For the turmoil endured by the Phoenix Coyotes in recent years, little can be traced to head coach Dave Tippett.
If the franchise was in disarray, if possible location remained a mystery and if composition of the team was in flux, Tippett remained the one constant.
Regarding the franchise situation, he flashed moments of frustration and often told reporters that winning begins with strong ownership.
Now that George Gosbee and his IceArizona contingent purchased the franchise from the NHL and set up shop in the desert, Tippett and his players expressed a huge sigh of relief. While defenseman Keith Yandle told reporters on the opening day of training camp Wednesday that “going forward, there are no more excuses,” Tippett is engaged and committed.
Through the dark years of NHL management, Tippett remained true to his coaching creed and continued to field a competitive team.
Taking a leap of faith to re-sign with Phoenix during the offseason, Tippett’s action acted as a domino affect for the re-signing of free agent goalie Mike Smith, who contemplated options.
Now, Tippett is back behind the bench with faith restored and zeal renewed. Not only does he bring stability but a decisive winning record. Since 2002-03, only Detroit’s Mike Babcock has more wins, and Tippett appears to be as anxious as his players to turn the page on the recent dark history of the Phoenix franchise.
Along the way, players recognize Tippett’s unique character and reasons for his longevity as an NHL coach.
“With coaches years ago, there was yelling and screaming to get their point across,” said Mike Ribeiro, who played for Tippett in Dallas and is now expected to be an offensive catalyst for Phoenix. “That’s not Tippett, and coaching is different now than in the past. With (Tippett), communication is the key. He defines the role for each player and that way, the game moves along much better.”
Tippett says the ability to intelligently convey coaching methods is the only reasonable manner to reach players today.
“The methods of communication continue to evolve,” Tippett said. “For one thing, players have more and better forms of communication, like social media and web sites. They are more educated and more aware than perhaps players in the past.”
That enhances the ability “to reach” players with coaching techniques and methods, he said. The result, Tippett hopes, is better production on the ice and the players’ ability to process information at a more rapid pace.
“(Tippett) combines art and science into coaching,” said Phoenix assistant coach Dave King. “The art is his method of communicating and the science is his ability to coach and put “x‘s” and “o‘s” into action on the ice. What he says makes sense.”
Tippett’s resume is as strong as any in the game.
Taking over the Phoenix job on Sept. 24, 2009, he proceeded to guide the Coyotes to a club-record 50 wins and the team’s first playoff appearance since 2001-02. As a result, Tippett earned the Jack Adams Trophy as coach-of-the-year and two years later, guided the Coyotes into the Western Conference finals.
Prior to coming to Phoenix, Tippett led Dallas to two Pacific Division titles and made the playoffs in five of the seven years he coached the Stars.
“I think there is a fine line between a good coach and great coach,” said Smith. “A great coach is able to manage 25 different personalities. (Tippett) does that very well and he has the ability to understand and reach the different personalities on the team. That makes him unique among coaches.”
For his part, Tippett says “communication” remains the cardinal variable in coaching. Plus, he points out that there still remains the need to keep up with technology and how evolving technology affects behavior. That way, he said, coaches are better prepared to handle different personalities and situations.
“As a coach, you ask for player accountability,” he said. “You also earn respect through a strong knowledge base. Players today want to be part of the process and, as coaches, we want them to be part of the solution.”
Going forward, Tippett said he’s never satisfied with yesterday’s result. Though he would not identify this as a weakness, Tippett said he is in constant motion to sort through a plethora of information.
“That’s the challenge ahead for me,” he said. “We are always evaluating and re-evaluating. And, self-evaluating. We’re never satisfied and always looking for ways to improve.”
A total of 58 players were supposed to report to camp for physicals and Media Day on Wednesday.
All were present except one important absence.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, one the emerging stars in the NHL, could not get out of his native Sweden.
Ekman-Larsson did not have a visa and was working on securing the document.
“I’m not happy about this,” general manager Don Maloney told reporters. “He had plenty of time to get this resolved and waited until the last minute. He’s a very important player for his team and he’s not here. That’s disappointing.”
The first on-ice practice is slated for Thursday morning at 9 MST.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.