Arizona Coyotes Head Coach Rick Tocchet Guiding Team to Playoffs

Rick Tocchet
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 29: Head coach Rick Tocchet of the Arizona Coyotes talks with teammates during the third period of the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at Gila River Arena on December 29, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Stars defeated the Coyotes 4-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet has a career NHL coaching record of 146-161-50. His record in Arizona has been respectable at 93-92-24, or a .502 winning percentage. If it weren’t for a less than admirable 53-69-26 record while coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008-2010 he’d be a fairly successful head coach.

He also served as an assistant head coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2014-2017 collecting two Stanley Cups with the team.

Rick Tocchet Heading Coyotes Towards the Playoffs

In his first season as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes Tocchet just missed the playoffs,  falling short by four points. The team had excessive injuries, but when one player went down another stepped up. Many believe that Tocchet wouldn’t allow his team to throw in the towel and quit even when the odds of them making the playoffs were almost beyond reach.

It’s the type of player he was during his playing career, so it’s no surprise that he coaches the same way. Many times former NHL players don’t make such great head coaches. Tocchet was here in Arizona as an assistant coach when Wayne Gretzky was the main man behind the bench. We all know how ineffective Gretzky, who may be the most prolific player to suit up, was as a head coach.

Tocchet played with grit and his team is using that same style. In today’s game of speed and skating being effective tools to win, he realizes he has to play fast. He has the horses to do that. Clayton Keller, Michael Grabner, Vinnie Hinostroza can all play that speed game with the best of them. He also realizes that they are a pesky team and are not going to go out there and bully their way to wins. They forecheck hard, attack quick and it seems to be working.

The Tocchet Led Coyotes Are Showing They’re for Real

If you listen to any of Tocchet’s post-game pressers you will hear him complain that a couple of players didn’t show up or play according to the game plan. He doesn’t need to name the players… they know who they are.

Here’s one example in the Dallas Stars game where the team blew a 2-0 lead and gave up four consecutive goals.

He really is hard on himself at times where he mentions that maybe ‘that’s my fault’. Or, ‘perhaps I didn’t get the team ready’. He’s big on coverage and when that breaks down, the system doesn’t work. You can’t always rely on your goalie to save the game every time someone misses their responsibility.

Currently, the Coyotes reside in first place of the Pacific Division, even if it’s by virtue of playing one less game than the Vegas Golden Knights. They recently overcame losing three straight regulation games for the first time this season in that game against the Stars. With four consecutive wins under their belt, they may be peaking a bit early.

They want to get a good lead where making the playoffs is a sure thing. If the Coyotes can get there Tocchet will get some votes for the Jack Adams Trophy given to the best head coach. He started to get some of that attention when his team was practically playing on crutches last season.

Building a Competitive Team

Rick Tocchet did what he could last season with the players who were healthy, but it wasn’t enough. So, general manager John Chayka and new owner Alex Meruelo took charge. Chayka traded for Phil Kessel, a proven scorer and star player. Kessel loves playing for Tocchet and it was no surprise that when the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted to unload him, the Coyotes were on his list of teams he approved.

Then, another surprise was in store for playoff-hopeful Coyotes fans. When many teams wanted to acquire Taylor Hall when he became available it was a longshot that Hall would end up coming to the desert.

He did, thanks to Chayka’s crafty trade. Some say Chayka gave up too much youth. But when a player of Hall’s stature is out there… you go for it.

With both Hall and Kessel helping this young team round into a contender, the playoffs are a much rosier prediction this season than any other since 2012.

What Lies Ahead

The team has had some injury issues this season but has been able to overcome them. Foremost losing Darcy Kuemper recently and not getting him back until around the All-Star Game could hurt their momentum. Then, it was thought that backup goalie Antti Raanta was hurt too. It appears that after removing himself from the Philadelphia Flyers game because “he felt something”, he is expected to be back in the net for the Tampa Bay Lightning game on Thursday night. Good thing too because one of those pesky back-to-back scheduled games will be on Friday night. Adin Hill will more than likely get the call for that one facing the tough Carolina Hurricanes.

Rick Tocchet is turning out to be a pretty darned good coach. If he can keep his troops in line and force them to play the system, they stand an excellent chance of a WHITEOUT.

There, I said it.

Playoffs, baby!

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