TAMPA, Fla. Barry Melrose was hired as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, returning to the NHL after 12 years as a television analyst because he wants to be "on the inside again."
He replaces John Tortorella, who was fired June 3. The hiring of Melrose by the Lightning's new owners ends weeks of speculation concerning the former Los Angeles Kings coach.
Tortorella was dismissed four years after leading Tampa Bay to its only Stanley Cup championship. The Lightning missed the playoffs this spring for the first time since 2002, finishing with the league's worst record.
Melrose coached Los Angeles from 1992-95. He helped the Wayne Gretzky-led Kings to the Stanley Cup finals in his first season. He joined ESPN as an analyst in 1996.
"I wanted the challenge again. I wanted to find out if I can still do it," Melrose said during a news conference. "I miss it. I've missed it since I left. I miss, the term I use is having a dog in a fight. I'm not a bystander. I've never been a bystander in my life. I hate to be a guy on the outside looking in. I want to be on the inside again."
Hollywood producer Oren Koules and former NHL player Len Barrie are leading the group purchasing the Lightning for $206 million. They approached Melrose about two months ago and felt he was a perfect fit for Tampa Bay.
The decision to hire Melrose was the worst-kept secret in hockey. By the time Tortorella was dismissed, it was a foregone conclusion the job was his.
"Secrets from now on will be a lot better kept than this one," Melrose said.
Gretzky was asked about the expected return last weekend during the NHL draft in Ottawa.
"I think it's wonderful. I think it's a great opportunity for Barry. He's a tremendous coach, and he's a player's coach," Gretzky said.
"And just as important, he understands the media and understands the marketplace that he's in, Tampa Bay. It's not the same as being in a place like Montreal or Toronto. His experience of being in L.A. and dealing with that, this will be a real positive. He'll do a tremendous job."
Melrose inherits a team that Tortorella helped transform from a perennial last-place club into a league champion. The Lightning made the playoffs four consecutive seasons before falling short this year and feel they're not that far away from being a contender again.
The new owners have been negotiating a new contract extension for All-Star Vincent Lecavalier and said Monday they will be aggressive in free agency this summer to put players around No. 1 draft pick Steve Stamkos, who already has been penciled in to be Tampa Bay's second line center next season.
Gretzky said one of Melrose's strongest assests as a coach is dealing with players.
"He treats his role players with a great deal of respect. He treats those guys just as good as he treats his top players," Gretzy said. "I think that's a fine line and important because guys who don't play as much ... they need to have that reassurance that they're part of the team also."
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Ottawa contributed to this report.