Rick Tocchet
Rick Tocchet will not return as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes, the role he occupied for the last four seasons. (Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

Turns out it’s a popular day for coaches to mutually part ways. Shortly after the Blue Jackets announced John Tortorella won’t be coming back, reports came that the Arizona Coyotes have made the same decision with their head coach, Rick Tocchet.

Tocchet arrived in Arizona in 2017, fresh off consecutive Stanley Cup wins as an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins. To say his head coaching career got off to a rough start is an understatement; the Coyotes started the year 0-10-1 and barely won their twelfth game despite blowing a two-goal lead in the final minute of the third. This wasn’t necessarily on Tocchet, though. The team was still in a rebuild and their playoff chances were slim to none even when their record was 0-0-0. It wasn’t all bad, either; over the last two months, the Coyotes finished 17-9-3, good enough for a .638 points percentage that ranked 12th in the NHL during that span. Young players like Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun showed some promise. It appeared Tocchet and the Coyotes were on the up-and-up.

That trend continued over the next year and a half. The Coyotes barely missed out on the playoffs in 2018-19, finishing with a respectable 39-35-8 record. Part of that was due to incredible goaltending from Darcy Kuemper (.925 save percentage, tied for 6th in the NHL, min. 25 games). But the Coyotes dealt with a plague of injuries to players of big and small roles throughout the season. Arizona slowly started to shift to win-now mode, acquiring Phil Kessel in the offseason. Kessel struggled in his new surroundings, but the team started the 2019-20 season strong. They took another big swing in acquiring Taylor Hall to bolster their offense. On January 7, they beat the Panthers 5-2, improving to 25-16-4. They were first in the Pacific and seventh in the entire league. The Coyotes were starting to look like a team to be feared.

And then the bottom dropped out. To be fair, a December injury to Kuemper that sidelined him for over two months certainly hurt their chances. But it’s not like the Coyotes were doing themselves any favors. The Coyotes were 21st in goals for per game and 23rd in shots against per game before that January 7 victory. They finished the year 24th and 22nd in those categories, respectively. Antti Raanta more than held down the fort in Kuemper’s absence, posting a stellar .921 save percentage. The team struggled mightily at 5-on-5, finishing 24th in Corsi (48.37%) and 21st in expected goals (48.83%). Key players like Keller and Oliver Ekman-Larsson were regressing. Hall inherited Kessel’s goal-scoring curse. There were even a chance they might flip Hall at the deadline. Their season went south fast.

Over the last two months of the regular season, the Coyotes finished 29th in points percentage (.423%), ahead of only the Sharks and Red Wings. They were worse during those two months than they were in the entire 2017-18 season, which they finished 29th in the standings with a .427 points percentage. Arizona would’ve likely missed the playoffs if the season ended normally; they trailed Nashville for the last wild card spot by four points, and the Preds had a game in hand. Arizona struggled to drive play in the bubble (dead last in 5-on-5 Corsi, 23rd in xG) and score (T-13th in goals per game). Kuemper dragged the team past Nashville in the qualifier series, posting a stellar .933 save percentage. But consecutive 7-1 thumpings from Colorado in Games 4 and Game 5 of the first round eliminated the Coyotes and proved they still had a long way to go.

The Coyotes didn’t come into this year with sky-high expectations after a miserable offseason of turmoil and bad decisions. Despite the Blues trying their best to throw away the last playoff spot in the West for most of March and April, the Coyotes were unable to take advantage. A 6-10-3 mark since April 1 doomed the Coyotes’ hopes, allowing the Blues to claim the division’s last playoff spot. Their underlying numbers remained unspectacular (48.75% Corsi, 48.56% xG), and their goaltending dropped off, finishing 23rd in team save percentage. As a result, there will not be playoff hockey in Arizona for a tenth straight season. And after four years in the desert, management has decided they have seen enough from Tocchet.

To be fair, the Coyotes’ failures certainly don’t rest entirely on Tocchet’s shoulders. He did some legitimately good work in his first two years (especially his second), finishing sixth in voting for the Jack Adams Award in 2018-19, which goes to the NHL’s best head coach. And it’s not like he exactly had the best ownership situation behind him over the last few years. But last year’s second-half collapse was a rapid halt to a rising coaching pedigree. And Tocchet has been unable to right the ship over the last sixteen months.

As you may have guessed, the Coyotes did not rank very high in our latest edition of NHL Power Rankings.

With a new GM in Bill Armstrong coming in last offseason, this firing makes even more sense; GMs usually like to hire their own coach, especially after a disappointing season. Armstrong will start the search to hire the club’s seventh head coach since moving from Winnipeg in 1997 (not counting a 21-game run to close out the 2003-04 season for currently Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness).

To be clear, the Coyotes roster itself needs to improve before any coach can dream of taking them on a run like the one they had under Dave Tippett in 2012, or any type of playoff run, for that matter. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun also reported that Tocchet will “have some options on the market;” there are definitely plenty of people who still think highly of him as a coach. LeBrun also provided an update on the Coyotes’ coaching search. But ultimately, Rick Tocchet’s time in Arizona has concluded.

Follow Us on Twitter! Also check out the Vendetta Shop and our partnership with SimBull (learn more here)!

Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick