As if you needed any help seeing that the Phoenix Coyotes are a much improved team this season, take a gander at their stats.
They’re in the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-02 season.
They’re third in the NHL in points with 100, and it just so happens that this marks their first 100+ point season in franchise history.
Despite being in the bottom 10 of goals per game, they are third in goals against per game.
They’re fourth in 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio, scoring 1.17 even strength goals for every one they give up.
Despite having a powerplay that is 28th in the league, their penalty kill is eighth.
As if all of this weren’t enough, they’re averaging 30.4 shots per game and giving up 29.8.
For any team, that’s impressive. But this was a markedly different team last season.
Points? They finished with 79, good for 25th in the league.
How about their goals for and goals against? Well, they scored 2.50 goals for, good for 26th in the league and 3.04 goals against, good for 24th.
And their 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio? They scored 0.84 goals even strength for every one they gave up.
The powerplay? A pitiful 14.5 percent.
Their penalty kill? A laughable 76.8 percent.
Shots for and against per game? Try 28.1 and 31.6, respectively.
So what’s the biggest reason for their turnaround?
They don’t have a drastically different team.
Shane Doan is their captain, their defense is still anchored by Adrian Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski and they still have Ilya Bryzgalov in net. In fact, their most notable off season acquisitions were bringing back enigmatic winger Radim Vrbata and bringing in elder statesman Robert Lang.
So what’s the biggest difference?
Try the coach.
That’s right, my dear readers. This article is indeed an indictment against the Great One—at least, as far as coaching goes.
At first glance, the coaching records speak volumes.
Wayne Gretzky? 143-161-24.
Dave Tippett? 318-179-28-43.
Gretzky’s best point total? 83 in the 2007-08 season.
Tippett’s? 112 in the 2005-06 season.
And Gretzky’s best playoff performance? 17 goals, 30 assists and a Stanley Cup championship for the Edmonton Oilers back in the 1984-85 season.
I think you get the point.
There are undoubtedly great players that make great coaches. Jacques Lemaire is a shining example of this. There are some times where a player’s ability on the ice translates to an uncanny ability to coach behind the bench.
It simply wasn’t the case for the Great One.
This season has wiped away any and all excuses that Gretzky could have had.
An under talented roster? Nope.
Lack of support? Sorry.
Ownership struggles? No dice, Wayne.
The rumors that began circulating immediately following Gretzky stepping down as the head coach alone were enough to wonder if he wasn’t the problem from the beginning.
There were rumblings that his trusted assistant coach, Ulf Samuelsson, ran the majority of the practices. Not only that, but that Samuelsson would implement a system only to have Gretzky come in with minutes left in practice and change everything he had just done.
Rumors began circulating that Gretzky wasn’t necessarily the most approachable coach—that he spent too much of his time worrying about himself as opposed to his players.
Now all of this scuttlebutt is just that—hearsay and conjecture.
What really is the damning evidence is Tippett’s performance this season with, essentially, the same roster that the team iced last season. If not the same roster, the same talent level at least.
Now I’m not pointing this out to rip on Wayne Gretzky. The man is undoubtedly a legend on the ice.
But allow this to be a cautionary tale to other managers and owners. A legendary player does not necessarily a legendary coach make.
In any event, congratulations to the Coyotes for clinching their first playoff berth in almost a decade. It is well deserved for the franchise and for the loyal fans that have stuck with them through thick and thin and, hopefully, this is the beginning to a new and wonderful hockey tradition down in the desert of Arizona.
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