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Rick Tocchet promises consequences if Tampa Bay Lightning players aren't ready for training camp

Lightning coach Rick Tocchet is emphasizing the need for conditioning over the summer. “If you’re not in shape, there’s ramifications,” he said.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning coach Rick Tocchet is emphasizing the need for conditioning over the summer. “If you’re not in shape, there’s ramifications,” he said.

TAMPA — Rick Tocchet did not tippy-toe around on his first day as Lightning coach.

You could even say he gave his players the equivalent of a kick in the butt.

At least they are on notice.

Signed Monday to a two-year deal that pays about $550,000 a season, Tocchet promised consequences if players on Sept. 14 are not ready for training camp.

"If you're not in shape, there's ramifications," he said at the St. Pete Times Forum. "You might not be in camp. You might not be with the team. There are things I will do that, if you're not in shape, I'll carry out."

What a difference the lack of an interim label makes, not to mention the chance to set a tone from season's start.

"A lot of stuff I did last season was patchwork," said Tocchet, 45, elevated from associate coach in November, 16 games into the season, after Barry Melrose was fired. "Not to make excuses, but now it's like a mandate. … I'll have more conviction in how we're going to play right off the bat. There will be no leeway, no compromise on certain things."

He said he told team leaders Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Mike Smith he expects them to help carry the message.

"I'm on the clock," Tocchet said. "I'm excited."

Tocchet was 19-33-14, and the Lightning's 66 points were 29th in the 30-team league. But Tampa Bay was wrecked by injuries, including the devastating loss in January of Smith to post-concussion syndrome. An NHL-record 22 players played defense.

"Rick reminded me of someone like Winston Churchill," general manager Brian Lawton said, "somebody who did a great job under difficult circumstances."

Lawton said he liked that Tocchet did not panic during tough times, "and there certainly was no blaming anybody. The attitude was very strong. 'Whoever you guys send here, we're going to coach and make them as good as they can be.' "

So, what took Lawton so long — a month, in fact, since the end of the season — to remove Tocchet's interim tag?

"I wanted to really perform an in-depth review of everything we did, and that ranges from our players to our scouts to our coaches," Lawton said. "We had to break it down line by line."

Lawton said he even had a list of names to pursue if he determined Tocchet was not the man for the job.

"But as an organization, we want to look from within before looking outside, and it didn't seem logical (to go elsewhere) after going through the process of analyzing the job Rick did."

What is Tocchet's vision?

"You play for the crest," said the 18-year NHL veteran and an assistant with the Avalanche and Coyotes before coming to Tampa Bay. "It's something I always believed in. People will be playing for the logo and not the name on the back."

He said he wants a team that plays up-tempo, is not afraid to play on the road and with more discipline and abrasiveness.

"This team has not done well the last couple of years," Tocchet said. "There's pressure on Rick Tocchet to be the best coach he can be."

Consider himself on notice.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com

Rick Tocchet promises consequences if Tampa Bay Lightning players aren't ready for training camp 05/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 9:49am]
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