Rick Tocchet

Our Line Starts podcast: Tocchet on ’87 Canada Cup, Taylor Hall’s future

Liam McHugh and Keith Jones are joined by Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet for a wide-ranging and entertaining discussion. Tocchet provides updates on the health of the Coyotes who were injured at the pause, and also comments on the future of pending UFA Taylor Hall. Plus, don’t miss Tocchet’s best stories from his playing career, including an incredible toll-booth prank during his time in Philadelphia, admiring Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, the 1987 Canada Cup, and what it was like participating in the Flyers-Penguins five overtime game in 2000.

0-0:30 Intros
0:30-2:35 Jones tells Dale Hunter’s legendary lottery ticket prank
2:35-5:10 Discussing neutral sites for potential playoff games
5:35-7:25 Rick Tocchet remembers an incredible toll booth prank
7:50-11:40 Coaching in self-quarantine; Arizona’s playoff hopes; team getting healthy
11:40-12:55 Tocchet addresses Taylor Hall’s future
17:05-20:40 Tocchet on Gretzky, Lemieux, and the ’87 Canada Cup
20:40-23:35 Tocchet and Jones playing in a five OT game
23:35-25:00 Jones’ broadcasting advice

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Long-term outlook for the Arizona Coyotes

Long-term outlook Coyotes Keller Ekman-Larsson
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Arizona Coyotes.

Pending free agents

The Core

A pressing question — one of the most important in franchise history, frankly — is if the Coyotes should re-sign Taylor Hall, and if Hall would actually want to become part of the core.

Because, whether you feel convinced that this is the sort of group you can win a Stanley Cup with or not, there’s definitely a core to this team.

Extending Oliver Ekman-Larsson was crucial to the Coyotes, but he didn’t really look like an $8.25M defenseman during his first season being paid that way. Time will tell if Clayton Keller is really worth $7.15M per year, himself. (It’s fair to mention that big prices for prominent forwards almost always look better as time goes on.)

The Coyotes have handed big term to some interesting players, including Nick Schmaltz, who they received in moving out former third overall pick (2015) Dylan Strome. Christian Dvorak‘s contract was a little surprising at the time, but will probably be fine.

There are some other interesting questions to answer. Can Jakob Chychrun stay healthy enough to realize his potential? As great as Darcy Kuemper has been, will he be the goalie beyond his extension (running through 2021-22)? Will they retain Antti Raanta beyond 2020-21 to maintain a potentially outstanding platoon?

Clearly, the Coyotes also hope that Barrett Hayton will not just be part of the core, but a star for them. File another one under “We’ll see.”

Long-term needs for Coyotes

The Coyotes still lack that “game-breaking talent,” so to speak.

For all that the Coyotes do well (they’re quite viable), it’s not a great sign when your top two scorers are at 45 points (Schmaltz) and 44 (Keller) this late in the season. At least now that we’ve exited the dreadful “Dead Puck Era.”

Circling back to an earlier point, Taylor Hall lingers as a tough question.

While still a strong player, Hall might not quite be the guy anymore. Hall nonetheless is the closest answer Arizona currently possesses. (Opinion: Keller and Hayton seem more likely to settle in as “stars” rather than “superstars.”)

Also, for a team that’s missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons and stands at risk of an eighth, their prospect cupboard doesn’t bowl you over. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked their farm system 20th in late January (sub required), for example. While some might chalk that up to “early graduations,” Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed Arizona’s 23-and-under core at a middling 16th place.

The defense is also getting a little older in spots, particularly Alex Goligoski (34). Even OEL turns 29 on July 17.

Long-term strengths of Coyotes

Goalies are an unpredictable lot, but the Coyotes have done as well as anyone in acing these tests.

They’ve successfully targeted two backups in Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. While receiving top-notch goaltending, the Coyotes also haven’t signed scary contracts like other teams. They merely signed Raanta for three years ($4.25M) and Kuemper’s extension ($4.5M for 2020-21 and 2021-22) looks like a super-steal right now. Even if Kuemper slides, few teams have made safer bets.

