Melrose knew his days in Tampa Bay were numbered
Former Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Barry Melrose said he saw his firing coming before he was informed of the decision.
Melrose was fired by general manager Brian Lawton just 16 games into his second stint as an NHL coach on Friday afternoon. Assistant Rick Tocchet was named interim coach.
"When people are staying away from you, and you see people talking together that don't usually talk [then you know]," Melrose told Hockey Night In Canada. "I've been around a long time and have been through this before so I wasn't caught by surprise by this."
Tampa Bay is 5-7-4 and started the season with five straight one-goal losses, but appeared to be turning a corner.
This week, however, the team has lost three games.
"We just played six games in nine nights so I gave the guys the morning off and we were going to practise on Saturday," he said.
"I was at the rink [Friday] morning by myself looking at tape and then at 3:30, I got a call from Brian Lawton to go into the office. He wanted to talk to me so I pretty well figured out that's what it was about. If it was a hockey thing he would've talked to me in the morning, so obviously he waited and called me in and fired me.
"I'm not a guy who does a lot of talking so when Brian started the 'We're going to go in a different direction stuff,' I got up and said, 'Brian, don't worry about it.' I dropped my phone off, went to the dressing room and got my stuff."
Melrose believes some disgruntled players who were wary of his no-nonsense approach went to ownership and complained about his coaching style.
Melrose also criticized the club's skaters for not supporting goaltender Olaf Kolzig offensively in his return to Washington, where he played for more than 15 years. The Lightning scored just twice in the Monday loss.
"I think the players didn't want to play for me," he said." You don't have to be Kreskin to figure that out. I demand players play hard and play with passion and courage. If you don't do that, I let you know. I'm not a guy that sings Kumbaya around the fire. I let you know if I'm not happy with you.
"Obviously, a lot of guys didn't like to be accountable with this team and they went to owners Len [Barrie] and Oren [Koules] and said 'would you get rid of him.' I don't think there's any secret about that."
The club followed Monday's 4-2 loss in Washington with a 4-0 defeat to Florida, and a 4-3 setback to Detroit, which was the final straw for management.
Star Vincent Lecavalier has just 11 points in 16 games, while No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos has often received limited minutes early in his career. Stamkos has two goals and two assists.
Tampa Bay has scored 34 goals, last in the NHL.
Melrose reduced Lecavalier's ice time from 23 a game minutes last season to 19 ½ this year. But it's his handling of Stamkos that's drawn the most criticism from fans and media members. Stamkos has struggled to find his game through the first 16 games in part because he's only averaging 12 minutes of ice time.
"The funny part about that is ownership, when they hired me, said 'Barry, there's no way Lecavalier can play as much as he did last year,'" said Melrose, who coached the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup final in 1993.
"Tampa Bay was the worst team in the third period last season and they didn't have enough left to compete in the third period and I agreed with them. So Lecavlier's numbers are down because he wasn't killing penalties."
Melrose said team owners wanted him to give Stamkos more playing time.
"I can't give a guy ice time just because he's the No. 1 pick. I'm not like that. You have to earn ice time. The only power a coach has to motivate a player is control their ice time. And if you're giving it out just because the owners tell you to because the guy was picked No. 1, you're going to be fired whether it's 16 games or 30 games.
Despite his brief stay in Tampa Bay, Melrose doesn't regret not changing his style to appease certain players.
"I was Frank Sinatra ... I did it my way," he said. "I didn't kowtow to anybody and I didn't sell my soul to the devil. I did everything the way I think it should be done. It didn't work, but I can live with that."