On a quiet night for hockey news other than the two Eastern Conference playoff games, Nick Kypreos and Elliotte Friedman used the second period break of the Penguins-Capitals contest to update the hockey world on the ongoing business of another Eastern Conference team. While Pittsburgh fans are hardly thinking of front office issues as their team appears to be on the fast track to second consecutive Stanley Cup appearance, the news certainly affects the Penguins as well. Kypreos revealed that, as has been expected, the Buffalo Sabres are likely to announce that Pittsburgh executive Jason Botterill will be their next General Manager. Friedman then chimed in that, with Botterill likely at the helm, Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet is a strong candidate for the open head coaching gig. Kypreos suspects that they could be waiting until after the end of the Penguins’ current series to announce at least Botterill, if not both if discussions have already been had about Botterill’s coaching choice.
The Botterill story has been told: a younger executive working for one of the most successful franchises in the game and eager for a new challenge and his turn in the spotlight. Botterill is also an expert on hockey analytics and salary cap analysis – a GM for the new age of hockey. Botterill has had two interviews with the Pegulas and other decision-makers in Buffalo and it seems that the job is all but his.
The Tocchet note though is new. Tocchet enjoyed an 18-year NHL career before becoming a coach, playing for six different teams, being selected to four All-Star Games, and winning the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1992. Tocchet was well-traveled and also well-rounded, capable of fitting into nearly any system he was part of. That versatility and two-way hockey intelligence translated well into coaching, as he has a broad understanding of the game. Tocchet was named an assistant coach for the Colorado Avalanche, a team he had never played for, less than a year after officially announcing his retirement from playing in 2002. He then moved to Phoenix to be an assistant under Wayne Gretzky, before moving to Tampa Bay in 2008 as an assistant for Barry Melrose. Tocchet replaced Melrose that same season and was the head coach of the Lightning for next two years, but was fired in 2010 with a 53-69-26 record. Tocchet was given a second chance by his former team in 2014 when he was brought on as an assistant coach for the Penguins by Mike Johnston. Tocchet outlived his head coach and the work he has continued to do for the Penguins has been praised by replacement Mike Sullivan and, of course, owner and former teammate Mario Lemieux. With Botterill probably getting a fresh start and his first GM gig, it doesn’t seem unlikely at all that the first coach he hires is someone experienced who he is also familiar with and Tocchet fits the bill.