The Tampa Bay Lightning
have removed the "interim" tag from Rick Tocchet
's job title, signing him to a multi-year contract to be the team's head coach.
"We are pleased to take the next step with Rick today, naming him our head coach," Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton
said. "He did an admirable job as interim coach this past season, stabilizing our locker room and keeping our players focused through the end of the year. The entire organization looks forward to the start of the 2009-10 season after Rick is able to get the team prepared to play with a strong, goal-oriented training camp."
Tocchet, 45, joined the Lightning as an assistant coach prior to the 2008-09 season and became the interim head coach after Barry Melrose
was dismissed after a 5-7-4 start. The Lightning posted a 19-33-14 record under Tocchet and finished the season at 24-40-18.
"I am excited for our players and fans that Rick has accepted the position of head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning
," owner Oren Koules said.
"Rick has proven to the management and to our players that he is the right man for this job. And we believe he can take the persona he brought to the ice everyday as a player and mold our team in that image on and off the ice. He embodies what we want our players and our team to be all about."
The Lightning started to turn things around in December, going 10-5-1 in one stretch, but they struggled after goalie Mike Smith
suffered a concussion in early February. Tampa Bay lost its last nine games and 12 of 13.
Tampa Bay suffered a large number of injuries this season and were forced to use 50 players, including an NHL-record 22 defensemen. First-line center Vincent Lecavalier
had only 29 goals, following shoulder surgery last summer. Defensemen Andrej Mezsaros and Paul Ranger
both underwent shoulder surgery during the season. So, some of the Lightning's problems were seen as beyond Tocchet's control. Still, Tocchet feels the team could be in much better shape and is now in position to make that happen. He was one of the hardest-working players in the weight room and on the stationary bike as a player and his enthusiasm rubbed off on teammates.
"I'd like to thank Oren (Koules), Len (Barrie) and Brian for giving me this opportunity," Tocchet said. "I take this position very seriously as I know there are only 30 of these jobs in the world. Our fans have been great to me and our players and they deserve more than we gave them last season. We believe we can set ourselves on the right track for the 2009-10 season and compete for a playoff spot with a strong training camp. I expect our players will have a productive summer and then show up mentally and physically prepared on September 14."
Under Tocchet, Steven Stamkos
, the top selection in the 2008 Entry Draft, began to show flashes of the promise that made him the draft's top selection. Stamkos had only 4 goals and 10 assists in his first 40 games and was minus-11. Stamkos had 19 goals and 13 assists and was minus-2 in his final 30 games. Stamkos finished his rookie season with 23 goals and 23 assists in 79 games and went on to play for Canada at the World Championships.
Tocchet enjoyed a long career as an NHL player, skating in 1,144 regular-season games, scoring 440 goals and 952 points. He also picked up 2,972 penalty minutes and was a fan favorite for his hard-nosed play. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tocchet scored 52 goals, 112 points and 471 penalty minutes. He won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1992. In all, Tocchet played for the Flyers, Penguins, Kings, Bruins, Capitals and Coyotes.
Tocchet previously served as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes
and Colorado Avalanche