When the 2009-10 preseason began the Phoenix Coyotes were missing an important piece to their organization, their head coach.
Their coach for the previous four seasons, Wayne Gretzky, was the greatest hockey player to ever play the game and the holder of some of the most unbreakable records in NHL history.
But Gretzky’s success on the ice never seemed to transfer to any form of success behind the bench as the Coyotes went an abysmal 143-161-24 during his coaching career, leading the team to zero postseason appearances and only one season with a record over .500.
The NHL’s greatest player decided in the midst of the ownership debacle, not knowing if he was going to be paid and if so by whom, that it was time for him to step down after failing to make an appearance for the Coyotes entire training camp and the beginning of their preseason games.
In less then five hours later Dave Tippett, who had been fired after the 08-09 season by the Dallas Stars for failing to make the playoffs for the first time during his coaching reign, was announced as the new head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.
And just like that the Phoenix Coyotes were finally graced with a coach who had a proven track record behind the bench.
Dave Tippett came in to the organization and gave something to the Coyotes they had lacked for the past four seasons behind Gretzky, a system to play that actually gave the team a chance to win every night.
Tippett had used a very successful defensive system in Dallas, which worked well due to the Stars having a very strong goaltender in net and core of excellent defenseman, which the Coyotes were fortunate enough to be in possession of before Tippett signed on.
Relying heavily on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to have a bounce back year after a disappointing 08-09 campaign, Tippett’s system helped turn a team that was predicted to challenge for the first overall draft pick in the 2010 draft, into a team that, at one point late in the season, was on top of the Western Conference, albeit for only one day.
With the experience Tippett had coaching against Phoenix (42 times during the course of his Dallas Stars coaching career) he knew the Coyotes were not a high-scoring power house and that they relied on their goaltender too much, thus giving him an opportunity to execute his defensive strategy in order to turn this once storied franchise (sarcasm) into a contender.
The Phoenix Coyotes were mocked, ridiculed, and basically written off at the beginning of this season, making it as high as number 25 in pre-season rankings by the mainstream analysts. Even when Tippett was brought on, there were question marks to whether he can really make a difference or if the results would mirror those Gretzky was able to get out the Coyotes.
But Tippett proved all of the doubters wrong early in the season, coaching the Coyotes to the top of the Pacific Division for a few weeks in October, finishing the month with an impressive 9-4-0 record, but the team didn’t just start strong and fall back to reality and into the bottom of the standings like they had done in past years.
Instead the Yotes kept up with the rest of the Western Conference pack and stayed in the top eight for the majority of the year, only dropping below the eighth seed a couple of days during December.
The Jack Adams Award is given to the coach who adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success, and there have been a few coaches who have led their non-playoff teams from 08-09 season into the postseason this year.
Colorado, Los Angeles, Nashville, Phoenix, Buffalo, and Ottawa all failed to make the big dance last season and of those teams only Phoenix and Colorado made a coaching change this summer, and of those two teams, nobody put more points in the standings then the Phoenix Coyotes (107).
There are really only two coaches that deserve to be in the same conversation when it comes to determining the Coach of the Year this season, Joe Sacco of the Colorado Avalanche and the man I have been preaching about for the past 675 words, Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Joe Sacco has done alot with an Avalanche team that has gone through a major rebuilding stage in order to return to the top of the NHL just like they did once they arrived to Denver and up until just before the 2004-05 lock-out.
The Avs appeared to have quickly “completed” the turn-a-round into a contender in one season, holding the top spot in their division up until December, but started to see a decline in play once the young players hit the “rookie wall” and first-time starter Craig Anderson began to show signs of fatigue from playing too much.
Meanwhile, Tippett not only used, basically, the exact same core of players from the 08-09 Coyotes team and turned them into a contender, but he kept the Coyotes in the middle of the West for almost the entire year, minus of course the few days here and there when the standings were so close that a win could move you up four spots and a loss could drop you four.
After the Olympic break the Coyotes basically kept a strangle hold on the fourth spot in the West after going on an impressive nine game winning streak after one of the busiest trade deadline days in team history.
When it comes down to a Joe Sacco/Dave Tippett showdown for the Jack Adams award this season, Tippett will emerge victorious because:
- he kept the Coyotes in the hunt for the playoffs throughout the majority of the season (playing in what has been one of the stronger NHL divisions in the past 3-4 years)
- he provided an actual system and strategy (something they had not been with for four seasons)
- he helped coach a team who had 79 points last year to that point total on February 10th, and finished the season with 107 points, good enough for fourth in the entire league.
So if the league has not already done it, it may be an intelligent move to go ahead and start engraving “David Tippett/Phoenix Coyotes” onto the Jack Adams Award because without his help behind the bench you can almost be sure that there would be no white-out, there would be no miracle of Lee Stempniak, there would be no fair-weather Arizona fans bombarding the ticket offices at Jobing.com Arena, and there very well could have be no more Phoenix Coyotes after this season.
About the Author
Written by Matt Shott
22 year old hockey fan born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. Weird, huh? Entire family minus myself and my brother were born in Toronto, ON so thats how I became a fan of this great sport. I have worked at Ice rinks since I was 14 and spend all day reading hockey stories. I eat, sleep, coach, play, and basically LIVE hockey. I became a Red Wing fan thanks to EA Sports NHL '95 and haven't looked back since (Why would I?). Parents were Season Ticket holders for the Phoenix Coyotes since day 1 and when they moved to Portland 3 years ago, I picked up where they left off and have found a soft spot for them. I moved to Toronto in January '10 to attend Centennial College's Sports Journalism program, so I am becoming a Maple Leafs fan in the process. Its hard to do after 16 years of being a Red Wings fan. So to recap: Wings fan at heart, Leafs fan on the outside, and always carry a soft spot for the Coyotes.