Coaching Candidate Profile: Dave Tippett

Patrick Johnston
May 29 2013 11:18AM


Image via wikimedia commons.

Dave Tippett is a veteran coach, meticulous, known to get along well with players as long as they understand the need to work hard. He'd be a solid fit for the Vancouver Canucks.

Of course, he's also still under contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, but only until the end of June though the 'Yotes are doing everything they can to retain him. Whether Tippett re-signs there or not has everything to do with ownership in the desert. What a surprise.

There's a lot to consider in Tippett's resume, but there's also a lot to consider about what it is that Mike Gillis wants from his next head coach.

All this, after the jump.

Bruce Dowbiggin tweeting some thoughts on Tuesday night about what the Canucks next coach should  be like

It's a strong argument. We'll circle back to Bruce later. 

The Resume

Dave Tippett was a solid hockey player, playing in Hartford, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia - along with two visits to the Olympics with the old Canadian National Team program. After his NHL days were done Tippett moved to the IHL with the Houston Aeros and it was in Houston that he first coached.

Initially signed as a player-assistant coach in 1994, Tippett was eventually handed the head coach's reins midway through the 1995-96 season. He turned the team around almost immediately.

His first full season in charge was 1996-97. The Aeros won 50 games under Tippett and went to the Western Conference final. Each subsequent year was better than the previous one and though the Aeros were upet in the first round in 1998, 1999 made up for all that. Tippett coached his squad to the Turner Cup title (as well as the regular season championship). He was named the IHL's coach of the year.

He was ready for the dance.

Andy Murray and the LA Kings came calling. Murray hired Tippett to be his assistant; the Kings made a 25-point improvement in their charge. 

The next two seasons would see continued success, including a second round visit in 2001.

The Kings were knocked on in the first round in 2002, but teams were noticing the influence Tippett was having on his teams. There was something there. The Dallas Stars pulled out the most appealing chair.

Tippett would spend sevens years in Big D, building winner after winner. In 2007, he became just the seventh coach in NHL history to lead his team to back-to-back 50-win seasons. 

But playoff success would mostly elude him. His first year in charge, the Stars went from being on the outside in 2002 to making the second round in 2003. It wouldn't be until 2008 that the Stars would again move past the first round, as they bowed out to the eventual champions, the Red Wings, in the Western Conference final.

The next season ended in disappointment - the Stars missed the playoffs for the first time under Tippett, then he was fired as coach. It was his next job that truly cemented his reputation as a get-it-done guy.

He decided to jump feet-first into Phoenix.

2009 was a strange year in the desert. On the ice, the team was a basket case. Wayne Gretzky was the coach, but he'd had little success during his tenure. Even worse were the financial problems off the ice. In May, owner David Moyes threw his hands up, left the keys in the door and walked away, claiming bankruptcy. He then tried to sell the team to Jim Ballsilie, who said he was going to move the team to Hamilton, but, as we all know, that didn't happen.

All summer, speculation was rampant: would Gretzky, not just coach but also a part owner, bail on the ship? What was his legal status?

Eventually he decided coaching wasn't in the best interest of the team and Dave Tippett was announced as the head coach the very same day as the Great One's resignation.

Even though he was appointed late in the pre-season, Tippett had an immediate impact. The Coyotes won 50 games for the first time ever. The Coyotes lost to Detroit in the first round, but Tippett was still the winner of the Jack Adams Award as best coach in the NHL. It was an incredible turnaround; had Tippett really turned water into wine?

In 2009-10, Phoenix were a 52% corsi team (and a 51 % fenclose). The year before, under Gretzky, they were awful, generating just 45.6% of the corsi events in a game (while posting a 44% fenclose). Since then, the Desert Dogs have been rather average, posting a 50.1% corsi and a decidedly middle-of-the-pack 49.7 % fenclose.

The players' coach

Tippett gets players. He spends time with them.

As Jeff Angus noted yesterday, Alain Vigneault made a conscious choice years ago to keep himself removed from the players. It was a style that worked for a long time.

Maybe it's time for something new.

