Congratulations to (no-longer-interim) head coach Rick Tocchet, who was introduced as the seventh Lightning bench boss at a press conference on Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum. As Executive Vice President & General Manager Brian Lawton iterated several times during the presser, Tocchet’s performance cannot be solely tied to the team’s 19-33-14 record during his 66 games last year. The roster fluctuations and injury issues created a difficult situation for any coach to succeed, especially one who didn’t even start the season as the head man.
Instead, according to Lawton, his decision to remove the interim tag was based on many other factors: how Tocchet worked with the players and his assistant coaches, his preferred up-tempo system of play, his work ethic, professionalism and his significant growth curve over the course of last season.
Here are my two cents. The team’s best stretch last season came about 25 games into Tocchet’s tenure. The players were buying into and beginning to execute the system. The team won three of five games on a tough five-game road trip, then captured four of the next five at home. But within the next few games, the team lost Mike Smith, Paul Ranger and Andrei Mezaros to injuries. The rest of the season has to be viewed in a different light than just the win-loss record. When Columbus visited in March, head coach Ken Hitchcock unequivocally stated that a team cannot hope to overcome the loss of its goaltender and top two defensemen. But in the period immediately before those injures (after Tocchet had a reasonable amount of time to teach his system), the Lightning were looking like a dangerous team.
Then there’s the Stamkos component. Tocchet’s expert handling of the Lightning’s first round pick last year cannot be overlooked. Stamkos’ evolution can be attributed to Tocchet’s decision to get the rookie into the weight room, let him watch a few games from the press box and give him extensive one-on-one time in the video room with assistant Wes Walz.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Rick Tocchet is the right man for the job.
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