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Hockey, hockey, hockey

February 8, 2006

Coyote Ugly

The big sports news breaking yesterday was Operation Slapshot cracking an alleged gambling ring linked to Phoenix Coyotes’ assistant coach Rick Tocchet and the mob. It is said that Tocchet fronted the money for said operation, and that up to six current NHL players could be known to place bets with the group. Another notable name leaked and supposed to have placed bets was Janet Jones, perhaps better known these days as Wayne Gretzky’s wife. Tocchet is scheduled for arraignment in the next two weeks.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. People are still talking about Pete Rose and his problems with baseball after more than fifteen years. While it wouldn’t be argued that Tocchet is one of the best players in NHL history, his boss Wayne Gretzky is. There is no speculation at this point that The Great One had any knowledge or doings with the racket, but the relationship between Gretzky and Tocchet is surely one that will be explored in the investigation. Hockey cannot suffer a public relations blunder over this situation, not in the tenuous days following the yearlong lockout. The NHL should set an example and suspend Tocchet immediately until the trial is finished. Regarding the players who allegedly placed bets, perhaps judgement should be reserved until it has been determined if the betting was in fact illegal. To many, that may seem like a foregone conclusion but here is a situation where haste may not be the best choice. Tocchet has had his time in the NHL as a player, and because of his supposed role in the gambling ring he should be suspended. While not being able to coach will hinder him from maintaining his current lifestyle, suspending a current NHL player without proof of wrongdoing could rob that player of productive time in his playing career and irreparable damage to his reputation. If the players in question are deemed in a court of law (rather than one of opinion) to have committed a crime, there will be time and venue to punish them appropriately. If no penalties are assessed prematurely, it could be unnecessarily ugly.

Doug MacLean: Genius, illusionist, or layman?

When the city of Columbus was awarded an NHL franchise in 1997, there was much excitement. When it was announced that Doug MacLean as President and GM, most received the news with great joy. MacLean had led the nascent Florida Panthers to a Stanley Cup Final as a coach. Many hoped he could do the same for Columbus. While the Jackets have not yet achieved the successes of Florida (or for that matter, Nashville and Minnesota), they are still a relatively young franchise. There is sentiment in the Columbus media that the GM (and interim coach of the team for one year) is generally a pretty smart guy, who is leading the organization in the right direction. As an avid consumer of the local media, I’ve been inclined to believe the analysis. Taking a more objective look, I’m inclined to at least consider other options.

While MacLean has drafted fairly well (though it is arguably too soon to tell with most players), one could argue that the free agent acquisitions in the past have not been of championship caliber. It seems for every draft stud (Nash, Zherdev, Brule, etc.); there is at least one acquisition dud (Lachance, Delmore, Brathwaite, etc.) While there have been very few complete busts that have donned the interesting CBJ logo (Lachance aside), it seems that many players under-perform while playing for the Jackets. Surely this can’t be MacLean’s fault? Remember Grant Marshall, Darryl Sydor, Todd Marchant, Andrew Cassels, Jaroslav Spacek, and more? All of them are decent players that never seemed to live up to expectations in Columbus. Could it be because the media touts each new arrival in Columbus as the final piece to put the team over the top? While it should be expected that teams should seek to improve their squad with new acquisitions, it is not very realistic to expect that every addition will promise a sip from Lord Stanley’s Cup.

MacLean and the Jackets top brass have chosen a direction for the organization. This is to grow the team from within and develop the young players with assistance from some experienced individuals. If you take a former Cup winner (Sydor) and put him on a young, inexperienced team he will likely struggle. And while the fans have not seemed to grasp the concept as a whole, the management has also not done a great job of reminding everyone of “the plan”. It is tough for sports lovers in Columbus to accept failure as they have been spoiled for years by the Buckeyes. But if fans were reminded occasionally that the organization was taking a tack that should lead them to being very competitive (likely within the next one to three years), perhaps the local critics would be slightly tempered in their criticism. Not likely, but one can hope. So the question remains, what kind of GM is Doug MacLean? Stay tuned to find out.

Thanks for reading, come back soon.

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