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Barry Melrose, new Lightning coach (minus Marc Denis)

Posted Jun 24, 2008 by Erik Erlendsson

Updated Jun 24, 2008 at 03:21 PM

The worst kept secret in hockey was let out of the bag on Tuesday when former ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose was formally introduced at a press conference as the new Lightning coach. Melrose, who last coached in the NHL in 1995, is under contract for three seasons. He announced also that former Phoenix coach Rick Tocchet and former Minnesota Wild player Wes Walz will be two of the team’s assistant coaches. It has been speculated that San Jose Shark scout and former WHA goaltender Robert “Cap’’ Raeder will also come on board when his contract with the Sharks expires at the end of the month.

The hiring of Melrose first began to circulate during the conference finals and became written as fact by the time the Stanley Cup final rolled around. So the news wasn’t shocking at all when it occurred. But that’s not to say there isn’t some shock value in all of this. Melrose is a big name in NHL circles, as many of you guys know full well. He’s been the lead analyst at ESPN since being fired by the L.A. Kings back in 1995.

But the game has changed an awful lot since he was a brash, mullet-haired young coach guiding the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup finals. The athlete has changed as well. But by all accounts, Melrose’s style when it comes to handling athletes might be better suited to today. He’s not an in-your-face demanding coach who is going to call out players either in public viewing or in front of the locker room. That’s not to say he doesn’t demand a lot of players, but when situations arise he is more of the type of guy to call a player into the coach’s office and handle it that way.

I spoke to Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky at the NHL draft, and in case you missed his comments on Melrose, here’s one: “He’s good to his top players. He plays his top players and Vinny Lecavalier is going to love playing for him,” Gretzky said. “And yet he treats his role players with a great deal of respect. He treats those guys just as good as he treats his top players, and I think that’s a fine line and it’s important because guys who don’t play as much, whether it’s a sixth defenseman or a fourth-line guy, they need to have that reassurance they are part of the team also.

“That’s where Barry’s strength is - in dealing with his players. And guys are going to enjoy playing for him. Whether it was myself or Marty McSorely or Kelly Hrudy or Tony Granato, we all had a great deal of respect for him.”

I had the chance to ask Melrose, by the way, about some of his remarks and comments he has made about the team as an analyst, which I know some of you guys still hold against him (not saying it’s right or wrong) and I thought he had a good comment on that “I’m not real concerned about what people think about me right now, I’ll see what they think of me at the end of the season.’‘

Sounds like he has already made the switch from television analyst to head coach in a quick transition.

Here are some highlights and my thoughts on the whole scene today:

* I did like what I heard and saw out of Melrose. He had some good one-liners, which he did quite a bit during his time with ESPN, but he was very pointed about the changes that need to be made and how he wants to develop his team. Talked a lot about wanting to be a tough team to play against, and as John Tortorella talked about a lot in prior seasons, that doesn’t mean by fighting and hitting all the time. Said intimidation can be done through speed, goaltending, defense, forechecking. It doesn’t mean just hitting for the sake of hitting.

* Noticed that Melrose cut his hair. He didn’t have his trademark mullet hair cut, perhaps done on purpose? Maybe.

* He is very cognizant of the fact that a lot of people are going to be keeping a close eye on how things are being run down here in Tampa now. With an unconventional ownership group led by Oren Koules and Len Barrie who have now hired somebody out of the mainstream, he understands that this is not going to be a sideshow, as some have stated it’s turning into.

Now I want to know what you guys think? It’s been a busy couple of days with the team, between introducing the entire ownership group, to announcing the Melrose hiring to bringing in Steven Stamkos at the end of this week.

So what have you heard that excites you? What have you seen that scares you? Are you willing to give this a chance or have you already tossed your season ticket renewal letters?

Also, one other note, word is that goaltender Marc Denis has been placed on waivers today, which is the first step in the process of the team buying him out of the final year of his contract, which was to pay him $3 million. The buy out is at 2/3 the remaining value, just over $2 million. The cap hit will be spread out over twice the length of the deal, which means is will cost the team roughly $1 million against the cap for the next two seasons. But since the team won’t be spending that close to the expected $54-56 million cap, it’s not really an issue. Denis was supposed to be the stablizer in goal for the Lightning in the post-Khabibulin era. But he failed to adapt to the team’s aggressive system in terms of the defenseman and his confidence dwindled down to almost nothing by the time he was placed on waivers in December and spent most of the rest of the season in the minors.

