Spurned by Ted Nolan and his attention turned to former Philadelphia Flyers coach Terry Murray, general manager Phil Esposito said Tuesday that he could not commit to a date for deciding on Terry Crisp's successor as coach.
Moreover, whether Murray wants the job remains to be seen.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Esposito had not gotten permission from Flyers GM Bobby Clarke to speak with Murray, Philadelphia's pro scout.
Murray's representative, former NHLer Robin Burns, said he would welcome the opportunity to speak with Esposito regarding Murray if Clarke gives his permission. Burns is the cousin of Bruins coach Pat Burns and also represents ex-Sabres coach Nolan.
Murray, on a scouting trip in New York on Tuesday night, has not indicated he is interested in coaching the Lightning. He has said he wants to coach in the NHL again.
And Murray's reputation around the league remains strong enough that he wouldn't have to jump at the first available position.
Nolan pulled himself out of consideration for the Lightning job without directly speaking to Esposito. He cited family concerns and the desire to coach elsewhere, perhaps Toronto should the Maple Leafs job open.
Should Murray spurn Tampa Bay, too, Esposito might turn to one of three other acknowledged candidates: interim coach Rick Paterson and IHL coaches Jeff Brubaker and Chris McSorley.
"I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the position," said Brubaker, the former NHL tough guy who also is the San Antonio Dragons' GM. Brubaker has spoken with Esposito but is not scheduled for an interview.
Two days after he fired Crisp, Esposito did not seem to be in a hurry to hire someone.
First Esposito said: "I'd like to try to solidify some things in the next week, or before the West Coast road trip (for which the Lightning leaves Tuesday)." Later he amended his target time to mid-November. Before he was done, Esposito had this to say: "Don't hold me to a timetable, because it could be a little longer if we decide to interview three, four, five guys."
ESPO RETURNS: When he was named interim coach Sunday, Paterson said he fully intended to tap the knowledge of his Hall of Fame GM and the GM's Hall of Fame brother, development/scouting director Tony Esposito.
Crisp did not exactly welcome the Esposito brothers on the ice, perhaps, Phil suggested, because it might have undermined Crisp's authority.
"I never interfered with anything Terry Crisp did with the players," Phil said, "and I will not interfere with Rick Paterson, or whoever the coach is, unless I'm asked."
Tuesday, Paterson asked. So Phil laced up the skates and went to work with the struggling power play, which has not scored in its past 28 chances and is 24th of 26 in the league at 4-for-56 (7.1 percent).
"When I played, that was my area of expertise," Phil said. "I just went on, played a little bit and tried to give the guys some confidence. It was no big deal, really."
_ TIM BUCKLEY