Having just finished responding to all the congratulatory text messages he received when he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame last month, Mark Recchi was deluged Tuesday afternoon with a new batch of well wishes on his phone.
These were wishing him good luck in his new job.
The Penguins hired Recchi as assistant coach to replace Rick Tocchet, who left to sign a four-year deal as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes.
“It didn't really take me long to make a decision,” Recchi said. “The more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity.”
Recchi, 49, has a long history with the Penguins. He played parts of seven of his 22 NHL seasons with the team and has been the organization's player development coach the past three years. He will work with the team's forwards and assist head coach Mike Sullivan on the power play.
“I think he'll get instant credibility with the career he's had as a player, and that speaks for itself,” Sullivan said. “Not only how elite he was as a player, but just the longevity, I think it speaks to his character, his ability to play that many years and help different teams win Stanley Cups and play different roles. I know our players have so much respect for him already.”
Tocchet, 53, said he had a “great job” and “perfect situation” with the Penguins but left for an opportunity with a team he played for from 1997-2001 and was an assistant coach with in 2005-06 before taking a leave of absence to deal with sports gambling charges against him.
“It's a head coaching job. There's only 31 of them,” Tocchet said.
Tocchet was hired as a Penguins assistant in 2014, and his role changed significantly during his tenure with the team.
At first, he was billed as a tough-guy counterweight to professorial head coach Mike Johnston and a key figure in shaping the team's power-play strategy.
When Sullivan took over, he didn't need any help in the toughness or power-play departments. Tocchet became more of a players' coach who could act as a buffer between the locker room and the head coach's office. He had an especially tight relationship with winger Phil Kessel, who called Tocchet the best assistant coach he has ever had.
Sullivan said Recchi can fill that same role, with players in general and Kessel in particular.
“Specifically speaking with Phil, he already has a great relationship with Phil,” Sullivan said. “We've used Rex over the last couple of seasons with Phil to try to help him grow his game and develop his game in different areas where we were trying to help Phil. I think Rex is going to be a seamless transition.”
Recchi said he's perfectly comfortable playing the good-cop role.
“There will be challenges at times as the year goes through, but there's a lot we've been through. I've seen a lot,” Recchi said. “I think I can really help just build the relationships, continue the relationships that I have and just make this a real smooth transition for everybody and try and get another championship with this group.”
Tocchet's departure is the latest in a long list of hockey operations defections since the Penguins claimed their second straight Stanley Cup championship in June.
General manager Jim Rutherford filled the previous vacancies internally. This time, he expects to go outside the organization to replace Recchi in the player development department. He said he'll begin interviewing candidates Monday.
“A guy with a good hockey background that understands the game, that's a good communicator, good people skills, willing to put in a lot of time, be patient, those are the main components I'm looking for,” Rutherford said. “We're coming through a period here where Billy Guerin and Mark Recchi really did a very good job.”