Rick Tocchet

Rick Tocchet replaces Gerard Gallant as Pacific All-Star coach

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Gerard Gallant’s surprising dismissal as head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday also created another opening at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.

Gallant had been named as the head coach of the Pacific Division team earlier this month because the Golden Knights had the best record in the division at the start of the new calendar year. But with him now no longer being the coach in Vegas, the NHL had to find a replacement.

The League announced on Thursday that Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet will be that replacement.

The Coyotes are currently in first place in the Division with 57 points entering play on Thursday.

[Related: Golden Knights’ firing of Galant short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction]

For Tocchet, this will be his first time coaching in the All-Star Game. He has been the Coyotes’ coach since the start of the 2017-18 season. It is worth noting that in the chaos of the league’s coaching carousel this season (that has now seen seven coaching changes) he is tied with Vancouver’s Travis Green as the longest-tenured coach in the Pacific Division. Both are in their third years with their respective teams.

Washington’s Todd Reirden (Metropolitan Division), Boston’s Bruce Cassidy (Atlantic Division), and St. Louis’ Craig Berube (Central Division) are the other three coaches at this year’s game.

The NHL’s All-Star weekend takes place later this month on January 24-25 in St. Louis.

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All-Star Game coaches
Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game
NHL Skills Competition to feature women’s 3-on-3, pucks shot from stands
Rosters for Women’s elite 3-on-3 tournament 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Coyotes get another big win, but Raanta leaves with injury

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The Arizona Coyotes won their third game in a row on Saturday night by beating the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-2, keeping pace in the Pacific Division race.

It could turn out to be a costly win as goalie Antti Raanta had to leave the game in the second period due to a lower-body injury. He did not return. According to The Athletic’s Craig Morgan, Raanta is currently being listed as “day-to-day.”

This is a potentially big deal for the Coyotes because their goaltending duo of Raanta and Darcy Kuemper has been a huge part of their success this season.

They are now both injured.

Kuemper has missed the past seven games and is considered to be out on a “week-to-week” basis.

Both goalies have been among the top performing goalies in the league since joining the Coyotes in recent seasons. There was a point earlier this season where it was speculated that the Coyotes should consider dangling Raanta in trade talks due to the emergence of Kuemper as the team’s starter. But general manager John Chayka never really showed much interest in doing that because of how important it is to have more than one good goalie on the roster.

Raanta’s presence made it possible for them to overcome the injury to Kuemper, and he has played really well since. Now they have to hope his latest injury is not serious.

Adin Hill finished Saturday’s game and allowed two goals on 17 shots. He has appeared in 19 games in his very brief NHL career with a .902 save percentage.

The Coyotes are beginning a three-game road trip through Florida, Tampa Bay, and Carolina this week.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Taylor Hall’s early impact on Arizona Coyotes

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In mere hours, Taylor Hall will suit up for his fifth game as a member of the Arizona Coyotes. Hall’s new team has a chance to fatten its Pacific Division lead against the (mostly) rising Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.

Don’t blame Hall if he’s still trying to find his rhythm, and footing.

Consider that the New Jersey Devils sat Hall as they ramped up their efforts to trade him, ultimately finding a deal with Arizona. Hall waited a week between games, needing to catch a “red eye” flight to debut for the Coyotes in a win against the Sharks on Dec. 17.

Other factors likely messed with Hall’s equilibrium.

So far, the Coyotes only played one home game (against the Wild on Dec. 19), not that “home” is home yet for Hall, anyway.

While the holiday break provided a crucial opportunity for rest, Hall probably feels like he’s still trying to dance to a strange, unfamiliar beat. Really, these factors only strengthen the logic behind trading for a player sooner rather than later. Ideally, the Coyotes will get Hall fully up to speed long before most other teams make their late “rentals.”

Factoring in all of those caveats underscores how impressive Hall’s first four games have been. Let’s break down his start, going deeper than one goal and two primary assists.

Dec. 17: Coyotes beat Sharks 3-2 (Hall gets first assist)

Using Natural Stat Trick’s handy game logs, you can see that this was the only game so far where Hall was really under water from a shot-share perspective.

Even then, Hall showed why the Coyotes acquired him by combining power and skill to set up Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s game-winning goal:

“He had maybe four hours of sleep, travels cross country, and he hasn’t played in about a week. Not bad for that situation,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet after that game, via NHL.com. “If he plays like that for not having much sleep, imagine what he can do with some real rest.”

Dec. 19: Wild beat Coyotes 8-5 (Another assist)

Hall has avoided the line blender so far, spending the majority of his even-strength time with Christian Dvorak and Phil Kessel. If that alignment boosts Kessel and opens up easier matchups for the likes of Clayton Keller, it could be quite the boon for Arizona.

While this marked Hall’s first loss with the Coyotes, he made an impact, firing five SOG and finishing this nice takeaway by Dvorak by setting up Kessel:

 

The Coyotes lost Darcy Kuemper to injury, so it was clearly not a great overall night for Arizona.

Dec. 22: Coyotes beat Red Wings 5-2 (First Hall goal with Arizona)

Despite limited ice time (14:16 TOI), Hall made an impact. He fired four SOG, with his first Coyotes goal coming on a booming shot:

Goodness.

