When I spoke with Lightning co-owner Oren Koules this summer for a cover story on his newly-purchased team, he assured me more than once he and partner Len Barrie had a well-thought-out plan.
If you’re looking for that plan today, I’d suggest you search outside ownership’s window.
In the latest of what appears to be a series of increasingly frantic maneuvers, the Bolts dismissed head coach Barry Melrose Friday, putting an end to an experiment some felt dubious about from the beginning.
Melrose, who hadn’t been behind a bench in 13 years prior to being hired away from his analyst job at ESPN, was an unmitigated disaster in Tampa Bay. He jumped on his players through the media almost immediately, leaving himself little wiggle room as matters progressively worsened.
Moreover, Melrose’s treatment of prized rookie Steven Stamkos – whose time on ice dipped below the 10-minute mark twice in the Lightning’s past four games – likely hastened his exit.
The Bolts are handing the reins over to assistant coach Rick Tocchet. Unfortunately, history is against him, as evidenced through the examples set by Dave Lewis in Detroit, John Paddock in Ottawa, Mike Kitchen in St. Louis, Jim Playfair in Calgary, and Tony Granato’s first go-around with Colorado. All were one-time assistants who moved into the head coaching role with the same team – and all were unsuccessful in making that adjustment.
In Barrie and Koules’ defense, there’s nothing wrong with attempting to do things differently, as they clearly were trying to do by going with Melrose. The real judge of them as championship builders comes as it does with everyone else – with their Plan B.
The perpetually good teams, the Detroits and New Jerseys of the NHL, always seem to learn from their mistakes and refrain from making them again.
The opposite happened during John Ferguson’s reign as Maple Leafs GM. Ferguson was always looking to solidify his tenure with a big move he could point to as panning out as advertised. But that never happened; he failed with the Andrew Raycroft trade, he failed with the Jason Blake signing and he failed by taking on too many foot soldier-type players the organization hoped would become highly productive reclamation projects.
I wouldn’t count out Koules and Barrie just yet. But the clock on them has begun to tick. And the moves they make from this point on will either turn around their reputation, or solidify it in a most untoward fashion.
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