The Tampa Bay Lightning have announced the firing of general manager Brian Lawton and head coach Rick Tocchet.  This isn’t really a surprising development; both were holdovers from the Barrie/Koules debacle and while neither can be fairly judged without inside knowledge of what decisions were theirs and what decisions were made by ownership, they didn’t experience success with the team.


Perhaps most damning was the relationship the two had with each other.  There was a clear sense that not all was right back in February, when Lawton fired assistant coach Wes Walz and replaced him with Norfolk coach Jim Johnson.  Tocchet was not consulted on the decision and made his objections known – not only privately, but also to the media.


Rather than choose between the two, Tampa Bay’s new owner Jeff Vinik opted for what he called a “fresh start” on the hockey operations side.  In his letter to Lightning fans, Vinik thanked both men for their work with the Lightning, and explained that once a CEO is chosen that man will select a general manager and that the G.M. will then pick his own head coach.


It’s a sensible decision, and certainly will make it easier for whoever ends up running hockey operations to ensure his strategy and goals are followed all the way down the line, by his people.


As for who the new general manager will be, there are plenty of options but the smart money right now seems to be on ex-Wild G.M. Doug Risebrough:


The Lightning’s in the process of hiring a CEO and then will hire the GM. I’ve been told for weeks that if Doug Risebrough wants the job, it’s his. When former Wild COO Jac Sperling was guiding the ownership process down there with Jeff Vinik, the two did an incredible amount of due diligence on the Lightning, not just behind the scenes, but the on-ice product. One of the people they talked with more than once was Doug Risebrough.


Risebrough would be a fine candidate, and an excellent choice for a quick turnaround; after all, his work with the Wild made them the most successful of the NHL’s recent expansion teams and he isn’t long removed from the general manager’s chair.


It’s impossible to know where this is going to go for the Lightning, but clearing the decks was a good start.