John Tortorella made it clear Wednesday, a day after being fired, he wanted to return to the Lightning for an eighth season as coach. Sensing the team he guided to a Stanley Cup in 2004 was close to being competitive, he hoped to atone for this season, which ended with the worst record in the NHL.
But he won't get that chance thanks to a decision Tortorella assumes was made jointly by his friend and co-architect, general manager Jay Feaster, outgoing owner Palace Sports & Entertainment and OK Hockey, which is expected to take over June 18.
And as for the next coach of the Lightning, Tortorella suggested it would be foolish if it doesn't take a serious look at assistant Mike Sullivan although the hiring of ESPN analyst Barry Melrose is considered by many a foregone conclusion.
Tortorella said during a conference call he considered his firing "inevitable and part of the business." But he believes he might have unwittingly begun the process during an April 7 exit interview, when he told Feaster he might no longer be right for the job he has held since midway through 2000-01.
He quickly rethought his stance. Management didn't.
"I'm pretty honest about everything that goes on around our team, and I thought out loud to Jay … maybe there was a different voice that could come into play here," Tortorella said. "You have such a long year, and it's two days after the season.
"As I got away from it and I talked to my coaching staff, trainers and players … I wanted to be part of the solution in trying to get that turned around. But unfortunately, a few other people didn't agree with me."
Chief among them was Feaster, whom Tortorella credits with sticking with him in rebuilding a franchise he said was once an "absolute comedy show." Feaster said, "This past year was a year when Torts and I were not on the same page more than we weren't on the same page for probably seven years total."
"I think eventually we will retrieve our relationship, and I hope we do," said Tortorella, who turns 50 this month. "Jay and I have gone at it pretty good the past seven years; really good times and some really bad times.''
Feaster said Tuesday that Sullivan will be kept as an assistant, but Tortorella said he deserves more. Sullivan had a winning record in two seasons as coach in Boston, was a special teams grinder for Tortorella when the latter was an assistant in Phoenix and hired before this season to offer an alternative voice.
"I listen to all the people talking about this coach, that coach, who's coming in, who should be there. Look under your nose," Tortorella said. "Mike Sullivan … is just a tremendous coach and probably — not probably, is — a better person. There's no question as far as what he can do for a hockey club. And no one even speaks of him. That boggles my mind."
Sullivan could not be reached for comment.
As for his employment, Tortorella said he hopes to coach next season but won't lobby for a job. Atlanta, Ottawa, San Jose and Toronto have openings, though the Leafs have made an offer to ex-Sharks coach Ron Wilson. Tortorella is scheduled to earn $1.3-million in the final year of his Lightning contract.
"I'm not too interested in just sitting around and just collecting a paycheck,'' he said. "I want to work."
Taylor update: Retired captain Tim Taylor said he would like to join Tortorella wherever he lands if the Lightning doesn't offer him a job as a scout. Taylor didn't play his final season because of a hip injury.
"If I didn't have the opportunity to do anything here, yes," he said. "I love this organization. I've been involved here seven years. I still think I owe them some work. My heart is still with this team."
Draft offers: The Lightning extended contract offers to nine 2007 picks, extending its rights to them until June 1, 2009: Justin Courtnall, Luca Cunti, Mitch Fadden, Johan Harju, Torrie Jung, Alex Killorn, Matt Marshall, Dana Tyrell and Michael Ward. Dane Cowley, drafted in 2006, was not offered a contract and will re-enter the draft.
Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report.