To be a coach in pro sports, you don't just have to inspire your roster, but you have to be involved -- teaching, judging talent, putting together the best lineup for each game. And of course, knowing when to say when for the best interests of your hockey team and franchise.
That being said, it's not a position where you should risk the future of young players by letting them judge how much ice time they get or how ready they are to return from injury. We saw this with Steven Stamkos playing against Colorado: Rick Tocchet let him play despite not being able to take face offs and take shots. Basically playing a neutered Stamkos who judged himself ready to play when he most certainly wasn't.
What good was it to let Stamkos decide his own fate? Does it coddle Tocchet's own ego of wanting toughness and grit in his players?
Now it's Victor Hedman. Big Vik took a slap shot off his foot yesterday and it's swollen up. Unable to participate in the morning skate at Joe Louis Arena, Hedman is a game time decision for tonight's match up with the Red Wings. Hedman's aware the Lightning need their best lineup together tonight:
"It's very close," Hedman said. "But it's also uncomfortable. If I don't feel 100 percent I shouldn't play. We need guys to be at 100 percent. But we need these two points. I want to be on the ice and help to get those."
But isn't the best lineup the one that lets Hedman get healthy for the long season yet to come? Or is it the one that makes sure he shows he can tolerate pain?
Tocchet is quoted in the same article and this just disturbs me as a coach who isn't drawing the line on his players.
"I don't know if he's going to play tonight or not," coach Rick Tocchet said. "We'll ice it today and see if he can put his boot on."
Tocchet said the issue is more pain tolerance than anything else.
"You leave it up to the player," he said. "Pain tolerance and ice. I don't know anything else."
For those of you who see this as a throwback to the days of yore, ask yourself this: Is it better to risk the long term health of the Tampa Bay Lightning's young stars or to revisit nostalgia of players like Bob Probert and Tocchet himself?
Putting players at risk of worsening an injury -- not a cosmetic one, not a cut or busted teeth, not a black eye, but a bruised or broken bone -- where did we see this before? Oh yes, I recall, the 2008-09 Tampa Bay Lightning season. 22 different defensemen used by the Bolts, 52 different players in all. One of the highlights was Mike Smith playing regularly after suffering a concussion and putting his career in jeopardy by aggravating his concussion and suffering post concussion symptoms that ended his season. Smith has not been the same player as he was before the injury in December of 2008.
Ice and pain tolerance does not make up for the damage done by trying to prove grit, and a head coach should know better than to just let his guys go, regardless. That's a mandate in any league, not "if you're ready to go, you are going", or failing to be able to say "you're sitting" to an injured player. That's what's put Stamkos at risk, that's what will put Hedman at risk, that's what ruined Mike Smith. A failure of a coach to judge.
Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it... And "ice and pain tolerance" are not going to improve the overall play of a hockey club that is being led further to ruin. After last season, you would expect Tocchet to havelearned that lesson.
[This post was last edited by John Fontana, 12/17/09 5:50 PM EST ]