A New Era: Patterson, Tocchet to help lead Coyotes in new direction
GLENDALE — Rick Tocchet played three of his 18 NHL seasons with the Arizona Coyotes. Steve Patterson worked three years at Arizona State University, the final two as athletic director.
The Coyotes’ two new leaders are back in the Valley of the Sun — Tocchet as coach, Patterson as president and CEO — tasked with finding consistency on the ice, a permanent home and reigniting a fan base.
“I think we have the right people in place, from putting a winning team on the ice to finding a stadium that’s going to make everyone proud,” Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway said Thursday.
The Coyotes’ ongoing desert saga has included bankruptcy, four seasons of being run by the NHL, a new ownership group, a dispute with the city of Glendale that led to the dissolution of a long-term lease agreement and numerous roster re-imaginations. There also hasn’t been a lot of winning — aside from a run to the 2012 Western Conference Finals — which has led to waning fan support from a base that often only awakens for a winning team.
The current organizational shift started in recent seasons, as the Coyotes skewed toward young, talented players and hired John Chayka, a 28-year-old analytics whiz who became the youngest GM in NHL history last year.
A slow rebuild turned into a rapid overhaul the past month, sparked by Barroway becoming the franchise’s sole owner.
Free of input from multiple partners on every decision, Barroway quickly began reshaping the team with the aggressiveness that helped him become a successful hedge fund manager.
Not long after Barroway took sole reins, Arizona traded away goalie Mike Smith, parted ways with popular coach Dave Tippett and told captain Shane Doan he would not be offered a contract after 21 seasons with the Coyotes.
Arizona also took steps to fill the holes created by the departures while shoring up weak spots on the roster, trading for Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, top-line center Derek Stepan and potential No. 1 goalie Antti Raanta.
Hiring Tocchet and Patterson was the final major piece.
Tocchet had a rare combination of skill and grit during his playing days, the type of player who could hit someone in the mouth and score a goal on the same shift.
He had a rough first go-round as a head coach, winning 53 combined games in two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but became a viable head-coaching candidate again after winning the Stanley Cup twice as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tocchet will infuse the Coyotes with a dose of energy just by virtue of the players hearing a new voice — Tippett had been there eight seasons — but also by playing into the strengths of Arizona’s talented young players with a fast-paced brand of hockey.
“This fan base wants, they want to see exciting hockey, they want to see some offense, some skill,” said Tocchet, who also won the Stanley Cup as a player with the Penguins in 1992. “That’s the way you have to play to be successful in the league today.”
Patterson made a name for himself as an arena guru during a 30-plus-year career that’s included stints in the NFL, NBA, AHL, minor league baseball and at two major universities.
Patterson helped Houston regain an NFL team and land a Super Bowl while also leading the design, financing and construction of the Texans’ massive stadium. He played key roles in arena redesigns for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets, and was a consultant in the renovation of the Triple-A Tacoma Rainier’s baseball stadium.
Patterson’s arena background made him a particularly inviting candidate to replace Anthony LeBlanc, who stepped down from his role after being bought out by Barroway.
The Coyotes signed a 15-year, $225 million deal with the city of Glendale in 2013 to remain at their current home, Gila River Arena, but the City Council voted to opt out of the deal in 2015.
The Coyotes seemed to have their arena issues worked out after announcing a deal with Arizona State in 2016, but the school backed out earlier this year, leaving the franchise still in search of a permanent home.
“As I’ve said before: These deals are like vampire movies,” Patterson said. “It’s got to go in the grave a half-dozen times and hopefully come out a seventh time.”