Cleveland (IHL) 28 47 7 63 248 310 -62 N/A
2006-07 Springfield 28 49 3 59 181 268 -87 N/A
2005-06 Springfield 28 43 9 65 220 312 -92 N/A
2004-05 Springfield 27 47 9 57 161 255 -94 N/A
1999-00 Detroit (IHL) 22 52 8 52 163 277 -114 N/A
2000-01 Detroit (IHL) 23 53 6 52 184 311 -127 N/A

Tampa Bay’s farm teams have been miserable for years; the 2010-11 squad coached by Cooper (in bold) was easily the best of the bunch despite a middling record.

In 2011-12, BriseBois and Cooper took things further. Norfolk improved their goal differential to a whopping plus-93, won 55 games to put them first in the AHL during the regular season (10 more wins than second-place Oklahoma City) and then dominated the AHL playoffs, never allowing a series to go the distance and sweeping both the Eastern Conference and Calder Cup Finals. The club also set a record for the longest-ever winning streak in professional hockey, with 28 consecutive wins, 10 more than the previous pro hockey record and 11 more than the previous AHL record.

Experience matters, no question. But experience has never been as important as the combination of ability and success. Cooper has been a rock star at every level since going into coaching; he’s experienced nothing but success. While team success is an imperfect measure of coaching ability, the evidence strongly suggests that Cooper is highly capable. The facts that he is an educated man and a Western Canadian to boot (Cooper’s originally from Prince George) don’t hurt him either.

The Oilers have a chance to land a home run here. There are a variety of excellent candidates available, but none as compelling as Cooper. I don’t get a vote when the Oilers hire their next head coach, but if I did I’d be voting for Cooper.

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This week by Jonathan Willis

  • stevezie

    Would he take an associate coach job if it came to that? The Oilers can’t be the only team concerned about his total lack of any NHL experience, getting some as an associate might be more to his benefit than ours.

  • I was all in favor of hiring Krueger, but the more I thought about it and the recent hiring of Mac-T have changed my mind.

    Tambellini will hire the most experienced coach, if nothing but to save his own arse.

    Sutter’s résumé is the best of the three coaches’s talked about here, especially with youth.

    After all, what’s the difference between Cooper and Nelson? I wiould consider hiring Cooper a slap in the face to Nelson.

  • The problem with a resume like this, is that we’d expect the same, and if his consistent winning ways finally subside here in Edmonton then I can see things spiralling down. A lot of pressure for a guy with no NHL experience.