Lacing Up is a weekly column taken from an email conversation between Ashley Gallant and CJ. “Stoosh” Jiuliante. Stoosh is a former Faceoff Factor staff writer and a long-time hockey fan.

This week we have FF’s resident ‘hater’ Mike Wilson with us to talk about the disaster in Florida.

Ash: I can’t imagine being a Tampa Bay fan right now because the last season and a half have been a complete disaster. Scratch that…I think that last season was bad because the team was bad, but it has been FAR worse ever since Dumb and Dumberer took over the franchise this summer.

There was the initial hope that there were better days on the horizon because they changed everything (and I mean e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g), but they have only made things worse.

They fired Torts, hired Melrose, and then fired Melrose after 16 games. Now, Melrose is firing back at the Lightning.

“I had guys in Tampa who wanted to run the team and I wouldn’t let them. I was hired to coach and I coached,” Melrose told Toronto radio station The Fan 590. “I wasn’t playing the right guys. I was playing certain guys too much, I wasn’t playing other guys enough. Every day was a constant battle.”

“Finally the guys in charge decided they wanted to coach and they got rid of me. That’s what it comes down to. It obviously wasn’t a hockey decision, because it’s not like they’ve set the world on fire since they got rid of me…Now they’ve got guys in charge that let them do what they want and obviously that isn’t working out very well either.”

When asked if he was happy to see the Lightning struggle, he said, “I’m not going to lie to you, yeah it does, and any coach who tells you otherwise is a liar. I hope Tampa Bay doesn’t win a game in the next year.”

He also commented on Steven Stamkos by saying, “Steven is not ready for the NHL. Steven is going to be a good player…right now he’s just not strong enough physically to play against defencemen who are 6’3” or 6’4” that can skate as good as him.”

Melrose wasn’t exactly the best coach with the Lightning, but is he spot on with his assessment of what is wrong with the team? Or is it all just sour grapes?

Mike: As hard as I am on Barry Melrose sometimes, he does know the sport. And I think every NHL fan who also knows anything about hockey agrees with what he’s saying. As you referred to them, Ash, Dumb and Dumberer look to be taking the Craig Patrick route by bringing in talent from all across the league and getting experienced veterans to help develop young, talented players. The difference between what they’re doing in Tampa versus (that word makes me cringe even when it’s in context) what Pittsburgh did after the lockout is in the fact that they aren’t letting their coaches form chemistry…which anyone who knows a thing or two about hockey will tell you is one of the most important aspects of the game.

In real life, patience is a virtue; in hockey, it’s a commandment. The Tampa front office just needs to relax, take some deep breaths and let Tocchet take control of this team. Maybe he will be the guy they’re looking for, maybe he won’t (Edzo wasn’t for us, but we still let him do the coaching). Melrose definately was…but they didn’t have the patience, or, as Barry said himself, the desire to let him make the decisions he felt were necessary to win games. They probably even told him he couldn’t wear his suits behind the bench!

Another thing he’s right on is Stamkos. Maybe he just had too much hype, maybe he’s under too much pressure, maybe he has cold feet (_ba dum chh_), or maybe he’s just not that good. By this time 2005, Sidney Crosby had the team on his back and was well on his way to becoming an alternate captain. Even Malkin and Staal were off and running by this time 2006. I know Dumb and Dumberer don’t want to hear this but…I think their precious number one draft pick (who, by the way, only has 12 points this season) needs some time in the minors.

Sour grapes? Maybe. But if what Melrose says about the team’s management is true, then they have a sour vine growing in Tampa Bay.

Ash: Mike, I think you’re spot on with your assessment that the organization has no patience. They haven’t made a lot of fantastic deals since the spring, yet there is almost a manic quality to them. They blow up the organization and do nothing but fiddle around with the roster on a weekly basis with no results. It’s as though there is no thought put into their decisions and that they make changes just for the sake of making changes.

I’m a bit on the fence about Melrose’s outburst. Part of me thinks that he should’ve kept his mouth shut, especially if he wants another coaching job in the NHL. I think that part of me is the ‘traditional’ part that frowns upon those kind of outbursts.

On the other hand, I really can’t help but smile at his words. The team is such a mess that it’s actually kind of nice to have someone (formerly) from the inside come out and say that it’s a mess.

