There are plenty of questions surrounding the current pause of the NHL season and the Arizona Coyotes have on serious one to consider.
The 2019/20 season was meant to be one of real progress for the Arizona Coyotes, who had a strong pre-season with the trade for Phil Kessel and the sensible addition of Carl Soderberg.
The hope was that the Coyotes would take the determination to overcome adversity from the previous campaign into the new year with them, and it looked like things were finally moving in the right way.
On January 1st, 2020, the Coyotes sat 12th in the entire NHL with a 22-16-4 record, with a winning percentage of .571. They were second in the Pacific Division, having held the top spot at times before the turn of the year, and were looking to be the real deal.
Head coach Rick Tocchet replaced the fired Vegas Golden Knights’ Gerard Gallant as the Pacific’s coach at the All-Star Weekend and life seemed to be great for those associated with the Coyotes.
It was around the All-Star Weekend, however, that things truly began to changed for the Coyotes. The impact of injuries to key players truly started to set in and perhaps the distraction of the break kept people for taking a closer look at what was really happening on the ice.
Leading up to the break, the Coyotes had won just one game in their previous six, with a further three consecutive losses coming once regular-season play resumed.
That stretch of games, easily the worst period for the Coyotes this season, was followed by largely inconsistent play, even with the returns of players such as Niklas Hjalmarsson and Darcy Kuemper, with the team earning a 7-8-1 record before the season was paused.
This inconsistency led to the Coyotes dropping out of the playoffs and losing ground on other teams around them. While there was clearly bad luck with injuries, there have been growing concerns over the coaching of the team.
Tocchet has shown himself to be an adept defensive-minded coach in the NHL, with the Coyotes allowing 183 goals to date - 25 fewer than the current league average in 2019/20.
But, once again, the team has struggled to generate much in the way of offense, despite the addition of Kessel and the in-season trade for Taylor Hall - who has been one of the more consistent and reliable players in a Coyotes jersey since arriving.
This inability to get his offensive players going largely rests on Tocchet, with too much dump-and-chase hockey being played, often leading to possession turnovers and keeping the Coyotes from building a coherent attack.
To have the team’s top points producer sit on just 45 (11 goals, 34 assists) is a clear sign that things are not right with the system being implemented by Tocchet. Players that have struggled in the desert have had successes with other teams and systems in the NHL, perhaps indicating further that there’s a problem with the current offensive setup.
All of this has unsurprisingly had fans question whether or not Tocchet would be in the job at the start of the 2020/21 season, especially with the likes of Gallant now without a club.
Then, the worldwide Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic hit, seeing several sports leagues around the world canceled and the NHL opt to pause the regular season, with later postponements to end of season awards and even the draft.
So, has this break provided a reprieve for Tocchet, who may have been on one of the hottest coaching seats in the entire league?
Missing the playoffs with all of the talent provided to him is more disappointing than last season’s near-miss, purely because there was an expectation this season that has not been met.
With the regular season potentially being canceled, however, it means that no playoffs could be played when all is said and done. This could put Tocchet in a position to argue that he could have turned things around in the final 12 games of the season.
It would be harder for general manager John Chayka to let Tocchet go if he wasn’t given the chance to turn things around and make the post-season, so he could be given another, most likely final, chance to get this team to the playoffs.
This could be a slim chance, however, as it’s more than likely that Hall does not return next year and Tocchet will not have the same quality at his disposal.
If Tocchet remains in the job, it could largely be down to the timing of the pandemic and pausing of the league. If the league resumes in time to complete the regular season, that could be his last opportunity before the Coyotes hierarchy decides they need to go in a different direction in 2020/21.
But the question still remains: should he be given another chance or is it finally time to move on from Tocchet?