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Tampa Bay Lightning fills coaching staff void with Steve Thomas

There seems to be some confusion within the Lightning organization about Steve Thomas' title next season.

Thomas said he's not sure he will be considered an assistant, associate "or whatever kind of coach." And general manager Steve Yzerman said Thomas still will be the team's player development coordinator.

One thing is certain: Thomas' job has changed.

After spending two seasons keeping track of Tampa Bay's prospects and minor-leaguers, Thomas will fill the hole on the Lightning's coaching staff created in April 2011 when Wayne Fleming left because of brain cancer.

"He's an experienced hockey guy, so he has a lot to offer," Yzerman said. "It's a way to get him more directly involved with our players, and he fills in a bit of the void not having Wayne around."

Thomas' duties are still to be finalized — Yzerman called him a "jack of all trades" — but there are some parameters.

Thomas, 49, will be on-ice at practices and the eye in the sky during games, reporting to the staff between periods. He said he will be a liaison between players and coaches, and travel with the team.

He will relieve some of the pressure on coach Guy Boucher and assistants Marty Raymond and Dan Lacroix who worked shorthanded last season.

The job will not affect the plan for Thomas to work 10 days a month with Tampa Bay's new AHL affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y., Yzerman said. He added that director of player personnel Pat Verbeek; Tom Kurvers, senior advisor to the general manager; and team scouts will help fill Thomas' previous duties of providing guidance and mentoring to Lightning prospects.

Thomas, who played right wing for 20 NHL seasons, is not going in blind. He was behind the bench for 35 games last season as an assistant for AHL Norfolk (then Tampa Bay's affiliate) during its Calder Cup title run.

"He was exceptional for us," coach Jon Cooper said. "He played 20 years in the league, so there was nothing he hadn't seen. He's a great communicator and great listener, so when you have those attributes, it goes a long way."

Perhaps most interesting about Thomas' new job is his hope to work on the power play, which last season was one of the NHL's worst (15.2 percent). "Guy actually mentioned … it'd be an opportunity to work with him on the PP and give some of my insights," said Thomas, who scored 106 of his 421 goals on the power play. "I think it will be a good working combination."

Tampa Bay Lightning fills coaching staff void with Steve Thomas 07/25/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 8:45pm]
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