BUFFALO, N.Y. — Owner Len Barrie disputed former coach Barry Melrose's assertion he was being told whom to play. He also called Melrose's preparation before the season "total negligence."
"I knew we were in trouble when we went to Prague," Barrie said Wednesday of the season-opening trip with the Rangers, "and Barry wanted to play the (defensive) left wing lock."
It was the latest salvo in the war of words between Melrose and the team. Barrie said he wants it to stop but added, "I wanted to respond for our organization and our guys."
Especially, he said, for rookie Steven Stamkos, whom Melrose believes is not NHL ready.
"He didn't want Steven on this team from day one, and it was evident how he played him," Barrie said. "Everyone knows this kid is a star player."
Barrie said he never told Melrose to play Stamkos certain minutes. "But I did say, 'Why not try Steven Stamkos on the point?' The kid's done it (in juniors) and played well back there."
Stamkos has played there under coach Rick Tocchet.
About the Lightning's 4-0 loss to the Panthers the day after Melrose walked out of practice and three days before his Nov. 14 firing, Barrie said, "That was the final nail in the coffin. He went at guys personally and he challenged the team, which is fine. Coaches have to do that. But you have to have guys respond."
Barrie admitted he and Melrose "were never as close" as Melrose and owner Oren Koules, who hired him.
"But my thing is you're paid to do a job, and he didn't do it from day one. How he came in and prepared for this job was total negligence."
OFF HIS BACK: If Stamkos is upset with Melrose, the NHL's No. 1 draft choice didn't show it.
"You can't let stuff like that bother you," the 18-year-old said. "It's his opinion. This team, if anything, can use it as motivation."
"He told me he laughed about it, which was nice to hear," Tocchet said.
"You just don't pay attention to it," Stamkos added. "You keep working hard. That's the only thing we're focused on, not comments from anyone."
KONOPKA UP: With RW Adam Hall (upper body) out, C Zenon Konopka was called up from AHL Norfolk on an emergency basis, meaning he must be sent down when an injured player returns. Konopka, 27, from nearby Niagara Falls, had seven goals, 21 points and 84 penalty minutes in 27 games for the Admirals.
He wasn't on the bench until late in the first period as his plane from Norfolk did not land until 6:30, 30 minutes before game time. He was called for interference on his second shift and later fought Adam Mair.
GRATTON DOWN? It is unclear if 15-year veteran Chris Gratton will report to Norfolk.
"He's been a pro for a long time," GM Brian Lawton said. "He deserves some time."
If he does not report, he and payments on his $1.25-million contract will be suspended.
ODDS AND ENDS: C Dana Tyrell signed a rookie contract. The 2007 second-round pick is expected to finish the season with WHL Prince George. … Tocchet said G Olie Kolzig likely will start tonight. ... LW Ryan Malone (upper body) and LW Matt Pettinger (knee) also were scratched.