Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tampa Bay Fires Coach John Tortorella

The Tampa Bay Lightning have announced that they have fired coach John Tortorella. Tortorella had won the 2004 Stanley Cup during his tenure in Tampa Bay, but he had not done well lately. I have written about his failed strategy of overplaying his star players which left Tampa Bay in last place in the NHL this season. It has led to Tampa Bay burning out and then getting rid of Brad Richards and has impeded the development of his secondary players. Tortorella had to be replaced for Tampa to improve, but I don't think their future plans look to be very intelligent.

Bill Davidson is selling the team. Largely, this is because he is 84 years old and wants to reduce his responsibilities. The potential new owners are a group known as OK Hockey that is headed by Oren Koules, a Hollywood movie producer. Koules has made two attempts to buy the team. The first one fell through when he doublecrossed his potential partners. His current group of partners (which include former NHLer Len Barrie) seems to be more willing to sit in the background and allow Koules to use the Tampa Bay Lightning as his plaything. The OK Hockey group has had trouble raising enough money to purchase the team. Unable to get a loan through traditional methods, Bill Davidson agreed to finance their purchase himself (instead of them getting a loan through a bank). While this alone should ring alarm bells in the NHL head offices, as it is not clear this group has the money to buy an NHL team, it is hardly the only problem.

It appears likely that OK Hockey will bring in Barry Melrose as the new coach. Barry Melrose has been an ESPN analyst for the past several years and has not coached in 13 years. Melrose was a moderately successful coach in Los Angeles ad may or may not be a worthy candidate, but the problem is he would be getting a chance to coach the team because he is a friend of Oren Koules. Friendship with the owner is a poor way to select coaches. It is an almost sure way to make a poor decision.

One problem with this move is that it makes the future power of Lightning GM Jay Feaster unclear. If the new owners can install a coach instead of him making the decision, what is his future with the team? What happens if ownership happens to become friendly with a potential general manager? Does Feaster have the power to make any big decisions or will ownership make them? Obviously, it makes more sense for a hockey man who was general manager of a Stanley Cup winning team to make the decisions than it does a movie producer, but it is not clear that will happen in the future.

The NHL is yet to approve the Lightning's sale to OK Hockey. However, this move appears to be made in the anticipation that the announcement will come soon. It is not clear that the OK Hockey group should run an NHL team. It is not clear that they have the money. The problem for the NHL is that Tampa Bay is not a strong franchise financially. It would be hard to find buyers who are willing to keep the team in Tampa. It is quite possible a buyer might want to move the team to greener pastures. The NHL does not want teams moved. They seem willing to accept sub-optimal ownership instead that will keep a team in place instead of better qualified ownership that would move the team (as a prime example see the Nashville Predators). Should the OK Hockey group purchase fall through, Tampa Bay would be a prime candidate for relocation. Should OK Hockey buy the team then run into problems down the road, again relocation seems quite possible. In the meantime, Tampa Bay has fired their coach. I hope the replacement coach is a well-reasoned qualified choice. It does not appear that this will be the case.

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