Dec. 23: Predators win against Coyotes 3-2 (First time Hall hasn’t scored a point for Arizona)

Looking at only the simplest stats, this seems like a rough night for Hall specifically. He failed to score a point, and finished with a -2 rating.

Delve deeper and Hall comes across as a positive influence. The Predators dominated possession, but Hall broke even. Hall also showed signs that he could click with Derek Stepan and Vinnie Hinostroza if need be.

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After Hall’s debut, Tocchet told NHL Now that he didn’t want Hall to get “system’d to death” upon arriving with the Coyotes. If Arizona leans toward a slow trickle instead of a deluge, maybe we’ll see more of the benefits of that osmosis starting with Saturday’s game against the Golden Knights?

Ultimately, it’s already been a pretty strong start for Hall in Arizona.

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.

Q&A: Darcy Kuemper on Coyotes’ season, handling more minutes

It’s early, but if you’re discussing front-runners for the 2020 Vezina Trophy, right now there’s no way to not have Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper in the mix.

The 29-year-old Saskatoon native leads all NHL netminders who have made at least 15 starts with a .943 even strength save percentage this season. But if you ask Kuemper about individual honors like that or potentially finding his way to St. Louis for next month’s All-Star Game, he’ll give you the stock hockey player answer.

“I just basically try not to listen and just keep worrying about the team and our upcoming games and try to do my best to stay in the moment,” he told NBC Sports recently.

After five seasons as a backup with the Wild and a short stint with the Kings, Kuemper landed in Arizona in 2017-18, but his rise began after the calendar switched to 2019 and an injury to Antti Raanta opened the door for an increased workload with the Coyotes. He’s repaid head coach Rick Tocchet for the opportunity with play that’s resulted in a .946 ESSV% since Jan. 1, 2019, good for third-best in the NHL, putting him only behind Ben Bishop and Thomas Greiss in that category. His seven shutouts over that period are second only to Sergei Bobrovsky, who has eight.

We spoke with Kuemper recently about his reset mentality, goalie coach Corey Schwab’s influence, what makes this Coyotes team special, and more.

Enjoy.

PHT: You and Antti have seen a lot of shots this season, but the guys in front are doing a good job of allow you both to actually see many of them. Is that a coaching thing from Tocchet or is that more communication between the goalies and the guys in front?

KUEMPER: “Tocc’s done a great job of making sure we’re comfortable defending. Not every game’s like that, but if there is a game where we’re spending a lot of time in our own end we don’t panic, we stay comfortable and stay within our system, and I think that’s what allows us to have a chance in those kind of games and be able to win in different ways.”

PHT: You’ve only lost in regulation in back-to-back starts twice this season. Where does that reset mentality come from and is that something you’ve had to add to your game as you’ve gotten older?

KUEMPER: “For me, it’s something that comes with experience and age, being able to move on from games and just try to keep that consistent approach each game regardless of what has been happening or happened the game before. I think as a group we’ve done a really good job of that, just having that consistent approach. Even when we win a couple in a row you don’t see us get too high and if we lose a couple we don’t get too low. We just try to keep the same attitude and come to each game with the same approach.”

PHT: As your workload has increased over the last two seasons have you made any changes to your off-ice prep to handle more minutes?

KUEMPER: “Honestly, I always try to train like I always want to play as many games as possible, so I always have trained and try to prepare to be ready for that kind of thing. It hasn’t been that hard of an adjustment. I feel like I was well-prepared for it and built to handle that sort of workload. We have a great training staff here with the Coyotes. They do a great job of helping me recover and working on any nicks I get along the way to make sure I’m feeling great out there every game.”

PHT: What kind of effect has [goalie coach] Corey [Schwab] had on you the last two seasons? What are the biggest areas of improvement he’s helped with in your game?

KUEMPER: “He’s really helped me with consistency and making it obvious and pointing out what I’m doing when I’m being successful and when things start to slip a little bit what’s in my game that’s causing that to happen. Just having those thinking points and knowing what you need to do to play well out there, and for him to do a great job of making those ingrained in me, that allows me to know what I have to do and things to focus on to just go out there and play every night and try to be as consistent as I can.”

PHT: What were those first conversations with him like last season, especially as things starting going for you after the new year? What areas did he see needed the most improvement?

KUEMPER: “It wasn’t more areas of improvement but more areas that I need to have in my game all the time. That’s being in control, I’m good when my feet are set. I start moving around or I start to get too aggressive, sometimes you lose a little bit of that control of the game. When I feel like I’m set and ready for that shots that’s when my game kind of slows down and everything steps off of that.”

PHT: Last season it seemed every other day saw a new injury. What were the lessons the team learned from that that’s helped this season?

KUEMPER: “It’s never easy having that many guys go out and key guys, but I think we learned as a group if we play our system and play structured and everyone’s on the same page that’s when we’re going to have success. To carry that into this year and have guys healthy, I think that’s why we’ve so far have had continued to grow and continued to take steps in becoming a better team.”

