The war of words between Tampa Bay Lightning co-owner Len Barrie and former coach Barry Melrose is continuing, with Barrie disputing Melrose's claims that he was told whom to play, and calling Melrose's preseason preparation "total negligence," according to the St. Petersburg Times.
Barrie, who owns the Lightning along with Oren Koules, said Wednesday that he did not want to continue the verbal feud with Melrose, who was fired on Nov. 14. However, Barrie said, "I wanted to stick up for our guys," according to the report.
In particular, according to the Times, Barrie said he wanted to defend rookie Steven Stamkos, who Melrose has said is not ready for the NHL.
"He didn't want Steven on this team from day one, and it was evident how he played him," Barrie said, according to the Times. "Everyone knows this kid is a star player."
Barrie said he never told Melrose to play Stamkos certain minutes, according to the report. "But I did say, 'Why not try Steven Stamkos on the point?' The kid's done it [in juniors] and played well back there."
Melrose, a former coach of the Los Angeles Kings, was an ESPN hockey analyst from October 1996 until leaving to join the Lightning in June. He will return to ESPN's hockey coverage beginning Jan. 1.
On Tuesday, Melrose told Toronto radio station The Fan 590 that "[Stamkos] is not ready for the NHL."
"Steven is going to be a good player ... right now he's just not strong enough physically to play against defensemen who are [6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4] that can skate as good as him," Melrose said.
Melrose also said during the radio interview: "I hope Tampa Bay doesn't win a game in the next year."
Barrie said he and Melrose "were never as close" as Melrose and Koules, who hired him, according to the report.
"But my thing is you're paid to do a job, and he didn't do it from day one. How he came in and prepared for this job was total negligence," Barrie said, according to the Times.
Barrie also challenged Melrose's assertion that the front office was telling him what to do and whom to play.
"I had guys in Tampa who wanted to run the team and I wouldn't let them. I was hired to coach and I coached," Melrose said on The Fan 590 on Tuesday. "I wasn't playing the right guys. I was playing certain guys too much, I wasn't playing other guys enough. Every day was a constant battle.
"Finally the guys in charge decided they wanted to coach and they got rid of me. That's what it comes down to. It obviously wasn't a hockey decision, because it's not like they've set the world on fire since they got rid of me. Now they've got guys in charge that let them do what they want and obviously that isn't working out very well either."
The Lightning have the worst record (6-14-8) and fewest points (20) in the league through Wednesday's games.
Barrie reacted to Melrose's comments later on Tuesday on the "In the Slot" program with Mike Ross and Phil Esposito on XM Radio.
"I told Barry Melrose about five or six things in the whole eight weeks I was there and he didn't listen to one," Barrie said on XM Radio. "Maybe Barry should have listened every once in a while because he lost the team fast. Go ask the players, don't sit here and ask me."