Erik Erlendsson covers the Tampa Bay Lightning for The Tampa Tribune.
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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.