Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said he wasn't consulted about staff change
The most interesting aspect of the change to the Tampa Bay Lightning coaching staff is not so much that assistant coach Wes Walz was fired after he declined the head coaching job at AHL Norfolk, or that Norfolk coach Jim Johnson has been hired as a Lightning assistant, helping to push out Walz. It is that Lightning coach Rick Tocchet apparently was not consulted by GM Brian Lawton before the change was made.
"None," Tocchet said Wednesday when asked how much input he had into the changes. I was told at 12 o'clock (Tuesday)."
Lawton, for his part said, "I did discuss it with Rick," but that, according to Tocchet's time line, apparently was after the decision was made.
The Lightning is one point out of a playoff spot and has 21 games left. The season resumes March 2.
"Ultimately, this is my decision," Lawton said, "and Rick should not be held accountable for it. If it works very well, and it does give us that eight-finish difference, he should take all the credit. And if it doesn't work well, then I'm the one who made the decisions, and I should be crystal clear on that."
Okay, fine. It is Lawton's decision. But what does it say about the relationship between coach and GM if a change to the coaching staff is not discussed? Lawton said the move is not a reflection on Tocchet and that his job security is not in question.
"This is not an indictment of anybody," Lawton said, adding that the Olympic break gives the team time to integrate the changes and get re-energized for a playoff push. "The only thing that maybe one can point to, you are 61 games into the season. Yeah, but you have to realize here we have a unique opportunity here. Eight practices over this time is more than we have at any other point including the start of the season. This is a unique opportunity, and we're going to take advantage of it to be fully prepared."
Still, the moves creates more questions:
* Johnson has been instrumental in turning around Norfolk's season. The team is 13-2-2 in his 17 games behind the bench after he was promoted from associate coach after Darren Rumble was fired. Lawton has said repeatedly that the Admirals making the playoffs after a two-year drought is very important to the organization. Then why take away Johnson?
"It's critical that we do well in Norfolk," Lawton said, "and that's why I was so thrilled at this transition from the time we let Darren Rumble go. It's always tough whenever you let people go. Whenever you make changes, it's tough. That's part of managing, and I accept the responsibility and take it very seriously.
"Everything that I do is generally geared to making us better," Lawton added. "The trick for me is to balance out long term versus short term. And in moving Jimmy here, I definitely think it will benefit us in the short term. We're going to have to come up with a real good solution for Norfolk also because that's in our best interest long term."
* How will Johnson be integrated into the Lightning coaching staff? Lawton has lauded Johnson's work with the Norfolk penalty kill that is third in the AHL at 87.1 percent. But associate coach Rick Wilson already works with the penalty kill, as did Walz. It is not a stretch to believed Lawton wants Johnson to at least work with the Lightning penalty kill that is 22nd in the league at 80.5 percent.
"Special teams are key to our success overall," Lawton said. "That's an area we can get better in and we have to get better in. A little bit more experience in implementing that from A to Z, and that will be an upgrade for us for sure"
"I haven't had time to think about it, to be honest with you," Tocchet said of how the coaching duties will be parceled out. "Right now, I have to figure out how to implement Jimmy. I haven't had time, like I said."
But Tocchet was clear, the final decision will be his.
"That's up to me," he said. "I'm the head coach."