The Tampa Bay Lightning have relieved head coach Barry Melrose of his duties and named associate coach Rick Tocchet interim head coach, although there will be no search to fill the position.
"Ultimately, I didn't think that the club was responding the way that we would like to be," Lightning Executive Vice President & General Manager Brian Lawton told TSN. "We've set high standards here and we weren't achieving them. I wasn't necessarily comfortable with the direction that we were headed and although it may seem like an extreme decision, it's one that we are 100% behind as a group."
Similar to Bruce Boudreau's hire in Washington early last year, Tocchet will be the man even though there is "interim" attached to his promotion.
"There are some players that get a new season," Tocchet told TSN. "They get a chance to prove themselves again but the leash is short so guys better be ready to play."
The Lightning are in the midst of a three-game slump and are 4-5-1 in the past 10 games, dropping them to fourth in the Southeast Division standings. Under Melrose, they won just five of 16 games to open the season (5-7-4).
"I take full responsibility for the record," Melrose told TSN. "It's my job to get these guys to play, it's my job to get these guys to compete hard every night and obviously the owners felt that I wasn't doing that."
Owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules were guests on Off The Record in late October and when asked by host Michael Landsberg if the coach was safe, Koules was clear and concise.
''Very safe,'' he said.
Since that interview, the Lighting have struggled to a 4-6 record.
''This was a tough decision to make,'' Lawton said. ''Barry is a good man and we have a great deal of respect for him. We wish him nothing but success. However, the results were unacceptable and the players have to understand that we need to be better. Hopefully this change helps push them.''
Ironically, Melrose skipped Tuesday's practice because he felt that it was a good idea if he stepped away from the club for a day and Tocchet agreed.
''Sometimes guys get tired of hearing him and he gets tired of hearing them,'' Tocchet told The St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday. ''Every coach does that. You need a break. You have to get away from the team for a second. I honestly don't think it's that big of a deal.''
Melrose, 52, was named the sixth head coach in Lightning history on June 24, and compiled a 5-7-4 record this season. He spent three seasons as the head coach in Los Angeles, leading the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 1993.
Melrose began his coaching career in 1987 when he led the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers to a 44-22-6 record and the Memorial Cup title. Melrose also coached the Seattle Thunderbirds for the 1988-89 season and the Adirondack Red Wings of the American Hockey League for three seasons (1989-92). Melrose guided the Red Wings to the Calder Cup championship in 1991. Prior to joining the Lightning, Melrose served as NHL studio analyst for ESPN and ESPN2.
Tocchet is in his 25th year in the NHL as either a player or a coach. He played 18 seasons with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington and Phoenix, appearing in 1,144 career games and recording 440 goals, 952 points and 2,972 penalty minutes.
''As for Rick Tocchet, we think this is a great opportunity for him and we believe he's the type of coach who can take the team to the next level. Our players have a great deal of respect for him.''
Notes: Barry Melrose was let go by the Kings in 1995 after a six game losing streak, so he's 5-13-4 in his last 22 games as a head coach. Rick Tocchet was on that '95 Kings team.