I, too, am not convinced that Stamkos is ready for the NHL. I don’t think that he should be given 20+ minutes a game because he is not ready for that kind of responsibility – and not many kids are at that age. Joe Thornton only had 3 goals and 7 points in 55 games his first year with the Bruins, and that was one year after scoring 41 goals and 122 points in 57 games in the OHL. Going from the OHL to the NHL is a huge step, and just because Stamkos may have dominated in the OHL doesn’t mean that he is completely ready for the NHL. I think Melrose was right to limit him to about 10 minutes a game so that he can learn without the pressure.

Mike: Perhaps Melrose’s comments were a bit over the top. And, true, they may have some implications over whether or not he can find a good job in the future. His job has already been taken at ESPN by Matthew Barnaby. And we all know ESPN isn’t going to make room for two hockey analysts!

Ash, you aluded earlier to how difficult it would be as a Lightning fan right now. I can’t agree more. But to extend that point, how hard it would be to be a Tampa Bay fan overall. Their Rays just lost the World Series to the Phillies, their Buccaneers just lost a hold on their division and might not even make the playoffs, and their Lightning are…well, the Lightning.

I feel Pittsburghers and Tampa Bayans (????) have a lot in common when coming down to sports. Within the last 10 years, The Steelers have had their successes, including a Super Bowl (just like the Buccaneers). The Penguins have rebuilt and lost a championship (just like the Rays). And the Pirates are…well, the Pirates.

With that being said, I’ve used the analogy many times of how Tampa Bay looks a lot like Pittsburgh after the lockout with all their talent (both young and old) and yet they can’t win games. The most frustrating part of all is that if this team is coached properly, and doesn’t allow owners to make hockey ops decisions, they could be pretty darn good.

If they could let their coaches build chemistry, stop completely changing every line, don’t rely so much on their superstars, and allow some time for Stamkos to develop in the AHL/ECHL, Tampa Bay could have some potential in about 2-3 years. But, as our readers are about to find out in a future installment of the 12 Hates of Christmas, Tampa Bay and patience just don’t seem to mix.

But regarding a future position for Melrose, I can see him going to a struggling hockey city who hasn’t shared a lot of success in recent years. Maybe a team who’s front office hasn’t stormed the hockey ops department and begun running it themselves. Possibly teams like St. Louis or Chicago might like to see Mr. Melrose behind the bench.

Ash: I’m not convinced that Melrose will have another NHL coaching opportunity anytime soon. There are a lot of reports saying that he came to Tampa completely unprepared for the season. The fact that there are these reports floating around, combined with the fact that he hadn’t coached in more than 10 years, would make me hesitate to hire Melrose if I was an NHL GM. I’d prefer to go with someone who has coached recently because the game has changed so much in the last 15 years. If he does get another shot with coaching, I think it will be with a minor/junior team.

I agree with you, Mike, in that Tampa could be a half-decent team and the problem is that Dumb and Dumberer are too involved. They need to stop micromanaging the team and just let people do their jobs. The coaches need to coach as they see fit, and the GM needs to shape the roster as he sees fit – and don’t tell me that Jay Feaster/Brian Lawton have been behind all of the dumb moves made by this organization.

Stamkos won’t be able to be sent down to the AHL/ECHL for another few years – if he is demoted, it will be to his OHL team, the Sarnia Sting. Maybe he should’ve been sent back to the CHL after getting a taste of the NHL, with instructions to work on strength. I’m sure Pat Quinn would’ve loved to have had him front and centre for the World Juniors.

Mike: I don’t think Melrose will be offered another job anytime soon, but if any team out there would possibly want him, it would be a team like those. And as for Stamkos, since he can only go to the OHL, send him there. The kid has potential but he’s not yet developed it.

Also, in the news today (12/18/08), John Tortorella was recently interviewed by NHL.com’s Dan Rosen about maybe coaching again in the league somewhere, his thoughts on being a TSN analyst, and, yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was pretty classy about the situation.

“Because I have been freshly booted out of there a lot of people ask me questions about the organization and I have really tried to divorce myself from that situation,” he said. “I still live in the city and I hear a lot of things that go on. Being so close I still have a lot of friends within that team, in the front office and the players, but I’m not going to comment on it. That’s their business right now.”

He seems almost too classy. I hope he’s not considering going back there. Don’t go John! It’s a trap!

Stoosh: I’ve never been a huge fan of Melrose. He became an authority on the sport as an analyst mostly because ESPN said he was. Let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about a guy who coached only three years in the league and missed the playoffs twice, despite having Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Jari Kurri, Kelly Hrudey, Tony Granato, and Rick Tocchet in their relative primes, along with Rob Blake and Alexei Zhitnik – two young defensemen who were just scratching the surfaces of their respective potentials.

