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Coyotes’ Armstrong on Tocchet: We were looking for new leadership, voice

Head coach Rick Tocchet of the Arizona Coyotes watches from the bench during the first period of the NHL game against the San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on January 16, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes may have parted ways with Rick Tocchet on Sunday, but the organization continues to hold respect for the former head coach and his four-year tenure.

“That was a tough decision but it’s an evaluation I had done all year,” GM Bill Armstrong said via Zoom on Monday. “Rick Tocchet’s a good coach, a good man. … We were looking for new leadership and a new voice.”

Armstrong added the decision didn’t come easily, especially having grown up idolizing Tocchet as a player as well as seeing the passion he brought to coaching. Tocchet played for 18 seasons in the NHL — three of those seasons were with the Phoenix Coyotes — and won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992.

“My opinion of him has only grown,” Armstrong said. “He’s a good man and a good coach.”

Under Tocchet, the Coyotes went a combined 125-131-34 over four seasons and a single playoff appearance — the team’s first since 2012 — in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.

The Coyotes were making a strong campaign to be in the playoff mix this year, but lost 12 of 15 games before being eliminated from playoff contention by the Los Angeles Kings.

Arizona wrapped up a 24-26-6 season with two strong wins against the San Jose Sharks, but it was too little too late.

“It would be naive to not think some changes are probably coming. I mean, you didn’t make the playoffs so that’s what happens,” forward Conor Garland said. “Unfortunately, we lost Toc yesterday which stinks.

“He was very good to me in my first year. … He’s one of the nicest people in hockey, a great coach. He’ll be back in the league shortly, but it stinks when you miss the playoffs and you don’t do your job as players and somebody else has to pay the price.”

Phil Kessel has a special relationship with Tocchet, having won the Stanley Cup twice with the Pittsburgh (2016, 2017) while Tocchet was an assistant coach there. Their friendship makes Tocchet’s departure hard, but it’s all part of the business of hockey, Kessel said.

“Obviously having your coach get fired, it’s not a good thing,” he said. “He’s a good friend of mine. I think he’s a great coach and a great person. It’s part of the business. I love him and I think he did a good job here.”

There’s no doubt in Kessel’s mind — or any of the Coyotes players — that Tocchet will find a home quickly at the helm of another NHL team.

“He’s a great coach. I’m sure a lot of teams out there will be interested in him. I think theres a lot of head coaching jobs available this summer.”

As the team moves forward, Tocchet will leave a mark on the Coyotes as somebody who pushed them to constantly improve, captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson added.

“He just loves the game. He wants to get better every day,” OEL said. “Doesn’t matter if he’s a player or a coach, he wants to help the guys and wants to put the team first.

“He’d been doing an unbelievable job here in this organization. Like I said, I feel like he made all the players and guys around him better.”

As the Coyotes begin the search for a new coach, Armstrong revealed a few characteristics that will lead their search.

“We’re looking for a young coach that’s going to put us over that hump,” he said. “Somebody’s that got a little bit of push and some accountability with a good structure to what he wants the team to play.”


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