Tampa Bay Lightning
Bolts, Tocchet make progress in contract talks
TAMPA - Rick Tocchet and Lightning general manager Brian Lawton are progressing toward a new contract that would remove Tocchet's "interim'' tag as head coach and place him behind the Tampa Bay bench this fall. Lawton and Tocchet met Thursday evening and an official announcement could come next week. Tocchet took over 16 games into the season after the Lightning fired Barry Melrose. Though the team was 19-33-14 and won only one of its final 10 games under Tocchet, the players seemed to respond to his coaching style. While trade rumors continue to swirl around Vincent Lecavalier, the New York Post is suggesting Rangers coach John Tortorella will make a big push to acquire Martin St. Louis from Tampa Bay this summer.The Rangers, who were just eliminated by the Capitals in Game 7 after owning a 3-1 series lead, need an offensive catalyst and St. Louis earned league MVP honors in 2003-04, when Tortorella guided the Lightning to a Stanley Cup championship. Any deal involving St. Louis is highly unlikely, however, especially with Tocchet being retained as head coach. Tocchet continually praised St. Louis last season as a dedicated warrior and credited the 33-year-old winger with accelerating the development of top draft pick Steven Stamkos. St. Louis and Stamkos are flourishing together at the World Championships in Switzerland, where Team Canada has never trailed in four games while outscoring the opposition 27-5. With four goals and seven assists, St. Louis leads all tournament scorers and Stamkos has added five goals and two assists. The Lightning teammates each boast a plus-6 mark as Canada heads into games against Norway and Finland to complete the qualifying round. After Stamkos scored twice in a 5-1 triumph against the Czech Republic, former NHL superstar Jaromir Jagr was duly impressed. "I didn't know he was that good,'' said Jagr, who played in the Russian League last season while Stamkos set a franchise record for the Lightning with 23 goals as a rookie.