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Fired coach Melrose sounds off on Lightning, Stamkos

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TSN.ca Staff
12/11/2008 3:34:48 PM
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Almost a month after being fired by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Barry Melrose sounded off on his former club and the people who run it.

Melrose was a guest on Toronto's Fan 590 radio station and didn't hold back his feelings about why his stint as head coach of the Lightning only lasted 16 games.

While he didn't name the people involved, Melrose said that he dealt with constant interference from people in the organization.

"I had guys in Tampa who wanted to run the team and I wouldn't let them.  I was hired to coach and I coached," Melrose told the Fan 590.  "I wasn't playing the right guys.  I was playing certain guys too much, I wasn't playing other guys enough.  Every day was a constant battle.

"Finally the guys in charge decided they wanted to coach and they got rid of me.  That's what it comes down to.  It obviously wasn't a hockey decision, because it's not like they've set the world on fire since they got rid of me. Now they've got guys in charge that let them do what they want and obviously that isn't working out very well either."

Lightning co-owner Len Barrie joined Mike Ross and Phil Esposito on In the Slot on XM Radio to react to Melrose's comments.

"I don't know who was in telling Barrie what to do because I don't like to get up in the morning," joked Barrie on NHL Home Ice XM 204. "I never heard about that. It must have been (co-owner) Oren Koules or (general manager) Brian Lawton but I have a hard time believing that. We had four coaches there that we let coach.

"For me, it just came down to when Barry went after Vinny Lecavalier and then went after the team and walked off the ice," Barrie continued. "You can't loss the hockey team in a six week period and Barry said it himself that he lost the team and didn't connect with the guys. If you don't connect with your team and you've lost the team 15 games into the season, you're dead.

"I told Barry Melrose about five or six things in the whole eight weeks I was there and he didn't listen to one. Maybe Barry should have listened every once in a while because he lost the team fast. Go ask the players, don't sit here and ask me."

Melrose said he had a lot of respect for Koules, but didn't want to talk about Barrie when asked directly about him.

"They gave me a chance to coach and I will always appreciate that, but like I said, I hope Oren Koules does well, I like Oren."

Despite many off-season changes to the roster, the Lightning are the worst team in the NHL, with a 6-13-8 record.  In the 11 games they have played since Melrose's demise, the Lightning have won just once.

When Melrose was asked if that statistic gave him any glee, the former coach was very candid.

"I'm not going to lie to you, yeah it does, and any coach who tells you otherwise is a liar," Melrose told the Fan 590, adding, "I hope Tampa Bay doesn't win a game in the next year."

Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, who was the first pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has struggled in his debut season, posting three goals and eight assists in 27 games, with a minus-11 rating.  Stamkos's ice time was one of the issues that was brought up when Melrose was fired on November 15.

Melrose, who pointed out that Stamkos was now playing fewer minutes than he had when Melrose was coaching, gave a very frank assessment of the 18-year old.

"Steven is not ready for the NHL," Melrose stated on the Fan 590.  "Steven is going to be a good player..right now he's just not strong enough physically to play against defencemen who are 6'3" or 6'4" that can skate as good as him."

For his part, Rick Tocchet who replaced Melrose as the Lightning's interim coach, appears to be frustrated with his team's effort.

"To me, it's an embarrassment when you have more than three or four guys not ready to play," Tocchet told the Tampa Bay Tribune after Monday's loss to the Boston Bruins. "We warned them, and it's just embarrassing right now, it really is."

Tocchet also told the paper that he was going back to the drawing board when it came to players' ice time and roles on the team.

"We are looking for guys who are ready to work, and if there's only six of them, as a coaching staff, you take your six and you work with them," Tocchet told the Tribune. "I might have to start playing one-and-a-half lines or something like that, maybe play one defenseman. Maybe we should devise a system where we play maybe just eight guys."

Goaltender Mike Smith, who stopped 19-shots in the 5-3 loss on Monday was also looking for answers.

"The coaches have given us an opportunity to know what to do putting the game plan on the board, in practice we go through what we're supposed to be doing in situations, then we go on the ice and it's like we forgot everything," Smith said to the Tribune.  "I don't know if we're a dumb team, if we just don't get it or we don't deserve to be in this league, I don't know, but we are making the same mistakes we talk about game in and game out."

Melrose, 52, was named the sixth head coach in Lightning history on June 24. Prior to that, he spent three seasons as the head coach in Los Angeles, leading the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history 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 Adirondack to the Calder Cup championship in 1991.

"The only analogy that I can give is: In 1992, Barry Melrose was a good coach and in 2008 Barry was the same coach in a different game and a different era," Lightning co-owner Barrie concluded.

Prior to joining the Lightning, Melrose served as NHL studio analyst for ESPN and ESPN2.

Barry Melrose (Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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