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Double OT: Stormy future for Lightning?

Steven Stamkos was taken No. 1 overall by the Lightning in the recent entry draft. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

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Steven Stamkos was taken No. 1 overall by the Lightning in the recent entry draft. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

I don’t keep it a secret that I am a fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Reporters aren’t supposed to have friends in hockey or favorite teams, you see, but we all do.

Anyway, I came out of the closet as a Lightning fan the season before the lockout – before the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, I might add – because I admired the fact they didn’t trap. The Lightning actually tried to play an entertaining style of hockey, totally going against the grain as it were.

And they were rewarded in the end, somehow managing to conquer the clutch-and-grab Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup final.

But that was then and this is now.

The Lightning sucked last season. And I have to say I don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the direction the team is taking.

Getting Steven Stamkos No. 1 overall in the draft is certainly a good thing. He will no doubt bring energy to a team that needs a shot in the arm and will not look out of place playing with established stars such as Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis.

Locking up Lecavalier for the next nine seasons is also a reason to smile.

But it is the off-ice maneuvers that have me scratching my head.

It is abundantly clear new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie have stripped Jay Feaster of his GM duties. Feaster is a good man who won a championship, but had trouble negotiating the salary cap and the team paid a huge price. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before Feaster leaves the organization.

One would suspect Koules and Barrie know a thing or two about making money (although, given the NHL’s recent track record of approving owners, that isn’t necessarily a certainty), but aside from choosing Stamkos – a no-brainer – their other decisions have potential disaster written all over them.

Start with the hiring of Barry Melrose as coach. If you believe the John Tortorella era came to a rightful end and the Lightning needed a new voice to guide it, is hiring a guy who hasn’t coached in the league since 1994-95 the right way to go?

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Melrose carved out a nice career as a hockey analyst in the United States and will no doubt go a long way in influencing the return of the mullet, but can he coach in the new game? Remember, when Melrose had his greatest success, making the final in 1993 with the L.A. Kings, he had Wayne Gretzky playing for him.

Hiring assistant coaches Rick Tocchet and Wes Walz is also a curious move. Tocchet has some experience as an assistant with Phoenix, but Walz has no coaching experience and disappeared from the Minnesota Wild this season under peculiar circumstances.

The hiring of Melrose might have been easier to swallow if he was brought in with a reputable Xs and Os man to help plot strategy. That does not appear to be the case.

Finally, how does former player and agent Brian Lawton fit into the puzzle? He has been hired as the team’s vice-president of hockey operations. Lawton is unquestionably an intelligent man who will want to flex his muscles in his new position. But will he be able to if Koules and Barrie intend on being part of the decision-making process?

Obviously time will tell if the new-look Lightning can be a success story.

Have to admit, though, I have some major concerns about that prospect.  

Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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