After being drafted in the 6th round (121st overall) by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, Tocchet returned to the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for another year of junior hockey. After registering 108 points with Sault Ste. Marie, Tocchet came to the Flyers for the 1984–85 season, scoring 39 points and helping the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. He was mainly known as a fighter in his early career, but soon developed his skills enough to become a respected power forward, a team leader and a four-time NHL All-Star. He had memorable fights with other power forwards such as Wendel Clark and Cam Neely.
In 1992, Tocchet was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, along with Kjell Samuelsson and Ken Wregget, in exchange for Mark Recchi. In 14 playoff games, he scored 19 points, helping the Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
Tocchet became a well-travelled veteran in the league after his stint with the Penguins, taking roles with the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and Phoenix Coyotes. Rick returned to the Flyers in 2000, adding 11 points en route to an Eastern Conference Finals berth. Tocchet retired after 2001–02 season, being one of several players in NHL history to collect 400 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes including Brendan Shanahan and Gary Roberts.
He became an assistant coach for the Colorado Avalanche in 2002–03. In the summer of 2005, he became an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes. On December 17, 2005, Tocchet took over as interim head coach for Phoenix, stepping in while head coach Wayne Gretzky was out on an indefinite leave of absence due to his mother's illness (and subsequent passing). The team went 2–3–0 under Tocchet. Gretzky eventually resumed his duties on December 28.
Tocchet was named as the associate coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 9, 2008. On November 16, he was named the interim head coach of the Lightning, replacing Barry Melrose who was fired two days earlier after compiling a 5–7–4 record. Tocchet lost his first game to the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout. Tocchet's first win came two games later on November 21 against the Nashville Predators. However, he would go on to lose his next nine games, and twelve of the next thirteen. On May 11, 2009 Tocchet had the interim tag removed and was signed to a two-year deal by the Lightning. On April 12, 2010 he was relieved of his coaching duties by the new ownership of the Tampa Bay Lightning. On June 25, 2014, he was hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins to be an assistant coach. On June 12, 2016, Tocchet won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins. He won his second Stanley Cup as coach on June 11, 2017, when the Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators in six games.
On July 11, 2017, Tocchet was named head coach for the Arizona Coyotes.
After leaving Tampa Bay, Tocchet served alongside Michael Barkann, Al Morganti, Bill Clement and Steve Coates as a Flyers Postgame Live panelist on Comcast SportsNet.
On February 6, 2006, Tocchet was served with a criminal complaint, accused of financing a nationwide sports gambling ring based in New Jersey in which several current NHL players wagered. "It's not a hockey-related issue, it's a football thing. And at this time I can't comment any further," Tocchet told The Arizona Republic after the Coyotes practiced on Tuesday, February 7, 2006.
On May 8, 2006, attorneys for Tocchet and Gretzky's wife Janet Jones filed notices in New Jersey that they intended to sue the state for $50 million each for defamation. Both Tocchet and Jones claimed to have lost business opportunities in the wake of the state's investigation which had sullied their reputations.
On August 3, 2006, former New Jersey state trooper James Harney pleaded guilty to conspiracy, promoting gambling and official misconduct, and promised to help authorities with their case against Tocchet and others. Harney said that he and Tocchet were 50–50 partners in the betting ring.
On May 25, 2007, Tocchet pleaded guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling. New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram announced on August 17, 2007 that Tocchet had been sentenced to two years probation in exchange for his plea. The NHL issued a statement from Gary Bettman, but his spokesman would not answer questions, including if Tocchet had a future in hockey. During a press conference on February 6, 2008, it was announced that Tocchet was to be reinstated, and would serve as assistant coach the next day, exactly two years after taking a leave of absence. Among other conditions of his reinstatement, Tocchet was ordered by Bettman to abstain from all forms of gambling.3-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins: 1992 (as player), 2016 (as assistant coach); and 2017 (as assistant coach).
Selected to four NHL All-Star Games: 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993
Philadelphia Flyers all-time leader in Gordie Howe hat tricks – 9
NHL all-time leader in Gordie Howe hat tricks – 18 (includes post-season)