If anyone knows the Stanley Cup, it's Scotty Bowman. Heck, if anyone knows hockey, it's Scotty Bowman. No coach has won more regular season games. No coach has won more playoff games. No coach has won more Stanley Cups. After a legendary coaching career that weaved him through St. Louis, Montreal, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Detroit, Bowman retired from coaching after winning his 10th Cup (ninth as a head coach) in 2002. Now a consultant with the Red Wings, Bowman, 70, spends much of his time in Sarasota and is a semi-regular at Lightning games. Last week, Bowman sat down with Times staff writer Tom Jones between periods of the Lightning-Panthers game to talk about the upcoming playoffs, MVP candidates, his views on the Lightning and, what else, hockey.
Q: You've seen the Lightning quite a bit this season. What are your thoughts about this team?
A: They've had a very strong year. Very strong. They've improved quite a bit from where they were just a couple of years ago. Very impressive.
Q: What's the difference between this Lightning team and one of a couple of years ago?
A: The biggest thing is the development of their young players. You can really see the difference in their games. I'm talking about guys like (Vinny) Lecavalier and (Brad) Richards. They made a good pickup in (Cory) Stillman. I think they have a really good coach. I like (John) Tortorella a lot. He does a good job. They're just really consistent: up front, on defense, in goal. They're strong everywhere.
Q: Do you like the goaltending?
A: Yeah. I think (Nikolai) Khabibulin will be the guy in the playoffs. I would expect that, anyway.
Q: How do you like the Lightning's chances in the playoffs?
A: The thing is, in the playoffs, you have to be good defensively, and they have played well defensively. The only thing is, they haven't had many injuries.
Q: You say that like that's a bad thing.
A: It can be. I mean, you don't want to have guys try to get hurt, but a lot of their guys haven't had much of a rest. Sometimes, a guy can get a break when he has an injury and misses a few games. That can be a good thing. Then again, they don't have a lot of age on this team except for (40-year-old Dave) Andreychuk. It's not like they have a veteran team. But a lot of their guys haven't missed any games. I think they have six guys who haven't missed a game. You wonder if those guys will get tired as the season ends and the playoffs go along. The good thing for them is they haven't been in a big struggle of late (for a playoff spot). They haven't had to overplay guys.
Q: Speaking of that, the Lightning has had its division locked up for quite some time and really hasn't been playing for much of anything the past couple of months other than the top seed. Is it better to go into the playoffs like that or do you prefer it when teams are still scrapping for something as the season winds down?
A: When you have a big lead, you can do a lot more experimenting with players when you're not gunning every night. If you win, you win. If you don't, that's okay. But in that case, you got to build up for the playoffs, get in that playoff mode. If you're playing for something every night, then you're ready mentally when the playoffs begin. I don't think there's an advantage one way or the other. Both have certain advantages.
Q: What is your impression of Lightning forward Martin St. Louis?
A: I didn't know a lot about him until I saw him play here. Not many guys gave him much of a chance. But he has been a very steady player all year long.
Q: Is he the league's most valuable player?
A: That's a tough trophy to win. Their team did well with him. Some teams have good players, but their teams didn't do very well. It's hard to know how to figure it. (Goalie Martin) Brodeur has done very well for New Jersey. He's a goalie. If there's a goalie that's more valuable to his team than any other goalie on any other team, it's probably Brodeur.
Q: But when you're talking about MVPs, can't you say that about most goalies of good teams? That all good teams rely heavily on their goalies?
A: But Brodeur is a step above. You can't underestimate how much he means to that team.
Q: How do you see the playoffs shaking out?
A: It's all about matchups. Who are you going to play? The matchup I'd really like to see is Toronto-Ottawa. That would be a heck of a matchup at some point. The West is wide open. Really, any team can win it. Boston looks good. These guys look good. You got Detroit. A lot of teams can win it all.
Q: Is there something intangible, something other than sheer talent, that separates championship teams from the others?
A: Attitude. I think the great teams have the right attitude. The whole team has it. Every player. They want to sacrifice. They put everything aside for one thing: winning the Cup.
Q: Does the Lightning have it?
A: It appears so. We'll see. Like I said, they haven't faced much adversity.
Q: Do you believe in the theory that a team has to suffer a heartbreaking playoff loss before becoming a champion?
A: Yeah, I do. Well, I shouldn't say they have to lose. They have to face adversity at some point. You're always stronger if you face adversity.
Q: As you mentioned, the Lightning is a young team. Should that be a concern heading into the playoffs?
A: It can be early on, but it depends on who they play. If they play the Islanders, then it won't be a problem because the Islanders are young, too. If they were playing Toronto, then it might be a problem. But they aren't playing Toronto. They wouldn't play Toronto until they get deeper in the playoffs and by that time, well, hey, they have the experience. The thing is, you never know. When it comes to the playoffs, you never know what's going to happen.