Lightning name Melrose head coach
Former NHL defenceman guided Kings to 1993 Stanley Cup final
Barry Melrose, who guided Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup final, is returning to an NHL bench after a 13-year absence.
The former coach-turned broadcaster was named the new bench boss of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
He succeeds John Tortorella, who was fired on June 3 after Tampa Bay finished last in the 30-team league and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Melrose said he was returning to coaching because he wanted the challenge of competition again, noting that the Lightning would play hard and aggressively.
"They're going to work their butts off," said Melrose at Tuesday's news conference.
"I miss it [coaching]. I've missed it since I left. I hate to be a guy on the outside looking in. I want to be on the inside again."
Two of Melrose's assistants will be former Phoenix Coyotes assistant Rick Tocchet and Wes Walz, who retired last season as a player with the Minnesota Wild. The Lightning are pursuing a third coach under Melrose.
Melrose gets kudos from Great One
Gretzky was asked about Melrose's expected return last weekend, during the NHL draft in Ottawa.
"I think it's wonderful. I think it's a great opportunity for Barry. He's a tremendous coach, and he's a player's coach," said Gretzky, now part-owner and coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.
"And just as important, he understands the media and understands the marketplace that he's in, Tampa Bay. It's not the same as being in a place like Montreal or Toronto. His experience of being in L.A. and dealing with that, this will be a real positive. He'll do a tremendous job."
The 51-year-old Melrose has spent the past 12 years as a hockey analyst with U.S. cable sports network ESPN and is a friend of new Lightning co-owner Oren Koules.
He said his time in television enabled him to get a good read on what works and doesn't work in the NHL, as well as "a handle on the players that I would love to have in our organization when deals are made."
Melrose brought the Kings to the Cup final for the first time in franchise history in 1993, losing to the Montreal Canadiens in a five-game series.
A former NHL defenceman, Melrose posted a regular-season record of 82-103-31 in his 2½ years with Los Angeles.
Lightning looking to strike in playoffs
Before his term with the Kings, Melrose won the American Hockey League championship as coach of the Adirondack Red Wings and a Memorial Cup with the Canadian junior hockey champions, the Medicine Hat Tigers.
He played 335 games over 11 NHL seasons with Winnipeg, Toronto and Detroit following a three-year stint with Cincinnati of the World Hockey Association.
Melrose takes over a Lightning squad that went 31-42-9 this past season, despite a roster that includes stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.
Tampa Bay hasn't won a playoff round since capturing the Stanley Cup in 2004.
A major priority next season will be improving defensively, Melrose said.
"I believe in effort. I believe in energy. I believe in speed. I believe in aggression. I believe in letting guys be creative, using their imagination," he said.
"I give them a lot of freedom. All I ask in return is that they compete defensively."
Melrose estimates he watched about 90 per cent of Tampa Bay's games on TV last season. What he saw was a team that lost its zest under the hard-driving Tortorella.
"I think what happened here is just a group that lost their passion in the second part of the season. That's why you win," Melrose said. "You out-work other teams, you out-want other teams. When you lose that fire and lose that passion, it's very hard to compete in the NHL."
The NHL last week approved the sale of the Lightning to a group headed by Koules, a Hollywood producer, and Canadian developer Len Barrie, a former NHL player. The deal is expected to be finalized at the end of June.
The new owners have been negotiating a new contract extension for Lecavalier, and said Monday they will be aggressive in free agency this summer to put players around No. 1 draft pick Steve Stamkos, who already has been pencilled in to be Tampa Bay's second-line centre next season.
Gretzky said one of Melrose's strongest assets as a coach is dealing with players.
"He treats his role players with a great deal of respect. He treats those guys just as good as he treats his top players," Gretzky said. "I think that's a fine line and important because guys who don't play as much … they need to have that reassurance that they're part of the team also."
With files from the Associated Press