After a whirlwind start to his head coaching duties with the Vancouver Canucks, the NHL’s bye week couldn’t come at a better time for Rick Tocchet.
Although the Canucks won in his debut over the Chicago Blackhawks, just a day later the team crashed and burned in a 6-1 loss to the Seattle Kraken. Before heading into their nine-day break from play, the Canucks managed to grab another two points in a victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
But with three games in hand and very little practice time, Tocchet has also lost three players from the Canucks’ roster in a short amount of time: Ilya Mikheyev to injury, Lane Pederson from a waiver claim and captain Bo Horvat in a trade.
In a Thursday morning appearance on Halford & Brough on Sportsnet 650, the new coach discussed his first few weeks with the Canucks.
“I’ll be honest, the first couple days, I wouldn’t say it was overwhelming, but a lot of things were thrown your way,” said Tocchet.
“I feel a lot better the last three, four days. I had about three days with the coaches after the game on Friday. Three days in a row, and we got a lot of work done before everybody took off, so I feel a lot more comfortable than I did at the start of the week.
“My approach is there’s certain things I want to change. It’s not an overhaul, but there’s certain things I’ll change.”
When asked about what kind of changes he feels are the most imminent, Tocchet was forthcoming about where he feels the Canucks need to improve.
“I’m a big mindset guy. You know, the way we play. I like to play a little bit faster and more north. That was something coming in a week ago I saw that I wanted to change,” Tocchet said.
“And empower the leadership group. I gotta identify that leadership group, really empower them. Leadership groups are very important in pro sports and for head coaches or coaches in general.
“They’re going to spread that mindset. The toughness, the competitiveness and your practice habits. So, that’s my first order of business.”
With Horvat being traded to the New York Islanders on Monday after serving as captain since 2019, the Canucks’ need for a solidified leadership group has only heightened. In his post-trade press conference, general manager Patrik Allvin suggested Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes were two players who could step up into leadership roles moving forward.
Tocchet reiterated those beliefs on Thursday.
“If we’re going to set the bar high here in Vancouver, those two guys have to be involved in the leadership group,” he said. “They have to, you know? Every day they come in, they’ve got to set the standard. And I’m going to really lean on those guys.
“Those guys have been in the league three, four years now. They’re premier players in the league, and I think it’s important that they have a voice and they’re part of this leadership group going forward.
“(Pettersson) will be in the leadership group. Quinn Hughes will be in the leadership group. … Those two guys will get a letter.”
When asked about the Canucks’ poor penalty killing this season, Tocchet acknowledged it’s another area the team undoubtedly needs to improve upon.
“That is obviously a category that we really need to tackle,” he said.
“I have to see if, first of all, we have to go get some penalty killers (or) do we have them in the organization where can develop them better? Those are the questions I’m doing right now.”
The head coach also clarified what he meant when he used the word “soft” after the Canucks’ loss to the Kraken.
“I didn’t call the team soft,” he said. “That night, I thought the team played soft. I understood the anxiety and what happened the last couple of weeks, and I think it hit the team. They just didn’t have their legs.
“You have to develop a mental toughness and physical toughness. … I don’t like to publicly criticize my team at all (or) individuals because I think it’s important that you have a developed relationship with the players and they know where they stand. And that’s kind of my goal here.”
The Canucks and Tocchet will be back on the ice Monday, when they face the New Jersey Devils to kick off a four-game road trip.