Couple of other notes I’ve gathered for you today: Among the players that Lightning might be pursuing in free agency when the market opens next week - Pittsburgh’s Ryan Malone, Minnesota’s Brian Rolston and Phoenix’s Radim Vrbata.

Expect Vinny Lecavalier to be signed to a new long-term deal by the middle of July. I’ve heard it’s in the neighborhood of a nine-year deal.

And there are going to be some changes in the scouting setup as well as the minor league system. Word is that Koules and Barrie want to hire somebody to be in charge of minor league development.

Reader Comments

Por (Michael J. Kostka) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Good luck Tampa.  You’ll need it.  The guy hasn’t been in the league for years and come to think about it he wasn’t much of a coach when he did his time with the Kings years ago… 
It’s hard to believe what he can bring to the table for the Lighting… Good Luck… MK

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Por (Bill Berg) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

tHE lightning NEEDED change! gIVE THE coach A BREAK AS NOBODY knows what he will do with this TEAM or who will be playing for the TEAM in Oct. Many times after being away from Choaching then come back it is for the GOOD! He has been around the GAME all these years and knows the players and will have a GAME PLAN! JUST GIVE BARRY A CHANCE! Dont put him down before he starts. He WILL be the best change for the LIGHTNING!!

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Por (Seth C) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I like what Koules and Barrie are doing, they seem to genuinely want to put the most entertaining product possible on the ice. Something has been needed to be done about our scouting and player development for years—look at guys we bring up from our minor league system, and compare to Alex Picard, from Philly’s system. Huge difference. People are complaining about it being some sort of sideshow are just silly. This is EXACTLY what this team—and really the entire NHL—needs: someone to SELL the product. They’re making headlines, that’s a GOOD thing, it draws attention to the team.

I’m not thrilled about the Melrose decision, particularly with a guy like Crawford out there, but I’ll withhold any real judgment for at least a season.

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Por (Justin) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

How in the world was he not “much of a coach” ? Coached 3 seasons, never came in last place and made it to the cup finals. I’d love to see what he would have done coaching longer with more than 2 key players.

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Por (Nancy Pacini) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Very glad to hear there are changes planned in scouting and player development.  This has been sorely needed for years, and in my opinion, has been the weakest part of the organization.

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Por (Matt) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

To be honest, those Gretzky quites don’t do much for me. Gretzy was a great player before he played for Melrose, he was a great player after he played for Melrose - he’s not a guy that requires a lot of coaching, and he’s a guy who’s going to be well-treated by any coach who can tie his own shoes. I’d rather see a quote from a mid-level player who thinks Melrose helped him reach a new level of performance. I’m skeptical, but let’s give the guy a chance.

If Melrose is a big gamble, Tocchet is surely the bigger gambler. Was he at the press conference or was he already at the Hard Rock Casino?

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Por (Carl Mullen) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Great move bringing back Propal. I’m wondering where the big Russian (forgot his name) from 2 years ago is going to fit in. If we can get Hossa or Rolston;awesome.

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Por (Leon) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I have to admit, I was very apprehensive of the the hiring when I first heard about it. But after reading about the new owners and their genuine passion/relationship for/with the game, I can’t really find myself questioning the move all that much… And heck, if they’re aggressive in free agency (Ryan Malone would be a HUGE addition, in my opinion) and can FINALLY establish some semblance of a decent minor league system (i’m sorry, but ours if a friggin’ joke) then god bless them.

Also, remember that a large number of local investors are part of the group that’s purchased the team… something we’ve never had, LOCAL investors!

I wonder what Steve Oto is up to these days?

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Por (Bill King) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

The idea of Melrose as coach doesn’t thrill me, Ok, I admit it. I don’t like the guy. I believe the new owners have made a big mistake hiring him. That said, I am delighted that Mr. Prospal is coming back. As for the free agents that are being looked at. YES!!!!

