Tocchet won’t return as coach of Coyotes after 4 seasons

Sports

Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet, standing, watches the game during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in St. Paul, Minn. The Wild won 5-2. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Rick Tocchet turned the Arizona Coyotes into playoff contenders, even led them to the postseason during the pandemic season.

The Coyotes were unable to consistently cross the bridge into the playoffs in four seasons under Tocchet, so new Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong opted for a change.

Arizona announced Sunday that Tocchet is out as coach, a day after the team missed the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons.

“After meeting with Rick, we have agreed that a coaching change is in the best interest of the club,” said Armstrong, who was hired last September. “This was a very difficult decision, but we believe that it is time for a new direction and new leadership. Rick is a very good coach and an incredible person, and we sincerely appreciate all his hard work and dedication to the Coyotes the past four years.”

The Coyotes reached the postseason last year when the format was rejiggered due to the coronavirus pandemic and beat Nashville in four games before losing to Colorado in five.

Arizona was in playoff position heading into the final month of the 2020-21 season, holding the fourth spot in the West Division before losing 12 of 15 games to get eliminated. The Coyotes closed a 24-26-6 season with a pair of wins over San Jose to finish three points behind St. Louis for the West’s final playoff spot.

“It’s been an honor to coach the Coyotes the past four seasons,” Tocchet said. “I have great respect and admiration for all the players I coached in Arizona, along with my coaching staff, the medical staff, the equipment managers, the PR staff and the team services staff. They are the best in the NHL, and I appreciate all their help and hard work.”

Tocchet was a tough-nosed player during 18 NHL seasons, winning the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1992. Tocchet spent two seasons as Tampa Bay’s head coach and won two Stanley Cups as an assistant at Pittsburgh before being hired by Arizona in 2017.

The 57-year-old was hired in 2017 to guide a middling team that hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2012 Western Conference Finals.

Arizona was hit hard by injuries during Tocchet’s tenure, particularly by goalies Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, and repeatedly came up just short of the playoffs.

The Coyotes made playoff pushes in Tocchet’s first two seasons and got into the postseason last year when the NHL expanded the field in the pandemic “bubble” environment.

Tocchet went 125-131-34 at Arizona.

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