Updated: March 29, 2010, 5:14 PM ET

Tocchet's tough message; big names on bench

Burnside By Scott Burnside

1. Tough message from Tocchet

In a world of no-trade clauses and guaranteed contracts, what's a coach to do when his players stink? You do what Rick Tocchet did to his floundering Tampa Bay Lightning club Sunday.

According to our friends who cover the Lightning for a living, the Bolts coach made his team watch some tape of their grisly 7-1 loss to Buffalo on Saturday and then skated their, um, pucks off in a 75-minute torture session that included almost nonstop skating drills for much of the outing.

Good on Tocchet.

Some will suggest this is the act of a coach who knows the sand is running out in his hourglass in Tampa and he's got nothing left to lose. Maybe.

There is new ownership in town with Jeff Vinik now running things, and the team has pretty much played itself out of the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference thanks to performances like the debacle against Buffalo. Many believe both GM Brian Lawton and Tocchet will be gone shortly after the regular season ends in less than two weeks.

It certainly hasn't gone particularly well on a number of fronts in Tampa this season and it's clear Tocchet and captain Vincent Lecavalier aren't on the same page. But under Tocchet's watch, Steven Stamkos has elevated his play to a point where he has become one of the most dangerous players in the game.

Is that enough to give Tocchet another shot given this is his first full season as coach? If it was us, we'd show Lawton the door and give Tocchet a chance to make things right with Lecavalier and get the team out of the blocks in a reasonable fashion next season.

2. We're not Martin fans, but ...

Now, we have never been overly positive about the work done by Montreal coach Jacques Martin.

We thought he was overrated in Ottawa, where the Senators always seemed to find a way to blow a tire (usually against a less talented Toronto team), and didn't like how things went down in Florida, where he was part of the coup in which Mike Keenan was fired, and pushed himself into a coaching/GM role. And we didn't particularly like how Martin jumped ship before the draft last year to take on the Habs job. And we didn't really think Martin was an inspired coaching choice by former GM Bob Gainey in Montreal to boot.

In short, we're not fans.

That said, you've got to give Martin some credit for navigating the Habs through a bevy of critical injuries and the ongoing goaltending dilemma. (Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak? Discuss among yourselves.)

Although the Habs have stumbled over the last week or so, they should still be among the top eight in the Eastern Conference when the dust clears on April 11. They boast the second-best power play in the NHL and are especially potent on the road. Martin has also been able to get valuable production from up and down his forward lineup.

All Martin has to do now is somehow coax his Habs to a playoff-series victory and we'll be standing in line to buy the "Jacques Rules" T-shirts we're sure will be popular in Montreal if the Habs can pull off such an upset.

3. True test for Luongo

These final days of the regular season are always a bit difficult to handicap, especially for teams like Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver, which are locked into playoff spots.

Things sometimes look worse than they are because the urgency to win simply isn't there. It's human nature. Of course, if you're Chicago, and you're talking goaltending, well, that's a problem that isn't necessarily overstated regardless of how meaningless the games are at this stage of the season.

Which brings us to Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo, who took a rare home game off this week after looking shaky in a loss to Edmonton and talked to reporters about how he needs to be more consistent and how mentally and physically draining the past few months have been. Fair enough.

But these past few days have to make Vancouver fans more than a little nervous. Even though Luongo did manage to come on and help lead Canada to an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver last month, there remains a niggling doubt about the mental toughness of the Canucks' franchise netminder.

The Canucks are as good a team as there is in the Western Conference when Luongo is on. Would it surprise anyone if they marched to a conference final or beyond? No. But as good as the Canucks might be, unless Luongo's head is in the right space, they aren't good enough to beat a team like Detroit or Nashville, one of whom they'll likely draw in the first round, or frankly anyone else. Whether he finds that space will make for some interesting discussion between now and when the playoffs start.

Bottom line? Forget the Olympics; the first 10 days of this postseason will tell the real story of Luongo's mental toughness and may in fact go a long way in defining his career.

4. Big money on the bench

Speaking of netminders, there's an awful lot of money and hardware sitting on the pine in some top-notch NHL cities these days.

Defending Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas has been relegated to spot duty behind Tuukka Rask in Boston despite his $6 million price tag this season (his cap hit is $5 million). Chris Osgood, who has won 29 postseason games over the past two years in leading Detroit to a Stanley Cup in 2008 and Game 7 of last season's Cup finals, has watched rookie Jimmy Howard play 22 straight games for the streaking Wings.

Semyon Varlamov was supposed to be "the guy" for the Stanley Cup hopeful Washington Capitals this season after taking over for Jose Theodore one game into last season's playoffs, but it is Theodore who is making headlines. The Ottawa Senators are paying Pascal Leclaire $3.6 million this season and $4.8 million next year to essentially pat starting netminder Brian Elliott on the butt. (It's worth noting both Howard and Elliott were among the NHL's Stars of the Week on Monday.)

Price, once considered "the future" in Montreal, has taken a backseat to Halak as the Habs are driving to what would be a surprise playoff berth. And then there's the granddaddy of all expensive bench ornaments, Chicago's Huet, who was last seen getting torched for seven goals by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But here's the thing. Of all the goaltenders who came into the season as their team's starter and are now an afterthought, does anyone truly believe their respective coaches wouldn't make a move come playoff time at the smallest sign of a wobble? We don't think so, either.

As Detroit GM Ken Holland told us this week, if the playoffs started tomorrow, Howard would be their starter. "But the playoffs don't start tomorrow," he said.

Point taken.

5. Resolution in Phoenix?

It is possible the ownership picture in Phoenix will become clearer in the next couple of days. Sources tell ESPN.com that Glendale officials could examine a proposal for a revamped lease with potential owners Ice Edge Holdings in an in-camera session Tuesday evening. Former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods has also joined the Ice Edge Holdings group to assist in the discussions with the city of Glendale.

If the proposed changes, designed to improve revenue streams for both the team and the municipality, are approved by the committee, the proposal would then be taken to the full council for approval.

Sources told ESPN.com that once a new lease is approved, financing should quickly follow. There have been repeated reports the Ice Edge financing is on shaky ground, but officials with the ownership group have repeatedly told ESPN.com their financing is solid.

As for competing bids, including one from Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, it's unclear whether those proposals for a new lease would also be discussed Tuesday. Reinsdorf, who publicly opposed a tax proposal that would have helped the Chicago Cubs build a new facility in Mesa, is believed to be championing to establish a special tax district in the Glendale area to help fund his bid. Such tax proposals have received little support by state legislators in the past.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.


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