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How will Tocchet's departure affect Kessel?

Rick Tocchet was why Phil Kessel wanted to join the Coyotes. Have things changed now that he is gone?

Los Angeles Kings v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

Last month saw the formal announcement that the Arizona Coyotes and head coach Rick Tocchet would be parting ways. The move was not at all unexpected, the Coyotes had made the post-season only once during Tocchet’s tenure, and it’s pretty common to see a new GM bring in their own coach.

But a change in coach can also lead to a change in players. We often see players not fitting into the new coach’s style, and there are plenty of instances of a player going to a team specifically for the coach. And if there was one player who thought he fit well under Tocchet, it is Phil Kessel.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, impact the departure of Rick Tocchet will have on Phil Kessel. It would not be an understatement to say that Rick Tocchet is the primary reason that Kessel is playing in the Valley of the Sun.

Rumors started soon after Rick Tocchet left Pittsburgh to coach the Arizona Coyotes that Phil Kessel was unhappy. We also saw Kessel utilize his no-movement clause to veto a trade to the Minnesota Wild. It was clear that Kessel wanted a reunion with the man who helped coach him to two cups.

And while he struggled in his first season with the Coyotes, last season was a big bounceback year for Phil the Thrill. He went from 14 goals and 24 assists in 70 games in 2019-20 to 20 goals and 23 assists in only 56 games. In addition, he looked more engaged, and we even saw some backchecking from the player primarily known for his offensive play. The turnaround was noticeable and earned the winger a nomination for the Bill Masterton Trophy for “player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.”

There has been some talk of the team shopping Kessel. After a solid season, his value is up, and Craig Morgan has speculated he may be open to a trade. The Coyotes desperately need assets moving forward, although how much the 33-year-old winger would fetch remains to be seen.

Even if Kessel is in Arizona next season, there is plenty of reason to expect another good season from Phil Kessel. His contract is expiring, and he doesn’t seem ready to hang up his skates yet, which should give him plenty of incentive to have a good season.

Fortunately for the Coyotes, Kessel is a pending unrestricted free agent, and if he is unsatisfied with his new coach, the team won’t be on the hook for long.

No matter what happens between now and the following offseason, it is unlikely that the team will re-sign Kessel. We don’t know what General Manager Bill Armstrong’s plans for the team are, but they likely don’t involve Kessel past this season.

Ideally, the Coyotes will hire a new head coach that can utilize Kessel, and he has another great season. Last season showed that Kessel can still play, and the team could certainly use someone who can score.

Many big questions are facing the Arizona Coyotes, and Phil Kessel is just one of them. This offseason is the first time we are truly going to get a look at the Bill Armstrong plan, and it will be interesting to see what happens.