Tocchet facing big challenges as Canucks coach

Tocchet facing big challenges as Canucks coach

Recchi says former teammate ‘knows what he’s getting into’

by Mark Recchi / Special to

The Coaches Room is a regular feature throughout the 2022-23 regular season by former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. Mark Recchi, Phil Housley and Marc Crawford will take turns providing insight.

In this edition, Recchi, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Fame player who has been an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, writes about Rick Tocchet, who was named Vancouver Canucks coach Sunday.

My relationship with Rick Tocchet goes back to when we were traded for each other on Feb. 19, 1992, me to the Philadelphia Flyers and he to the Pittsburgh Penguins. But when he came back to Philadelphia in 2000, I played with him and we became really good friends. It built from there.

“Tock” was an assistant in Tampa Bay when I was there playing in 2008-09, and then he became the head coach, replacing Barry Melrose. We had already built a relationship, but now it was also a player-coach relationship. We were still great friends. 

He was terrific with me and our relationship has been great since the early 1990s, really. So, I know him very well and we talk hockey all the time. He knows what he’s getting into.

[RELATED: Canucks ready to ‘start something fresh’ with Tocchet as coach]

The first thing Tock is going to have to do in Vancouver is build a relationship with the core group, but he’s going to have to find out who that core group is. I think that’s the biggest thing for him right away. 

It’s going to take a little time, but he needs to find out who that core group is, who are the guys he’s going to lean on to be the leaders, the right guys to build moving forward?

He has a great eye for character guys, the guys he wants to build around, who he thinks will be successful at helping to build a team culture, which is missing in Vancovuer. 

I’ve seen it with him when he was an assistant under Mike Sullivan in Pittsburgh. I was around the Penguins a lot. I was in player development, so I was with Tock a lot. I would go to the practices and we’d just sit and talk hockey. He’s got a great eye for players, a great eye for what he wants and has a big belief in what he wants too.

I would imagine Tock already had a couple conversations about the core and who is going to be a part of it going forward with Canucks president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin, two gentleman I know very well, too. They’re bringing him in there to figure it out and help them figure it out as well. They’re going to have to move accordingly and start getting the Canucks back to where they belong and where they deserve to be.

He’s young, but forward Elias Pettersson is somebody that Tock has to get to another level in terms of leadership. It’s the same with defenseman Quinn Hughes. I can see him trying to usher in a new wave of younger guys that he’s going to have to build his leadership group around, help them become leaders, build the culture. 

He will tell those players that they’re going to have to be the hardest workers every day, the first ones on the ice every day. He will relay his experiences with Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh. He has seen it with great players, where they want to be the best, they want to lead, and they lead by example and then their voice is heard.

In fact, I think it brings him instant credibility in the Canucks dressing room that he was in Pittsburgh and he was a part of helping Crosby, Evgeni MalkinKris Letang and others become the leaders and players they are today. 

Instant credibility also comes from the game he played. It was hard nosed with skill. The players may be too young to know his playing career, but once you look at it you have to respect it. He was a presence physically every night. People will know that. 

Speaking of credibility, Tock has won the Stanley Cup twice as a coach and once as player, so he understands what it takes and the culture you’re going to need in the dressing room. He can speak with confidence because he’s been there, done that. The Canucks haven’t.

The elephant in the room is the very weird situation that is going on with captain Bo Horvat. He’s 27 years old, a leader, but we’re assuming that he won’t be there for too much longer, that he will be traded before the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline on March 3. 

Doesn’t matter to Tock. Or, at least, it shouldn’t.

He will try to establish a relationship with Horvat through honest communication. Tock is very honest and that’s how he will be with Horvat. Obviously, they both know what’s eventually going to happen, but he’ll tell him, “While you’re here, I’m going to need you to lead, to meet me 50-50 and work together.” 

If Horvat gets traded, it might not be for another month or more, so the attitude has to be let’s just make this work. Horvat is a character guy who wants to do the right things. I think it’ll be a good mix with those two. Horvat can help Tock and he knows that Tock can help him.

As for style of play, I think we’ll see Tock try to get the Canucks to be a much harder team to play against than they’ve been. I know that will be his goal, harder in all areas of the game. Get in people’s faces. Be on top of people. Be on your toes. Be aggressive. Be committed to playing sound defense. It won’t work if they’re not. 

Let’s be honest, the Canucks are giving up almost four goals a game and they’re just a shade over 65 percent on the penalty kill, so it’s all right there for him. Those stats alone should be enough to convince the players they have to change, they have to recommit to playing harder and better defensively. 

It’s going to time to implement what he wants, but you’re going to see it. There will be structure and commitment. And if Tock senses a player isn’t buying in, that player won’t play. He owes nothing to anybody there. It’s a clean slate and he’s the Stanley Cup champion.

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