Tocchet is not the victim
In a word, that summarizes why Rick Tocchet has become the flavor-of-the- month from fans and media personas. Gary Shelton is the latest voice to sympathize for Tocchet's brand of hockey. What brand is that?
It's the inconsistent, maddening brand of hockey that was quite middling for the entire season before falling off a cliff at the Olympic break.
The style of hockey that played up grit and grinding while playing down cohesion, jelling, passing and general offensive skill.
It is the brand of hockey that treated himself as a peer to the players and not as the coach. Someone who would not "go there" with discipline until it was far too late in the season to send a message.
Tocchet has become a sympathetic character in the epilogue of the OK Hockey saga, with thanks to Brian Lawton's "power grab" assistant replacement during the Olympic break. Lawton painted himself as a cowboy of the same variety as former ownership by doing this, and Tocchet's hissy fit reaction has been played down and dismissed because Lawton is more closely associated with former ownership than Tocchet.
Rick Tocchet was as much former-ownership's boy as was Lawton, but that doesn't serve the narrative.
Just look at how Shelton phrases things regarding what should happen with club in general this offseason...
There is something to be said for a solid, cohesive front office where everyone starts from the same point and works toward the same goal, where everyone knows their role, where every follows the same blueprint. It has been a long time since the Lightning was that kind of franchise.
...And how that doesn't necessarily apply for Tocchet. It is as if Tocchet's tenure with the Lightning is not defined beyond three weeks of the Lightning season between January and February while the team's fortunes were looking up:
As for Tocchet, well, he's a tougher call. In February, in fact, most of us thought he was doing a fine job. But in the NHL, finishing last, losing 50 games (counting overtime losses) and fading at the finish are usually firing offenses. If Lawton goes, Tocchet may be in trouble, too, unless he has a connection to the new general manager.
"A fine job"?
Even before the Wes Walz firing in late February, the Lightning had dropped three crucial games before the Olympic break. Those losses continued the larger pattern of the season that we've already touched on - the consistent inconsistency; the lack of cohesion on a revamped defense, etc.
Tocchet, in his career as head coach with the Lightning, has overseen a total of 143 NHL games in two seasons; 66 in 2008-09 and 77 so far this season. His collective record is 50-67-26, a .350 winning percentage. 64 of 143 games have been one goal affairs, with his collective record being 19-19-26 in those encounters. A .296 winning percentage.
And he's doing just fine and is worth bringing back?
Originally, I was planning to take the time to explore the points why Tocchet is being forgiven and excused for also-ran coaching, but with the sympathy element taking off in the media, I'd like to give the other perspective instead. I know why I had forgiven Tocchet in 2008-09 for taking over the team midway through the season: a poorly conditioned, unstable roster. I wanted to give him a full season with a stable roster, a healthy netminder and better conditioning. Joe Henderson of the Tampa Tribune uses that same approach in critiquing Tocchet:
People generally like Tocchet and he was dealt a tough hand here, trying to bring order amid the chaos of the previous owners. He took over after the lamentable 16-game experiment with Barry Melrose ended last year and was handed a team that was a mess both on and off the ice. The Bolts were more competitive this season, but as we greet this Thursday morning they're still 12th in the Eastern Conference and are awaiting formal elimination from the playoff chase.
Tocchet is being granted clemency for the ultimate reason that he was wronged by Brian Lawton. Much like the pop culture is collective sympathizing with Sandra Bullock or Elin Nordgren right now, people side with Tocchet because he was the victim of Lawton's misdeeds. Brian gave them an excuse not to trust him and they're running with it.
Forgiving Tocchet's shortcomings because of Lawton's sins is a mistake. It's overlooking the record of thick-headedness and the lack of results. It's dismissing the team's inconsistency this season and blessing mediocrity for the immediate future. Even when everything was as Tocchet would like it on his coaching staff, the Lightning ultimately struggled under his stewardship and underachieved.