Hockey

Melrose lashes back at Lightning

Former Tampa Bay Lightning coach Barry Melrose said in a Toronto radio interview on Tuesday that the situation in Florida was an impossible one, and that No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos is not ready yet to be an NHL player.

Former Tampa Bay Lightning coach Barry Melrose said in a Toronto radio interview on Tuesday that the situation in Florida was an impossible one, and that No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos is not ready yet to be an NHL player.

"I had guys in Tampa that wanted to run the team and I wouldn't let them," Melrose told the Fan 590.

"Everybody was a constant battle," he added.

Melrose waited over 12 years for a second chance to coach in the league after guiding the Los Angeles Kings in the 1990s. The stint with the Lightning lasted just 16 games, however, with the team 5-7-4 at the time of his firing.

While Melrose was critical of the firing and said there was front office interference when he spoke to Hockey Night in Canada on Nov. 15, the day after the firing, the passage of time has seemingly made him less concerned about burning any bridges.

Tampa Bay are last in the Eastern Conference and dropped a 5-3 game in Boston on Monday. The Lightning are 1-6-4 since Rick Tocchet took over as coach.

Melrose admitted he wasn't disappointed that the team is struggling worse than they were at the beginning of the season.

"I hope Tampa Bay doesn't win a game the rest of the year," he said.

Under new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, and general manager Brian Lawton, the Lightning made a dizzying array of personnel moves since the end of last season.

The majority of the transactions have not panned out so far, with several players struggling.

The Kelvington, Sask., native said he couldn't connect on a personal level with his players like had done in previous coaching stops.

He was unequivocal when discussing top pick Stamkos, who has three goals and eight assists and a minus-11 rating through 27 games.

"Steven's not ready for the NHL," said Melrose. "Steven is gonna be a good player, right now he's just not strong enough physically to play against defencemen that are six-[foot]-three, six-four that can skate as good as him.

"I think he's a minus 10 or 11… he just can't check in his own end well enough [right now]."

While Melrose had praise for Koules, he was tight-lipped when asked about Barrie and did not mention Lawton by name.

Melrose spent most of the time between NHL jobs working as a hockey commentator with ESPN. It was recently announced that he will be returning to the network in that capacity.