Arizona Rubber

Arizona’s and New Mexico’s Authoritative Voice of Ice and Inline Hockey

Coyotes ready to take strides in positive directions, starting with ’17-18 season

 

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There is no question that the Arizona Coyotes are a team in transition.

Following a summer of personnel and coaching moves, the curtain is about to rise on a season some believe is filled with hope and promise. Still, others believe that this version of the Coyotes remains a few years away from being a truly competitive team, and a distance from a serious contender for Stanley Cup playoffs participation.

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If there is anyone associated with the franchise now that represents glory from the past and hope for the future, some argue that new coach Rick Tocchet fills that criteria.

After Dave Tippett walked away from the Coyotes, a team he coached from the 2009-10 season through last season, the transition began. Tippett’s move coincided with trades involving goalie Mike Smith and defenseman Connor Murphy and the quick assertion that management would not offer a 2017-18 contract to Shane Doan, its reigning captain and franchise icon.

All of which put the Coyotes into a state of flux and doubt. Plus, Tocchet was coming into a roster populated with younger players, and a healthy dose of uncertainty that followed his appointment in early July.

As Tocchet prepares to lead his first NHL camp as a head coach, the issue of communication and the exchange of ideas becomes critical.

Here’s a franchise that has not qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the last five years, and its last run post-season participation was perhaps the most memorable in franchise history. That’s when the Coyotes, led by Smith’s goaltending, reached the Western Conference finals and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

Since, the Coyotes have stumbled through the past half-decade, and now with Tocchet, it’s hoped a renewed spirit and scene of drive and determination will augment his coaching style.

At this point, that may be difficult to ascertain.

That’s because Tocchet has never been a head coach in the NHL and only assisted on quality teams. Majority owner Anthony Barroway hopes Tocchet’s achievements as a player and as an assistant coach can provide then necessary guidance to point the Coyotes toward playoff participation.

To make that happen, Tocchet needs to develop a strong rapport with younger players. Fresh and impressionable, the Coyotes current core, all under 25 years old, hold the key to the future.

When Tocchet was named the Coyotes 18th coach in its history in mid-summer, he quickly made a decisive point.

“I’m a good communicator,” he said. “Players want to be in a position to win, and it will be my job to push the right buttons at the proper time.”

Regarding his style, Tocchet says he wants to play an up-tempo game and that means aggressive forechecking.

From a physical standpoint, the Coyotes clearly have the bodies to bang in the corner and carry the puck through the neutral zone. Starting with the speed of Max Domi, Tocchet would be wise to build his offense around this sparkplug.

Also up front, Tocchet will have to harness the energy displayed by Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini, Lawson Crouse, Christian Fischer, Anthony Duclair (pictured) and Clayton Keller.

All of which Tocchet is keenly aware.

“I like a fast-paced game, and I want this team to be creative,” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world to hold the Stanley Cup, and that’s what I want to bring here.”

In his 18-year NHL playing career, Tocchet played for six teams, won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and helped the Philadelphia Flyers reached the 1987 Stanley Cup finals. As a player, Tocchet spent parts of three seasons with the Coyotes.

As an assistant coach with the Penguins last season, he assisted Pittsburgh to back-to-back league championships, and that’s the goal currently on his Coyotes’ radar screen.

Photo/Norm Hall

— Mark Brown

(Oct. 9, 2017)