The NHL on TNT opens its coverage of WBD Sports’ second straight Stanley Cup Playoffs Tuesday, and they’re actually doing so with a game on TBS (Rangers-Devils at 7 p.m. ET) thanks to TNT’s NBA playoffs commitments. Heading into those playoffs, there are a few interesting things for that group. But one particular element of note is that they’ve made a rare mid-season adjustment in terms of their core panel, with Rick Tocchet leaving in January to go coach the Vancouver Canucks. On a pre-playoffs media call last week, panel host Liam McHugh and panelists Anson Carter and Paul Bissonnette discussed how Tocchet’s exit went, and how the panel has found success with some of the moves they’ve made since.
“It was weird to go through the whole thing for all of us, to have that play out,” McHugh said. “It’s playing out in the media, it’s playing out in public, it’s playing out week-to-week. I think we had fun with it. Every week that Toc was there, it was like ‘Oh, look who’s still here!’ And we still communicate with him, he’s still on our text chain, he’s still chirping us. But I think the cool thing about this show is we settled in pretty quickly last year chemistry-wise, quicker than anyone expected us to. And we’ve kept that going.”
McHugh said the energy and chemistry they built up with Tocchet is continuing even after he left.
” We know what type of show we want to be, and we know the vibe we want. And that’s why I think it was nice when we brought Yanz [Keith Yandle] in, and we brought Hank [Henrik Lundqvist] in, and they understand what this show is about. They’re the right people for this. They fit naturally. We all get along. We all love the game, and want to basically show you how passionate we are and how much we enjoy it, but also take the sport seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.”
That was certainly shown in the Bissonnette/Lundqvist Green Day tribute to Tocchet after his departure:
Biz and Hank have reunited for a special performance tribute to friend and new Canucks coach, Rick Tocchet ?? pic.twitter.com/rBj1U9FfGz
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) January 26, 2023
McHugh said Tocchet’s specific coaching tips are missed, but the energy he brought to a focus on show improvement has continued.
“And because of that, I think, I don’t know if seamless is the right word, but it’s been pretty close to seamless in terms of moving on from someone who was such an important part of our show. Because I think we’d all agree that one thing that Toc brought, outside of just energy and preparation, was that he really taught us a lot about the game. He was coaching people at home, he was coaching us about the minor points. And I think he’s going to be a great coach, because the way he was with us, he just demanded, he wanted the show to be better. Even while all this was playing out and there was a good chance he was leaving, he’d be on the call every week, asking questions and trying to make us better, every single week. So no pressure, Yanz. you just have to be better than that head coach.”
“We knew, I think the last couple of years, this was a possibility. Talk about a bright hockey mind. And if you are a team looking for someone that can relate to younger players but also have a little bit of that old-school vibe to him when it comes to commitment and discipline and details, he’d be a guy on a lot of teams’ radar. I think we were aware of that, and we’re so pumped to get to see him make that transition to coaching and having some success right now. We hope that continues.”
Carter said the chemistry the team has built has helped them keep moving on, though, and welcome in new additions.
“But you’ve got to give credit to Liam and Biz and the rest of the crew here that we’re able to create something that makes it pretty easy for Yanz or Hank or Bots [Jennifer Botterill] or whoever, like Liam said, just to step in, or even Army [Colby Armstrong]. It’s not easy, it’s not easy just coming in and not being part of the rotation week to week, not understanding the flow of the show or the timing. That’s difficult. But to be able to create something where men and women can just come on the set and feel at home and not skip a beat, that’s a pretty special thing.”
“And I think that’s something we don’t really take for granted. Because I think we have built something pretty special. And I laugh because my kids always say ‘Dad, are you working tonight?’, and I say ‘Working?’ I guess I’m getting paid for this, so I guess you can call it work, but it’s just fun. And I think we’re pretty fortunate to have that privilege to be able to work with such great people every single Wednesday, and Sundays.”
Bissonnette said that chemistry is an intentional thing the WBD Sports executives built initially.
“I think it started right from the beginning with TNT and the group they put together. I guess we’ll start with the best, Liam’s got an insane motor and cares constantly about keeping up with the league, teeing us off. And obviously him and Ace [Carter] had worked together at NBC, and Ace being just a guy that I personally have really leaned on for advice and for help. And overall, you talk about that chemistry, like when Toc got the job, Yanz was able to hop in, because he’d been working up at Sportsnet too, so he had already kind of that built-in chemistry.”
Bissonnette said he thinks a key part of that is the cast’s recognition of each other’s strengths.
“I think we allow each other to bring what it is that we bring,” he said. “Liam touched on it with Toc; when something happened, we would be praising the goal, and Toc would be shaking his head. He’d see the defensive breakdown, he’d want to break that down. Whereas, we’re missing that, and it sucks, and we knew, but when Hank comes in, and he really has the aspect of a goaltender, through the lens of a goalie. So to inject that into the broadcast, with TNT bringing him in, that’s huge for us, it brings us that different perspective.”
“And then, adding a guy like Yanz, the credibility, the relationships he has with players and everything. And then going back to Ace, he played in different markets and in different situations. I think it’s just really worked out well.”
Bissonnette said he also thinks McHugh and Carter, and their previous experience together at NBC, has made that possible for the panel as a whole.
“I think it’s made me feel comfortable with the experience Liam and Ace have brought as kind of the anchors for that. And I think it’s just kind of made it easier for me and Toc to come in when we did at the start of last year and create that chemistry, but then also to have other people in the seats. And Colby Armstrong’s another guy as well, I feel like he’s fit in seamlessly. So credit to everybody at the company for making it work. It’s been an incredible, enjoyable ride, and I think we’re extremely thrilled this year that we actually get to go the distance and get the Cup final.”
[Top image from the Bissonnette/Lundqvist January tribute to Tocchet]