Rick Tocchet Prepares For Playoffs In New Role As ‘NHL On TNT’ Analyst

Scoring is way up in the NHL this season. But NHL on TNT studio analyst Rick Tocchet says his favorite players to watch are the ones who play the way he did back in the day – combining skill with toughness.

“I have a soft spot for those type of players and that’s the way I wanted to play the game,” said the 18-year NHL veteran and former head coach when asked about the importance of power forwards like Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals. Tanner Jeannot of the Nashville Predators and Marcus Foligno of the Minnesota Wild. “I’m not sure you can win in the playoffs without having those type of players on your team.”

In 1,144 career games with six teams between 1984 and 2001, Tocchet accumulated 2,970 penalty minutes, the 10th-most of all time. He also logged 440 goals and 952 points, and won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992.

He then went on to serve as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Arizona Coyotes, and collected two more Stanley Cup rings as an assistant coach with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017.

This season, goal scoring in the National Hockey League has spiked to 3.14 goals per team per game. That’s the highest level since 1995-96, Tocchet’s second year as a teammate of Wayne Gretzky’s on the Los Angeles Kings.

That time in the trenches forged a bond that remains strong to this day. This season, Tocchet and ‘The Great One’ have teamed up again as rookie broadcast analysts for TNT / Turner Sports, which is in its first season as an NHL broadcast rightsholder.

The NHL’s all-time leading scorer and four-time Stanley Cup winner, Gretzky’s enthusiasm for his new on-air role has impressed his long-time friend.

“I’ve been with this guy for 30 years. I’m telling you, he’s enjoying it immensely, ”Tocchet said. “I’ve seen a lot of exuberance in him this year. He’s really been into it. We’re in these meetings and he’ll say, ‘Hey, I think we should interview this guy’ or ‘Hey, I think we should tackle this topic.’

“He’s been very vocal in making the show better.”

TNT started with a blank slate as it built out its studio show for this season, pairing Gretzky and Tocchet with longtime NHL host Liam McHugh, 10-year NHL veteran Anson Carter, and former NHL and AHL veteran Paul Bissonnette.

If Gretzky is the elder statesman on the panel, Bissonnette may be the court jester. Also a co-host of the wildly popular ‘Spittin’ Chiclets’ podcast, Bissonnette is quick to chime in with his quips and chirps.

“You never know what he’s going to say,” marveled Tocchet. “That’s the one thing people love. What’s he going to do next? And a lot of the stuff’s organic. I can tell you, 80% of the stuff he does is like, ‘Wow, he’s doing that right now?’ It’s not like it’s been scripted. “

Behind all the hijinks lies a smart hockey mind, Tocchet says.

“I like to poke fun more than anybody,” he explained. “We have that relationship, we like to have fun with each other. But his hockey IQ is very good. When you peel the onion back and hear him talk about hockey, he makes a lot of sense. He has very good takes on teams and opinions on players. ”

Striking a balance between analysis and entertainment has led the NHL on TNT panel to some unique places this season. Guests like Charles Barkley and actor Will Arnett have been pressed into game action in the studio’s floor-hockey rink, and a stick-breaking demonstration necessitated a trip outside.

Next week, the action ramps up further as the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. The 16 contenders are now set, with the Dallas Stars clinching the final berth in the Western Conference on Wednesday night.

“We’ll get a little more serious,” Tocchet said. “Hey, this is playoff time. People want to know our predictions and our matchups and what the storyline is, and there’s always controversy in the playoffs. We’re going to tackle those things, so I’m excited.

“I think this playoffs is going to be wide open. In the past, you could always say, ‘This team or this team, for sure.’ And you still have those teams, like Colorado, Florida and Tampa. But I smell some upsets and I think that’s going to be really good for TV. You’re going to see some series go that long, seven-game series, and there might be some upsets. ”

In the playoffs, gritty players can be difference-makers.

“There’s a lot of talk about skill, and everybody loves the Michigan play and everybody talks about skill, skill skill – which you have to have,” Tocchet said. “If you want to win, you have to have skill on your team. But there’s also the skill of taking a puck with somebody who’s on top of you and being able to come out of a corner, win a battle and then make a play. I mean, that’s playoff hockey.

“When I have to predict teams, the more players you have that have that tough skill, being able to win battles, are usually the teams that really are successful.

“Look at Tampa. Everyone talks about their skill but I’ll tell you, Steven Stamkos or (Nikita) Kucherov or Brayden Point, they’re not scared. They’re in the corners and they’re digging and they’re scoring goals in front of the net. It’s not like they’re on the outside, trying to do the Michigan play all night.

“They’re playing the game the right way. And that’s why they’ve been so successful. “

Next week, the Lightning will begin their quest to become the first NHL team to win three straight championships since the New York Islanders, who won four Cups from 1980-1983.

The NHL on TNT’s coverage of the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin on Thursday, May 5.

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