Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tocchet Drops Opener, But Covers Spread

A beautiful thing happened last week in Tampa Bay when the mulleted 13 year ESPN analyst and 16 game coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning Barry Melrose surrendered his post to convicted felon Rick Tocchet.

How often to you get to see a washed up analyst pass the coaching reins of a $200m sports franchise to a convicted felon on probation? Not often enough. Did Melrose get a fair shake? Probably not. Does anybody really care? Probably not.

Rick Tocchet skated fists first into the NHL in 1984, notching 440 goals and earning almost 3000 penalty minutes during his 18 year playing career. His coaching career commenced in Colorado in 2002, right around the time he started his illegal gambling ring with New Jersey State Trooper Harney and New Jersey businessman Ulmer. In 2005, Rick joined the coaching staff in Phoenix . . . And then the law came knocking. What followed is best presented in timeline fashion:

2/5/07 – Still an Assistant Coach of the Phoenix Coyotes
2/6/07 – Ordered to appear to answer to criminal charges
2/7/07 – NHL encourages a “leave of absence”
5/25/07 – Pleaded guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling
7/8/07 – Plays in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas
8/17/07 – Sentenced to two years probation
10/29/07 - Findings of NHL-commissioned investigation
2/6/08 – NHL reinstates Tocchet
2/7/08 – Back behind the bench in Phoenix
11/16/08 – Head coach of Tampa Bay Lightning

When the dust settled in Operation Slapshot, State Trooper Harney got locked up for five years, while Ulmer and Tocchet each drew two years of probation, basically a 1,051,200 minute unsportsmanlike minor that runs through August 17, 2009.

During his five year tenure as a leader of an illegal gambling ring, Rick placed thousands of bets totaling millions of dollars, including for the wife of Head Coach Wayne Gretzky and for his then boss GM Mike Barnett. Think of it as a momentary lapse in judgment that was repeated thousands of times over a five year period.

My personal favorite moment came when during his “leave of absence” while awaiting sentencing in New Jersey for criminal gambling charges, Tocchet traveled to Las Vegas and enter the World Series of Poker seemingly oblivious to the fact that Gary Bettman’s half brother Jeffrey Pollack is the Commission of the World Series of Poker.

Luckily for the Lightning, what Rick lacks in off-ice judgment, he makes up for in on-ice experience working over the executive ranks of the South East Division.