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Will GM Brian Lawton, coach Rick Tocchet survive?

SUNRISE — Does housecleaning begin today?

With another dismal season in the books, all eyes are on new owner Jeff Vinik to see if he will fire general manager Brian Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet.

Lawton was not at Sunday's game with the Panthers or Saturday's home closer. The team offered no explanation for the absence, and it is believed he already has met at least once with Vinik.

No word on whether Lawton will address the players today at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Tocchet is scheduled to meet with Vinik this morning. He was cryptic when answering questions about his future.

"I just think there's an evaluation process I have to go through," Tocchet said. "They ask questions. You answer them, and hopefully, those questions get answered."

Lawton's contract is up at the end of June. Tocchet has one year left on a two-year deal.

Their relationship is strained in part because of their disagreement over Lawton's firing of assistant Wes Walz and temporary elevation of Norfolk coach Jim Johnson as replacement.

The development of Steven Stamkos and Steve Downie are feathers in the hats of the coaching staff. But since Tocchet took over in November 2008 for the fired Barry Melrose, he is 53-69-26, and Tampa Bay ended the season on an 8-15-1 streak.

Lawton tried to fill some of the Lightning's needs last summer with strategic free agent signings. But the team still needs consistent goaltending, a scoring wing and better defense. Lawton also did little at the trade deadline.

FINISHING TOUCH: The Lightning's third straight victory, while satisfying, eliminated any chance it could claim the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Tampa Bay (34-36-12) finished with 79 points, more than only five teams. Because teams can move up a maximum of four spots in Tuesday's draft lottery, the best the Lightning can do is the No. 2 overall pick.

DOWNIE BENCHED: Downie was on the bench Sunday but did not play. Asked if Downie, who had 22 goals and was a team-best plus-14, was disciplined, Tocchet said, "He didn't feel well (Sunday)." Downie declined comment.

MUCH RESPECT: Stamkos on linemate Marty St. Louis, who hindered his chance for 30 goals by constantly looking to feed Stamkos.

"That's just the kind of class-act player he is," Stamkos said. "That he's willing to do that and willing to sacrifice for me is pretty special. It's an unbelievable feeling and an unbelievable opportunity to play with someone of that caliber. I don't know where I'd be if I didn't."

Said St. Louis: "I've helped him. But let's be honest, he helped me, too. I'm 34 going on 35 this summer. I don't feel that, and I owe that to that youth in Stammer. When you have success like that, it just keeps you young."

ODDS AND ENDS: D Scott Jackson, called up from AHL Norfolk, made his NHL debut. … The Lightning is 3-12-1 with a tie in season finales. It is 4-11-2 in road closers. … D Victor Hedman (head), LW Todd Fedoruk (back) and D David Hale (ankle) were scratched.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Will GM Brian Lawton, coach Rick Tocchet survive? 04/11/10 [Last modified: Sunday, April 11, 2010 11:57pm]
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