With the Tampa Bay Lightning overhauling their roster from last season's failure and the drafting of a potential superstar in Steven Stamkos, management thought the hiring of Barry Melrose as their new head coach would help turn the franchise fortunes around.
But 16 games into this 2008-2009 season, Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton pulled the trigger in relieving Melrose of his duties. First-year associate coach Rick Tocchet takes over on an interim basis. This comes on the heels of the Lightning's 4-3 home loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings last night.
A pure indicator of Tampa Bay's slow start would be how Melrose was unable to get more production from Stamkos, a player with high expectations that had just 4 points in his 16 NHL games. Both goals he scored were in Tampa Bay's 5-2 road victory over the Buffalo Sabres on October 30th.
"This was a tough decision to make," Lawton stated in the team news release. "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."
This will be Tocchet's first head coaching job in the National Hockey League. Following an 18-year playing career and being an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes over a five-year period, he was hired by the Lightning on July 9th to be a part of Melrose's coaching staff.
But Tampa Bay's 5-11 start (that is identically matched by the Dallas Stars) appeared to signal at least to the front office that Melrose wasn't the right fit at this point in time to help right their season. Lawton believes now is Tocchet's proving ground.
"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."
Melrose had led the Los Angeles Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, but wasn't able to duplicate that success before he was fired two years later. He would not return to the coaching ranks until this past summer when the Lightning brought him into the fold. For the 13 years in between, he was the lead NHL analyst on ESPN and ESPN 2, including the successful NHL 2Night show.
Tocchet's head coaching debut will be on Sunday when the Lightning visit the Carolina Hurricanes.