Melrose introduced as Lightning coach
The NHL's worst-kept secret was revealed this morning when the Lightning introduced former Los Angeles Kings coach and ESPN analyst Barry Melrose as its new head coach during a news conference at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"This is a move we've been really excited about,'' said Oren Koules, co-owner of new Lightning owner OK Hockey, before joking, "and I think we've done a fabulous job of keeping this secret.''
Melrose replaces John Tortorella, who was fired June 3 with one year remaining on his contract.
"I'm thrilled to be here,'' said Melrose, 51. "I'm very excited with what's going on.''
Koules and co-owner Len Barrie are friends with some of Melrose's former players. According to Koules, the new ownership group was looking for someone who was a positive thinker and would get ''20 guys pulling in the same direction.''
Barrie said he was convinced Melrose was the right fit after a conversation with defenseman Rob Blake, who played under Melrose in Los Angeles.
"I think we got a good person first, and a good coach, second,'' Barrie said.
Melrose, who led the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the Montreal Canadiens, said he missed the passion and the competition on the ice.
"I hate being a guy on the outside looking in,'' he said. "I want to be an insider again.''
Melrose said his children's ages and Tampa's southern location ("I had a tougher time talking my wife into going to Edmonton than to Tampa,'' he joked.) were other factors in his decision to return behind the bench. He also was sold on the new ownership group, which is expected to be hands-on.
"I'd much rather have people in charge who care than people who don't care,'' Melrose said, "and, believe me, these guys care.''
Melrose said he believes in energy, speed, aggression and letting guys be creative. All he asks in return is that they play defense.
He vowed that opponents will no longer be comfortable when they come into the Times Forum and fans will get their money's worth.
Asked what he liked most about the Lightning, Melrose singled out Vinny Lecavalier, whom he called "one of the five best players in the world''; Marty St. Louis, whom he sees as a role model for top draft choice Steve Stamkos; big defensemen; and the ownership group's pledge to be aggressive in free agency.
Melrose identified Rick Tocchet and Wes Walz as two of his assistant coaches. He said the organization is "working on" one more.
-- Frank Pastor, Times Staff Writer
(Above left: Barry Melrose, left, and Len Barrie, right. Above right: Melrose. Times photos -- Carrie Pratt. Click to enlarge.)