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Jets target Tocchet to be team’s new bench boss

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The Winnipeg Jets are once again closing in on a new head coach. This time, they hope, for real.

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The Winnipeg Jets are once again closing in on a new head coach. This time, they hope, for real.

A source told the Free Press the club was targeting former NHL winger Rick Tocchet for the vacant position. Kevin Weekes, the ex-goaltender turned ESPN broadcaster, said Thursday night a contract offer had been made.

“The situation remains fluid, but I’m told it’s Tocchet’s decision to make,” Weekes Tweeted about Tocchet, who spent the past season working for TNT as part of the NHL’s television package.

GENE J PUSKAR / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO Former NHL winger Rick Tocchet, who spent the past year working with ESPN as part of its broadcast crew, had yet to sign on the dotted line as of Thursday evening.

Tocchet was not Winnipeg’s first choice. That would be Barry Trotz, the Manitoba product who informed the organization last Friday he was turning down the job offer to focus on his family and take at least a year away from the game.

Once Trotz was out of the picture after weeks of trying to woo him, the Jets had to scramble to put together a backup plan. Tocchet was always near the top of a short list that also included former Manitoba Moose coach Pascal Vincent, former Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery and, according to reports on Thursday, recently fired Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill.

Former Jets player and Moose coach Scott Arniel was also being considered for a potential role, possibly as an associate coach. Winnipeg also touched base with Andrew Brunette, who was fired by Florida last week despite leading the Panthers to the Presidents Trophy for best regular-season record.

Tocchet played 18 years in the NHL and was known for his rugged, no-nonsense approach on the ice. He scored 440 goals and added 512 assists in 1,144 regular-season games with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington and Phoenix. He had another 112 points (52 goals, 60 assists) in 145 playoff games over his career,

Tocchet hung up his skates in the spring of 2002 and joined the Colorado Avalanche as an assistant that fall, where he remained for two years. He also had stints as an assistant with Phoenix (2005-06) and Tampa (2008-09) before taking over the Lightning that season, compiling a 53-69-6 record over parts of two years.

After being fired in the spring of 2010, Tocchet returned to an NHL bench as an assistant with Pittsburgh in 2014-15, spending three years there before getting the head job with the Arizona Coyotes in 2017-18. He spent four seasons in the desert, only making the playoffs once and compiling an overall record of 125-131-34. He was fired last summer.

The Jets have been searching for a new full-time leader since longtime bench boss Paul Maurice abruptly resigned last December. Assistant coach Dave Lowry, father of Jets centre Adam Lowry, took over on an interim basis but was told at the end of the year he was not being brought back.

The same goes for assistants Jamie Kompon and Charlie Huddy. Goalie coach Wade Flaherty has inked a new deal to continue working closely with No. 1 netminder Connor Hellebuyck.

There were 11 teams that had coaching decisions to make this off-season. As of Thursday night, only Winnipeg still officially had the “for hire” sign up.

Among the notable moves were Montgomery going to Boston on Thursday afternoon, and Maurice being hired by Florida last week. Lane Lambert (New York Islanders), Bruce Cassidy (Vegas), John Tortorella (Philadelphia), Pete DeBoer (Dallas), Luke Richardson (Chicago) and Derek Lalonde (Detroit) were new hires by their clubs, while Edmonton (Jay Woodcroft) and Montreal (Martin St. Louis) retained their interim coaches.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has no shortage of major items on his summer to-do list in addition to hiring a new coach and staff. The NHL entry draft is next Thursday and Friday in Montreal, with Winnipeg owning seven overall picks including two first-rounders. NHL free agency is set for the following Wednesday.

The club, which missed the playoffs for the seventh time in 11 seasons, has several decisions to make about key players including Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, both set to become unrestricted free agents in two years, and centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, who is a restricted free agent but has told the organization he doesn’t want to sign a long-term deal and will test the open market in two years as well.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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Updated on Thursday, June 30, 2022 11:10 PM CDT: rephrased first three paragraphs

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