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Tampa Bay Lightning owners boost "cowboy" image by firing coach Barry Melrose after 16 games

Barry Melrose, 5-7-4 in his tenure, joins John Tortorella as the coaches the new Lightning owners have fired since June.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Barry Melrose, 5-7-4 in his tenure, joins John Tortorella as the coaches the new Lightning owners have fired since June.

The laughter, we may assume, begins at John Tortorella's house. Before it is done, his neighbors might complain about the noise.

From there, it stretches to Dan Boyle's house, then maybe on to Jay Feaster's. Somewhere, perhaps even Brad Richards is having a chuckle. It spreads across the NHL, to every city and every franchise in the United States. And Canada? Oh, Canada is laughing hard enough to bust a gut.

Today the Tampa Bay Lightning has become a punch line.

From the sound of it, a lot more than 16 games will be needed before the guffawing ends.

The Lightning fired Barry Melrose on Friday. That's right, already. Team Helter-Skelter, Team Willy-Nilly, Team Snap Judgment decided that 16 games was sufficient time to judge a coach and his future.

And just like that, before you could say "They did what?", the Lightning buried Melrose.

Sixteen games. Sixteen games with a room full of players who barely know each other. Sixteen games with owners who have never owned. Sixteen games with a general manager who has never generally managed. Sixteen games for a coach who hadn't been behind a bench in 13 years.

You work 16 games, and what do you get?

Evidently, a fresh pink slip and a severance check.

This is stunning and ridiculous and premature. And perhaps most important, this is the biggest clue to date as to the impulsive nature of those who run the Lightning.

The new owners, Oren Koules and Len Barrie, are going to get hammered in the national media. Even they must know that. Already the Canadian press has had a grand time making sport of them, and after this, it is going to turn into a one-liner contest.

If it bothered the owners at all that Tortorella, the Lightning's coach-before-last, referred to them as cowboys, well, just hang around. This time tomorrow they will be known as Quick Draw and Deadeye.

Consider this: As owners, they have won five games in the NHL, and already they have fired two coaches.

This much is obvious: Either the Lightning made a monumental mistake in June when it hired Melrose, or it made one Friday when it sacked him. There are no other options.

Think of it like this: If you hire a coach who hasn't been behind the bench in 13 years, don't you figure that it's going to take him some time to readjust? If you give him a last-place team, and if you reconstruct his roster, and if you send him to the Czech Republic for his first two games, don't you think a slow start is possible?

Well, evidently, you do not.

Look, none of this is meant as an all-out defense of Melrose. He's a big boy, and yes, people have switched the channel on him before. If you are being honest, no, you wouldn't describe the Lightning as a well-coached team.

Melrose was too harsh too quickly. You don't question your team's work ethic two games into a season. You don't harp on a team's shortcomings without conceding you might have some, too. You don't pull a stunt like ditching practice and have it result in an embarrassing loss to the Panthers.

On the other hand, when did Nov. 14 become judgment day?

For crying out loud, Steve Ludzik got 121 games with the Lightning, and he won only 31 of them. Jacques Demers got 147 games, and he won only 34.

So what happened? A mediocre start happened. The Lightning won five times in 16 games, and if you were betting, you would think it would have won about five more times in its next 16.

So what happened? Higher expectations happened. Despite the millions spent on offense, the team was last in the league in scoring. Perhaps the direction that general manager Brian Lawton was disappointed in was that of the puck, which doesn't seem to travel into the net these days.

So what happened? Perhaps reality happened. Perhaps ownership realized that Melrose was overmatched in the modern game. And perhaps it decided that once you admit a mistake, correcting it as soon as possible in the next step.

Again, the concern here should not be Melrose; it should be those who are still making decisions. After all, Melrose gets to skip all the practices he wants.

As for Rick Tocchet, the interim coach? It's fair to wonder how many games he gets. How many does anyone get?

And as for that laughter coming from the Tortorella house?

Just asking, but does anyone else think that he would be an excellent candidate to be the next coach? Or maybe the one after that?

Melrose out

"They just didn't like the way the players responded to me," Barry Melrose said after being fired Friday as the Lightning's coach. 1A

Lightning, Sundin talk

The team is among several in regular contact with star free agent forward Mats Sundin, his agent says. 3C

Tampa Bay Lightning owners boost "cowboy" image by firing coach Barry Melrose after 16 games 11/14/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 7:34pm]

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