Poor Barry Melrose. For 13 years, he waited for another turn at coaching in the NHL, his career reduced to Token Hockey Guy on ESPN. Then this June, he finally gets the call from the Tampa Bay Lightning, who install him as a head coach. Unfortunately, the experiment is a disaster; their 18-year-old “star,” #1 pick Steven Stamkos, is in so far over his head that even Melrose admits flat-out that Stamkos is “not ready for the NHL.” The Lightning register a 5-7-4 record in their first 16 games, and Melrose is unceremoniously dumped.
Will the charismatic, bemulleted former coach slink back to Bristol with his tail between his legs? No, not quite; while Melrose is set to return to ESPN on January 1, he held no punches when talking with Toronto’s FAN 590 about his time in Tampa Bay. Let’s start right out with the biggest haymaker thrown: “I hope Tampa Bay doesn’t win a game for the rest of the year.”
Yes, he said that, and not out of context; it was in response to a question of whether he was happy to see Tampa’s current slide. He may get his wish; Tampa has all of one win in their last 14 contests, none in their last eight, and there’s no sign of improvement.
But that’s hardly all Melrose told FAN 590 (link contains full audio of interview).
On the issue of his relationship with the Lightning front office, it’s clear there was undue pressure from higher up: “I had guys in Tampa that wanted to run the team, and I wouldn’t let them,” Melrose said. He said the firing “obviously wasn’t a hockey decision, because it’s not like they’ve set the world on fire since they got rid of me.” Oof.
Melrose also heaped praise on one of the owners, Oren Koules, going so far as to say he’s “good for the NHL.” When pressed about co-owner Len Barrie, Melrose rambled through an utterly non-responsive answer before ending with “I like Oren.” We imagine he feels the same way about turtles.
While not on the topic of the Lightning, Melrose did have plenty to say about that Sean Avery situation. He unequivocally disagreed with the NHL’s suspension, saying:
“The NHL wants players to … talk to the press, they want to get the NHL out in the media, and now all of a sudden the first time someone doesn’t say exactly what the NHL wants, they’re going to clamp down on him? I don’t think you can have it both ways.”
But Melrose went further in questioning the NHL’s motives, saying “I don’t think there’d be as big a stink about this if Sean Avery was playing well and if Dallas was winning.” Considering how starved the league is for positive attention since ESPN severed ties, it’s hard to disagree.
In that respect, then, it’s nice to have Melrose back on the press side of the equation. Sure, it’d be nice to see one of the great ambassadors of the game return to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in a decade and a half, but if he’s not going to be put in a position to succeed as a coach, then we may as well return him to where he does best: with a microphone in front of him at all times. And though we don’t advocate a sitting hockey analyst on ESPN rooting against one specific franchise, if Barry goes home and indulges in a grin every time he sees the box score of a 4-1 Lightning loss, well, who are we to argue?