ALSO ON SLAM!
HOCKEY NOTETuesday, October 13, 6:26 PM
(ADDING INFORMATION, QUOTES) *Lightning fire GM Phil Esposito; coach Demers doubles up as GM* ---------------------------------------------------------------- TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- The Tampa Bay Lightning today made what they hope is the final move in stabilizing the franchise, replacing general manager Phil Esposito with head coach Jacques Demers. Just five days into the regular season, the Lightning fired the only GM in their history and handed the dual role of coach-general manager to Demers, who was hired by Esposito last November. The Lightning also fired Tony Esposito -- Phil's brother -- as director of hockey development and scouting and promoted head scout Don Murdoch to director of player personnel, one of Demers' posts as of May 18th. The announcements were made by owner Art Williams at an afternoon news conference at the Ice Palace. "(We needed) a major change in the hockey operation to keep moving forward," said Williams, who purchased the team May 18th from a nearly invisible Japanese ownership group. "We had to pick one leader to build our hockey operation -- not a hockey coach with 50 percent and GM with 50 percent, it just didn't work." Included in the team's plan of "moving forward" was the selection of future star Vincent Lecavalier with the top overall pick in this year's draft. The team also welcomed back veteran center John Cullen, who has beaten cancer, and will host All-Star Weekend in January. "I saw some things that were not working," Williams explained. "If we delay the decision, that's killing our future. These are major decisions." Phil Esposito, a member of the NHL Hall of Fame, helped bring hockey to Tampa in 1992 and was responsible for building the Lightning's lone playoff team in 1995-96. But Tampa Bay finished with the league's worst record last season, 17-55-10, and fired its only coach -- Terry Crisp -- on October 26th, 1997. Demers, a proven winner who guided the Montreal Canadiens to the 1993 Stanley Cup, was handed the reigns 17 days later. A former coach in the World Hockey Association, Demers broke into that league in 1979-81 as Quebec Nordiques coach. He went on to hold the same post with the St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings and Canadiens. While with Detroit, Demers became the only coach in league history to claim consecutive Jack Adams awards as the coach of the year (1987-88). Demers, a first-time GM, worked with Phil Esposito this past offseason, acquiring a mix of veterans to blend with the team's existing young players. They traded for goaltender Bill Ranford and playmaking center Craig Janney and signed free-agent forwards Wendel Clark and Benoit Hogue. "Phil and I worked well together," Demers said. "But we all have different theories on how to run a hockey team." "I don't think there's been a day in the last five months that it hasn't become obvious to me this plan was not working," Williams added. "The complaint I heard last year was that our players quit. I thought our players quit in the third period in Ft. Lauderdale the other night. The Lightning have stumbled out of the gate in 1998-99, losing 4-1 to the Florida Panthers on Friday before rallying for a 4-4 tie with the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.