"I have friends, and I value my friends. But when it comes to evaluations and performance, I always have to set that aside. In some cases, like this one, I will remove some people from the process so they don't have to deal with that," Lawton said. "I like that our coaches are a close-knit group. I think that's a real strength. But I still have to evaluate them as a group and individually.
"That may not always sit well, but that's part of my job, and I cannot hide."
The dismissal of Wes Walz was not personal, it was business... And while that may be the ultimate truth, it's the bungled execution of the operation that has put the entire Lightning organization on the hot seat.
You can get on Brian Lawton for a lot of things over this -- but it comes down to execution and how it was handled. By reports from head coach Rick Tocchet and Walz himself, the decision was carried out by Lawton alone. Revealed on Tuesday, carried out formally on Wednesday.
No prior discussion, no sharing the facts, no coordinated meeting of a moving-forward strategy. And from the above quote, you'd think Lawton was trying to prove himself valuable to owner-in-waiting Jeff Vinik, who has made a reputation of keeping emotions out of financial business dealings.
The problem is, even in business, you need to operate as a team. Especially in sports. You are not calling the shots alone in operation of a sports team, which was one of the fatal flaws of OK Hockey's approach to franchise management: the lone-wolf syndrome that got them labeled as cowboys.
The thing is, for all who are pointing out that this seems like a horrible move by Lawton, no one has explained just how a properly handled transaction should have been done. Fans and pundits can argue if any type of change was / is needed with the Bolts in order to make the playoffs. That was something that Lawton and staff should have decided together.
The Olympic break started on February 15th for the Lightning, and no practices or team activities were scheduled for more than a week. That was when Lawton, Tocchet, Walz, Rick Wilson, Adam Oates, and others in the organization should have conducted a private meeting at Times Palace and evaluated where they stand as a team and evaluated what they need to accomplish their playoff goal.
If Lawton had been sitting on this idea to promote Jim Johnson to the big club for a while, it should have discussed in that fictional staff meeting that never happened. Not by just saying "Ok, I'm going to make this change" but making the case about how poorly the Lightning have performed on the penalty kill and that liability for which Walz was responsible.
They'd talk about options, not just bringing in Johnson and demoting Walz, But hearing out all the ideas from the staff about what could be changed and what / who should be targeted at the deadline. Could a strategy change? Is it one coaching habit or another that needs to be tweaked? How do we address this weak area of play?
You do not fly alone on this. That's not how a business operates.
A number of constructive things could have been decided or realized in a meeting as such, and surely having it well before practices resumed would help coaches to devise their new strategy or ready themselves for changes.
If you do not have confidence in your coaching staff to begin with, a change should have been undertaken long before this point. If you think Tocchet, Wilson and others could not take a change unless it was forced upon them, it is obvious that the issue isn't a single assistant, but a direction in coaching entirely.
In a situation like this, though, mean what you say and say what you mean... And do it at a point that is not detrimental to the club. To wait until the last minute to make a change - be it firing Walz, or Tocchet himself - puts the entire staff of coaches and players in disarray.
Ultimately, sports are a business. A cold, hard fact that has to be repeated. And it's worth repeating that while the Walz firing looks like cold business -- it's just a cold move in how it was handled, and has put the entire front office and coaching staff's future at risk.