Rick Tocchet

Coyotes hire former Flyer Rick Tocchet as head coach

Coyotes hire former Flyer Rick Tocchet as head coach

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Coyotes have hired Rick Tocchet as head coach, turning the team over to a man who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the past two Stanley Cup titles.

The 53-year-old Tocchet, who spent the past three seasons as a Pittsburgh assistant, played 18 seasons in the NHL and helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 1992.

Tocchet spent one season as an assistant to Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky in 2005-06 and played parts of three seasons with the team from 1997 to 2000.

Tocchet's controversial departure from his Coyotes coaching job did not figure into the decision to hire him, general manager John Chayka said.

"Rick was the best candidate by a wide margin," Chayka said.

Tocchet was on a leave of absence from his Coyotes job in 2007 when he pleaded guilty in New Jersey to conspiracy to promote gambling and promoting gambling. He was sentenced to two years' probation. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said an investigation showed Tocchet's involvement in gambling was not as serious as first thought and he was suspended for three months.

There was no evidence Tocchet ever bet on hockey games.

"He's a man of character and integrity," Chayka said. "Any issues in the past are in the past. It didn't raise any red flags for us whatsoever."

Tocchet briefly returned to the Coyotes in 2008 before being hired as an assistant at Tampa Bay. He became interim head coach of the Lightning that November and was head coach at Tampa Bay the next two seasons.

But it was his work with the Penguins that elevated him to the clear favorite to replace Dave Tippett, who parted ways with the Coyotes after eight years as the franchise's head coach.

"He's one of the best communicators I've come across not only in hockey but probably professionally as well," Chakya said. "... I think he can just relate to the players. He's very firm. He can motivate. He can be aggressive in his approach, but he can also be that big brother kind of approach with our young players and I think that's going to be helpful moving forward."

Chakya said Tocchet has a clear idea of the style he wants his team to play.

"He wants to play fast. He wants to play aggressive. He wants to dictate time and space," Chakya said.

"We had a lot of coaches come through. They will all say something similar. I think he had a real plan of how to do it. He had concrete examples of what that means based off his time in Pittsburgh and some more ideas of what he's maybe looking to do moving forward."

Popular former Flyer Ilkka Sinisalo dies at 58

Popular former Flyer Ilkka Sinisalo dies at 58

Ilkka Sinisalo, a somewhat underrated member of one of the most prolific scoring clubs in Flyers history, died Wednesday in Finland at age 58.
 
He had battled prostate cancer for more than three years.
 
Sinisalo had been a European scout with the Flyers since 2004. Sinisalo, who once served as Flyers defenseman Janne Niinimaa's landlord in Finland, was well-respected within the scouting ranks and was also asked to voice opinions on North American prospects. He even gave his advice on European pros who were hoping to play in the NHL. 

He was the first Finnish player in Flyers history and was immortalized by Sign Man's "Ilkka Score-a-goal-a."
 
"Ilkka was a true friend and loyal member of the Flyers," Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. "He gave a great deal of his time, effort and talents to the organization in several capacities as a player and longtime scout to bring this franchise success on and off the ice.
 
"Most important to all that knew him, he was a great person, a loving husband, father and grandfather. His presence and friendship will be deeply missed by all that knew him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife of over 35 years, Carina, his sons Niklas and Tomas, as well as Tomas' wife, Maija and their children Peter and Matilda."
 
Sinisalo was one of the quickest, smoothest skaters in the entire NHL during that era when goals were scored by the bushel. He played up and down the lineup on Mike Keenan's teams.
 
"Ilkka was awesome to play with," recalled teammate Brian Propp. "He always knew how to score. He picked the corners, he never missed the net and he was a two-way player. He made a difference for us on the second and third line because we needed scoring and he filled that role."
 
Sinisalo's best season was 1985-86 when he had career-highs in goals (39) and points (76). That particular team, led by Propp's 97 points, had four players with 76 or more points and five players with 27 or more goals, led by Tim Kerr's 58.
 
