The first thing Darren Rumble said he wants to do as coach of AHL Norfolk is get the Admirals to the playoffs.
The team missed them for the first time in 19 years last season, its first as a Lightning affiliate.
"I feel like we owe something to the fans," Rumble said Saturday. "They were pretty spoiled hockey-wise making the playoffs 18 straight years. We sort of let them down a little bit there."
Rumble, 39, has something to prove as well.
The former Lightning defenseman, an Admirals assistant last season, was let go when coach Steve Stirling was re-assigned.
But Rumble was fired by former owner Palace Sports & Entertainment. He said he called old friend Len Barrie, one of the Lightning's new owners and a teammate in 1990-92 with AHL Hershey. Two phone calls and an "extensive" interview later, Rumble had the job.
"I think it was huge just knowing the players and being familiar with pretty much everything," he said. "It allowed a little continuity from last year."
Former NHL tough guy Alan May, with 1,333 penalty minutes in 393 games, mostly with the Capitals, will be the assistant.
Admirals owner Ken Young would not confirm or deny Rumble's hiring, deferring to Tuesday's scheduled news conference. Still, he said, "I do think Darren will be a very good fit for the Admirals. I think also he's familiar with ownership and the people he is reporting to, and that's good, too. We're real excited about what the new ownership has done with the Lightning."
Rumble, who played 24 games for the Lightning in 2002-04, said a priority will be building "good, solid communication" with Tampa Bay coach Barry Melrose.
"I come from a teaching background," Rumble said. "I want to do everything I can to make each player better, whether a veteran or a young guy."
VERNON'S ROLE: Former goaltender Mike Vernon had a close relationship with Barrie well before Vernon was hired last week as a special assistant to vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton.
Vernon, 45, who won Stanley Cups in 1989 with the Flames and 1997 with the Red Wings, for whom he was playoff MVP, is the second-largest investor in Barrie's Bear Mountain Resort in Victoria, British Columbia.
"I couldn't have done it without him," Barrie said.
Vernon, based in Calgary, will do a little bit of everything.
Barrie said he will be a sounding board on player personnel issues, will scout and work here and there with the organization's goalie prospects.
Vernon, who played with owner Oren Koules in 1981-82 for Calgary in the Western Hockey League, could not be reached. But Barrie said his friend has waited for the right situation to get back in the game.
"We want to surround ourselves with winning people," said Barrie, adding he wanted to hire Joe Nieuwendyk for a similar position before he went to the Maple Leafs. "You can't be afraid to put strong-willed, successful people around you or you'll fail."
HALPERN UPDATE: Center Jeff Halpern, who in June had surgery to reconstruct his right knee, damaged while playing for the United States at the world championship, said doctors told him he could begin light skating by Sept. 1. That, he said, should put him on course for a December return.
"I took the crutches away about two weeks ago," Halpern said. "As soon as that happened, I got the green light to do everything strength-wise. It's just a slow process."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.