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Rick Tocchet and the Arizona Coyotes: A Checkered History

Former Coyote Player and Assistant Will Have to Overcome Past Mistakes to Succeed Again

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six
NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 11: Assistant coach Rick Tocchet and Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate their Stanley Cup victory following a win over the Nashville Predators in Game Six of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Bridgestone Arena on June 11, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Arizona Coyotes have a new head coach. The team announced Monday that Rick Tocchet will return to the Valley to take charge of a new Coyotes team this fall.

Tocchet has had stints in Arizona as a player and assistant previously, tenures that brought their shares of highs and lows.

So, let's take a look back at Tocchet's past with the Coyotes.

Playing Years

July 9, 1997: Despite being a three-time 40 goal scorer, the 33-year-old Tocchet had become a bit of a journeyman after being traded by the Flyers in 1992. The Scarborough, Ontario native had found the back of the net 48 times in 1992-93 with the Penguins but was traded the next year to Los Angeles, followed by pit stops in Boston and Washington.

In the summer of 1997, Tocchet declined a player option with the Capitals to become a free agent and inked a three-year deal with the recently relocated Coyotes, who had lost a seven-game thriller in the first round of the playoffs in their inaugural season in Arizona.

1997-98: By acquiring Tocchet, the Coyotes entered year number two in the desert with a dangerous offensive trio, inserting him next to fan favorites Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick. With his physical play and knack for scoring, it didn’t take Tocchet long to earn the fan base’s affection either.

Despite only playing 68 games, Tocchet was second on the team with 26 goals in 97-98, and topped the squad with 157 PIM, thanks in large part to his punch-packed fights, events that became must-see moments at America West Arena.

In that spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tocchet’s team-leading six goals weren’t enough to prevent a second straight year of first round futility, however, as the Red Wings knocked off the Coyotes in six games.

1998-99: Tocchet’s best year in Phoenix coincided with the team’s best finish in the standings since moving to the desert. Behind Roenick and Tkachuk, Tocchet was third in points, with his 56 being his second most productive year outside of Philadelphia.

With a 3-1 series lead on St. Louis in the playoffs, however, Tocchet and the rest of the offense went cold, allowing the Blues to win two overtimes games in Phoenix, and send the Coyotes out of the playoffs in the first round, again. After back to back 26 goal seasons, Tocchet failed to score in the St. Louis series, the first time in 11 career playoff campaigns he failed to score a goal.

1999-2000: The dawn of a new century turned out to be the beginning of the sunset for both the Coyotes and Tocchet’s own Arizona tenure.

In the final year of his contract, the then 35-year-old’s age began to show; In 64 games, the veteran wing scored just 12 goals, and, even more surprising, spent just 67 minutes in the box.

Not wanting to risk losing him for nothing that summer, Phoenix sent Tocchet back to his original NHL home in Philadelphia in exchange for a struggling Mikael Renberg in March.

While the team lost just two of their final seven games to clinch a playoff berth, they were easily eliminated by Colorado, 4-1, again in the first round.

Behind the Bench

2005: During a summer of wild change behind the bench, Tocchet found himself next to new Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky to help guide the Coyotes into the post-lockout era. Tocchet, who had previously been an assistant with the Avalanche before coming back to Phoenix, was tabbed as interim coach midway through the 2005-06 season while Gretzky went to spend time with his ailing mother.

The team went 2-3-0 during Tocchet’s brief stint in charge, and eventually missed the playoffs for the third straight season.

February 9, 2006: While all was normal on the ice for the Coyotes, stunning developments away from the game revealed that Tocchet had been running a sports gambling ring in New Jersey that had processed thousands of bets and millions of dollars over several years.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman forbade Tocchet from coaching until the league decided how to handle the corrupt assistant coach, who had been busted thanks to an undercover investigation the New Jersey State Police had dubbed “Operation Slapshot.”

Tocchet, with mountains of evidence stacked against him, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy in March of 2007, enabling him to avoid jail time.

The Road Back

After initial speculation that Tocchet’s coaching career was unsalvageable, however, the notorious tough guy fought his way back into the NHL coaching world, and thanks to a few strokes of luck, stunned the hockey world by becoming the Lightning’s interim coach just 15 months after being convicted.

2008-2010: Tocchet’s interim year was good enough to earn a contract in Tampa, where he ending up spending two years coaching before being forced out by a new ownership group.

2014-2017: Recently, the new head coach was an assistant in Pittsburgh, where he was credited with helping sniper Phil Kessel return to form and was in charge of the power play. He now has back to back Stanley Cups to show for it.

It’s been a decade of change for Tocchet since he last coached in the Valley, but the club seems hopeful that his best days, like the franchise’s, are still to come.