Cleaning house was right move for Tampa Bay Lightning

John Romano

First lesson of a power struggle:

Make sure the boss actually cares who wins.

Because it just looks silly when a coach and a general manager can’t figure out who deserves more acclaim for a hockey team with too few victories and too many humiliations.

So when it came time to decide whether to choose Rick Tocchet or Brian Lawton or the status quo Monday, new Lightning owner Jeff Vinik selected none of the above. And, of course, that was the correct answer.

In the end, it was not worth the hassle to figure out whether Tocchet failed to win with Lawton’s players or whether Lawton failed to give Tocchet enough players. Turns out, it was easier to conclude the coach and the GM had failed each other.

Which means the Lightning is once again searching for a new coach. And a new general manager. And, in a broader sense, a new identity.

For that might have been Tampa Bay’s greatest shortcoming in 2009-10. From one night to the next, you were never quite sure what to expect from this team. Was it a collection of up-tempo, skill players? Was it a team of fighters and grinders? Was it the team that held opponents to 13 goals in a nine-game stretch or the team that gave up 40 goals in the next nine games?

That’s where the lack of harmony between Lawton and Tocchet became a problem. When things started to go poorly, everyone in the locker room and the front office started positioning themselves for the collapse that was sure to come.

And the rift was not just last month’s assistant coach fiasco. Tocchet wanted certain types of players, and Lawton didn’t care to listen. It was like one guy looking for Toyota parts while the other guy was trying to fix a Honda.

Lawton and Tocchet did not need to swap funny stories late into the night at the hotel bar, but they did need to communicate better. Lawton needed to get more input from his head coach, and Tocchet needed to realize a bunker mentality was not going to save him.