Before he became an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Rick Tocchet was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. One of the players he had was Steve Downie, a 21-year-old forward whose hockey talent was overshadowed by frequent moments of violent idiocy.
Tocchet helped refine and balance his game, turning Downie into something many weren’t sure he’d ever become: a viable NHL player, rather than a liability.
On Wednesday, the two were reunited with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as Downie signed a 1-year, $1-million deal as an unrestricted free agent. He split his time between Colorado and Philadelphia last season, as the Avalanche traded him to the Flyers for (former Penguin) Max Talbot.
As a Flyers analyst, Tocchet praised the trade and called Downie a “top six forward” that could open up space for Claude Giroux. Considering the abuse Sidney Crosby’s taken without recourse – hi Marc Staal – one wonders if he can fill the same role for the Penguins.
More likely is Downie as a third-line energy player, as GM Jim Rutherford continues to reconstruct the Penguins’ neglected bottom six. He’s added Downie, Blake Comeau, Nick Spaling and brought back Marcel Goc.
Downie's perfect for that plan. Even if he goes full knucklehead at some point, that's an element of toughness the Penguins have lacked. That he brings more to the team than that makes this a great signing.