Lightning fire Melrose, Tocchet named interim coach

The Tampa Bay Lightning have fired head coach Barry Melrose, just 16 games into his second stint in the NHL.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have fired head coach Barry Melrose, just 16 games into his second stint in the NHL.

Tampa Bay announced the move Friday, with assistant Rick Tocchet named interim coach.

"It's a disappointing day," general manager Brian Lawton. "Myself, certainly the players and the rest of our staff, we all have to take responsibility for this as well. It's a difficult job.

"Ultimately, you have one person that's paying the price for a lack of deliverance on performance for a number of people, or a team in this case."

Lawton said there was no one reason for the dismissal.

"For me, it's not about the wins and losses every night. … It's certainly part of the equation, but it's not all of it," Lawton said. "It has to do with philosophically where we're going, where we're at today, where we're going tomorrow and where we're going to be in three months or a year."

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.

Melrose criticized the club's skaters for not supporting Olaf Kolzig offensively in his return to Washington, where he played for more than 15 years. The Lightning scored just twice in the Monday game.

"Probably the biggest game he's played in years and they show up and do that for him," said Melrose. "Those guys should all be hiding their eyes when they walk by Olie Kolzig tonight."

Tampa Bay's 34 goals worst in NHL

The club followed that effort up with a 4-0 loss to Florida, and a 4-3 defeat to Detroit on Thursday 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.

"I think we're a higher scoring club than we've shown," Lawton said. "To be dead last in the National Hockey League is not something that I'm excited about. But more importantly, philosophically, it's not the direction I want to see our club go in."

Under new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, the Lightning were overhauled in the off-season. The hiring of Melrose after he spent nearly a dozen years as a broadcaster raised eyebrows around the league.

Melrose led the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup final in the early 1990s.

Melrose accumulated a 82-103 record with 31 ties in less than three seasons with Los Angeles. As a coach, he had previously won the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League as well as the Memorial Cup.

He was one of the nine coaching changes in the league since the end of last season.

Tocchet, 44, has been an assistant for much of the last decade, but comes with some baggage.

Lawton called Tocchet a "very straightforward individual" who is respected as a former player. He also stressed there's no timetable for deciding if Tocchet is the club's long-term coaching solution.

"Although we'd all like miracles … that's not going to happen. Players are going to need some time to understand what he's trying to get at," Lawton said.

Tocchet takes over as head coach less than a year after serving a league ban for his involvement in a betting ring while he was a Phoenix Coyotes assistant. His suspension ended in February.

Tocchet agreed to a plea bargain in a New Jersey court on counts of promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling, and was sentenced to two years probation.

The NHL concluded Tocchet's wrongdoing wasn't related to hockey and advised the Scarborough, Ont., native that he would also be on a form of probation with the league.

"We think this is a great opportunity for him and we believe he's the type of coach who can take the team to the next level," Lawton said. "Our players have a great deal of respect for him."

Tocchet racked up 952 points in 1,144 career games as a player with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington and Phoenix.

With files from Associated Press