I’m not saying he doesn’t know the game. I just think his career as a bombastic hockey analyst/character kind of overshadowed the very real possibility that he just wasn’t a terribly good coach, given how poorly his Kings teams underachieved in 1993-94 and 1994-95.

That’s why I was mystified initially by the decision Tampa made to hire him. In retrospect, it’s not as surprising now because that ownership doesn’t seem to have any sort of clue about how to run a franchise. But given the money they invested in free agency – I’ll get to that in a minute – it seemed to me to be an incredibly short-sighted gamble to take on a guy who hasn’t been behind an NHL bench in almost fifteen years. Wouldn’t it have been much more prudent and diligent for the Lightning to investigate bringing in an up-and-coming assistant like Todd McClellan or Brent Peterson in Nashville?

The sad thing for Lightning fans is that it might get worse before it gets better. Because of their short-sighted decision with Melrose, this has been a lost year as Tocchet may not be the answer either. They might be back to square one five months from now, looking to fill another coaching vacancy. Then again, this Tampa job may have already become the NHL’s equivalent of the Oakland Raiders – a coaching job they can’t pay established names to take because ownership wants a say in every decision that’s being made.

There just seems to be no plan in place at all. You can’t tell what they’re doing with the roster…what kind of team that are trying to build. They had a perfectly capable franchise-caliber defenseman in Dan Boyle, but burned a bridge with him and traded him to San Jose for Matt Carle. After a quarter of the season, they traded Carle to Philly for Steve Eminger and Steve Downie. In other words, they dealt Dan Boyle for Eminger – a soft, underachieving former first round pick who is rapidly approaching “reclamation project” status – and Downie – a third-liner with an uncontrollable temper and a hockey IQ so low, even the Flyers could no longer justify keeping his toughness around over the poor decisions he made on the ice. Their franchise defenseman is Andrej Mezsaros (next time you complain about Ryan Whitney, keep in mind that Tampa is paying Mezsaros just as much money per year).

I’ve never seen such reckless and scattershot management of players before. I can’t even imagine what this has done to the locker room there, as it certainly can’t promote any sort of stability.

Mike: Stoosh, I like the analogy to the Oakland Raiders. It’s owners like Barrie and Koules (who we’ve been referring to as Dumb and Dumberer) who are ruining the sport not only for their team and their league, but also for their fans.

When the league instituted the salary cap, everyone thought “Yay! No more problems!” But then the problem became people like Barrie and Koules who are given a certain amount of money and are asked to craft a hockey team. They go right over the heads of their puppet GM’s and their puppet coaches. Unfortunately, they know nothing about the sport’s inner-values but they do have a control problem and want to do it all themselves…and we see where that got them.

Why don’t they just listen to us? It would make their jobs much easier. Do you guys think they read FF?

Ash: Probably not, otherwise they would’ve smartened up. Maybe we should send them a friendly e-mail with a link?

Todd McLellan definitely would have been a better choice than Barry Melrose, but I don’t think the end result would’ve been much different for the Lightning. The hiring of Melrose was a mistake, but you could put any coach in that organization and they’d still stink. I think we’re all in agreement – Dumb and Dumberer are the ones responsible for this lost season.

Mike, puppet GMs/coaches is right. Jay Feaster left because Dumb and Dumberer took over and didn’t let him do his job. My guess is that Brian Lawton is doing exactly what he is told, so he is allowed to stay.

Stoosh, you bring up an excellent example with Dan Boyle…who in their right mind would trade Dan Boyle, Mr. Franchise Defenceman, months after signing him to a long-term contract? It’s not like they already had Nick Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer, and Zdeno Chara on the blueline. The Lightning gambled by spending plenty of money on forwards ($36.5M), and skimping on defense ($9.4M) and goaltending ($4.3M, most of which goes to the 38 yr old Kolzig), and they are losing big time. By contrast, the Penguins are spending $29.4M on forwards, $21.9M on defence, and $5.6M in goal this season, and the Sharks are spending $32.5M, $18.6M, and $6.1M.

I’m not familiar enough with football to fully get the Oakland Raiders reference, but I like to think of the Tampa Bay Lightning as the new Toronto Maple Leafs. Overspending, boneheaded moves, a front office that meddles too much in hockey operations…the only difference is that the Lightning fanbase isn’t strong enough to survive many years of this.