I am not, nor have I ever been, a hockey coach in any sense of the word. But in reading this Damian Cristodero article from the St. Pete Times about Barry Melrose’s plan for the Lightning, I feel like I’d do an okay job with an NHL job.
His big plan to right the Tampa Bay ship is pretty simple. Well, actually it’s shockingly simple.
Step one: Play your best players less.
Martin St. Louis averaged more than 24 minutes a game last year, and Lecavalier averaged just under 23. Melrose said they played anywhere from three to five minutes too much per night. In St. Louis’ case, I agree that almost 25 seems like a lot. In fact, it was the most of any forward by close to 30 seconds a night. Brad Richards, who played with St. Louis for most of his time in Tampa, was second at 23:27, followed by Alex Ovechkin at 23:06. A good four minutes too many for St. Louis, even if he did see time in all situations, and Tampa took a decent amount of penalties last year.
But getting Lecavalier’s minutes down to 20 or less is crazy. The team has no one besides Lecavalier to play in his place. Who picks up those minutes? Gary Roberts? Steven Stamkos? Ryan Malone? Eh, that’s not too good of a substitute.
Both will see their shorthanded minutes drop considerably to cover this, which would be fine except St. Louis averaged 1:46 shorthanded a night, and Lecavalier only had 1:33. Even if those numbers dropped to nil, they’re still losing 2ish minutes a night at even strength or (if Melrose is actually as stupid enough) on the power play.
Melrose calls this “resting,” I ask, “For what?” This isn’t a playoff-bound team, or anything like one. Too many holes, too many projects. Playing your best players as much as they can possibly play doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. It’s not like they slowed down or had the ice time affect them too greatly. Both Lecavalier and St. Louis had better than a point a game.
Step two: Don’t dump and chase.
Again, just brilliant coaching here. The only teams that can get away with the dump and chase are teams with good defenses. Tampa doesn’t have one. Tortorella’s insistence on using it was none too bright, Melrose’s correction of that practice shouldn’t be hailed as anything less than correction of an obvious.
So instead, the plan is (wait for it) puck possession! It’s just so clever.
Here’s Melrose, the master analyzer, on why it will work: “If we have the puck, they can’t score.”
Step three: Play defense.
But what happens when they DO have the puck?
“I’m not going to accept bad pinches,” Melrose said. “I’m not going to accept two-on-ones against. I’m not going to accept bad judgment on defense.”
Saying it is one thing, executing it is another. The fact is that Tampa’s defense features five 23-year-olds and they’re going to make mistakes. Lots of them. That means bad pinches, bad giveaways, and odd-man rushes coming back the other way. Even if they’re encouraged not to jump into the play (and boy won’t Tampa be fun to watch this year if that’s the case?), they’ll still see a lot of forwards busting ass up-ice toward them.
So this is Barry Melrose’s three-part plan. Really.
Doesn’t it make you feel like all you need to do to coach is stand behind the bench in a suit?