Rick Tocchet of the Vancouver Canucks is one of the new coaches making a difference by guiding teams to the NHL playoffs

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Vancouver Canucks

Rick Tocchet had just started his role as the Canucks’ coach when he faced a tough moment in late January 2023. After a big loss against Seattle, he felt overwhelmed standing on a Vancouver street corner at 3 a.m. His assistant coach, Sergei Gonchar, reminded him to stay calm and give it time.

This memory was important for Tocchet because he had doubts about leaving his broadcasting job for the Canucks, who were onto their third coach in three seasons.

Now, after about 15 months, Tocchet, 60, is considered for the Jack Adams Coach of the Year award. He led Vancouver to 50 wins, a big jump from last season, and their first division title in 11 years.

Tocchet feels proud of how the team overcame challenges, from tough games to training camp, to reach this point of making the playoffs.

In his first full season with Vancouver, Tocchet is part of a group of new coaches making an impact. Among the 16 NHL playoff teams this weekend, seven have coaches who are in their first full year or were hired during the season.

This group includes newcomers to NHL coaching like Spencer Carbery in Washington, Kris Knoblauch in Edmonton, and Jim Hiller in Los Angeles.

Nashville Predators

There are also more experienced coaches like Peter Laviolette with the New York Rangers, Patrick Roy with the Islanders, and Andrew Brunette with Nashville.

All of them faced the challenge of quickly making their mark on teams that were either coming off playoff runs or in a rebuilding phase.

Brunette, for example, led the Predators to their best finish since 2018-19, despite being considered underdogs.

He took over a Predators team that was rebuilding and led them to a franchise-record streak of games without a loss. “He deserves a lot of praise,” said Roman Josi, captain of the Predators.

“It wasn’t easy at the start of the year. He came in with a plan and a system for how he wanted us to play. There were probably nights when we didn’t execute it,” Josi added. “But he showed amazing patience.”

On Long Island, Roy took over from Lane Lambert to lead the Islanders, who were struggling despite having experienced players. When Roy started in January, the team’s record was 19-15-11.

Though the Islanders had their ups and downs, including a rough patch in March, they finished strong with a 10-2-1 record to clinch third place in the Metropolitan Division.

The most noticeable change in the Islanders’ performance was their improvement in 5-on-5 situations. Under Roy, they outscored their opponents 77-65, compared to being outscored 93-89 under Lambert.

“We’ve been more consistent throughout the game. We’re not having the dips that we used to,” said captain Anders Lee. “We’re not falling behind or having to chase the game as much.”

Washington Capitals (Credits: NHL)

In Washington, Carbery brought a sense of calm and positivity to the Capitals, who faced many challenges during the season and secured the last playoff spot in the East despite being outscored by 36 goals.

Carbery adapted his approach to suit the mix of veteran players like Alex Ovechkin and young talents on the team, while also addressing their strengths and weaknesses.

“I think you adjust as you go and figure things out,” said Carbery, who previously coached the Capitals’ AHL team in Hershey. “It’s changed a bit, but the core message remains the same.”

In Vancouver, Tocchet emphasized the importance of the three-month head start he had last year. “I honestly don’t know if we would be in this position. Who’s to say, but those 30 games were crucial for me,” he said as Vancouver prepares to face Nashville.

“It’s hard to describe because I want to be happy. But at the same time, I’m cautious,” Tocchet said about reaching the playoffs. “I can’t just ignore what we’ve accomplished.

I think it’s really important to show them that we’ve done a great job here. Enjoy it. But we still have more to achieve.”


By Ritik

Ritik Katiyar is pursuing a post-graduate degree in Pharmaceutics. Currently, he lives in Srinagar, Uttarakhand, India. You can find him writing about all sorts of listicle topics. A pharmaceutical postgrad by day, and a content writer by night. You can write to him at [email protected]

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