Erik Erlendsson covers the Tampa Bay Lightning for The Tampa Tribune.
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Thoughts on Tortorella (and other things relating to Channelside Dr.)
Posted May 31, 2008 by Erik Erlendsson
Updated May 31, 2008 at 09:21 PM
BRANDON - Wow, what a day yesterday was. I took off from Toronto just before 5 p.m. By the time my plane touched down in Memphis for a brief layover, the puck had hit the fan. I was getting text messages and voice mails left and right as soon as I landed. It really sent me into a scramble on my 40-minute layover (which had to include a chance to grab a quick bite to eat that ended up just being a smoothie and a pretzel thanks to the long lines for real food in the airport. And boy, did that Memphis Bar-B-Q smell good.)
All this scrambling had to be done with a rapidly reducing battery life on my phone that was on the verge of death just before take off. Right about now, you might say, “well Erik, maybe you should have just plugged your charging in while at the airport in Memphis!!!’’ And you would have an excellent point. But you see, I tried to fish my charger out of my suitcase when I dropped off my rental car at the airport, but after not finding it right away, I had to get to the terminal (which turned out to be another adventure) so needless to say, my phone charger was not on my person. Moral to the story, keep your charger in your carry-on bag.
OK, now, back on track. Once I landed in Tampa, I first had to find a pay phone, which again, might sound like a simple task so I could check in with the boss. I walked down to one end of the baggage claim area, but to no avail. I found one, finally, by the escalator, but of course, it was out of order. So it was another walk down to the other end of baggage claim before I found a working phone that I could actually put money into in order to make a phone call.
Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep once I got home. UGH…
Now, after finally getting my charger out of my bag and putting a quick jolt into the battery, I was able to make a phone call or two. And this is what I gathered.
As was reported in the paper today, Torts is out as head coach. Not a shock. I have a tremendous amount of respect for John Tortorella as a person and as a coach. He is the only head coach that I have worked directly with since I took over this beat at the start of the 2001-02 season. I admire his honesty. I love his passion. I think he is one of the top coaches in the game right now and he won’t have any problems finding another position, if he hasn’t already. He is going to be missed around here. He is a great salesman for the game (even though he would never want to admit to that or want to assume that role) and his charity work, especially with kids, is as good as it gets. But I also think, as he admitted when he told Jay Feaster back in April, that the locker room needs a new voice. I wish John nothing but the best in his next stop, wherever it may lead him.
This is also what I was able to surmise from conversations last night. Barry Melrose is not a done deal. No definitive offers have been made to anybody and the team is still talking to other candidates. And to clarify one other thing, no deal with Melrose, or anybody else for that matter, can be done anytime soon, and certainly not in the next couple of days. Oren Koules and his group were told by the executive board of the NHL the other day that the only issues that can be dealt with right now are those of a time sensitive manner. A head coach, is not a time sensitive matter. Nothing can be done until the board of governors meeting on June 17 in New York. So even if a deal was in place, it certainly couldn’t be announced.
Now my reaction to the Melrose news is the same as many of you guys. I’m not sold on a coach who has been behind a television camera the past 13 years, and not behind a bench. I also can’t believe that if this were to be true, that Melrose will command a $2 million annual salary - NHL coaches not named Scotty Bowman don’t make that kind of money. When Torts signed his extension before the 2005-06 season, he was one of the highest paid coaches in the league - his salary for this coming season, $1.3 million.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what transpires in the coming weeks, but changes are definitely in store. And what does this all mean for Jay Feaster? My guess is he won’t be the GM after the ownership change, but that he will stay with the organization in some capacity. He’s too intelligent about the CBA and is too strong of a spokesperson for the team and salesman of the game. It wouldn’t be a surprise that whomever takes over the president role - possibly Len Barrie? - will also be the GM, but in title only as Koules will likely be the one calling all the shots.
I’ll leave you with this note as well. Some other tidbits that came out of conversations last night - a contract extension with D Alex Picard has already been reached (again, these can’t be announced until Koules is officially in charge), an entry level deal has been reached with D Kevin Quick, a deal for Ryan Craig is nearly complete and talks with Vinny Lecavalier are on-going and would have progressed further except that Vinny’s agent, Kent Hughes, is also the agent for Luc Bourdon, the Vancover defensman who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on Thursday. And though talks with Chris Gratton have not officially begun, it sounds like it won’t be any kind of an issue. There’s even talk of Steven Stamkos living with Chris and his family next season.
UPDATE 9:15 P.M.
One other note gang, prospect defenseman Dane Crowley is not going to be signed by tonight’s midnight deadline to have all 2006 North American draftees signed to a contract or relinquish their rights. Crowley, therefore, will become an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any other team after July 1. He was a sixth-round draft pick who finished his junior career this season with Everett of the WHL this season and then played in five games with Norfolk on an amateur tryout contract. It doesn’t mean the team is done dealing with Crowley as they are expected to continue to try sign Crowley to a two-way American League deal, which has been on the table to Crowley for a while. It just means that Tampa no longer has exclusive negotiating rights. Crowley is the team’s only 2006 draft pick who needed to be signed by tonight’s deadline.