Not only do the Tampa Bay Lightning have to worry about losing key players on the ice this offseason, but they also have to worry about other teams luring their coaches away too. The good news is that the team has been so successful that their coaching staff is highly sought after.
The bad news is that the Lightning may lose one of their dynamic assistant coaches, as Jeff Halpern will interview with the Washington Capitals for their vacant head coaching job.
The Lightning’s Coaching Staff
The success that the Lightning have enjoyed is a direct result of their head coach Jon Cooper. As the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, he just celebrated his 10th anniversary. Even rival teams admire his coaching abilities. The team is lucky to have such stability behind the bench. But that may not continue.
In the summer of 2022, the Lightning’s Derek Lalonde left to become the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, and their head coach, Jeff Blashill, replaced the departed Lalonde. This summer it could be Halpern who gets the opportunity to coach his own team.
Halpern and assistant coach Rob Zettler, both former NHL players, were brought up to the NHL from the Lightning’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Syracuse Crunch. Pre-dating Cooper’s arrival, goalie coach Franz Jean joined the team in September 2010. Brian Garlock, who has worked with Cooper throughout his career, became video coordinator in 2013. His partner is video coach Nigel Kirwan, who is the longest-serving coach on the team.
Jeff Halpern Joins the Lightning
In 2015, Halpern joined the Lightning organization as a player development coach before gaining experience as an assistant coach for the Crunch. He rejoined Cooper in the NHL at the start of the team’s explosive Presidents’ Trophy-winning season of 2018-19. As the coach of the forwards, Halpern worked with Nikita Kucherov, who won the Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophies in his first season. Although his first postseason experience was a disappointment in 2018-19, the team then marched their way to two consecutive Stanley Cups.
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As an NHL player, Halpern spent 14 seasons with seven teams, including the Capitals and Lightning. He scored a goal and added an assist in his Tampa debut in February 2008 and ended the season with 18 points in 19 games. At the 2010 NHL Trade Deadline, he was traded to the L.A. Kings. He retired from playing in 2014 with a total of 152 goals and 221 assists in 976 regular season games.
Is Halpern Right Fit for the Capitals?
A native of Potomac, Maryland, Halpern was the first player for the Capitals that was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. Metro area. He started his career with his hometown team in the 1999-00 season, where he played for six seasons. In 2005-06 he served as captain and played with Alex Ovechkin who was a rookie. He was let go the following season but returned to Washington for the 2011-12 season.
While Halpern and the Lightning made the postseason for the sixth straight year, the 2022-23 season was the first time in nine years that the Capitals did not secure a playoff spot. Although the team has the second-oldest roster in the league and endured several injuries, head coach Peter Laviolette was still let go after amassing a 35-37-10 record. However, the team won the Stanley Cup in 2018, with many players from the current roster.
“On paper, the Capitals’ job should be one of the best available in the offseason’s coaching carousel,” stated Jared Serre of Washington Hockey Now.
However, as mentioned, the team is older. The Capitals’ captain, Ovechkin, will be 38 years old before the next season begins. Even still, the Russian-born player has 822 career goals and is closing in on Wayne Gretzky’s total of 894 goals. This season he scored 42 goals in 73 games. The 6-foot-3, 238-pound player is unlike any other NHL scoring leader, given his offensive outlet and his physicality. Keeping practice from becoming stale could be one way that Halpern could benefit the veteran players. Bryan Burns of NHL.com stated that Halpern keeps his drills fresh, coming up with something new each day. “He always comes up with a new drill or something, a new thing that he wants us to get better with,” said former Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta.
Two younger players who will be with the team to start the 2023-24 season are Dylan Strome and Sonny Milano. Strome, who assisted on eight of Ovechkin’s goals, was a first-round draft pick. He, along with Milano who was also a first-round pick, are both 26 years old – two of the youngest players on the team. In his first year with the team, Strome played on the first power-play unit, which produced 21.2% during the regular season. Halpern, who coached the Lightning’s power play that scored on 25.4% of its opportunities this season, could help Strome strengthen the Capitals’ power play. His work with Brayden Point paid off for the team as he scored 20 power plays goals this season, the most of his career.
Losing a key member of the coaching staff, who oversees the forwards and potent power-play unit, would be a blow to Cooper. The fact that the Lightning have been as successful as they have been, is a tribute to all the coaches. For this reason, other teams are interested in capturing a component of that success.
If Halpern is hired as the head coach of the Capitals, it will be a loss for the Lightning, but a homecoming for the Maryland native.