BARRY MELROSE | Tampa Bay’s new coach
The NHL’s free-agency period begins July 1, so expect movement in the calm before the story as teams shore up their restricted free agents.
I’ll be posting major goings-on from around the league and details about what’s up with the Hurricanes as the summer progresses…
First the big new today: Barry Melrose, a commentator for ESPN who led the Los Angeles Kings to the NHL finals as a coach in 1993, was officially introduced at the bench boss of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Melrose becoming coach has been widely speculated and was probably the worst secret in the league, and his popularity will certainly help the Lightning – the NHL’s worst team last year – draw crowds on the road.
Melrose, who turns 52 on July 15, led the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers to a Memorial Cup title in his first year as coach in 1988. In 1992, he guided the Adirondack Red Wings of the American Hockey League to a Calder Cup championship.
In his first season as an NHL coach, in 1992-93, he guided a Wayne Gretzky-led club to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history, where they fell in five games to the Montreal Canadiens. Melrose coached three seasons in Los Angeles, from 1992-93 through 1994-95, compiling an 82-103-31 record.
Melrose replaces John Tortorella, who was fired June 3. Tortorella guided the Lightning to four playoff appearances and the 2004 Stanley Cup in his 6½ seasons behind the bench. Joining Melrose behind the bench will be assistants Rick Tocchet, formerly Gretzky’s assistant with the Phoenix Coyotes, and recently-retired Minnesota Wild center Wes Walz.
Melrose played 300 NHL games over six seasons as a defenseman with Winnipeg, Toronto and Detroit, and played three seasons with Cincinnati in the WHA (1976-79).
Melrose had been working in a variety of hockey-related roles for ESPN since 1996, including contributions on SportsCenter, ESPN Radio and ESPN The Magazine.
Closer to home…
TUOMO RUUTU signed a one-year contract with the Hurricanes today for $2.25 million. Ruutu’s signing became a necessity when the Hurricanes failed to reach an agreement with Darcy Hordichuk, the rights to whom the Hurricanes acquired for a draft pick last week. The Hordichuk trade was made as an insurance move in case Ruutu wasn’t signed.
Ruutu, 25, was acquired by Carolina from Chicago on Feb. 26 in exchange for former first-round pick Andrew Ladd, who himself just signed a new contract with the Blackhawks. Ruutu finished the 2007-08 season with 10 goals, 22 assists (32 points) and 91 penalty minutes in 77 games played with the Blackhawks and Hurricanes.
If the Hurricanes are indeed unable to sign Hordichuk, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent a week from today.
ZACH BOYCHUK was the Hurricanes’ top pick in this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft, coming 14th overall.
Boychuk, who played last season with the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, led all WHL skaters in 2008 with 13 playoff goals as Lethbridge won three postseason series and the WHL’s Eastern Conference title before falling to the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL finals. The 18-year-old finished the 2007-08 regular season ranked second among Lethbridge skaters with 72 points, tied for second with 33 goals and led the team with a plus-26 plus/minus rating despite playing in just 61 of the Hurricanes’ 72 regular-season games. A native of Calgary, he played in all seven of Team Canada’s games en route to its fourth consecutive gold medal at the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships.
DAVID TANABE and JEFF HAMILTON, two of last season’s free agent signings, were placed on waivers by the Canes on Monday. The team intends to buy out the pair’s contracts.
With the NHL’s free-agent period a week away, the Carolina Hurricanes are cutting ties with two of last summer’s free-agent signings.
Hamilton was considered a great signing for the Hurricanes last year. They inked him to a two-year, $1.6 million contract last July after a great season with Chicago, but he didn’t produce offensively last season and, in addition to suffering from an injury, he was demoted to the American Hockey League for a short period.
Tanabe signed a two-year, $1.5 million contract just after last season began and played well before suffering a concussion a week before Christmas.