There are Plans C and on, too. Adin Hill has shown some potential, and Arizona boasts an interesting prospect in the pipeline in Ivan Prosvetov.

If Chychrun can get through this rough patch of injuries and Victor Soderstrom develops, the Coyotes’ defense looks pretty solid, too.

Yes, lots of “solid” can feel like a curse when “great” is usually the difference between clearing a hurdle and crashing. (Well, great matched with lucky, at least in this often-random sport.)

Still, the Coyotes keep putting themselves in a spot where they can get that extra boost. With plenty of Pacific Division teams looking to be in waning periods, there might just be an opening for the Coyotes.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Arizona Coyotes
Coyotes’ biggest surprises, disappointments so far

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Why Stars’ Benn avoided suspension for boarding Ekman-Larsson

Stars forward Jamie Benn avoided a suspension for boarding Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

The hit happened during Wednesday’s 3-2 win for Dallas. Taylor Hall scored on the ensuing five-minute major opportunity, but Arizona didn’t make the Stars pay beyond that. The Stars won the special teams battle overall, going 2-for-2 on their chances. That loss, and a lack of suspension, could leave Coyotes fans feeling extra bitter.

Explaining why Benn avoided suspension

Reporters did pass along the league’s potential reasoning for no further discipline, though.

To start, TSN/The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun explained some of the logic:

Matthew DeFranks of The Dallas Morning News passes along the league’s lengthy video explaining “contact along the boards,” including this portion:

Stars coach Rick Bowness shared a take that lines up with the Department of Player Safety.

“That’s a tough call,” Bowness said, via The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro (sub required). “Two guys are going for the puck, and one guy turns into the boards, and they are going to bang. It probably looks a lot worse than it is. I hope the guy is OK, and he finished the game, so he must be OK. It’s one of those — sometimes, you put a referee in a tough position. I think that’s one of those.”

Ekman-Larsson returned to Wednesday’s game, which likely also helped Benn’s cause. Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet told reporters that OEL’s neck was sore, but it doesn’t sound major.

Overall, there seems to be some precedent for not providing further discipline. Now, should the NHL consider setting new standards as we learn more about head or neck injuries? I’d say yes, but the league isn’t showing much haste in making sweeping changes.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Goalapalooza: Offense coming from everywhere around NHL

Alain Nasreddine has watched New York Rangers defensemen go to the front of the net and hang out below the goal line.

It wasn’t like this back in his playing days.

Nasreddine scored one goal in 74 NHL games as a defenseman from 1998-2008. Now, the interim New Jersey Devils coach sees a league in which defensemen are expected to score – and they are delivering.

Goals are coming from everywhere this season: lacrosse-style from Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Forsberg, a ton from the blue line and even one from Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne. A total of 661 different players have scored at least once this season, a testament to balanced attacks around the league.

”You want a five-man offense,” Nasreddine said. ”The way the game is played right now, you need a five-man offense with D-men joining, whether that’s off the rush or in the offensive zone.”

There are an average of 6.12 goals per game so far this season, the second straight year that number has surpassed six and just the third time in the past 23 seasons. The top four goal scorers are all forwards 24 or younger; more impressively, 200 defensemen have combined to put up 727 goals.

Washington’s John Carlson is on pace to be the NHL’s first 100-point defenseman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92. But he’s just the leader of the pack as the style of play in the league moves more and more toward getting defensemen involved in the offense.

”Nowadays, everybody activates the D,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. ”I don’t think there’s a team that doesn’t try to get their D to join the rush. You can’t just have your top two defensemen (be) offensive guys. You have to have everybody participate.”

Look no further than the Nashville Predators for a prime example of that. Even after trading P.K. Subban, Nashville’s blue line can still pile up the goals and has combined for 29 through 48 games.

”Teams want their defensemen to jump up, want their defensemen in the play,” Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. ”Every team has kind of that fourth guy in the rush all the time, and even in the O-zone, teams are moving. I think that’s just kind of the way the game is now.”

