Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Arizona Coyotes name Rick Tocchet head coach
July 11, 2017
A whirlwind transformation this offseason has signaled a new era for the Coyotes at a critical point in their rebuild.
They’ve split with franchise fixtures and ushered in fresh faces, ensuring a different look will hit the ice in October.
But in pursuit of a better future, they haven’t completely disconnected from their past.
The Coyotes reunited with former player and assistant Rick Tocchet, tabbing him as their next head coach Tuesday with Tocchet becoming the 18th bench boss in franchise history after signing a four-year contract.
He will be introduced Thursday at Gila River Arena.
"I just want to be part of this thing moving forward," Tocchet said.
Arizona was on the lookout for a new coach since Dave Tippett and the team mutually agreed to part ways June 22 after an eight-season partnership. The Coyotes talked with more than 25 coaches, had serious discussions with a dozen and met with five in-person.
Todd Nelson, coach of Detroit’s American Hockey League affiliate, told reporters he interviewed for the position, and the Coyotes received permission to interview Dallas Eakins, coach of Anaheim’s AHL team, a source told azcentral sports.
General Manager John Chayka had a few phone conversations with Tocchet, 53, early on in the process with the two talking about their philosophies and day-to-day expectations. During a four-to-five hour interview in-person, Tocchet did a video presentation that explained his style and what he noticed from watching the Coyotes play.
“He was the best candidate by a wide margin,” Chayka said.
After talking as a staff, the group identified Tocchet as its choice and updated owner Andrew Barroway, who had dinner with Tocchet. Assistant General Manager Steve Sullivan was also involved in the search.
Team brass did mull Tocchet’s previous run-in with the law, as he was charged in 2006 for financing a gambling ring, but Chayka said Tocchet is “a man of character and integrity. Any issues in the past are in the past. It didn’t warrant any red flags for us.”
Tocchet pleaded guilty in 2007 to promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling and was sentenced to probation.
“I slept good then. I sleep well now,” Tocchet said. “ … I don’t even think about that stuff.”
The team’s arena situation was also brought up as the Coyotes are still without a long-term home in the Valley. Tocchet said the issue is out of his control but he’s confident it will work itself out.
“There is definitely an exciting hockey market out there that is ready to burst out and when it happens, it’s going to be a lot of fun to be around,” he said. “If that happens, my job is going to be a premier job.”
What also appealed to him was his familiarity with the market, an understanding of the direction the team was hoping to take and the pride that comes with being one of 31 NHL head coaches.
“If you mix that all in, it was a fit for me,” Tocchet said.
As a player, Tocchet was with the Coyotes for parts of three seasons, racking up 64 goals and 130 points in 213 games from 1997-2000. He returned as an assistant on Wayne Gretzky's staff in 2005-06 and 2007-08 and was also an assistant and head coach with the Lightning before joining the Penguins as an assistant in 2014.
There, Tocchet oversaw the forwards and worked on the power play, helping the Penguins win the past two Stanley Cups. He’s garnered a reputation as a strong communicator; Chayka calls Tocchet one of the best he’s ever met not just in hockey but professionally.
As the Coyotes made calls on Tocchet, they learned he’s as a “fierce competitor” who wants to win and adheres to high expectations – a makeup that players appreciate.
“The term ‘best coach I ever had’ was used so much it was almost like it was a tagline,” Chayka said.
That respect seems to stem from Tocchet’s playing career, as he scored 440 goals in more than 1,100 games and also won a Stanley Cup.
“I sat in that guy’s seat before, and I think that really helps,” said Tocchet, who will team up with Chayka to fill out his coaching staff. “I’ve played on the first line. I’ve played on the fourth line. I’ve not dressed. I’ve played a lot of games, so I can relate to players.”
A fast, aggressive style that has the Coyotes dictating the action is what Tocchet seeks, and getting the team’s young players to become established pros is an objective. So is rejuvenating recent underperformers.
These will be barometers of Tocchet’s influence and, ultimately, his success, and he wants players to feel pressure.
And if they embrace it, they could feel another hallmark of progress Tocchet is chasing: relevancy.
“You have to make your fans believe in something, that you’re going in the right direction, that things are progressing where you have a chance every night to win,” Tocchet said. “I think that’s what the Coyotes fan is craving.”