Canucks and Beyond

Tick-Tocchet: What Next?

05/28/2007 at 7:32pm EDT

imageThings have been quiet in the hockey universe leading up to the Stanley Cup Finals, but the wait is now over and the fun stuff starts tonight at 5pm PT.

Meanwhile, I know I’m a bit behind the times, but Ricky’s been on my mind… and I feel like pissing off probably more than half my readers.

What the hell. It’s Monday.

Rick Tocchet

When Rick Tocchet pled guilty to gambling charges last week, I was surprised but pleased. By doing so, he ended the worst of the largely misrepresented omg-gambling-in-hockey! freak out, and gave us hope that we can all move on.

A plea by Tocchet would likely mark the end of the case dubbed Operation Slapshot, which sent a shock through the National Hockey League when investigators said some of its top players and the wife of its greatest legend, Wayne Gretzky, had placed bets with the ring. Prosecutors have since said they do not plan to charge the gamblers, who authorities said wagered on football and basketball games.

However, this is the NHL… why move onto something pleasant when you can just slam your head into a wall repeatedly for fun? No reason at all. And so the debate quickly began about whether Tocchet should be permanently banned from the game, or if his plea bargain deal should give him a ticket back into the league somehow.

The Phoenix Coyotes seem to be waiting for the final word from the NHL on Tocchet’s future, which to this point has just been to grant him an “indefinite leave of absence” from the game while the case was pending. From the Coyotes (via TIB):

The Phoenix Coyotes will await the completion of the National Hockey League’s investigation and will support whatever decision the Commissioner may render regarding Mr. Tocchet’s status.

Alrighty then.

One supportive writer was Wayne Fish from Philly, who commented,

Hopefully there will come a day when Tocchet gets a second chance, at least to work in the game again.
He made a mistake, but unlike [Pete] Rose, owned up to it right away and realizes he has to change his ways.

Sweet Geezus… No way. I empathize with Tocchet and firmly believe that people should be able to earn their way back from mistakes. BUT this is the NHL which so many enjoy bashing enough already… why must we make it easier? Not to mention, he did cop to promoting sports gambling in the millions of dollars, while working in a professional sport.

I realize he wasn’t (and thank God) taking bets on hockey games, but this ain’t rocket science—the whole affair was a BIG no-no, regardless.

Contrasting Tocchet to Rose strikes me as particularly pointless. It’s comparing apples to oranges: Rose wants his plaque in the MLB HOF; Tocchet’s proponents want him to be front and center in the current game.

While I admit the common arguments against Tocchet’s return tend to be melodramatic and puritanical, such as the case presented here by Scott Bordow of the East Valley (Arizona) Tribune, they still have merit in the real world:

But there is one unforgivable sin: illegal gambling.
Even the whisper of a gambling scandal threatens the integrity of a sport.
The public understands that athletes are not role models. They accept their flaws.
But the popularity of sports is dependent on the games being fairly decided. Once that truth is violated, a sport is forever compromised.
Which is why former Coyotes assistant Rick Tocchet should be permanently banned by the NHL.

Or there’s Scott Burnside’s take at ESPN:

If Bettman has his wits about him, he will send a letter to Tocchet saying that his leave of absence from the game has morphed into a lifetime ban thanks to his guilty plea. No, Tocchet didn’t kill or maim anyone, but he worked for an NHL hockey club. At some point, it should have twigged that organizing an illegal gambling ring might have been a bad thing to do.

It’s a shame, too. Those who saw Tocchet work with the Phoenix Coyotes saw a man who had the potential to be a head coach someday. He was the in-your-face kind of guy Wayne Gretzky was counting on in his early days as a head coach. Tocchet was the kind of guy who made players accountable. What a waste.

And maybe they’re both right, though I don’t know how far I’d go with it all… perhaps Tocchet can find his future in the hockey media or even in the corporate side of NHL game? But don’t even think about putting him behind the bench again.

I wish the man luck. Everyone deserves a second chance to make the life they want and I hope he finds a satisfying career somehow in the hockey world. But this issue is about the NHL itself, not even much about Rick Tocchet.

I just think the reasoning for his departure from the front lines of the game is a no-brainer.

Update 3:12pm PT
In Gary Bettman’s press teleconference a few minutes ago, he was asked about the NHL’s decision re: Tocchet. He said that, until criminal sentencing comes down on Tocchet in August and an internal NHL investigator meets with the former assistant coach, no decision will be made about his future.

the graphic at top was made with the Custom Sign Generator. Because I’m a total geek.

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