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Kessel, Tocchet reunite with Coyotes after trade from Penguins

Forward, coach had solid working relationship in Pittsburgh, won two Stanley Cup championships

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

Rick Tocchet was nicknamed "The Phil Whisperer" during his time as a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant for his working relationship with right wing Phil Kessel.

They are together again after the Penguins traded Kessel, minor-league defenseman Dane Birks and a fourth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft to the Coyotes on Saturday for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph. A potential reunion with Tocchet, who will enter his third season as Coyotes coach, played a significant role for Kessel in making Arizona a desirable destination.

"I'm very excited to be part of the Coyotes," Kessel said. "Me and Rick have a good relationship, excited he's going to be my coach, looking forward to doing great things in Phoenix."


[RELATED: Kessel traded to Coyotes by Penguins for Galchenyuk | 2019-20 NHL Trade Tracker]


Tocchet said Kessel's ability to change the outcome -- he had 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 82 games this season and two points (one goal, one assist) in four Stanley Cup Playoff games -- was a big reason to make the deal.

"I'm excited to have Phil join our team," Tocchet said in a statement. "Phil is a dynamic playmaker and can be a difference maker for us when the game is on the line."

Kessel had 303 points (110 goals, 193 assists) in 328 games during his four seasons with the Penguins (2015-19). Over that time span, only center Sidney Crosby had more points for Pittsburgh (363).

Tocchet was an assistant when the Penguins acquired Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2015, and the two hit it off immediately. Together, they helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017. Tocchet accepted the Coyotes job after the second championship.

Video: Penguins trade Kessel to Coyotes for Galchenyuk

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said it didn't take long for coach Mike Sullivan to notice the special bond Kessel and Tocchet forged after Kessel's arrival.

"I know [Sullivan] always told me they had a real good line of communication," Rutherford said in a phone interview Saturday. "I think they just have good chemistry. We know that happens with lots of people, and Rick has a special way of dealing with people.

"I think he's found a real comfortable place where Phil is very comfortable and trusts him and all those things. That's why their relationship was good."

Kessel had a limited no-trade clause that featured a list of eight teams he could be traded to without his approval. Rutherford admitted the bond Kessel and Tocchet share helped make the deal possible.

"I think that's a big factor," Rutherford said. "They've had a great relationship for a long time. They've worked well together. They really like each other. Arizona is looking for a guy to help the power play and score more points, and Phil's capable of doing that. I think he'll go there and play really well."

Coyotes GM John Chayka thinks so too, especially after conferring with Tocchet prior to finalizing the trade.

"Toch knows him extremely well and coached him and he knows exactly what he's getting with Phil, and Phil knows exactly what he's getting with Toch," Chayka said.

"… Phil had some control where he ended up, had some trade protection and wanted to be part of things here. All those things together gives us great comfort. A Stanley Cup winner, an elite scorer and a guy who should come in motivated."

Especially since he and the "The Phil Whisperer" are together again.

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