No Place For Melrose In Tampa

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - November 26, 2008
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Melrose lasted just 16 games with Tampa

While a short coaching stay was predicted on these pages at the season’s opening for Lightening coach Barry Melrose, the coach known more for his mullet than his coaching resume deserved a longer tenure than 16 games to try to resurrect a franchise that just four years ago won the Stanley Cup.

Then again, his players deserved more than their coach blaming them for his demise.

In the coach’s mind he was just too tough, and because of this his players purposely undermined his efforts and went to management, telling them Melrose had to go.

Is it possible he was the victim of prima donna athletes preferring a less-strenuous style of play? Perhaps. Melrose loves to talk about what a tough guy he is and how he demands hitting, passion and other such macho coaching cliches while trying to convince anyone who will listen of his unique qualities as a head coach.

Melrose wouldn’t be the first coach to be pushed out by his players, but pointing fingers without considering any culpability on his own part for a team that is last in the NHL in goals scored and points is simply hypocritical if not flat-out delusional.

Speaking to Ron McLean on Hockey Night in Canada, Melrose portrayed himself as the plain-talking innocent bystander who claimed to have let GM Brian Lawton off the hook, saying he’s not a guy who talks a lot and just told his former boss, “Don’t worry about it (explaining the reasons and) dropped my phone off and went to the dressing room and got my stuff.” McLean continued to lob softballs from the blue line while Melrose discussed the conspiracy.

“Obviously, a lot of guys didn’t want to be held accountable on this team and obviously they went to Lenny and Oren (team owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules) and said they don’t like this style of coaching and would you get rid of him. I don’t think there’s any secret about that,” claimed Melrose.

McLean, showing the unbiased coverage that has made Hockey Night the game’s unabashed purveyor of truth and intelligent discourse, grilled Melrose, saying, “It looks like somebody from the team, and this is a team that won the Stanley Cup, was very close to the previous head coach, and ... it looks like somebody went to either Len or Oren or to Brian and said, ‘You know what? This can’t happen. This is not working. Do you feel like you were stabbed?’”

McLean continued his fair and balanced coverage by snorting in agreement when Melrose said, “I don’t think the players wanted to play for me. You don’t have to be Kreskin to figure that out.”

More challenging for the self-proclaimed world’s foremost mentalist would be explaining why Melrose found it necessary to publicly bash his players after losing the first two games of the season, or why he left the locker room in a huff, forcing his team to practice on its own.

Melrose may want people to think that he’s a blood-and-guts coaching Neanderthal bent on bringing some toughness back to the NHL. But Melrose last coached in the 1990s, and not two decades prior when Scottie Bowman, the NHL’s all-time winningest coach, was so disagreeable to play for that the saying went that his players hated him for 364 days and that on day 365 they hoisted the cup.

As Melrose and McLean were passing the blame on everyone but the coach, one of their targets, Lawton, suggested to a Tampa television station that in Melrose’s decade-plus time as a commentator, the game has passed him by.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that the game has changed over the last 14-15 years,” said Lawton, who then offered the political explanation that his former employee refused to employ, saying that the responsibility for the poor play fell on everyone’s shoulders, including his own.

As Lawton suggested, the team’s failures are not the fault of Melrose alone. The Lightening have to take responsibility for bringing aboard a coach who won all of 43 games in his last two years in Los Angeles. The Lightening’s inexperienced ownership made the mistake of copying the NBA in hiring a coach who was more celebrity than chalkboard artist. It’s a mistake they would be smart to learn from.

Former Coyotes’assistant Rick Tocchet is the coach for the time being. Made famous because of his involvement in a gambling ring that resulted in the longtime NHL veteran receiving two years’ probation and suspension from the league, Tocchet brings a wealth of on-ice experience, if not a lengthy coaching resume. Whether this translates to better performance from Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Vaclav Prospal or talented 18-year-old Steven Stamkos, who didn’t get the minutes ownership had wanted, remains to be seen.

Tocchet still may be too poisonous to continue in such a leading role, but after a 22-year NHL career, he should at least be able to relate to his players - which is something Melrose refused to do.

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