From one coach to another, Don Cherry isn't fond of how Tampa Bay Lightning bench boss Jon Cooper handled Steven Stamkos in the Stanley Cup playoffs, specifically when it came to the star centre's ice time.
Talk of Cooper's use of Stamkos and a potential rift between the two surfaced in the latter portion of the post-season but it was left at that.
On Tuesday, one day after the Chicago Blackhawks won their third Cup title in six years with a 2-0 win over Stamkos and company in Game 6, Cherry sounded off.
"I feel Stamkos was not handled the way a [superstar] should be handled," the Hockey Night in Canada personality posted to his Twitter account.
Cherry said it all began when "the coach seemed to favour and fall in love with the little guys." He meant Tampa Bay's Triplets line of Tyler Johnson between Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, a unit Cooper demonstrated in the post-season was his favourite over the Stamkos line with Alex Killorn and Valtteri Filppula.
Cherry admitted Johnson was terrific in his play, only at Stamkos' expense.
"Stevie, some games, played around only 15 minutes," wrote Cherry of the Lightning captain. "He was not on the ice when the goalie was out with one goal down."
With the Lightning trailing Chicago by a goal in the last minute of the Cup final opener and goalie Ben Bishop on the bench, Cooper sent out forwards Ryan Callahan, Johnson, Kucherov and Killorn along with the top defence tandem of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman.
'I go out and do whatever I can every shift. That's all I can control.' - Lightning captain Steven Stamkos
Stamkos, who had scored six times in a stretch of 10 games and 43 during the regular season, remained on the bench.
When asked by reporters about the final minute of play, Stamkos said: "I want to be out there. If you ask every player they want to be out there. … You have to believe in yourself that you're a difference-maker.
"I go out and do whatever I can every shift. That's all I can control."
Diminished ice time
Stamkos played 20 shifts and wound up with 17 minutes 17 seconds of ice time in the 2-1 loss, six-plus minutes fewer than he received several times early in the season. As recent as mid-March, Stamkos was pushing 22 minutes in numerous games.
By comparison, Chicago's star forwards, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, played 28 shifts apiece.
'To see Stevie Stamkos sitting in the penalty box hurt. I know Stevie is going to protect his coach as that's the type of guy he is.' - Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry
"Don't give me 'he just finished a shift [stuff],'" said a clearly upset Cherry of Stamkos, who didn't score in the Cup final. "Stamkos tired is better than anybody on the team."
Stamkos did admit he wasn't happy Cooper sent him to the penalty box in the series opener to serve a penalty for too many men. Cherry called this the final insult.
"To see Stevie Stamkos sitting in the penalty box hurt," said Cherry, who has watched the 25-year-old since he played minor hockey for his hometown Markham (Ont.) Waxers as a 16-year-old. "I know Stevie is going to protect his coach as that's the type of guy he is."
In Game 5 of the final, Cooper lost Kucherov to injury early in the first period. Stamkos played most of the first half of the contest with Filppula and Killorn before taking Kucherov's spot on a line with Johnson and Palat. Over the final 7:41 of the third period, Stamkos, Johnson and Palat played three shifts, or as many as checking forwards Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown.
Stamkos' ice time over that period was 2:47, 10 seconds more than Paquette.
Later in the game, Stamkos spent 2:26 on the bench before his final shift with 92 seconds left on the clock.
Cherry said Cooper's handling of Stamkos in Monday's defeat was "ridiculous," noting the player's game-high eight hits – Stamkos had 91 hits in 82 regular-season games.
"When you have your [one-time] 60-goal [scorer] lead in hits, it's absolutely asinine," Cherry tweeted. "His job is to score."
With all that transpired with the Lightning forward in 26 post-season contests, Cherry believes Stamkos will take a more serious look at any offers that come his way leading up to free agency next July 1.