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The Arizona Coyotes need a new head coach, and according to TSN’s Darren Dreger there’s “a good possibility” that head coach might be Rick Tocchet, currently an assistant coach with the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
This is both entirely predictable and utterly amazing for the Coyotes.
Let’s start with the predictable: Owner Andrew Barroway has clearly exerted his will on hockey operations since buying out his minority owners in June. Some of this influence has been beneficial, while some of it has frustrated fans.
When it comes to Tocchet, know this: Barroway is a 51-year-old from Philadelphia who was a Flyers fan before purchasing the Coyotes. That makes him two years younger than Tocchet, who played for the Flyers from 1984-1992.
So yeah, no surprise he might get the owner’s endorsement.
But Tocchet is also a rising star assistant for his work with the Penguins, as any assistant coach with previous head coaching experience – he went 53-69-26 with the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008-10 – and multiple Stanley Cup rings might.
The only reason he wasn’t considered for the Buffalo Sabres job was Jason Boterill’s deference to his former team. Tocchet’s earned the reputation of being a mentor to young players and earned renown for being the “Phil Kessel Whisperer,” figuring out how to get through to the winger like few coaches have.
“He just gets it,” Kessel told the Buffalo News. “He understands what it’s like to play the game, to be a player. He makes it fun. If he gets that opportunity, it would be unbelievable for him. I don’t want to see him go, right?”
But apparently there’s a chance he could go to the Coyotes.
Which, again, is utterly amazing.
Tocchet played for the Coyotes from 1997-2000. In 2005, he became an assistant coach with the team under head coach Wayne Gretzky, which was a thing that actually happened.
In Feb. 2006, Tocchet was charged with helping to fund a national gambling ring based out of New Jersey. He took leave from his job with the Coyotes. In May 2007, Tocchet pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to promote gambling and promoting gambling, and received two years probation.
By the time the NHL finished its own investigation, and Gary Bettman reinstated him, Tocchet had been away from the Coyotes for nearly two years.
“I made a mistake. I should have not gotten involved in illegal gambling. I paid a heavy price. A lot of people were embarrassed by this — my family, my friends, people in the hockey world and obviously, the NHL and the Coyotes,” he said in Feb. 2008.
So his return to the Coyotes is a little awkward for long-time fans, who not only might see him as a retread but as a retread who was one charged with funding a national gambling ring while working for the team.
That was a decade ago. People make mistakes, do their penance and become better people (and coaches). But that doesn’t make it any less bizarre for Arizona fans.
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