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NHL: Can Rick Tocchet deliver success with the Vancouver Canucks?

14 months after being hired by the Vancouver Canucks, Bruce Boudreau was fired and replaced by Rick Tocchet.

Boudreau took over from Travis Green during the 2021/22 season and although he wasn't able to reach the playoffs after a disastrous start, did improve the team in almost every statistical category.

However, the form didn't carry over into the current season and with the Canucks losing 28 of 46 games the move was made to replace him with 58-year-old Tocchet.

But the question remains whether the Canadian can turn the ship around and make the Canucks a success?

Improve on the fly

Vancouver have made just one playoff appearance in the last seven seasons and there has been much debate whether they should carry on with the same core of players, or break it up and go through a re-build process.

While Captain Bo Horvat has been traded to the New York Islanders in recent days, president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford refutes the re-build idea, believing the Canucks can get back to being a playoff contender on the fly and Tocchet will be a key part of that.

Tocchet previously coached the Tampa Bay Lightning for parts of two seasons from 2008-10 and the Arizona Coyotes for four years from 2017-21 going 178-200-60.

He won the Stanley Cup as a player with the Pittsburgh Penguins and then twice as an assistant for them while Rutherford was General Manager.

On announcing Tocchet, Vancouver's GM Patrik Allvin stressed the new coaches ability to relate to players and provide structure and accountability, something felt lacking under Boudreau.

Focus on penalty kill

Tocchet cited the Canucks' penalty kill and overall defence as an immediate area of concern, which comes as no surprise, with their 65.5% kill bottom of the league and currently the worst in NHL history and their average of 3.92 goals conceded per game second last.

Vancouver have averaged 3.31 goals per game, which is a healthy 11th in the league, but Tocchet has challenged his forwards to play more smartly and generate their offence in a more calculated manner rather than continue their run and gun style.

The balance between defence and offence is one Tocchet needs to get right as he faced criticism for that during his Arizona days when the club ranked 27th in goals per game (2.60) in his time there.

The well-respected Canadian would explain that by saying his Coyotes were young and needed to learn game management, and the best way of success was to keep games close, which would be considered fair.

In Vancouver, he certainly has significantly more talent and is +2000 to turn the season around and make the playoffs.

But even if they can't make up the 14-point gap between themselves and a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, the Canucks management will expect to see positive signs, and most notably a much-desired tighter structure and change of culture.

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Captain traded

Tocchet's short term task of turning the Canucks' season around has been made more difficult after Captain and top scorer Bo Horvat was traded to New York Islanders.

27-year-old Horvat was in his ninth season with Vancouver and joins the Islanders who are two points from the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and +250 to make the playoffs.

Despite a contract dispute, Horvat has scored 31 goals and 54 points in 49 games this season taking his total Canucks total to 201 goals and 420 points in 621 regular season games.

Horvat moves to the Islanders without a contract beyond this season, and after giving up a conditional first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Aatu Raty, they will aim to do what Vancouver couldn't and secure him to a new long-term deal shortly.

Tools to work with

Despite Horvat's departure, Tocchet still has plenty of tools to work with.

This includes top point scorer Elias Pettersson who has 21 goals and 37 assists in 47 games and won the All-Stars hardest shot competition.

From the back-end, Quinn Hughes has 45 points which includes 40 assists, ranking him fourth in the NHL among defencemen and +500 to win the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the NHL's best blue-liner. 

Goalie Thatcher Demko is considered one of the league's best and although he hasn't played since the beginning of December due to a lower-body injury, he is expected to return shortly and as long as he too isn't traded, will give Tocchet's side a major boost.

Demko is a disappointing 3-10-2 this season with a .883 save percentage and 3.93 goals against average (GAA) but has received little support in front of him.

With a .909 save percentage and 2.94 GAA over his 151-game NHL career, Demko will expect his numbers to improve significantly in a Tocchet run team.

On the same page

Ultimately, Rutherford and Allvin have “their guy” in Tocchet, which Boudreau wasn't.

The trio have worked together before and had major success in Pittsburgh, and the management being on the same page can only be beneficial to an organisation which has been plagued by dysfunction for far too long.

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