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Por (TampaFan) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I’m just glad that for once the Lightning got top billing over the Bucs in the headlines!!!  Way to go Lightning!!

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Por (chris) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Can’t fault OK so far, of course 1st game has yet to be played. Gotta agree with Bill that something had to happen & it sure seems to be so far. Hopefully mb still has something to bring to the table, MVP line should help make him look good. Hope also he keeps away from the Dman times for the forwards.
Matt has great point about role players opinions of mb, anyone, anyone?
Love to see caveman back but what we don’t know is can Barry handle him?
Really like the sounds of V4 with a 9 year deal

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Por (Ricky C) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

We’re not going to sign Hossa people!  I’d rather have Rolston or Malone anyways, preferably Rolston but I’d be happy with either.  Melrose has been out of coaching for a long time but he loves old time hockey, which (not that Torts didn’t) but especially defensively we didn’t hit like we could/should (not our system).  Now we will.  Mark my words though, Kuba is a fish out of water in this system.

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Por (fanofbolts) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

“If Melrose is a big gamble, Tocchet is surely the bigger gambler. Was he at the press conference or was he already at the Hard Rock Casino?”

Way to bring some “class” to the board. Rob Blake said Melrose is the best coach he’s had in all 16 years in the NHL. Tochett and Walz want to join his staff, what else do you want? AS does the goalie coach Rader. If he gets the job done on the ice, what’s the difference? What had Tortorella done in the NHL before Tampa? How many players had good things to say about him prior to him being hired here? Where’s he at now, oh right, un-employed. It doesn’t matter what a player thought of him 13 years ago. Any positives is a bonus.

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Por (Victor E. Victor) on June 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Good to see Denis on waivers but why is Feaster still on board? First things first. Fire Feaster, yesterday!

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Por (Bryce) on June 25, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I loved Melrose at ESPN, he was great at promoting the game and breaking it down. As coach of the Lightning I think it’s a mistake, I hope I am wrong.
It would be like Dick Vitale coming back to coach College Baseketball.

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Por (MelroseFan) on June 25, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Jazzed about Melrose and Koules and the NEW ERA of TBL hockey!

Good blog post about Rick Tocchet at by the way, worth reading.

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Por (Jon G) on June 25, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Change may be just what the Dr. ordered. Though I wish Torts all the best. Like anything if Melrose doesnt produce results there will be all these thousands of folks saying we told ya so. You could be like me and just love to watch the lightning play. So far they are doing good by signing vinny to a long term (9 yr 8.5 mil per year) and Prospal to a four year deal. A good free agent or two and we are back in the hunt for the cup.

Too bad that when we win, all the ones that abandoned ship by not re-buying their season tickets, will be crying and paying scalpers a lot of money to see the games.

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Por (Kevin G) on June 26, 2008 (Suggest removal)

A lot of people think that Barry is a poor choice for coach, just because he’s been on TV for so long, and didn’t have an NHL gig after the Kings. So what? I think he’s just what this team needs. There have been other coaches in different sports that have been gone for years from their respective leagues, have come back and been successful. Dick Vermeil in the NFL (Super Bowl winner with Rams) and Jack McKeon (World Series in ‘03 - Marlins). Time will tell, but I think Barry will do this team some good.
Ryan Malone would be a good winger for Stamkos. We all know how tough Malone is after taking two pucks to the face in the Cup Finals this year and finished the games.

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Por (Leon) on June 26, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I really think the fact that he’s watched hockey and been so closely affiliated with the game can only be plus for us right now in terms of Barry’s coaching abilities…

I’m actually excited to see a coach whose less strict on the system and gives his players a little bit more freedom… Wouldn’t it be nice to see Vinny, Marty, and Stamkos get to free-wheel it a bit more than the Torts system allowed for?

Let’s bank on Ryan Malone! That would be the biggest off-season addition we could possibly make, barring a trade.

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Por (Kevin G) on June 26, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Ryan would be a good fit. He’s got a lot of size, grit, can work the PP, and creates traffic in front of the net. He’d create some space for Stamkos.
And yes, can you picture a 5-on-3 PP and Melrose throwing out #4 and Boyle on the point, with Prospal, St. Louis and Stamkos down low? Oh man. Should be fun!

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