Rick Tocchet is the new coach of the Arizona Coyotes.
The Coyotes announced Tuesday that Tocchet, who spent the past three seasons as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins, helping them win the Stanley Cup each of the past two, will be the 18th coach in franchise history.
Tocchet, 53, said he signed a four-year contract. He replaces Dave Tippett, who mutually agreed with the Coyotes to leave the organization June 17 after eight seasons as coach.
The Coyotes were the only team with a coaching vacancy prior to hiring Tocchet.
Tocchet previously was a Coyotes assistant and played three of his 18 NHL seasons with the Coyotes (1997-2000). He had 130 points (64 goals, 66 assists) in 213 games.
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"I've seen this hockey market at its best, or climbing that ladder," Tocchet said. "It's an exciting hockey market. I think it's a little bit underrated because of the situation sometimes they've been put in, but I think there is a lot of value there. The attractiveness was with the young nucleus of players, obviously the lifestyle of Arizona -- it's a great lifestyle, a healthy lifestyle -- and I just want to be part of this thing moving forward."
Tocchet spent two seasons as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008-10. The Lightning went 53-69-26 and failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs under Tocchet.
Tocchet said his three seasons on the Penguins staff, including working closely with coach Mike Sullivan, who took over on Dec. 12, 2015, have helped him become a better coach.
"I'm a more decisive guy now," Tocchet said. "Earlier in my career in Tampa I got swayed a little bit on decisions when I would have went the other way. I'll be more decisive."
Tocchet's relationship with Sullivan goes back 20 years; they played together with the Coyotes from 1998-2000 and have since spent time working for the same teams. Sullivan was pleased to see Tocchet get another coaching opportunity.
"[Tocchet] and I have a great relationship, first and foremost," Sullivan said. "I really value his friendship, I value his hockey knowledge and his coaching ability. I think the trust that we've built over the years together, working together, and we went as far back as playing in Phoenix together as players, but we also coached together in Tampa. Our relationship, I think, expands a lot of years. We've become close over the years and we've learned to trust one another through some of the challenges we've gone through, both as players and coaches. That's something that I have so much respect for.
"I'm thrilled for [Tocchet] to get this opportunity. He's so deserving of being a head coach again in this league. He's a very qualified guy, he's a hard worker, I know he's going to do a great job. We're all thrilled for him."
Tocchet said the allure of the Arizona job is getting to work with the young players in the organization and turning them and the Coyotes into winners.
Arizona, which hasn't reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2012 and finished 28th out of 30 teams with 70 points last season, has at least eight players 22 years old or younger who are expected to be in the lineup opening night against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 5.
"You've got a lot of prospects, a lot of players that were stars as juniors and they're coming together now," Tocchet said. "Chicago went through it. Pittsburgh went through it. You've got to go through this process to win. When I looked at this roster I said there is potential to grow this into something big."
Arizona general manager John Chayka said he had in-person interviews with five candidates, extensive conversations with about a dozen and talked to about 25 coaches during his search.
"[Tocchet] was the best candidate by a wide margin," Chayka said.
Chayka said Tocchet's ability to communicate and relate to young players, especially evident in his experience with the Penguins, played a significant role in making him the best candidate.
"He's one of the best communicators I've come across not only in hockey but probably professionally as well," Chayka said. "Then you start talking to people around Pittsburgh and even his time here [in Arizona]. He's a guy who has played the game at a high level, been a first-line player. He's also played lower in the lineup at times during his career. I think he can just relate to the players. He's very firm. He can motivate. He can be aggressive in his approach but he can also have that big brother kind of approach with our young players and I think that's going to be helpful moving forward."
Tocchet played 1,144 games in the NHL before turning to coaching. He started as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche from 2002-04 and joined the Coyotes as an assistant in 2005-06.
Tocchet's tenure with the Coyotes was mired in controversy when he was accused of being involved in a sports gambling ring. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling and was sentenced to two years' probation on May 25, 2007.
Chayka said the Coyotes were not concerned about Tocchet's past when going through the process of hiring him.
"You always want to do your due diligence and ask questions, but I think his track record speaks for itself, the type of person he is over a long, long period of time in this league speaks for itself," Chayka said. "Our feeling was there's no red flags whatsoever."
Tocchet started the 2008-09 season as an assistant with the Lightning, but took over as the interim coach on Nov. 14. He was named the full-time coach prior to the 2009-10 season, his last with Tampa Bay.
He served as an analyst on Philadelphia Flyers games for Comcast Sportsnet before joining the Penguins as an assistant in the 2014-15 season.
"He has great relationships," Chayka said. "Players love playing for him. The term 'best coach I've ever had' was used so much it was almost like it was a tag line, but it was followed up by, 'Make no mistake, he's a presence, he wants to win and he'll do anything he can to win.'"