Right man for Canucks job? A review of Tocchet's past coaching gigs

Jan 19 2023, 11:34 pm

A few months ago, there were multiple coaching candidates the Vancouver Canucks could have considered.

Now, it seems like there’s only one guy being considered: Rick Tocchet.

The current TNT analyst was even teased by his coworkers about the rumours.

So, what can the Canucks expect if Tocchet does indeed take over as head coach? Here are a few takeaways from his previous coaching stops.

Learning lessons with the Lightning (2008-2010)

Tocchet held down three separate roles as an assistant coach, before finally earning his first NHL head coaching opportunity with the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2008-09 season.

It was a tough situation for Tocchet to enter. The Lightning had been on a downward spiral, having not won a playoff series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.

At the beginning of the 2008-09 season, the Lightning hired Barry Melrose as head coach, while Tocchet joined as an assistant. Melrose, who hadn’t coached in the NHL since 1993 at that point, lasted only 16 games before he was fired and replaced by Tocchet.

Tampa Bay had Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, along with up-and-coming teenagers in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. However, the roster was thin beyond that, especially on defence.

After two subpar seasons, Tocchet was fired. He commented on that experience during an interview in 2017.

“I shouldn’t say I was wishy-washy, but I was influenced by a lot of people,” he said. “Maybe it was confidence, maybe you’re trying to please everybody. I don’t know, but I’m more decisive now and I learned that from (Pittsburgh Penguins head coach) Mike Sullivan.”

Back-to-back Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh (2014-2017)

In one of Jim Rutherford’s first moves as Penguins general manager, he hired Tocchet on June 25, 2014 as an assistant to head coach Mike Johnston. Tocchet then stuck around as assistant after Johnston was fired and replaced by Mike Sullivan in December of 2015.

Tocchet, a former Penguins winger, shared a few stories about his tenure in Pittsburgh on the Spittin’ Chiclets Podcast, including how he and Evgeni Malkin initially butted heads.

One of the best stories that Tocchet shared was that he did 16 chin-ups in a suit during Game 7 between Pittsburgh and the Washington Capitals in 2017, after being challenged by Phil Kessel.

Pittsburgh went on to win the game 2-0 en route to their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

Tocchet was also credited for getting the most out of Kessel. The enigmatic winger played a major role during Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Stanley Cup victories.

Although some see Tocchet as a defensive coach based on his most recent experience, he was reportedly in charge of running Pens’ power play. Pittsburgh had the fifth-best power play in the league during those three seasons under Tocchet.

Mixed results in Arizona (2017-2021)

Tocchet entered a completely different world when he took over as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes.

He went from coaching superstars in Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, to an undermanned, inexperienced Arizona squad.

It showed in his first year as the Coyotes finished with the third-worst record in the NHL. However, Arizona was in the playoff mix in each of his last three seasons based on strong defence and penalty killing. They made the playoffs once after beating the Nashville Predators during the 2020 Qualifying Round.

Here’s how Tocchet’s Coyotes finished in terms of goals-against during his four seasons in charge:

  • 2017-18: 21st (3.06/game)
  • 2018-19: 6th (2.68/game)
  • 2019-20: T-3rd (2.61/game)
  • 2020-21: 22nd (3.11/game)

And, here’s how they finished in terms of killing penalties:

  • 2017-18: 17th (80%)
  • 2018-19: T-1st (85%)
  • 2019-20: 5th (82.7%)
  • 2020-21: 11th (80.8%)

Those are important metrics considering the team lacked offensive talent, finishing no better than 21st overall in terms of goals scored during a single season.

Tocchet talked about how the losses of two-way centres Derek Stepan and Brad Richardson, along with injuries to Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, contributed to the team giving up more goals during his last season behind the Coyotes bench.

He mutually parted ways with the Coyotes after the 2020-21 season.

Tocchet on coaching desires and philosophy

Immediately after parting ways with the Coyotes, Tocchet was in the mix for numerous head coaching positions.

He was reportedly interviewed by four vacant head coaching roles (Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, and Seattle Kraken) during the 2021 offseason.

However, he failed to land any of those gigs and ended up signing on with TNT as a television analyst instead.

After leaving Arizona, Tocchet gave some interesting insights about his coaching philosophy during an interview with Craig Morgan.

“There are better ways to coach nowadays. I think there are some new approaches and things I would change,” said Tocchet. “There’s more out-of-the-box ways to coach today’s athlete and I want to dive into that more. I think sometimes coaches do too many team meetings and it’s gotta be more individual based. More than ever. I think you have to meet with a player almost every three days.”

He also dropped an interesting nugget about something he’d like to have during his next coaching stop.

“I wish I was in a better position sometimes to make personnel decisions. That’s not a cop-out to any general manager I have worked with because they have all been great so don’t get me wrong, but I’d like a little more control.”

He also described desiring to enter a situation that sounds, well, not like Vancouver.

“I’m not going to take any job or the first job that comes up. There had better be stability. There had better be strong leadership. You’ve got to have a somewhat talented team and a commitment to winning.”

In fairness, the Canucks do have talent, and Tocchet already has established relationships with current Canucks’ management.

Whether that makes him the right guy for the job however, is yet to be determined.

Trevor BeggsTrevor Beggs

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