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Barry-melrose
Barry Melrose won't pretend he has no hard feelings.
AP

Now we know why the Tampa Bay Lightning hired Barry Melrose as their coach despite the fact that Melrose was nothing more than a talking head on ESPN for the past 13 years after his last NHL head coaching job.

They wanted him to be nothing more than a figure head.

Unfortunately for them, Melrose actually wanted to coach and that is the biggest reason he was fired just 16 games into this season with a 5-7-4 record. The Lightning have only won one of their last 11 games since firing Melrose.

"I had guys in Tampa that wanted to run the team, and I wouldn't let them," Melrose told the Fan 590 in Toronto on Tuesday. "Every day was a constant battle and finally the guys in charge decided that they wanted to coach and they got rid of me and that's what's it come down to. Obviously it wasn't a hockey decision because it's not like they've set the world on fire since they got rid of me. It was a decision made because I was running the team and that's the way I am and now they have guys in charge that let them do what they want and obviously that's not working out either."

Melrose's salvo was a direct shot at Lightning ownership, particularly Len Barrie, whom Melrose never got along with, and current Lightning coach Rick Tochet, who is probably just happy to have a head coaching job in the NHL after his involvement in a gambling investigation led to a two-year absence that included a suspension by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

While Melrose is often jovial and humorous on television, he was dead serious when he said later in the interview that he's happy that Tampa Bay has won just once since he left. "I hope Tampa Bay doesn't win a game the rest of the year," he said.

The biggest problem for Melrose outside the front office was that he was never able to connect with his players. "I never really got close to any players in Tampa, where as the other teams I coached I was always a player's coach, I really cared about my players, and the team in Tampa I can really say there were only a couple players I actually cared for on that team," said Melrose. "It was a weird team. It wasn't a Barry Melrose-type team and obviously it didn't work out very well."

He left some of his strongest criticism for heralded No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos, whom management wanted Melrose to play more but who has actually played fewer minutes since Melrose was fired.

"Steven's not ready for the NHL. He's just not strong enough right now physically," said Melrose. "Right now Steven's not a great NHL player by any stretch of the imagination."

While Melrose's return to the NHL was short-lived his no-holds-barred, 11-minute interview on Tuesday showed why he belongs in front of the camera and on the airwaves instead of behind the bench on a last place team. He is hockey's version of Charles Barkley in the States (sorry, Don Cherry still resides on the CBC), only he is an infinitely more valuable ambassador for the league devoid of any real personalities.

If he can finally get the "World Wide Leader" to cover the NHL for more than just a couple minutes a night when he returns to Bristol in 2009, he will have already made more of an impact on the league than if he had led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final, as impossible as both of those scenarios may sound.

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