Puck the Media’s Top Ten Hockey Stories of the Year, #10: The Mis-Adventures of Oren Koules and Len Barrie in Tampa Bay

Welcome to Puck the Media’s “Top Ten Hockey Stories of the Year”, which will run over the next couple weeks, counting down each of the big headlines that defined 2008 in hockey.

What the Tampa Bay Lightning needed at the start of this calendar year was a solid, capable starting goaltender, and perhaps another top four defenseman.  They were down and out in the Eastern Conference race near the end of the 2007-08 season, but most certainly any team that can build off Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Marty St. Louis and Dan Boyle and a potential #1 draft pick must not be too far away, right?

Clearly, they weren’t, at least some of the folks at the top felt.  Jay Feaster traded Richards for Dallas Stars backup Mike Smith and recently waived Jussi Jokinen and spare parts.  Amazing how that trade really flopped for both teams, eh?  More on the other side later in the countdown, though.  Feaster and then coach, John Tortorella, were fired after the season when Bill Davidson sold the Lightning to Saw/Two and a Half Men producer Oren Koules and former NHLer Len Barrie, and so began one of the more bizarre Summers in any franchise’s history, let alone one that started off with Phil Esposito and a group of Japanese businessmen running it.

Koules and Barrie kind of blew things up, but they started off with – and still have, in my opinion – good intentions.  They knew they wanted Sarnia Sting forward Steven Stamkos to be the future, and supplement Lecavalier and St. Louis after Richards was traded.  Whether you agree with that fact, in itself, or not, is irrelevant.  The fact is, well before the draft, they knew this kid was the future.  So they began promoting him unlike any other undrafted prospect had ever been before, with “Seen Stamkos” billboards and bumper stickers everywhere, linking curious Tampa hockey fans to a website that showed off his moves.  More on Stamkos later, though.

Now here’s where the Koules/Barrie logic got a little weird.  They decided that, to guide this team, completed with already established stars, newly signed – some might say over-the-hill – veterans (Mark Rechhi, Gary Roberts) and the #1 pick in the draft, they needed Barry Melrose to coach them.  That’s right, Barry Melrose.  Mullethead from TV Land.  Hasn’t coached a game of hockey in nearly a decade and a half.  But no problem, he’ll adjust in no time.

But that wasn’t it for the Lightning.  They also signed Ryan Malone to a massively bloated contract.  They traded Boyle, a move considered so blatantly wrong that Boyle called them out for their lack of professionalism in the press.  They signed Marek freaking Malik to be a top pair d-man.  They eventually would trade away the only decent piece they got in return for Boyle, Matt Carle, to the Flyers.

I don’t think you needed to have watched or read a second or a page of hockey this season to know that this failed on an 808’s and Heartbreaks level.  Nice try by some decently talented people, but in the end… no thanks.  The Lightning are currently exactly where they were when 2008 began.  Headed for another lottery pick, with an underperforming Lecavalier and St. Louis, and utter chaos going on from within.

Problem is, you can’t fire the owner.

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