Monday, April 12, 2010

If at first you don't succeed...


Just keep hiring coaches.

New Tampa Bay owner Jeff Vinik today relieved general manager Brian Lawton and head coach Rick Tocchet of their duties Monday afternoon, saying he wanted a fresh start as the Lightning try next season to snap a three-year streak without making the playoffs.

Vinik also says he wants stability in the franchise. This will be the third coaching change in two years, after Tocchet took over for the epic fail that was Barry Melrose.

Lawton was nothing short of a disaster as general manager. That's what happens when you let guys like Len Barrie and Oren Koules run a team. Barrie should know something about awful GMs; he kept suckering them into giving him a job in the NHL. Koules was too busy making awful horror movies, then making his goalies promote them on their masks.

Tocchet however was doing a decent job I felt despite the crap that Lawton gave him. There are many who feel that Steve Downie (owner of two 20-game suspensions) learned to become a hockey player and a solid power forward under Tocchet, himself an excellent power forward during his playing days. Downie matured, at least mostly, and scored 22 goals with 24 assists this season. He even managed to be a plus player on that team (+14) and saw quality power play time, netting seven goals with the man-advantage.

Steven Stamkos is another player who took leaps and bounds during Tocchet's time as coach. I can't say how much of that was Tocchet's influence and how much was simply Stamkos being good and learning the NHL. Maybe it was just a coincidence that Stamkos scored 51 goals this season after having an excellent second-half of the 2008-09 season.

Lawton needed replaced. Tocchet I'm not so sure about. But normally when a new chief executive officer comes in - and Vinik is looking to hire one - and brings in a new general manager, there are questions of whether the GM will retain the coach. Vinik decided to eliminate the uncertainty in one swift stroke.

So this sets the Lightning back to square one. Emphasis on one. Stamkos is there, and the team belongs to him. Vincent Lecavalier's status will probably always be up in the air, whether he'll be traded or not, until that massive contract of his ends or is traded.

It'll be curious to see what happens with Downie. There aren't a whole lot of other building blocks in Tampa Bay. Ryan Malone battled injuries and should be a consistent 25-30 goal scorer, particularly playing with Stamkos. Victor Hedman earned his lumps as a rookie but we'll see how quick he is to develop.

Otherwise, Martin St. Louis had a great season with 94 points but turns 35 in June. He's still got a couple good years left but he's no longer a block to build a franchise around. Kurtis Foster enjoyed something of a bounceback year. If not for Stamkos, this team wouldn't even have sniffed a chance at the playoffs like they did this year.

The goaltending is again a mystery. Antero Niittymaki became the number one goalie but it was essentially split duties with Mike Smith, who is signed for next season. Niittymaki is not.

Whoever Vinik brings in to rebuild the Lightning - which hasn't advanced past the first round of the playoffs since winning the 2004 Stanley Cup - is going to have a lot of work to do. If Vinik really wants stability, he'll give the new guys time to work.

Otherwise, I'll cut and paste this post in a few years.


BReynolds said...

Word is that Doug Risebrough is the favorite for the job. I really don't understand that thinking. He already destroyed two franchises, why keep giving him chances?

KiPA - Kevin in PA said...

Assuming he doesn't trade Stamkos for James Sheppard, there's not a whole lot more he can do to destroy that one.

I saw Russo said there's a solid blue line in Tampa...I don't know about that. Hedman's probably going to be good and I mentioned Foster. Ohlund and Matt Walker I suppose are OK defensively, Meszaros is horribly overpaid and overrated...

I guess there's worse blue lines out there, but I'd call it more average than solid.

Besides, playing devil's advocate, didn't Risebrough do a decent job in the beginning to build the Wild? I thought it wasn't until later (maybe the salary cap era) that he wore out his welcome.