The Esposito Era is over in Tampa Bay.
In a surprise move Tuesday, the team with the NHL's worst record last season fired Hall of Famers Phil and Tony Esposito in a front office shakeup by owner Art Williams.
Coach Jacques Demers, who shared responsibility for personnel decisions equally with Phil Esposito, will replace his former colleague as general manager. He will hire an assistant GM to fill Tony Esposito's vacancy.
Don Murdoch, the team's head scout, will become the director of player personnel -- a title previously held by Demers.
"In our situation right now, I just feel like the head coach having the ability to handle both of those jobs gives us what we need," Williams said. "That might not be what we do long range, but right now it's absolutely the best way to go."
Phil Esposito, who had been with the team since its inception seven seasons ago, generally is regarded as the man who brought the NHL to Florida.
He lobbied for the expansion franchise, put the team together and sold the game to fans who had limited exposure to hockey. He gradually watched his influence diminish after Williams purchased the team earlier this year.
Although the decision to dismiss him and his brother caught Phil off guard, he insisted he leaves the team with no hard feelings.
"It's the nature of the business," Esposito said by telephone. "I'm not mad. The only thing I regret is not being able to continue bringing the franchise around."
Williams bought the team from Japanese-owned Kokusai Green for $117 million in June. Many of the franchise's problems have been blamed on tight budgets the Lightning operated under the past six seasons.
One of the new owner's first acts was to increase the payroll budget by $6 million for this season. In addition, he said he would retain the current front office structure for a year to give Esposito and Demers a chance to turn the franchise around.
Williams said Tuesday the decision to as the general manager and coach to equally share responsibility for personnel and other decisions was a mistake.
"Early on I could see it just wasn't working right. As the weeks rolled along, there was tremendous conflict," Williams said. "I saw Jacques questioning Phil, Phil questioning Jacques and just things you can't do. You got to have one leader. There's got to be one person responsible and we didn't have that."
Tampa Bay (0-1-1) finished last season with a 17-55-10 record, by far the poorest in the league.
Before joining the Lightning, Phil Esposito was general manager of the New York Rangers from 1986-88. Tony Esposito was GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1988-89 before coming to Tampa in 1991.
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