Melrose to Lighting: A NHL Coaching Joke?
by Max Powers - 06/02/2008
Recent reports have named Barry Melrose as the next coach of the Tampa Bay Lighting. Yes, this is the same Tampa Bay Lighting that won a Stanley Cup under John Tortorella in 2004. Tororella is still under contract to coach the Lighting next season but the team is in the process of being solid to Oren Koules. Many believe Koules is looking for a fresh start and has tabbed the Mullet as the winning answer.
Yes, this is the same Barry Melrose that has been out of coaching since 1995 and during this time he has been an analyst for the World Wide Leader in Sports. He did lead the Kings to a Stanly Cup appearance in 1993, but that was with Wayne Gretzky leading the team. After that appearance he lasted just two more seasons in LA, missing the playoffs in both years.
To his credit Melrose has downplayed the situation saying he loves his job as ESPN, which I would agree to since ESPN does not broadcast hockey. All he does is a couple of minutes three times a week on the late edition of Sportscenter, but as the saying goes, "If it is in the paper, it usually is true." Coaching is a drug more powerful then any other steroid found and we have seen countless coaches come back after a decade-long layoff. This also leads me to believe that sports analysts do not make as much money as we all think since most jump at the opportunity to get back into coaching, which is a 20-hour 360-day a year job.
That being said, as exciting as it sounds to bring back the Mullet to the Bay, does anyone really believe he is a better coach than Torts? In his six seasons as coach the Lighting he has made the playoffs four times including the cup in 2004. Tortorella has never had a strong goalie that teams feared and one would believe that he is an outstanding coach since he was able to win with Nikolai Khabibulin in net. He has had a mediocre career as a goalie but was able to shine under Torts.
This was truly a remarkable coaching job as Tortorella had a great mix of veterans and young stars that were all hungry for the Cup. He won the Jack Adams Award in 2004 as the league's best coach. His squad was not able to defend the cup the following year because of a lockout. His team did make the playoffs the next two season but were quickly eliminated in the first round and Khabibulin would not play for Tampa Bay again after his Game 7 victory in 2004. As with many veteran teams, age eventually catches up with you and not being able to defend the Cup in 2005 was a major blow.
The team remained in decline and missed the playoffs for the first time in 2008 as they finished last after suffering numerous injuries during the season. They traded away many of their big-name players such as Brad Richards, Vinny Prospal, and Johan Holmqvist, in an effort to get younger. They have yet to find a solid netminder since Khabibulin and are currently in a major rebuilding phase.
That being said, despite their recent woes, Tortorella deserves better since he built this franchise from the ground up after it nearly went bankrupt in the late 1990s. Forbes estimated that this team had debt equal to 236 percent of its value in 1998. Torts took over the squad in 2001 and the team immediately saw improvement scoring over 60 points for the first time since 1997. He deserves to rebuild this team yet again and should not have to worry about fending off the Mullet for his job.
One can easily assume that there's no loyalty in sports anymore and it's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type of league. That being said, this is the Tampa Bay Lighting we are talking about and not the Toronto Maple Leafs for Detroit Red Wings. People should be excited that they won one cup and that should earn Torts a lifetime contract. Hopefully the new owner will come to his senses and keep the Mullet stuck in Bristol, Connecticut.