December 09, 2008
After last night's 5-3 defeat at the Boston Bruins, the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room was in an undeclared competition to see who could best convey a sense of palpable humiliation. There was interim coach Rick Tocchet, saying: "To me, it's an embarrassment when you have more than three or four guys not ready to play ... We warned them, and it's just embarrassing right now, it really is."
"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," said goaltender Mike Smith, who stopped 19 shots, including a penalty-shot attempt by P.J. Axelsson. "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."
If they weren't before, the Lightning are in a death spiral now, on and off the ice. The team has one win in its last 14 games, and is winless in its last eight (0-6-2). Free-agent bust Radim Vrbata is headed back home to the Czech Republic, and high-profile rookie Steven Stamkos continues to baffle more than he tantalizes.
All of this likely puts a smile on the face of Barry Melrose, the deposed Bolts coach and scapegoat (if you're one of those that feel he's blameless) for the team's disastrous start.
He's already given one emotional, defiant exit interview on his time in Tampa; on Toronto's FAN 590 this morning, he elaborated on some scathing points and dropped a few bombs for good measure -- including one squarely on the League's No. 1 draft pick of 2008.
• When asked about how he feels about the Lightning after his dismissal, Melrose said he wasn't close with nearly any of the players before expressing his disdain for the franchise: "I hope Tampa Bay doesn't win a game for the rest of the year."
• Melrose compared the ownership situation in Tampa to that of the Harold Ballard Era for the Toronto Maple Leafs. But he also said plenty between the lines about which of the Lightning's owners he preferred; going over the top in praise for Oren Koules ("Good guy, good for the NHL. He's put his heart and soul into this team") while ignoring co-owner Len Barrie.
When the hosts called him on the disparity, Melrose mumbled and stumbled before saying: "Lenny was ... they hired me and gave me a chance to coach. I will always appreciate that. I hope Oren Koules does well. I like Oren." Gotcha, Barry.
• On his firing, Melrose basically called Tocchet a tool for management. "I had guys in Tampa that wanted to run the team, and I wouldn't let them," said Melrose, who talked about the constant pressures of playing the right players for the right amount of time. He said he was fired because "the guys in charge decided they wanted to coach." Sounds like in Barry's eyes, Tocchet's a puppet.
• Melrose again denied that infamous Al Strachan report that Barrie went into the locker room and was coaching the team while Barry was still at the helm -- even if he vaguely inferred that it might be happening under Tocchet. " I wouldn't let it happen," said Melrose, "but I guarantee you that's one of the reasons I was let go."
• Finally, on Stamkos, Melrose didn't mince words about the rookie star of the team's summer marketing campaign: "Steven's not ready for the NHL."
Melrose claims he actually played Stamkos more than Tocchet has -- which isn't true, and certainly isn't true as far as offensive responsibility goes. He said that when Stamkos is ready for the show, he may not even play the position he's been groomed to play: "I'm not sure he's not going to be a winger when he's a good NHL player."
Sounds like the Lightning and Melrose, to use a well-worn Barryism, won't be singing Kumbaya around the fire anytime soon.