PHOENIX — The Arizona Coyotes have hired Rick Tocchet as head coach, turning the team over to a man who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the past two Stanley Cup titles.
The 53-year-old Tocchet, who spent the past three seasons as a Pittsburgh assistant, played 18 seasons in the NHL and helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 1992.
Tocchet spent one season as an assistant to Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky in 2005-06 and played parts of three seasons with the team from 1997 to 2000.
Tocchet’s controversial departure from his Coyotes coaching job did not figure into the decision to hire him, general manager John Chayka said.
"Rick was the best candidate by a wide margin," Chayka said.
Tocchet was on a leave of absence from his Coyotes job in 2007 when he pleaded guilty in New Jersey to conspiracy to promote gambling and promoting gambling. He was sentenced to two years’ probation. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said an investigation showed Tocchet’s involvement in gambling was not as serious as first thought and he was suspended for three months.
There was no evidence Tocchet ever bet on hockey games.
"He’s a man of character and integrity," Chayka said. "Any issues in the past are in the past. It didn’t raise any red flags for us whatsoever."
Tocchet said he doesn’t dwell on what happened back then but wants his players to know it’s how they come back from adversity.
"To me, I want to see how a person reacts from his mistakes or his actions on the ice or off ice," he said in a conference call. "To me, that’s high character guys that can do that — that can come back from certain things."
Tocchet briefly returned to the Coyotes in 2008 before being hired as an assistant at Tampa Bay. He became interim head coach of the Lightning that November and was head coach at Tampa Bay the next two seasons.
But it was his work with the Penguins that elevated him to the clear favourite to replace Dave Tippett, who parted ways with the Coyotes after eight years as the franchise’s head coach.
"He’s one of the best communicators I’ve come across not only in hockey but probably professionally as well," Chayka said. "… I think he can just relate to the players. He’s very firm. He can motivate. He can be aggressive in his approach, but he can also be that big brother kind of approach with our young players and I think that’s going to be helpful moving forward."
Chayka said Tocchet has a clear idea of the style he wants his team to play.
"He wants to play fast. He wants to play aggressive. He wants to dictate time and space," Chayka said.
"We had a lot of coaches come through. They will all say something similar. I think he had a real plan of how to do it. He had concrete examples of what that means based off his time in Pittsburgh and some more ideas of what he’s maybe looking to do moving forward."
Tocchet looks forward to returning to an area he knows so well, and he loves the young talent on the squad.
"You’ve got a lot of prospects, a lot of players that were stars as juniors," he said. "Chicago went through it. Pittsburgh went through it. You’ve got to go through this process to win, but there’s some potential to really grow this into something big."