Friday, November 14, 2008

Melrose Place No More - Players Revolt Against Barry

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning fired Head Coach Barry Melrose today and elevated assistant Rick Tocchet as Interim Head Coach for the remainder of the season. Melrose lasted only 16 games in his return to the league after a 13 yr hiatus, and rumors are rampant on the Tampa Bay airwaves that the players went to management to get Melrose dismissed.

When Tampa Bay owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie purchased the Lightning and promised big changes in the way the organization approached the game, many Lightning fans were excited. The new owners brought an aggressive, hand-on ownership style that had never been see here before. But when they chose Barry Melrose to succeed John Tortorella, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Several league insiders felt that Melrose had been out of the game too long and could not relate to players the way he did back in the mullet days.

It proved out to be true in more ways than one. Rumors on 620 WDAE-Tampa Bay and other media outlets are stating that the players did not respect Melrose, they didn't believe he had a strong grasp of today's game and he had an ego the size of Canada. Melrose demanded things from the players, but the actions were not recipocated, as players wishes were not met - contributing to an advesarial relationship in the locker room. Further, it wasn't just one player or a group of players that didn't get along with Melrose - but apparently the entire hockey club failed to respond to him.

You've seen me blog here several times about how the hockey team just seemed to not care on the ice, didn't try hard, and perhaps lost some of its heart. Can that be attributed to the disfunctional relationship with their Head Coach? It definitely seems that way.

Melrose was interviewed on ESPNews shortly after his dismissal, and stated that he "was brought in to change the culture of the team." To me, that was his issue. He wasn't being brought in the change the culture - this team won a Stanley Cup. The fans in Tampa Bay are all transplants from Canada, the Midwest, and the Northeast. The writers covering the sport and the personalities on the radio all have covered hockey for decades. No matter how much of a lack of understanding those in Canada have of our community in Tampa Bay, we know hockey here. The Tampa Bay organization didn't need a culture change - they needed a new voice, new leadership that would bring them back to the top of the NHL. Melrose didn't provide that, demanding respect from a group of players when he really needed to earn and prove that the game hadn't passed him by. Melrose told ESPNews, "I never understood that its difficult to get million dollar players to play 60 minutes every night." No Barry, its hard to get them to buy what your cooking when they know you have no idea what you're doing.

Rick Tocchet at least has been in the game for 25 yrs and has seen the evolution of hockey to the players of today.

From the Lightning release -

"Shortly after retiring in 2002, Tocchet joined the Colorado Avalanche as an assistant coach. He spent a season and a half on the bench with the Avalanche before joining former teammate Wayne Gretzky as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2005. He was named associate coach of the Lightning on July 9, 2008.

Tocchet is one of two players in the history of the NHL to record 400 goals or more and at least 2,500 penalty minutes. He recorded three 40-goal seasons, two 30-goal seasons and was an 11-time 20-goal scorer. In 1992-93 he set career highs for goals with 48, assists with 61 and points with 109 with the Penguins. Internationally, Tocchet represented Canada at the 1990 and 1991 World Championship as well as in the 1987 and 1991 Canada Cup tournaments. The Scarborough, Ontario native won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992 and appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals with Philadelphia in 1987.

He was selected to four NHL All-Star teams (1989, 1990, 1991, 1993). Originally drafted by Philadelphia in the sixth-round, 125th overall, at the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, Tocchet began his career with the Flyers in 1984-85 and retired midway through the 2001-02 season, also with Philadelphia."

I was one of those who said "Barry freaking Melrose?" when the Lightning announced the hiring. I feel tremendously better about Tocchet being able to reach this team more than Melrose ever could. While I question OK Hockey's decision to hire Melrose in the first place, I applaud their gutty decision to admit they blew it and hopefully salvage this season. The players got their wish, Melrose is gone - now its up to them to prove that the decision is the right one.

Melrose leaves Tampa Bay with a 5-7-4 record.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Wow, it is quite apparent, although I have read none of your writings before this, that you really have something against Barry Melrose. Let me tell you what I think, I too was a little surprised when I heard he was named this year but let's be honest, this team has disappointed all since their Stanley Cup victory. They just don't seem to try very hard. As a team it looks like pure laziness to me.