Thursday, August 16, 2007


TV, Halls, Pollock, and Why Tocchet Needs to Go

No, the Devils didn't do anything. However, a number of things in the hockey world are worthy of noting and reading about while stroking your chin and going "Hmmmm." Therefore, let's, uh, note it and read about while mulling.

First and foremost, the NHL has announced it's national television schedule set-up for the upcoming season. VERSUS, NBC, HDNet, and the CBC will all remain as the providers of national coverage of the greatest sport on Earth. While VERSUS seems to have a set schedule to start the season, the NHL on NBC will run on a flexible schedule for the 9 dates the channel will air hockey. The best part about this flexible schedule is that the decision for what will be carried nationally will be made 13 days before the date - giving the teams plenty of time to prepare and the league to make any other changes to the schedule. HDNet will remain on a flexible schedule, but will update it twice a month to keep track on trends in the league. Personally, as a viewer, a flexible schedule is a good way to ensure that the better teams or the better matchups get the proper coverage. Especially considering past national coverage deals where it seemed like the Rangers or the Detroit Red Wings were getting national coverage every other date.

Second, guess what these three people have in common: Aaron Broten, Bobby Carpenter, John Vanbiesbrouck. Yes, all three played for the New Jersey Devils at one point or another (for a considerable amount of time in the cases of Broten and Carpenter). Those three, along with John MacInnis, will be enshrined into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame this fall. The New Jersey Devils' official website has a summary of this information, giving you ample reasons as to why these three were selected for induction. staff writer Evan Grossman also has a more general and complete article about the four selections. Congratulations to Broten, Carpenter, MacInnis, and Vanbiesbrouck for being honored.

Third, it is a sad day in the world of hockey. A legendary member of the Montreal Canadiens, Sam Pollock, passed away at the age of 81. Pollock will be most remembered for being the most accomplished general manager in hockey and in all of sports. He was the architect of the dominant Montreal teams of the 1960s and 1970s, winning 9 Stanley Cups in his tenure as a general manager. Condolences to the Canadiens organization and Pollock's friends and family.

Fourth, the NHL Fanhouse is always filled with interesting stories and opinions about the game of hockey - even in the offseason. You should read it regularly. However, I would like to highlight former Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet. As you may or may not be aware, Tocchet was involved in an illegal betting operation on other sports and was caught earlier this year. As Eric McErlain's post notes that the sentencing for Tocchet's trial comes at the end of this week - just as disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy will plead guilty to betting on NBA games where he was a referee. Basically, things don't look good for Tocchet unless he is absolved of these charges and McErlain believes that Tocchet's days with the NHL are done. Jes Golbez, also of the NHL Fanhouse, argues that as long as Tocchet is not going to jail, he should be allowed to coach again in the league. Golbez dismisses the assertion that gambling on sports should not a big deal and burns quite a bit of straw from my perspective. More relevant to Tocchet's situation, Golbez doesn't buy that the assistant head coach could affect the integrity of the games:
"The integrity of the games is at risk"
What a crock! How, exactly, can Tocchet influence the game enough to profit as a gambler or bookie? He's an assistant coach, and holds very little power over what happens on the ice. If he was making such terrible on-ice decisions, you know Gretzky would either fire him, or the mainstream media would be all over him. The players on the ice, and the refs, hold a great deal of control over the game. An assistant coach does not.

Need I remind you that 1. nobody was gambling on NHL games in this ring, nor do they tend to in general, and 2. Tocchet, himself, never bet on any games. Tocchet profited on OTHER people betting on OTHER sports. How, then, does this affect the integrity of ye olde NHL tilt?

Now that Tocchet is under such scrutiny, do you really think he could ever get away with any activity to 'fix' a game? If he makes ONE questionable line change, you can be sure the media will be all over him like lawyers at an accident scene.
Now, I can't agree with this at all. For starters, it is possible for the assistant head coach to have quite a bit of power behind the bench. Lou Lamoriello may have stepped in to be the head coach after Claude Julien was fired, but assistant coach John MacLean was controlling the line-changes and match-ups among other tasks. I don't know the coaching situation in Phoenix too well, but it is most definitely possible that the assistant coach can have some control. Even in an advisory role, it's entirely possible Tocchet could persuade Wayne Gretzky to play a different match-up or a different line or a lesser player when it is really for his own - or someone else's - benefit. Furthermore, it's entirely possible that while the betting ring Tocchet was involved in didn't bet on hockey, some people in that ring may know some people in other similar set-ups who do bet on hockey. And it's entirely possible that a friend of a friend of someone in said ring could just ask Tocchet to provide some information, to get a little inside knowledge just for knowing's sake that could be passed on for betting purposes. I don't know how plausible that is - for all I know, betting rings are exclusive as exclusive gets - but one doesn't need to bet on hockey to risk the game's integrity. Just providing asymmetrical information or being in a position inside the game can do a significant amount of damage.

Integrity, in general, is very fragile and even the appearance of malfeasance can ruin it. This isn't like soccer in Italy where match-fixing can be uncovered and people would still go to games or like baseball where a manager can be caught betting on baseball games and people would still follow it like it was a great sport. Hockey isn't that popular here and something like this could do a lot to hammer nails into the proverbial coffin (or more nails, depending on how you feel about the sport in this country). The NHL does not need this and they are in a position to do something about it now before it gets worse.

That said, I agree with the main thesis of Greg Wyshynski's post - something Golbez was (sort of) responding to in his post - at the NHL Fanhouse. Because of what's has happened to the NBA now, the NHL needs to nip a similar situation in the bud by barring Rick Tocchet from hockey. Wyshynski is entirely correct that the fact that Tocchet was in a situation where he could provide inside information or be in a position to try and affect a game for his or someone else's benefit - not betting on hockey at all - puts the game and the league at a great risk. Where I disagree with Wyshynski is how long should Tocchet be barred: he thinks at least season would suffice. If the NHL really wants to make an example out of Tocchet, they should bar him for life. That may be too harsh, but so is discrediting the NHL. Personally, I think a five year ban will do just as well as a punishment - five years in that is the maximum amount of jail time Tocchet could serve.

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