Rick Tocchet, Coyotes Mutually Agree to Part Ways After 4 Seasons

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2021

Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet in the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in Denver. The Avalanche won 2-1 in overtime. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Arizona Coyotes parted ways with head coach Rick Tocchet.

Tocchet's contract is due to expire June 30, and general manager Bill Armstrong confirmed Sunday he won't be back in his present role:

"After meeting with Rick, we have agreed that a coaching change is in the best interest of the club. This was a very difficult decision, but we believe that it is time for a new direction and new leadership. Rick is a very good coach and an incredible person, and we sincerely appreciate all his hard work and dedication to the Coyotes the past four years. We are grateful for everything that he has done for our organization and wish him the best of luck in the future."

The 57-year-old spent four seasons as Arizona's coach, and the team posted a 125-131-34 record.

Tocchet guided the Coyotes to the playoffs last season, their first postseason trip since 2012. However, the team went backward in 2020-21. Despite winning their last two games, they finished fifth in the West division, three points behind the St. Louis Blues for the final playoff berth.

Especially with Tocchet's contract expiring, this offseason presented Armstrong with an opportunity to start over.

Armstrong took over as GM in September following John Chayka's abrupt departure last July. The Coyotes were clearly surprised by Chayka's decision, with the team saying at the time he had "chosen to quit on a strong and competitive team, a dedicated staff and the Arizona Coyotes fans, the greatest fans in the NHL."

ESPN's Emily Kaplan subsequently reported in January that Chayka received a suspension through the remainder of 2021 for "pursuing other opportunities while under contract with the Coyotes and terminating his contract with three years remaining on it."

Particularly along their forward lines, the bulk of the Coyotes' roster is either signed through 2021-22 or entering restricted free agency. But the franchise has experienced a prolonged stretch of futility, and The Athletic's Katie Strang reported in February on what people within the team called a "toxic" work environment under majority owner Alex Meruelo.

According to Strang, the arrival of Armstrong exacerbated "an already turbulent environment created by the changeover in ownership."

Regardless of whom the Coyotes tab to replace Tocchet, organizational stability is imperative to building a winning franchise.