Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet Crédit : AFP

Arizona Coyotes Players At Fault For Poor Start

Published On October 15, 2017 | By Jason Harrison | Editorials

Rick Tocchet apologized to Arizona Coyotes fans for the team’s poor play to start the season, but it’s the players who need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

If you’ve somehow slept through the beginning of the NHL season, fret not because the Arizona Coyotes have as well.

They are off to the worst start in franchise history (0-4-1) — a history that involves some very bad seasons, mind you — and new head coach Rick Tocchet reached the boiling point on Saturday night.

“I’m kind of embarrassed for the fans,” the Coyotes coach said. “You don’t want to babysit players but it’s just got to get harder around here. Whether it’s harder practices, whether you want to put curfews, all that baby stuff. I hate doing that stuff but if that’s what it takes, we might have to do it.”

That’s some pointed talk from a coach to his young team just five games into an NHL season.

Immediate response among the fandom was split between blaming Tocchet or the players, with some suggesting that it was already nearing time for the Arizona Coyotes to reconsider their coaching hire.

What we’re seeing on the ice, however, makes it pretty clear that a large portion of blame should fall on the players and their inconsistency and lack of discipline.

There is a noted lack of response within the team when costly mistakes happen, or when the team falls behind by multiple goals. Part of that could be pointed at Tocch failing to “get the team up”, but a big part is also down to accountability. Players have to hold the man next to them accountable for repeated mistakes, and frankly that is not happening right now.

For stretches of several games, the Yotes have looked like the team Tocchet told us he wanted them to be.

Fast, dynamic, and relentless.

Unfortunately, they’ve spent more time in some diabolical mixture between Dave Tippett’s defensive system and Tocchet’s high octane offense with few of the pros of either and most of the cons.

Turnovers have mounted from defenders attempting to move the puck up ice too quickly, and goaltenders Louis Domingue and Antti Raanta have seen their fair share of high danger shots because of ill-advised pinching from Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, and company. And let’s not even get started on the adventure that is Kevin Connauton any time he is on the ice.

The entire defensive corps has seemed like it’s a group of teenagers with mom and dad out of town and the house to themselves. They know what they’re supposed to do, but in the heat of the moment those risky decisions seem innocuous…until they end up in the back of the net.

With mistakes occurring aplenty in their early season adjustment to a new system, you’d love to have a steady presence in net like the Vegas Golden Knights experienced early on with Marc-Andre Fleury. Instead, Raanta is injured and Domingue has had to play way more than anyone in the Arizona Coyotes organization would like.

Domingue hasn’t been up to the challenge and it’s fair to wonder if John Chayka shouldn’t be considering a move in the goaltending department.

Some of those other issues, however, may or may not be symptoms of the elephant in the room; conditioning.

The Coyotes seem unable to eke out a win because they just aren’t in shape enough to play Tocchet’s game for 60 minutes. The coach himself suggested as much on two separate occasions.

”You can’t have four or five passengers,” Tocchet said. ”You look down the bench and some guys are sucking wind. I don’t understand that after our last game, why are we sucking wind? Are we out of shape? Is it anxiety when there is pressure? Sometimes when you get anxiety, you get tired. Just trying to put a finger on this.”

Is that the fault of Tocchet for not adjusting the system, or the fault of the players for not doing the necessary things required to play in the NHL? For my money, that blame lies with the players.

Tocchet should not have to adjust his style to accommodate players who can’t play fast for an entire game. He should simply find 18 skaters in this organization or out of it who are willing to put in the effort required to keep the system going for 60 minutes.

If that means sitting veterans or even stars, so be it. Get in shape and adhere to the system or get out.

The one unforgivable for a player is lack of effort, and make no mistake not being in shape is a lack of effort for a professional athlete.

The Arizona Coyotes suffered through at least two years more of Dave Tippett’s ineffectual system than was necessary or even logical. Tipp had defenders at every turn, including throughout last season which was the team’s fifth straight of missing the playoffs . Considering that, it is absurd to suggest Tocchet is on the hotseat five games into his first season behind the bench when a fourth of his roster isn’t even fit enough to lace up their skates for the club.

Tocch should staple the offenders to the bench. Sit ’em in the press box. Send them to Tucson. Whatever it takes.

Get players in the lineup who are in shape and can operate at the pace required for the system to work. Just don’t suggest Tocchet is solely or even mostly at fault here.

Not yet.

He’s not making the bad decisions on-ice with the puck or off-ice with conditioning or extra-curricular activities. That’s on the players.

We know that Tocchet’s general style is how teams win in 2017. We’ve also seen it work beautifully for stretches of these first five games. Let Tocchet and company work these guys into shape or weed them out, then let’s see where we are.

Maybe he’s the answer behind the bench or maybe he’s not, but  these five games aren’t enough to make that decision.