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Exclusive: Rick Tocchet Says Don’t Write Off Penguins Just Yet

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Rick Tocchet

Rick Tocchet won one Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a power forward, and two more as an assistant coach.

And while he left the organization five years ago and no longer lives in the area, his ties to the team and the region remain strong.

“There’s a big piece of me still there,” Tocchet said during a wide-ranging interview with Pittsburgh Hockey Now.

*(This story is Part 1 of 2)

He likes to tell how, during a four-year run as coach in Arizona, it was standard procedure for the Coyotes’ video coach to put a Penguins game on TV in the coaches’ office, so Tocchet could keep up with his old club while tending to his official duties.

Clearly, he’s been keeping an eye on the Penguins for quite a while, and he liked what he saw from them in 2021-22.

“I enjoy the way they play, how structured they are,” Tocchet said. “I still enjoy watching (Sidney) Crosby’s gamesmanship, the way he plays the game. I enjoy how dominant he still is.

“I love the fact that a guy like (Kris Letang) continues to play at a high level. He’s played a lot of hockey, a lot of bumps and bruises, and he’s trying to find the Fountain of Youth. I thought he had a terrific year.

“I love seeing guys like (Bryan Rust) blossom, (Jake) Guentzel. The way (Mike Sullivan) is a tactician, the way he’s had to deal with stuff they’ve had to deal with.”

More importantly, Tocchet is upbeat about what he believes the Penguins can accomplish in the near future.

Although they have lost five playoff series in a row and face the potential of major personnel changes before next season, Tocchet says he thinks they are capable of being a serious contender for another Stanley Cup.

“The way they played in the playoffs against the Rangers, I think they are,” he said. “A couple of moves here and there, a healthy (Tristan) Jarry … If you had to pick eight teams to vie for a Cup (in 2021-22), they’d be in my eight, for sure. One hundred percent.

“I wouldn’t discount anything with that team. They’ll probably have to get a couple of younger guys in the lineup. I’m sure they’re going to try to find that. But I think they can have another kick at the can, for sure.”

GM Ron Hextall is facing a potentially frenetic offseason, headlined by his effort to re-sign two members of the team’s long-time core who are unrestricted free agents, Evgeni Malkin and Letang.

They, like Crosby, are in their mid-30s. Nonetheless, Tocchet thinks they still can be the driving force behind this team.

“The older guys, they always bring energy,” he said. “I know Sid. He’s probably thinking of different ways to train this year so that he can be better.”

Crosby was very good during the Penguins’ seven-game loss to the Rangers in Round 1, at least until a head shot from New York defenseman Jacob Trouba knocked him out of the second half of Game 5 and all of Game 6.

Despite losing Crosby for that key stretch and playing virtually the entire series without Jarry, Casey DeSmith, Brian Dumoulin and Rickard Rakell, the Penguins easily could have reached the second round, where Tocchet believes they could have fared well against Carolina.

“I had Pittsburgh to go to the final four,” he said. “And I still think I was right. If I’m (New York coach) Gerard Gallant, I’d buy a lottery ticket. Everything that could have gone the Rangers’ way, went their way.”

His respect and affection for the Penguins notwithstanding, Tocchet might well be coaching against them this fall. After spending the past season as a studio analyst on TNT’s coverage of the NHL, he has interviewed for several of the coaching openings around the league this spring.

The competition for those jobs is ferocious –“There’s a lot of great coaches who are not working,” Tocchet said — but it’s obvious that he’s driven to run a bench again.

“I’m a competitive guy,” he said. “I’d love to get back in. I’d just like to get back in the right situation, organization-wise. Who you’re working for, the type of team. Those things mean a lot to me now, more than ever.”

Tocchet’s first two head-coaching jobs were in situations in Tampa and Arizona that could charitably be described as turbulent, and there’s no question that he’d like to get an opportunity in a setting that is more stable, and with a club that can legitimately challenge for a championship.

Not that he regrets going through any of the chaos he encountered in Tampa and Arizona.

“As much as they weren’t the most ideal situations for a head coach, I think you become a better coach for it,” Tocchet said. “I learned a lot in those stops. … You learn to deal with certain things that are thrown your way because of those experiences, so that’s an experience I’d never regret.”

Or forget. Much like the time he spent with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

(Part 2: Tocchet’s take on the Stanley Cup final.)

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Joe
Joe
17 days ago

He should be brought back as an assistant coach. I like Sully but just by the average length of head coaching tenure in the NHL, should FSG want to make a change at some point, Tocchet would be able to step right in.
His experience and intangibles are there… players like him and they play for him. Reirden is a career assistant, his head coaching job didn’t pan out too well and he had a good team in Washington. Just my opinion and I’d appreciate any feedback pro or con9

David
David
17 days ago

Pens shouldn’t have fired him or Gonchar. They haven’t won anything since. I also noted that Tocchet did not even mention Malkin.

Zane Gearhart
Zane Gearhart
17 days ago
Reply to  David

Pens did not fire him, he left for a head coaching job then was replaced by Mark recchi, who they did fire

Bob
Bob
17 days ago
Reply to  Zane Gearhart

Right!

Dan Kingerski
Admin
17 days ago
Reply to  David

The Penguins didn’t fire Tocchet. He became the head coach of the Arizona Coyotes. I’d also suggest Todd Reirden does a solid job with defensemen.

Bob
Bob
17 days ago

I remember watching Tocchet with the Flyers and quoted Man I wish he was on the Pens. My wish came true and we won the cup. Even Mario said we’re going to win the cup when he heard the Pens picked him up. So my second wish is for him to come back as an assistant again. Let’s see if it happens again.🤞🤞

Bob
Bob
17 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Also I remember when Troy Loni was asked about the fight he had with Tocchet and he quoted “All I was thinking of when we were fighting was Get this animal off me”!

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
17 days ago

Good article Dave, looking forward to Part 2

Alan Smith
17 days ago

Sorry no defensive people in the discussion! Letang is only one person and maybe Dummo two! Never going to win without a better defense! They had the weakest defense of all the playoff contenders! Enjoy watching the offense but third class defense!

Paul
Paul
17 days ago

Tocchet needs a job. What did you expect him to say?

Paul
Paul
16 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Ricky Ticky would like nothing better than to be the next Penguins HC, remember? So why would he say that they’re old, sucky and haven’t won jack in five years? He may be sightly concussed, but he’s not stupid.

Last edited 16 days ago by Paul
William. Norcik
William. Norcik
17 days ago

This is a great read. Rick Tocchet is one of the most down to earth professional athletes I have been fortunate to have met. I wish him success and look forward to part 2.

Jstripsky
Jstripsky
16 days ago

If Tocchet were the head coach, there would be someone (or two) in the lineup to hold the other team accountable for head shots. Since the NHL doesn’t seem to really want it to stop, I guess we’re going back to having players with marginal skill who are willing to fight.

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