The more time you spend around the Pittsburgh Penguins organization the more good things you hear about assistant coach Rick Tocchet. In the last few months, Tocchet's name has been brought up as a potential candidate for the Buffalo Sabres head coaching job. After just a few practices you could tell players have a good relationship with Tocchet -- the same couldn't always be said about former Sabres coach Dan Bylsma.
Most people on the inside I talk to are expecting either Rick Tocchet or Phil Housley to be the next coach of the Buffalo Sabres.
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) May 17, 2017
"He's a players coach," multiple players said when asked why Tocchet is so important to their success.
"Whenever you need something you can go right to him," Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel added. "He does a fantastic job and he's always talking to you to help your game out."
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) May 30, 2017
Tocchet was visibly enjoying himself during Monday's morning skate and Tuesday's optional practice, laughing and jabbing back and forth with players as they prepare for the Nashville Predators.
"Tocchy is an awesome guy," Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said with a smirk. "He's great to have in the room. He's always easy to talk with, he'll always give it to you straight. He likes to smile, he likes to have fun, you can tell he loves the game and he's definitely good to have around."
At one point, Tocchet parked himself in front of Fleury and joined in as about a half dozen players tried jamming home a rebound. Once they did, Tocchet turned with a smile to forward Bryan Rust and gave him a shove before skating away.
"He's always loose and joking around with the guys and making sure we have fun out there," Penguins second year forward Connor Sheary said. "That's important this time of year."
But it's not just in practice when Tocchet proves his worth. Once the puck drops his demeanor changes and he becomes someone the Penguins can count on.
"He's an emotional guy. I think he brings a lot of fire as far as game to game and even in the game, he's really good at kind of making little adjustments," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "As a guy who played a pretty offensive role I think for forwards, it's nice to have somebody who kind of sees the game the way he does and he's able to look at certain details and help guys out a lot there."
Tocchet, 43, joined the Penguins in 2014. Prior to working in Pittsburgh, the 18-year NHL veteran served as an assistant with both the Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) May 29, 2017
A few years later, Tocchet joined the Tampa Bay Lightning and was eventually named interim head coach after Barry Melrose was fired in 2008. Tocchet finished the 2008-2009 season with Tampa Bay and spent the entire next season behind the bench. In 148 games, Tocchet had a record of 53-69-26 as a head coach but was fired after his second season with the Lightning.
"He's won in this league as a player and a coach," Penguins forward Bryan Rust added. "I think that experience and that knowledge helps out each and every day."
Tocchet's connection to new Sabres GM Jason Botterill is obvious, and his strengths behind the bench seem to be a few of the characteristics Buffalo is believed to be looking for.
But then there are the red flags, including Tocchet's arrest for his involvement in a gambling ring in 2007. A few years later Tocchet had $18,000 seized after failing to correctly claim his money at an airport in the Bahamas.
In the last few years, Tocchet has avoided the headlines, but I'm not sure Terry Pegula, who said 'character' nearly a half dozen times in his press conference two months ago when Bylsma was fired is willing to give second chances.
When Tocchet's name was first brought up I dismissed the option and didn't think it made much sense, but in the last few days, my views have changed. I think there are better coaches on the market, but if the Sabres bring in Tocchet I don't think he'll have a hard time winning over the locker room, something I'm not sure Dan Bylsma ever did.