Keeping the Mullet's money: Tampa plays hardball with Melrose

The Tampa Bay Lightning snapped a nine-game losing streak last night, as Montreal natives Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis were booed by the Canadiens crowd while powering the Bolts to a surprising, borderline miraculous 3-1 victory.

Not that any of that matters this morning. Once again, the biggest story in Tampa hockey is off the ice. Once again, Barry Melrose and the team's wacky management are at the center of it.

TSN reported last night that the Lightning are "investigating legal grounds for withholding the remainder of Barry Melrose's contract with the team." Sources told Darren Dreger that Melrose's comments about No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos not being ready for the NHL are at the heart of the dispute because "the Lightning fear Melrose's comment may hinder Stamkos's marketing impact."

You know, more than Stamkos's 12 points in 29 games, short-circuiting the seasons for Ryan Malone and Radim Vrbata, minus-12 and complete elimination from the Calder Trophy race have hindered his marketing ...

Where do the Bolts get off attempting this? From Kevin Schultz at the aptly named Barry Melrose Rocks:

The general legalese of the subject is that a coach needs to be fired "for cause" in order to not pay them the remainder of what they are owed. So, for example, firing a coach for losing or being incompetent doesn't really cut it. Conduct detrimental to the organization, harassment or something along those lines would however.

Schultz points out that this sort of thing will be difficult to prove in a legal sense for the Lightning; and unless they're publicity masochists, they probably don't want a protracted legal squabble with a bitter ex-coach who also has a soapbox on something called ESPN.

It'll never come to that, because this feels like your garden variety cheap shot/debate point scored in a nasty airing of grievances. Like when Brian Burke played the tampering card against Kevin Lowe, for example.

Tampa's ownership will naturally get the "circus/classless/blah blah blah" treatment from the usual critics. The way I see it, Melrose has been making the rounds in the Canadian media, attempting to soothe his own epic failure as an NHL coach by disparaging Lightning personnel. Tampa goes to the mattresses and threatens to hit him in the wallet if he doesn't clam up. The ploy is preposterous, but it certainly ups the ante in the rhetorical war in a way that Melrose can't match.

Bottom line, as Leahy pointed out on Going Five Hole: After over a decade of being the hockey analyst equivalent of chloroform on ESPN, now Melrose gets interesting?  

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