The game is trending that direction so much that Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour tells his team, ”You score off the rush and you score on the power play.”

Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said odd-man rushes with defensemen are ”the best opportunities to score” and that, combined with the talent of young defensemen like Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen, Colorado’s Cale Makar and Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin, has been responsible for much more offense from the back end.

”You look at the young guys coming in: Heiskanen, Makar, some of these really young guys, and they come in and they’re contributing right away,” Slavin said. ”I think some teams are driven by their defense, and when their defensemen are going, that’s when the team’s playing really well. Some of those teams have those offensive defensemen that are expected to put up big numbers.”

Josi, whose 14 goals sit one off the league lead among defensemen, is a perennial Norris Trophy contender in part because of how much emphasis he puts on defense. But he’s also the prototypical modern-day blue liner in that he can do it all.

”You’re a defenseman and your primary job is to defend well,” Josi said. ”But if you’re on the power play, if you consider yourself a two-way defenseman, yeah, you want to produce offensively, too.”

Nasreddine points out that teams like the Rangers – who lead the NHL in defensemen scoring – and the Capitals often let their defensemen go to the front of the net or even below the goal line. That used to be a no-no except for some of hockey’s best who could handle those responsibilities. Now it’s just part of what coaches expect, and it’s changing who’s playing the position.

”That’s why you’re seeing more mobile defensemen, skating defensemen, because most coaches want those defensemen to be involved in the offense,” Nasreddine said. ”It’s been going for a while now, but you see it more and more.”

LIGHTNING STRIKING

Not long ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning sat outside a playoff position in the Eastern Conference. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season team and getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round last season, it was fair to worry about the Lightning not putting as much value in the 82-game grind this time.

Tampa Bay is 12-2-1 since just before Christmas and now trails Atlantic Division-leading Boston by just seven points with two extra games left to play.

”We don’t think about the future or think about the past,” Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said. ”If you’re going to think about your future, you’ll miss your present so that’s our philosophy for right now.”

PHT Morning Skate: Mystery of McDavid’s knee injury; Should Penguins make trades?

McDavid knee Morning Skate
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Don’t be surprised if the elite women’s hockey 3-on-3 ends up being the best part of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game. (Tampa Bay Times)

• Solving the mystery of Connor McDavid‘s knee injury. (Edmonton Journal)

• Arguing in favor of the Penguins being aggressive and making a trade to improve their supporting cast. Sidney Crosby is 32, while Evgeni Malkin is 33. Kris Letang is also 32. You never know when your championship window is truly going to close, so why not go for it? (Pensburgh)

• What the Maple Leafs can learn from the hated Bruins. (The Star)

• Could the Jets’ slippage cost Paul Maurice his job? The fellow is basically a coaching vampire, so I’ll believe it when I see it. (National Post)

• Rick Tocchet feels like most of us about replacing Gerard Gallant as Pacific All-Star coach because the latter was fired: weird. (Ottawa Sun)

• Justin Williams exceeded expectations during his return to the Hurricanes. (Charlotte News & Observer)

• Comparing Alex Ovechkin‘s remarkable 2019-20 season to his other best sniping years. He’s basically a Terminator robot on skates … right down to some good one-liners. (Japers’ Rink)

• Which forwards should the Ducks look to trade? I agree with Jake Rudolph that trading Ryan Getzlaf would be wise, and also agree that getting Getzlaf to sign off on a trade is a whole other ballgame. (Anaheim Calling)

• Gus Katsaros explores why the Islanders haven’t drawn many penalties. (Rotoworld)

• The Blues are showing off impressive depth during what’s been a strong title defense so far. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• Larry Brooks argues that a lack of urgency might submarine the Rangers’ playoff hopes. Personally, I think “rarely having the puck” and “being bad at defense” rank higher on their list of worries. (New York Post)

• Breaking down the coaching job Alain Vigneault is pulling off with the Philadelphia Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• Can the Coyotes use the All-Star break to regroup? They’ve slipped a bit lately. (Five for Howling)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.