GLENDALE - Rick Tocchet is embracing the challenge of taking over as head coach of a predominantly young NHL team in need of direction from a proven winner.
"I think this is a great job to have and I'm excited about it," said Tocchet, who became the bench boss of the Coyotes last week. "...My goal is to make everybody play better. As a coach, that's your main focus. If I can have everybody play better than they did last year, that's a win-win."
With less than 12 weeks before the regular season begins, Tocchet knows there is little time to waste. Things need to get done. Important things. For example, Tocchet wants to quickly add two assistant coaches to his staff, he wants to create and send a system video to the players before training camp, and, perhaps most importantly, he wants to reach out to his players on a one-one-basis.
"The one-on-one stuff within the next two, three months is really big," Tocchet said. "People will get to know me, I'll get to know the players. I think that's a big thing that I've got to do because I love communicating and I want to make sure they're not afraid to communicate with me."
The Coyotes will field a roster next season that features a plethora of players under age 23. For Tocchet, attitude will be key to success.
"When you have young kids you've got to be very positive," Tocchet said. "…They have to have a belief that when they come to the rink that they have a chance to win. That's the attitude that we have to have. Every time you come to the rink we're going to try to get better, whether it's through video, practice, the way we eat, the way we train, the way we travel. All of that stuff is kind of a byproduct of winning, and I think that's something that I'm going to share my knowledge of with the young kids."
Tocchet served as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008-10. With the Bolts, he notched a 53-69-26 record in 148 games. He said working as an assistant coach under Mike Sullivan with Pittsburgh the past three seasons made him a better coach than he was when he was with Tampa Bay.
"I'm a more decisive guy now," Tocchet said. "Mike Sullivan and I have a great relationship. I learned a lot from him. He gives his staff a lot of autonomy and then he'll make the decision. I like that. You have to be decisive, and 'Sully' is; he's had to make some tough decisions. I think earlier in my career at Tampa I got swayed a little bit on decisions when I would've went the other way. I think I'll be a little bit more decisive. I know I will … I will push guys. In talking to some players, they want to be pushed. Hopefully I push the right buttons and it's a partnership."
General Manager John Chayka said hiring Tocchet was an easy decision.
"He came in with a real vision of how we want to play," Chayka said. "We want to play fast with our young players. We want to play aggressive. We want to play with the puck. He had very concrete examples of how he was going to do that."
Chayka noted that Tocchet has coached 49 Stanley Cup Playoff games over the past two seasons, and that he played a key role in helping Pittsburgh win the Cup in back-to-back seasons.
"He's a communicator, he's a developer, he's a teacher," Chayka said. "He's also a guy that's going to push and he's going to challenge. We've got a lot of good players right now, a lot of players that are bordering on being great. They want to be pushed. They want to take that next step in their careers. Rick's a nice guy, but he's also going to push. Being a nice guy wears off after a while. These players want to get better. They want to pursue better things in their careers. Rick is going to be the guy that helps them get there."
Tocchet skated in 1,444 NHL games over his 18-year career in the League. Along the way, he played for some top-notch head coaches such as Scotty Bowman, Jim Schoenfeld and Mike Keenan. Tocchet said he admires Bowman's bench management skills, Schoenfeld's communication skills and Keenan's intensity.
"If I can bottle a little bit from all those guys I've got a head-start on a lot of people," Tocchet said.
The Coyotes have signed Tocchet to a four-year contract hoping that he can coach them back to the playoffs in a timely manner.
"I really appreciate the opportunity," Tocchet said. "These guys have committed to me. To give me a four-year deal, that's a commitment to them, and I'm going to roll up the sleeves and go to work with these young guys."