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Rick Tocchet, fired as Tampa Bay Lightning coach, still speaks well of owner Jeff Vinik

TAMPA — How's this for a how-do-you-do?

In Rick Tocchet's first conversation with new Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, he was fired as Tampa Bay's coach.

Even so, Tocchet said he was impressed by Vinik during the 10-minute chat Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"I think he's going to be the right guy for Tampa Bay, I really do," Tocchet said. "Hopefully, he makes the right decisions and gets the right people in here."

If you expected Tocchet to be down after being canned, you were disappointed.

He said he was looking forward to watching the playoffs, which start Wednesday. He said he was looking forward to relaxing and that the phone calls and e-mails he received helped him get over any emotional hump.

"It's nice to have when things don't go well," he said. "You have people who support you."

"He's a hard-working guy. He's a hard-nosed guy," left wing Marty St. Louis said. "I wish it didn't come down to this, but when you get the results we had the last little while, you have a feeling there's going to be changes."

"You feel bad because Tocchet is a great guy. He really put his heart and soul into what he was trying to do here. It just didn't work out. It's unfortunate, but it's the nature of the business."

Tocchet, 46, in his first full year as a head coach, was 53-69-26 after taking over for the fired Barry Melrose in November 2008.

But Tocchet, with a hands-on approach, gets credit for helping center Steven Stamkos to grow to his potential and for setting volatile right wing Steve Downie on the right course.

"Rick was a lot of help in my career," said Stamkos, whose 51 goals tied Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the league lead. "You definitely have a relationship with a coach, and I had a great one with Rick. He was the one who gave me the opportunity, and I'm thankful for that."

"Its definitely disappointing," said Downie, whose breakout season included 22 goals and a team-best plus-14. "He and I had a good relationship. He gave me a chance to play and really taught me how to focus on the right things. It's disappointing to see something like that change."

Tocchet, who had disagreements with general manager Brian Lawton, said he is not sure when he will get back into coaching but will be picky.

"I'd have to believe in the people I work with," he said. "I'd have to have some kind of say and involvement in a stable situation. I'm not going to take a job just to take a job."

Will he be a better coach the next time around?

"Definitely, absolutely," Tocchet said. "I've been in the game 25 years, and I've seen a lot in the last year and a half."

Draft lottery: The best the Lightning can hope for in tonight's draft lottery is to win the No. 2 overall pick.

Tampa Bay (34-36-12) finished with 80 points, fifth from the bottom of the 30-team league, meaning it has the No. 5 pick. Teams can move up four spots and down only one, so the worst the Lightning will pick is sixth.

Tampa Bay will be assigned 62 of the 1,000 lottery balls, meaning it has a 6.2 percent chance of being selected.

Rick Tocchet, fired as Tampa Bay Lightning coach, still speaks well of owner Jeff Vinik 04/12/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 12, 2010 11:06pm]
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