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Barry Melrose's Epic Fail in Tampa Bay

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↵Back over the summer, when the new owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning -- Oren Koules and Len Barrie -- hired Barry Melrose to replace John Tortorella, there were more than a few snickers around the league. ↵

↵After all, it had been more than 13 years since Melrose was behind the bench in Los Angeles with the Kings, and while his tenure there included a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, it's impossible not to notice that in a little less than three seasons behind the bench, Melrose was 22 games under .500. ↵

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↵But what had to be even more disconcerting were the things that Melrose, who had been behind a microphone at ESPN since leaving the Kings, still didn't understand about the game. Always more of a master motivator than a master of Xs and Os, Melrose was ill-suited to the challenge in Tampa Bay -- that of molding into a cohesive unit a team of disparate parts that weren't familiar with one another. ↵

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↵That would mean having a plan and installing a system and getting the team to stick to it. But as one anonymous player told ESPN.com, when Melrose arrived for training camp, there was no system and no plan -- just "shinny hockey with a few fights thrown in for good measure." That story was more or less confirmed for me by an NHL beat writer, who said that the word on the street about Melrose's tenure in Tampa Bay was a colorful two-word euphemism that began with the letters 'C' and 'F'. ↵

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↵No, it wasn't Melrose's fault that ownership traded away the team's best defenseman and the heart of its power play unit in Dan Boyle, only to replace it with a mess of parts that never seemed to come together as they yielded more shots per game than any team in the league. It also wasn't Melrose's fault that Koules and Barrie spent heavily on veteran players like Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata and Gary Roberts who have yet to produce. ↵

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↵Still, it was Melrose's job to make it work. But after 16 games it was clear things weren't going to get better, especially now that it's been reported that a number of star players -- and in Tampa Bay that's an awfully small knot of folks -- went behind Melrose's back to tell management the situation was hopeless. ↵

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↵So what comes next? For the Lightning, life without Melrose continued on Sunday with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Hurricanes on the road. But as bad as things might be right now, this is still a team that boasts Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and an emerging goaltending star in Mike Smith, not to mention former No. 1 overall draft pick Steve Stamkos. If anyone can pull them together, it's an NHL veteran like Rick Tocchet, who will move quickly to fill the structural void Melrose couldn't fill. ↵

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↵As for Melrose, he's probably coached his last NHL game. After a disaster like this, it's hard to think that any other team would ever think of giving him another chance. Over the weekend, he made himself very available for interviews about his firing, and to his credit, he's been very straightforward about how he failed to connect with his players. After some time off, I'm sure we'll see Melrose behind the microphone again, trying to connect with hockey fans -- perhaps a job he should have never left in the first place. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.