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Rick Tocchet: A Pick Worse Than Barry Melrose

R DixterContributor IMay 18, 2009

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 17:  Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet of the Phoenix Coyotes looks on from the bench area during their NHL game against the Los Angeles Kings on December 17, 2005 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Juan Ocampo/Getty Images)

Rick Tocchet is the worst choice the Bolts could have made.

On May 11, the Tampa Bay Lightning removed the title of interim and named Rick Tocchet as their full time head coach. 

That makes about as much sense as letting Michael Jackson babysit your kids, or not passing to Alex Ovechkin on a two-on-one. 

You would think that the Bolts, a team that has had nothing but problems in that last few years, would turn around and look for a fresh start, but that ideas seems to be farther away than Jon and Kate’s ninth child. Ever since John Tortorella led the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2004, they have been sliding down faster than a hot dog at Nathan’s Coney Island eating competition.

This past season seemed like it would be the one where the team would turn it around.  Bringing in Barry Melrose to coach was a novel idea, but his style didn’t mesh with the team.  It seemed his hard coaching approach was too much for some of the players, and they didn’t want to rumple their tutus. 

After going 5-7-4, Melrose was let go and Rick Tocchet was named interim head coach.  That makes perfect sense, right?  As Wayne Campbell likes to say, NOT! 

What was the matter, Bolts?  Were you just too lazy to go find a real head coach so you just promoted your assistant coach? 

Now, I’m not saying Tocchet is a bad coach with bad ideas, I’m just saying he’s wasn’t the right choice then and he’s not the right choice now to lead this team.  Rick had a stellar career as a player, even getting his name scrawled on the Stanley Cup (it’s somewhere in the back under T). 

But we’re all aware of the baggage that has followed him in his coaching career.  In 2006, he was accused of financing a nationwide sports gambling ring.  Now as someone who has never been able to play beyond the Pee Wee level, even I know that as a professional athlete you never want to be anywhere close to being linked to gambling.  I mean, you want to be farther apart than Elton John and Renate Blauel on their wedding night. 

In 2007, Tocchet plead guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling and received two years probation.  I don’t want this to turn into a debate about giving felons a second chance, and putting their past behind them.  That’s not the point. 

The point is that Tocchet’s past is baggage and a public distraction that the Bolts do not need at this point in trying to figure out why and how to rebuild this team.  If Rick was named head coach of Detroit, his guilty plea would not even be a mention.

But putting aside Tocchet’s past indiscretions (although I feel that word might apply better to someone dropping their pants in public and not someone running a gambling ring), what’s his history coaching the Bolts?  He went 19-33-14 as the interim head coach. 

That’s a 29-percent winning percentage.  Melrose had a 32-percent winning percentage.  Granted Tocchet coached more games, but he still was never able to turn that team around after Melrose left. 

Blaming the problems on the players is not the answer either.  If your team has Lecavalier, St. Louis, and the top-overall draft pick, you should be able to compete.  The problem lies in the coaching. 

The Penguins had similar problems.  For whatever reason they were not producing, so they sent Therrien packing and brought in Bylsma, who turned that team around faster than a Cher divorce, and made them into the team everyone saw on paper.  The Pens then dropped the interim title, and offered Bylsma a contract as the head coach.

Making Rick Tocchet the head coach in Tampa is not going to solve their problems.  Between their lazy play, the weird media coverage of possible Lecavalier trades, and now signing a proven losing head coach to run the team, Tampa should get used to their position at the bottom of the league.

So what’s the answer?  Short of hiring Scotty Bowman, bring back Barry Melrose and let him run that team with an iron fist.  Hey superstar, you don’t want to hustle your ass on the ice?

You’re benched.  Melrose would whip those guys into shape over time (he needs a little longer than 16 games), or trade them all for players who see things his way.

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