Lightning coach Rick Tocchet: 'I'm on the clock'
Lightning coach Rick Tocchet on Monday finally got the interim tag taken off his title. And on Sept. 14, he will open his first training camp as an NHL head coach. There was a lot going on around the St. Pete Times Forum on Monday, what with the fan forum and all, so Tocchet's two-year deal that will pay about $550,000 a season got a little bit lost in the shuffle. But he did have time for an interview after his contract was announced, and he hit quite a few topics. Here is what he had to say:
On getting his first contract as an NHL head coach: I take this very seriously. There are 30 NHL jobs and 30 NHL coaches, and it’s a privilege to have a chance to be a head coach of one of thesefranchises. I’ve had numerous talks with (GM Brian Lawton and co-owner Oren Koules) about what it takes to be an NHL player and coach, and the one thing we agree on, it’s the emblem you play for, the crest. It’s something I always believed in. That’s a mandate, especially going into Sept. 14. People will be playing for that logo and not the name on the back (of the jersey).
On his expectations for the players: I expect the players to be in shape to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning. We’re not going to wait for players. I’m not trying to be harsh, but I told the guys they have to be ready to play on Sept 14, not November or December. We can’t wait for you. We have four months to get ready. They get paid a lot of money, and have to be ready to play.
On the fans: The fans have been great. I moved here in September and really didn’t know much about Tampa Bay. The fans have been great here for me. Now I’m on the clock, and I’m excited to get going.
On moving the program forward: I know it’s a negative not to get to the playoffs this year. But to me, the positive is these guys have four months to get ready, so the guys that are here right now know they have to come to training camp and be ready, and they know the kind of system we want to play. We’ve had numerous conversations with key guys about next year and they’re on board.
On finally being named head coach: I think it’s important, especially now because players are looking for leadership and now they know I’m the head coach and they know that I’m calling the shots. Not to be arrogant, but to say what the system is and to say the way we play comes from me, and that’s important. I’m big in knowing the players know that they’re going to get an honest answer, and now I can give them the honest answer. It’s not like I’ve been lying to them. I’ve had players ask me, ‘Are you going to come back next year?’ and I couldn’t give them an honest answer. I didn’t know. Now I can give them an honest answer, yeah.
On balancing player-coach relationships: I don’t believe a coach has to be a (jerk) and not friendly to his players to be fair and be successful. But trust me, I’m no pushover. I just believe that if the players know where you’re coming from, they’re going to give you their best. You’re going to optimize their best talent and your best players by being fair with them. Obviously, I’ll be more of that this year knowing it starts from training camp. A lot of stuff I did last season as a coach was patchwork. Not to make excuses, but now, to me, it’s like a mandate, you be in shape, and I have to come through with my mandate. If you’re not ready to play and you’re not in shape, there’s ramifications. You might not be in camp. You might not be with the team. There are things I will do that if you are not in shape, I will carry out.
On pressure: To me, who wants to play for nothing? I told players last year, ‘Who wants to go play a game with nothing on the line?’ It’s the same thing as a coach. I’m on the clock now. I welcome it. I want the pressure. Saying that, me and Brian (Lawton) had a great conversation. He’s on the clock, too. Brian goes, ‘The pressure is on me. The pressure is on you.’ To me, I kind of have a high in that. It makes me excited to have that pressure. I love playing for something in everything. I’m not the kind of guy who can go just toss the basketball or shoot a puck. Something has to be on the line. It’s the same as a coach. Obviously, this team has not done well the last couple of years and there’s pressure on Rick Tocchet to be the best coach he can, to help them win, and I enjoy that.
On too much self pressure: I’ve talked to myself about that. I took losses a little harder some nights and I didn’t sleep. But I think I’ll be better all-around structuring my time. That’s something I’ll be better at.
On his own mental preparation: I will say mental rest will be important to me so I can stay on top. I can’t constantly think hockey 24 hours. You have to be able to let it go. I’m a good delegator. I rely on my assistant coaches. I have no problem with that. But I think I’ll have a little more conviction in how we’re going to play right off the bat. There will be no leeway, no compromise in certain things. I’ve already talked to Marty (St. Louis) and Vinny (Lecavalier) and Mike Smith and those guys. I think I compromised a little bit last season with the leadership group. It’s not a slight to them. It’s just more this is the way it’s going to be.
On his system: like to play an up-tempo game. I need our D to be a little more aggressive in the neutral zone, a little bit more involved offensively. We have to have that from our D, more aggressive in pinching to keep pucks in. I think, obviously, discipline is a factor. I didn’t consider us an abrasive team last year and we were one of the worst teams for minor penalties. That just shouldn’t go; when you’re not aggressive but taking minor penalties. Special teams is something we have to improve on and the overall road team mentality, the ability to go on the road and go into a building and play aggressively and come out with two points. I think that’s big.
On where the team stands: Listenwe have some holes we have to fix, absolutely. I believe the pieces we have and the pieces that can be maneuvered to add other pieces, and with the second pick in the draft, yes I do believe (we're close). With Mike Smith playing at the level he did, absolutely. I think there is a positive there.
On perhaps losing associate coach Mike Sullivan: The one thing he told me was that if he does happen to leave, the one thing is we’ve had a relationship that I gave him a lot of say. I had no problem with him speaking and I didn’t have to say anything. System-wise he would say stuff maybe I didn’t agree with, but I would try it and it worked out. There was some stuff I said, 'No, Sully.' We had that kind of relationship. We had many debates at night arguing about certain stuff, and it made both of us a better coach. That’s the coach I’m looking for definitely.
On Steven Stamkos: To me it’s one thing we can hang our hat on as an organization and a staff. We developed this kid, and we did it right. He’s an 18, 19 year old kid. Maybe it gives us a little bit of head start for whoever we get with (the No. 2 draft pick). We mad mistakes with him, but we learned to correct it, so maybe we got a head start for our next guy.