Head Coach Rick Tocchet Can’t Manage Goaltenders

Rick Tocchet receives a lot of praise for his work as the Arizona Coyotes head coach. Going as far as his name being thrown around for coach of the year for 2018-19, the praise isn’t unwarranted. His defensive coaching is legitimately great stuff.

You can tell that the players are being elevated by the simple fact that their penalty kill was among the top five last year. Not to mention the solid defensive play leading to many a shorthanded goal. While it’s appropriate to praise someone when they do quality work, it’s equally appropriate to criticize them for low quality work.

To be blunt, Rick Tocchet is terrible at handling his goaltenders. His biggest problem is not managing workload and this had lead to his goalies being injured or worsening an existing injury. He seems to have an old school mindset that his starter should play a ridiculous amount of games.

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Also, the toxic “ride ‘em while they’re hot” as seen with Adin Hill last year. The counter of “It’s the goalie’s decision to play or not” is completely invalid. Seeing that the head coach makes final decision over everything that pertains to the on ice product, barring roster moves. Where it’s arguable that they have a say, but not the final say. Coaches need to look after their players, as the players will always want to play.

Let’s start off with the forgotten Calvin Pickard who was a waiver claim last season down the stretch. Given the fact that Antti Raanta was already done for the season, thus making the waiver acquisition necessary, logic would dictate that you use the guy. With an historically injured squad last season, nobody on the god’s green Earth would riot if you played it a little more conservative with your goalies.

This obviously isn’t Tocchet’s style as Pickard wouldn’t play in a single game for almost two months after being claimed. He was out of game shape by that point that he has to be sent down to Tucson to get ready for a start. Pickard lost his first start in Montreal on January 23, 2019, but only surrendered two goals.

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Not a bad first impression, too bad it took two months to get there. Pickard saw two starts in February, losing both while giving up four goals each game. After that it was all Kuemper, barring two relief appearances and Kuemper interfering himself. For the final game of the 2018-19 season on April 6, Tocchet was going to start Kuemper once more.

This after Arizona was already eliminated from playoff contention. There was nothing to play for, and Tocchet was still going to throw Kuemper out there. That was until Darcy asked Tocchet to let Pickard play. Calvin Pickard was completely wasted by Tocchet for absolutely no gain.

Next goaltender is Adin Hill, the “ride ‘em while he’s hot” kid. Scene setting time. Darcy Kuemper was out with an injury and Hill came in to relieve Antti Raanta who himself just came off injured reserve to be immediately put back on three games later.

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Despite having Pickard on the roster, Adin Hill started ten consecutive games, including a back-to-back. Just throw the rookie out to the wolves while two of your goaltenders are on injured reserve. Hill recorded six wins out of a possible ten and surrendered three or more goals in six of those ten games.

Hill had good games, but it was clear that burying the kid was a braindead decision. Those six wins were probably worth burning the kid out to Tocchet. Kuemper came back from injured reserve and after a few games as backup, Hill got one last start.

That coming on January 13, 2019 in Calgary where he gave up seven goals. The kid relies mostly on athleticism to make his saves as opposed to positioning. That style doesn’t work well with overexposure or especially fatigue. Hill was just hung out to dry as Tocchet made him play all sixty minutes that night. He was then sent back to Tucson not long after.

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Next goalie to the gallows is Antti Raanta. Raanta was injured early on into the season, but came back relatively quickly at just around three weeks. Given Raanta’s history of injuries the last two seasons, the responsible decision would be to make Raanta the backup upon return. Give him a start here and there to not stress out his worn down body.

Tocchet seems to disagree as he immediately started Raanta upon return against the Avalanche on November 23, 2018. Raanta gave up five goals that night and played all sixty minutes. Throwing all caution to the wind, Tocchet starts him again two nights later against Calgary.

Raanta gave up six goals in that one, but only had to play in forty four minutes that night. Finally it’s time to make Antti the backup because he’s clearly still hurt. That would be a smart man’s mindset as Raanta started yet again two nights later in Minnesota.

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Raanta gave up another three in forty minutes and left the game later on due to injury. He wouldn’t return for the rest of the year. I don’t see Raanta as a starter and I criticize him heavily. I’ll always own up to that, but he didn’t deserve that.

Skip ahead to this season where Kuemper was injured in a game he probably should’ve been taken out of, Antti Raanta is the starter once more. Keep in mind that Adin Hill is on the roster as the backup. At the time of writing since December 22, 2019, Raanta has started all seven games Arizona has played since Kuemper’s injury.

This includes two back-to-backs. Against Vegas on December 28, Raanta was pulled after twenty one minutes and still started the next night against Dallas. Raanta is 3-3-0, and has given up three or more goals in fifty percent of his starts. Out of all six consecutive starts, Raanta has had one game in which he allowed less than two goals.

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Through the first four starts, Raanta allowed twelve goals. That’s three goals against per game for the first four starts. Despite Hill not giving up a single goal in relief against Vegas, Tocchet still keeps burying Raanta. On January 4, Raanta left the game against Philadelphia due to injury. As of writing this, it is unknown how long Raanta will be out.

Raanta has a terrible injury history and you throw him out there for seven straight games and two back-to-backs after your starter goes down? It’s as if Tocchet thinks goalies are machines that don’t require maintenance or shut down times. Goaltenders play all sixty minutes of a game and have more demanding movements on their bodies.

That’s why they don’t play all eighty two games. This blatant disregard for Raanta’s health needs to be criticized, even if he’s recording wins. I care not if Raanta wants to play or not, you’re the coach and need to have your players’ back. Hockey players are a different breed and will put the team above their bodies, so coaches need to put their bodies above the team.

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Finally, we have Darcy Kuemper. I apologize, but I can’t be objective with this case. As every time I review the numbers I genuinely feel disgusted, and want to lash out. To end the 2018-19 season, Arizona was deep in a wildcard playoff push.

Darcy Kuemper was the team’s backbone down that stretch. Starting February 19, 2019 Kuemper started in twenty two consecutive games. Including two back to backs in that time.

This is an absolute failure of coaching to allow a goaltender to play in roughly twenty six percent of the teams total games consecutively. What made it worse for me is that not a single notable person in the media criticized this. I urge hockey fans to stop looking at players like machines or “rich guys that are just doing their jobs” when things like this happen.

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Athletes are human beings first and foremost and that workload Kuemper took on is just unhealthy. Again, Arizona didn’t gain anything by doing this. Arizona was eliminated from playoff contention on April fourth, yet Tocchet not only signed off on this, but he wanted to make it twenty three consecutive games. Imagine your boss planning to throw another two percent of the workload on you with no additional compensation after the business is already shutting down.

Once again, I apologize for not being able to remain objective, but this is a topic that I’m passionate about. I, like many others, have experienced being overworked for zero gain and I’m not going to stand by and cheer it on.

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