Things didn’t work out so well for former Flyer forward Rick Tocchet when he first tried his hand at coaching in Tampa Bay and Arizona but there was a good reason for that: The players weren’t very good.
To his credit, Tocchet didn’t let that experience get him down. After the Tampa Bay failure, he joined Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan’s staff which won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Then, after posting two winning seasons out of four in Arizona, he was only off for a year and change before he got another chance in Vancouver.
And brother has he made the most of this third opportunity.
After joining the Canucks just after midseason last year, he posted a 20-12-4 mark. This season, the Canucks were picked by somes to finish out of the playoffs. So far, though, Tocchet has thrown cold water on those skeptics by getting his team off to a 12-4-1 record good for a .735 points percentage.
Those who know Tocchet and his hockey acumen are not surprised by this success. He was an instrumental part of the Flyers’ trips to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1985 and 1987 and then won the whole thing with Pittsburgh in 1992.
Closing in on age 60, Tocchet continues to think the game clearly and through a winning lens. He has the stars – Elias Petterson, Quinn Hughes and goaltender Thatcher Demko – but he also has developed some great depth players.
It’s all added up to a lofty spot in the overall standings (second behind defending Cup champion Vegas as of Friday) and the Canucks’ plus-31 goals differential is well out in front in the NHL.
If there are any players on the Canucks’ roster who haven’t bought in yet, we suggest they look up some video from Tocchet’s playing days and they shouldn’t have any hesitation joining the movement.
According to Tocchet, it’s all about the mindset.
“I think the mindset of the team,” Tocchet told Sportsnet.ca. about the great start. “I think for me, every day is a different day. Maybe we’ve had a bad game — like maybe not the greatest game — or we’ve had a really good game, and the next day it just seems, I don’t know, like a business-like approach. And I give them a lot of credit. I don’t see the highs and lows around here.
“Yeah, you feel good about yourself confidence-wise. But it seems the next day, it seems like guys get back on track really quick. Sometimes you can get a little (like a) roller-coaster, but I haven’t seen that with his team.”
The season hasn’t reached the quarter point yet but already the Canucks seem to have established themselves as legitimate contenders. No doubt there are more than a few veteran fans from Philadelphia who are hoping for Tocchet to succeed this time around behind the bench.
>Flyers’ ‘kids’ figuring it out
While they’re still very much in the learning phase, the Flyers’ young players are starting to get a handle on what it takes to play – and stay – in the NHL.
Right now you’ve got Bobby Brink and Tyson Foerster up front, along with Egor Zamula and Louie Belpedio on defense, plus goaltender Samuel Ersson.
The key here is to make steady progress, build confidence and sort of weave them into the fabric of the team.
Tortorella explained his approach at Friday’s meet the press at the Flyers Training Center. This was a day before the team was to play the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights but none of the youngsters sounded the least bit intimidated.
“I’ll answer it this way,” Tortorella said. “We’ve stated we’re rebuilding. I think when you state that, people think we’re just going to pour all the young players in there. When you’re dealing with young players and you’re dealing with where we are in the landscape of this team, there’s still the priority of teaching young kids how to win and what’s expected to help us win.
“So, you have developing vs. winning. That’s something we’re going to juggle all year long. Don’t think we’re going to forget about winning. You’re not teaching your young players the right way to play if you’re not trying to win.”
Tortorella takes umbrage with those who suggest the Flyers are giving kids a chance is because they are looking to “tank” to reserve a high spot in the draft.
“I get mail and it’s mind-boggling,” Tortorella said. “I’ll say it again: ‘Stop sending me letters about tanking!’ Because it’s not going to happen. I know people want that high draft pick next year. (They write) You’re not winning the Stanley Cup so just lose the games. It’s not going to happen. It’s so wrong and it’s the worst way you can develop your young players.”