Pelle Eklund's 51 assists that year remains a Flyers rookie record. Just an amazing offensive team.
 
"He played with [Peter] Zezel and [Rick] Tocchet a little bit [on the off-wing]," Propp said. "And with Derek Smith and Lindsay Carson. He was pretty good at hanging in there with guys.
 
"He was one of the best guys around. We had a balanced scoring team and with Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon at the point, we had chances to score."
 
Sinisalo was here parts of nine seasons from 1981-82 to 1989-90. His 199 goals as a Flyer are fourth-best in franchise history among right wings while his 408 points are sixth-best in the same category.
 
"Just a terrific guy," teammate Rick Tocchet said. "A skilled player. I am shocked right now."
 
Sinisalo made two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final with the Flyers -- 1985 and 1987 against Edmonton.
 
"Ilkka was a very good player, a great teammate, but most importantly an outstanding person and a terrific friend to us all," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "We've all had the pleasure to work with him for many years and he will be missed." 
 
He joined the Flyers as a 23-year-old rookie in 1981, signing as a free agent after playing four seasons for HIFK Helsinki in Finland.
 
"His first goal was a penalty shot, I remember that," Propp said.
 
Indeed, that came during an 8-2 rout over Pittsburgh at the Spectrum. Sinisalo had 15 goals and 37 points during his rookie year.
 
A defensively-responsible player, he was a plus player his entire career as a Flyer and retired plus-135.
 
His 11 shorthanded goals as a Flyer remains tied for 10th-most with Simon Gagne and Don Saleski.
 
Tocchet said he was one of the most versatile players he'd ever seen.
 
"Honestly, he played with everyone," Tocchet said. "Could play left or right wing."

Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

PITTSBURGH -- The ice on Friday afternoon at Heinz Field was watery and slushy.
 
That’s because the city set a historic record at 78 degrees for Feb. 24.
 
So what were the ice conditions?
 
“They were pretty good,” Sidney Crosby said. “It was pretty bright there. Started off the practice and the sun was beating down pretty good.
 
“I’ve played in a few of these and the ice was pretty good considering how warm it was. It’s supposed to cool down and I’m sure it will get better.”
 
The Penguins will host the Flyers on Saturday night in a Stadium Series outdoor game.
 
Pittsburgh took the ice Friday at 4 p.m. The Flyers got on the ice a little more than an hour later and things started to cool down.
 
“We had a pretty good practice given the circumstances,” Jakub Voracek said. “This is a little better setup than Philly. The fans are closer.”
 
It was much hotter when Pittsburgh took the ice, but the temperature was still warm after the sun went down.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere said, “It was hot for sure. … It was fun, but it was pretty hot.”
 
Defenseman Radko Gudas said the ice surface was, “playable, but a little rough.”
 
On Saturday, rain is expected, with temperatures falling to 42 degrees by 5 p.m.
 
During the game, which begins at 8 p.m., the temperature is projected to continue to drop and there will be wind gusts up to 31 mph. By the end of the night, the forecast says temps will be in the 20s. 

Players are more concerned about the wind than the ice at this point. Crosby, who has played in three previous NHL outdoor games, said wind is a huge factor. It happened to the Penguins at the 2014 Stadium Series game in Chicago.
 
“It can definitely be a factor,” Crosby said. “I want to say in Chicago that was something we kind of had to look at. We felt it a little more there compared to the other two [outdoor games]. If it's going to get windy like that, it’s something to be aware of.”
 
It remains to be seen how the NHL will handle which team goes into the wind first.
 
“Yeah, the wind,” Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet said of what element will be a big factor. “I hope you don’t have to backcheck. Who gets the advantage? They change in the third period. But who picks what end? There is a wind factor.”
 
Tocchet rated the ice Friday as “a little slushy.”
 
“It was good early and then it got tough because it was hot outside,” Tocchet said. “But we got a half-decent practice out of it.
 
“The one thing, the puck didn’t bounce, which was good. Players can adapt a lot better when the puck doesn’t bounce. When things bounce, it’s a tough night.”