Here’s what we know about Lightning coach Jon Cooper’s contract status

TAMPA — The Lightning’s top priorities this offseason are ensuring that captain Steven Stamkos and defenseman Victor Hedman spend their entire careers as Bolts.

But what about head coach Jon Cooper’s future beyond next season?

After the Lightning won their second straight Stanley Cup championship in 2021, Cooper had one season remaining on his contract going into the 2021-22 season. Just before the opener, he signed a three-year extension that goes through 2024-25.

But, apparently, next season isn’t the final year on his existing deal.

Asked during Wednesday’s end-of-season media availability whether the Lightning planned to talk to Cooper about an extension, general manager Julien BriseBois said Cooper “has term” to his contract beyond next season.

Asked for further clarity, BriseBois would say only that Cooper is signed beyond 2024-25. So at some point, Cooper signed another extension to his deal, and it doesn’t appear it was done recently.

Teams don’t have to announce contracts or extensions to coaches or general managers. The Lightning clearly didn’t in this situation, even though Cooper’s last extension and its length were announced before the 2021-22 season.

BriseBois also signed an extension going into that season, the Tampa Bay Times reported at the time, but it wasn’t announced and the terms weren’t released.

What does it mean? Well, first, there’s no threat of Cooper starting next season as a lame-duck coach heading into the final year of his contract. It also means he’s locked up for at least the next two seasons, though the length of his deal beyond that isn’t known.

Cooper, 56, has been a fixture of the Lightning’s decade-long success that includes six trips to the Eastern Conference final, four Stanley Cup final appearances (including three straight) and back-to-back championships in 2020 and ‘21. In his 11 full seasons as head coach, the Lightning have missed the postseason only once.

He also is the NHL’s longest-tenured coach by nearly three years over Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan.

“Winning’s addictive, right?” Cooper said. “And I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been a part of a group for over a decade that, take away the last two playoffs, has done a lot of winning, not only in the regular season but in the playoffs. ... You’re kind of one big family, and so winning again with this group would maybe actually be more special than it was in the beginning.

“These guys, it’s been so much fun to be a part of. It’s a pleasure to coach them, a pleasure to push their buttons to get it going. It’s a pleasure when they get pissed off at me. It’s so much fun, but all at the end, the final goal is winning a championship. And when you do it, there’s nothing like it. That’s why I said it’s addictive and I still have a fire burning, and until that starts to fade, I’ll continue to be back.”

Despite the Lightning’s first-round playoff exit, Cooper might have done one of his better coaching jobs this past season.

He steered his team through goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s early-season absence, worked in a number of new players, implemented a new defensive structure and found ways to cope with the loss of defenseman Mikhail Sergachev for the better part of four months.

Though the Lightning found themselves outside of a playoff spot in early January, they put together the NHL’s third-best record over the second half of the regular season to distance themselves from the wild-card field and secure a seventh straight postseason berth.

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