Tampa Bay Lightning Fire GM Lawton, Head Coach Tocchet

We officially have our first casualties of the 2010 NHL off season.

New Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has "decided to replace" team general manager Brian Lawton and head coach Rick Tocchet, as he announced in a letter to fans on Monday morning, the first official day of Tampa's off season. Vinik called the hiring process for a new coach and GM "exciting," and that he hopes to have it complete by the NHL Draft in late June.

SB Nation's Lightning blog, Raw Charge, reacted to the franchise-altering news.

The writing had been on the wall that Lawton may not be back for a while, so that should not be surprising. Neither should Tocchet's dismissal.  You see, while everyone can mention the great work he's had done with Steve Downie and Steven Stamkos, there are 21 other roster spots with players.  Can we honestly say anyone improved under Tocchet?  That the defense improved after a revamp from last season?  That he effectively used what he had at his disposal in a consistent fashion?

As Vinik himself said in the quoted text from his letter, the search is now on for a new GM and head coach. We move forward. Who is available in each of these empty slots and what they bring to the team will ultimately guide the direction of the franchise - on ice and off - for the foreseeable future.

We'll obviously have more on this story as it unfolds.

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