by PuckStopsHere on 11/15/08 at 12:01 PM ET
Have you ever been in a fantasy hockey league where a brash new owner comes in who is confident that he will build a winner of his team? He talks trash and makes a whole bunch of brash but questionable moves. When his team doesn’t win, he decides to repeatedly make that that final desperation move to try to right the ship. The problem is his team is far more than one move away from winning and the owner wouldn’t be able to recognize that final good move if it existed (which it probably doesn’t). All that is available are bad desperation moves where the other teams are capitalizing on the desperate crazy moves.
That is happening in the NHL today. It is happening with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie are running the Lightning that way.
The most recent example of their stupidity is firing coach Barry Melrose after only 16 games coached. Melrose took over a last place team and brought them to 26th place. They have a 5-11 record (with four regulation tie points). It’s not a huge improvement but it could easily be worse.
One of the first moves by the new Tampa owners was to bring in coach Barry Melrose. He was chosen due to personal ties to Oren Koules. Melrose had not coached in the NHL since 1995 and as a result the move was widely criticized. It was likely a move that was destined to fail, but it was never given its chance to fail. Sixteen games aren’t long enough to try anything before you abruptly change plans. The problem in Tampa is that this is not the first abrupt change of plans.
The Koules administration began by removing all the people who had helped to win the 2004 Stanley Cup and replacing them with their friends. They then spent significant amounts of money on free agents who have not produced very well yet this season. Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts and Radim Vrbata have combined for 40 games played and eight points. When they ran out of salary cap space, they decided to dump their best defenceman in Dan Boyle. Boyle has done very well this season. He has 14 points in 17 games with a +8 +/- rating. The main piece of Tampa’s return in the trade was Matt Carle. Carle is a talented young defenceman who has potential (though it’s unlikely) to one day be as good as Boyle.
When it became clear to Tampa ownership that they wouldn’t have a particularly good defence, they traded with Ottawa to get Andrej Meszaros. The problem with that deal is that is cost them Filip Kuba. Kuba is having a very good season. He has 15 points so far this season.
Tampa traded away their best two defencemen before the season opened up. They were weaker for trading Dan Boyle and Filip Kuba.
Tampa got off to a slow start. They lost their first two games and panicked and traded Shane O’Brien and Michel Ouellet to Vancouver for Lukas Krajicek and Juraj Simek. That move couldn’t possibly have fixed the problems. It was a panic move that weakened the Lightning.
A little over a week ago, Tampa made their next panic trade. They traded Matt Carle (the main return from the Boyle trade) for Steve Eminger and Steve Downie. The problem with these “quick fix” trades is that it is hard to make a good trade in the NHL. It is not hard to find a GM willing to take your assets and give you a less significant return. Tampa Bay is taking these deals. It weakens their team. Each of these trades makes the team worse.
The most recent move is to fire their coach Barry Melrose - well before he had a chance to do anything of significance as coach. Melrose was probably a poor choice as a coach in the first place, but he should have been given a chance to succeed.
Melrose will be replaced as coach by Rick Tocchet. Tocchet was brought in as a friend of ownership. He once looked like the heir apparent to Wayne Gretzky as coach in Phoenix. He was derailed by a gambling scandal. Gretzky was loyal to Tocchet and kept him on the coaching staff despite his gambling suspension.
Tocchet will be hard-pressed to improve the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team is slowly being made worse by its desperation trades and they are coming off a last place season. I am not optimistic that ownership is patient enough to finish a poor season without more wacky moves and I would be very surprised if this does not turn out to be a poor season in Tampa Bay.
The worst thing ownership like Koules and Barrie could do is abandoning their team. In the fantasy hockey world, after making a few failed desperation moves, the fantasy owner often abandons his team altogether. In the real world, that process might be accelerated by losing money. It isn’t clear that they have this money to lose (after all they couldn’t get bank financing for their purchase of the Lightning - they had to do it through the previous owner). That would leave the NHL in a hard position. Hockey looked like it would succeed in Tampa Bay. The 2004 Stanley Cup went a huge way to ensure that. Brash new owners are in the process of quickly ruining those gains and the quality of the Tampa Bay Lightning). The quick firing of Barry Melrose is merely a symptom of the problem.
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