The Lightning, who don't play tonight but have lost three straight and five of six, fired Melrose at 4:30 PM this afternoon. His termination becoming a crystal clear admission that their brand new ownership had made a major mistake. What was also clear, was that Friday afternoon was a good time to let him go and try to garner as little media attention as possible, a 180 degree turn in philosophy for owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules. Their first and not nearly only noise making action as owners was to bring in the former ESPN analyst. Barely five weeks into the season, it was clear things were not going to work out.
Thursday night's 4-3 loss to Detroit probably wasn't even the final straw. It likely came on Wednesday night when the Bolts got embarrassed 4-0 in Miami against the equally troubled Panthers. The Detroit loss dropped the Bolts to a 5-7-4 record and the cellar of the conference right next to the Islanders and Panthers. Only four points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and 66 games to go, the Lightning are clearly still in the playoff hunt. That leads me to believe -- and this is pure speculation -- that there may be more to this situation than poor play on the ice. There may have been gears grinding in the front office and in the dressing room that we don't know about and may never hear about.
Melrose was the pick of the litter for the new ownership group of Barrie and Koules, who had essentially hired him before they ever officially took over the organization. At ESPN, Melrose made a living off of not biting his tongue and having a loud personality. Anyone who has caught him on Sportscenter during the past decade knows that. To believe that his personality didn't mesh with those in Tampa Bay, really isn't that much of a stretch. It was only two games into the season when Melrose initially let loose on some of his star players.
Not a smart choice of words, to be sure. The quickest way out of Tampa is to trash on the star players, especially if one of the folks Melrose targeted was Vinny Lecavalier, who was awarded an 11-year contract extension in July and has better job security than President-Elect Obama. Lecavalier, for what it's worth, is on pace for 56 point season. That would be his lowest total since 2001-02.
"My biggest problem was I can't play Gratton's line every shift," Melrose said. "It's probably the lowest-paid line we've got on the ice, but by far the best line in the last two games.
"I hope our guys are embarrassed. We've just got to get our great players playing as hard as our lesser players and we'll be fine."
In the end, it's hard if not impossible to sit here and say that Melrose's personality or choice of words had a direct hand in his ousting. But for brand new owners to admit this early on that their biggest move to date and most important off-season acquisition not named Stamkos was a complete and total mistake? Well, there's got to be more than meets the eye. This isn't any old coach and this isn't any old organization. You'd have to think that Melrose would have been given at the very least until December 31st if everything was honky dory with the Lightning brass.