NHL Trade Deadline: Tampa Bay Lightning In Disarray As Deadline Comes

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIFebruary 26, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 16:  Head coach Rick Tocchet of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on November 16, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona. The Lightning defeated the Coyotes 4-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton has done it again. His team is in ninth in the Eastern Conference, just a single point out of the playoffs, yet he couldn't help himself.

The team had grown together, playing some excellent hockey in the third quarter of the season before a late slump before the Olympic break dropped them behind the pack. Yet the General Manager cares nothing for consistency, belief in a system, or chemistry.

The same General Manager who traded perennial all-stars Brad Richards and Dan Boyle for what amounted to a bag of hockey pucks decided to interject himself into the Lightning's locker room, firing associate coach Wes Walz and promoting one of his cronies, Jim Johnson, to Walz's position.

It's a shocking move, as head coach Rick Tocchet was not even consulted on the coaching staff change.

Think about that for a second folks—the head coach had no say in his coaching staff. Essentially Lawton took the legs out from underneath his head coach.

Who's running this team? The Glazers?

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So let me ask you this, Lightning fans—do you trust Brian Lawton with your trade deadline deals?

He's already ticked off the entire locker room by firing Walz, destroying whatever chemistry has been built under him during training camp and 61 games.

Do you trust him to bring a puck moving defenseman like Pittsburgh's Kris Letang or Chicago's Brian Seabrook?

Can he pull off a deal that nets a scoring winger to team with Vincent Lecavalier?

Does he have it in him to resist trading away Lecavalier? Or St. Louis?

The unfortunate thing for the Bolts is that ownership is in limbo and Lawton has been left to his own devices.

Tampa radio host Steve Duemig mentioned that when outgoing owner Oren Koules found out the shenanigans Lawton pulled yesterday he was completely shocked.

No one knows if incoming owner Jeffrey Vinik was consulted on the move.

As a truly X's and O's move, it is somewhat understandable. Walz was in charge of the team's floundering penalty kill, which slipped to 22nd in the league. Johnson was AHL Norfolk's interim head coach after the team canned Darren Rumble. He led the Admirals back into playoff contention, putting the team on a 13-2-2 run.

Still, you have to at least consult your head coach about what impact it would be to him and the team, shouldn't you?

Same goes for the NHL Trade Deadline. If he's willing to fire a coach on the staff without consulting a coach, how willing will he be to talk through potential trade options?

A general manager with no concept on how important chemistry is to a hockey team is a dangerous person to have in charge.

One thing's for certain, this is a big test for Head coach Rick Tocchet, who said late yesterday he's not sure what role Jim Johnson will play on the Lightning's coaching staff.

"I've got to think of different ways (to integrate Johnson) right now, because since I've been here, I've had new coaches fairly frequently," Tocchet told reporters, "It takes chemistry and we formed a really good chemistry here, so I have to find a way to best implement him to make the staff move on and the team."

You have to wonder if Tocchet didn't consider pulling a Tony Dungy, threatening to quit if Lawton made the move. Unfortunately it looks more likely that Tocchet was told after the deed was already done and there was nothing he could do about it.

Imagine if Lawton trades away Lecavalier or one of the other key components of the team.

The communication definitely isn't there between Lawton and Tocchet as this GM seems to believe his future with the franchise is tied to whether or not the team qualifies for the post-season.

"Ultimately, this is my decision," Lawton told reporters, "and Rick should not be held accountable for it. If it works very well, and it does give us that eight-finish difference, he should take all the credit. And if it doesn't work well, then I'm the one who made the decisions, and I should be crystal clear on that."

The only thing that is clear is this franchise's key front office guys may be at each other's throats as the March 3rd trade deadline quickly approaches.


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