PHT: How is Tocchet different from any coach you’ve had in your NHL career?

KUEMPER: “I’ve been fortunate enough to have good coaches. He’s a real players coach being a player himself and having such a great career. He gets it from our standpoint. He’s really good at communicating from a player’s perspective of what we need to be doing out there and he also understands what we’re seeing out there and what we should be seeing.”

PHT: What’s something that people may not know about this team that’s made it so special through two months of the season?

KUEMPER: “Our depth is unbelievable. We have different guys contributing every night. That’s why I think we’ve been having such a good start is we’re not relying on one or two guys. If they get shut down then we’re in trouble. It’s different guys every night and everyone’s capable of contributing. It’s been a lot of fun just being part of a group like that.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Help not available: NHL staffs brimming with ex-head coaches

When Kevin Hayes got off to a slow start with the Philadelphia Flyers, coach Alain Vigneault didn’t need to talk to him.

Assistants Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien took care of that. Because each had been an NHL head coach before, Vigneault encourages that direct communication.

“There’s a confidence factor with AV knowing that if we’re going to talk to a player, what we’re saying would be the same message that he would be delivering to that player,” Yeo said. “He wanted people that were comfortable and confident to go up to players, whether it’s correcting, whether it’s reinforcing, whether it’s patting somebody on the back. He wants us to be proactive about that.”

It’s not just Yeo and Therrien. Anyone interested in firing a coach this season is in trouble without a successor lined up because almost every potential candidate already has a job.

Of 31 teams, 20 have a former NHL head coach as an assistant and six have more than one. Concerns about having too many cooks in the kitchen are no match for the benefit of having experience dealing with players, handling game situations and scouting opponents.

“There’s nothing but positives,” Vigneault said. “I’ve got guys that understand exactly what I’m going through and understand exactly what I mean as far as feedback. Nobody understands a head coach better than a former head coach.”

Philadelphia’s three-headed monster is bested only by the Dallas Stars having ex-head coaches John Stevens, Rick Bowness and Todd Nelson on Jim Montgomery’s staff. Unlike Vigneault, who carries with him the gravitas of taking two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final, Montgomery is a first-time head coach and isn’t at all bothered by having guys directly reporting to him who have done his job before.

“I’m a guy that wants information from other people,” said Montgomery, who’s in his second season as Stars coach. “As much information they can give me before I talk to the team, the better knowledge I’m imparting to the team so that we can have quicker points and get right to what we think’s going to help us win hockey games.”

Four of the NHL-tested assistants – Detroit’s Dan Bylsma, Chicago’s Marc Crawford, Anaheim adviser Darryl Sutter and St. Louis part-timer Larry Robinson – have won the Stanley Cup as a head coach, and Sutter did it twice. Many more have connections to championship teams or won in the minors.

“There’s a lot of little fires that coaches have to go through – head coaches – and I think when you have a staff with experience, they can put those fires out before they get to you,” said Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who has Phil Housley and John MacLean on his staff.

Often, a personal connection is enough to create instant chemistry on a staff. Montgomery and Stevens played together in the American Hockey League and won the Calder Cup in 1998, while Vigneault and Therrien have known each other for two decades.

Washington’s Todd Reirden in his first head NHL job wanted an assistant with similar experience and hired Scott Arniel without knowing him. After being on a Pittsburgh Penguins staff under Bylsma with former head coaches Tony Granato and Jacques Martin as fellow assistants, Reirden understands the importance of leaning on someone who’s been there before.

“I think I had had 10 or 11 years of assistant or associate coach (experience),” said Reirden, who was Barry Trotz’s top assistant when the Capitals won the Cup in 2018. “But not being a full-time head coach in this league, and I thought it was important to have someone like Scott that had gone through the same type of thing: Good things that worked for him, in the same breath things that he wished he could do over and positives and negatives we could work on together.”

Settling in to life as a lieutenant isn’t always easy for former head coaches.

Therrien hadn’t been an assistant since his first job in junior in the early 1990s, while Stevens is coming off being fired by the Los Angeles Kings less than a year ago.

“When you’re the head coach, you’re used to speaking all the time,” said Stevens, who has coached the Flyers and Kings and won the Cup twice as an assistant with Los Angeles. “As an assistant coach, you’ve got to listen and speak at the right time. … A coaching staff functions like a team. I think you put egos aside.”

Fired almost exactly a year ago as Blues coach – St. Louis went on to win the Cup with replacement Craig Berube – Yeo still sees the game as a head coach but changes his messaging from talking directly to players to whispering down the line to Therrien so Vigneault gets the gist.

It could be disconcerting for a young coach to look over his shoulder at one or more potential replacements. But some, like Montgomery, New York Rangers coach David Quinn with Lindy Ruff and new Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe with Dave Hakstol could do their jobs even better with some extra experience.

Vigneault felt that way during his first job in Montreal in the mid-1990s when he hired Dave King as an assistant. As the CEO behind the bench, he thinks it’s smart for coaches of all ages to take whatever experience they can get.

“As a young coach, it was real beneficial to me,” Vigneault said. “With my experience now, I can probably use them even better than I did when I started.”