Having missed out on the playoffs this spring, Tippett joined Canada's coaching staff at the World Championships, led by non-candidate Lindy Ruff. On his return to the Valley of the Sun, Tippett spoke with Fox Sports Arizona's Craig Morgan:

“The whole experience is really interesting, just working with different coaches and seeing their different ways of doing things,” he said. “There are definitely things you can learn, and obviously you get to meet players, interact with players and see their strengths and weaknesses.”

Learning from other coaches, meeting and interacting with players - this is a coach who sees positives everywhere. Coaching at the top level leads to all kinds of opportunity for unending education; Tippett clearly doesn't mind talking about that.

In April, Fox Sports Arizona put together a documentary about Tippett...

Two years ago, Backhand Shelf's Justin Bourne wrote about Tippett's work with the Coyotes :

Dave Tippett has his usual bunch of undertalented (by NHL standards), hard-working players who’ve bought into their coach’s systems.
They know they can’t run and gun as well as other teams, they know they’re not built for big comebacks, so they stick to their guns. They keep pucks to the perimeter as much as possible, clog up the dangerous areas with traffic, and force the opposition to come through them if they hope to get a good look.
The discipline of every team who plays for Tippett is phenomenal. He’s got the right demeanor, he’s smart, and he knows how to succeed when you don’t necessarily have all that right tools.

Then there's the extended profile of Tippett that appeared in ESPN The Magazine. Phoenix was such a crazy situation and Tippett was getting such impressive results that even The Worldwide Leader in Sports, not known for having an exhuberant passion for hockey, took notice.

Across all sports the best coaches are often extremists, petty and paranoid, their self-confidence rising and falling with each game. But Tippett has the humble, understated Canadian thing working. "I'm not an angry guy," he says. Win or lose, he eats lunch each day with his wife, Wendy, at their golf club's restaurant. (Taco Tuesday is their favorite.) He doesn't suffocate his players; he instituted a midnight road curfew but has never bothered to police it. Though he has developed his own statistical evaluation method, he's not an analytics zealot. He's not a screamer either. During a game a few years ago, he yelled -- and his plate of false front teeth somehow dislodged and shot from his mouth. He caught it, like a bar of soap, and his players laughed.
In general, hockey coaches have few chances to affect the game. Unlike coaches in football, basketball and baseball, they can call plays only after a whistle or before a line shift. Tippett has even fewer chances than most because he can't rely on his team's talent; he has to find advantages so small as to be invisible, stuff from which he made an NHL career during the '80s as a slow, small, undrafted center from the University of North Dakota by way of Saskatchewan.
He looks invisible now, addressing his team from a folding chair in the middle of the cramped locker room before practice. Tippett would prefer to stand, but he'd block the video screen. So he instructs from the trenches, inhabiting the world of his charges -- "one of the pack," as video coach Steve "Petey" Peters says.

To get a more direct sense of Tippett, I turned to Five for Howling's Brendan Porter. I asked Porter about the perception of Tippett amongst the fans and about how the team evolved under his leadership:

Dave Tippett is a fan-favorite in Phoenix for a lot of reasons. He is already one of the franchise's most successful coaches despite heavy budgetary constraints and the constant distraction of the lack of ownership. He brought a lot of responsibility and accountability to the on-ice product, especially after the dysfunction that was Wayne Gretzky as an NHL head coach. While Phoenix has nowhere near the media market for hockey that Vancouver does, Tippett arguably has more experience dealing with distractions and keeping his team focused than any other coach available. He also is a very no-nonsense kind of guy that isn't interested in making headlines. His blue-collar attitude fit well with a fanbase that is used to being the laughing stock of the league.
The team has switched gears significantly from Gretzky to Tippett, which is most apparent in the Coyotes' draft selections over the past few years. Under Gretzky, offensively gifted players like Mikkel Boedker, Kyle Turris, and Viktor Tikhonov made the NHL roster immediately after being drafted, and in retrospect that stunted their development. With Tippett, the Coyotes have taken a much more conservative approach; players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brandon Gormley, and the aforementioned Boedker have received more time in the minor and major-junior leagues to work on their games and develop into solid two-way players.
Tippett also is unafraid to keep players out of the lineup that don't buy in 100% to his system. Part of the reason Turris plays for Ottawa now is that he wasn't willing to play defense with the consistency Tippett wanted, even though Turris had offensive skills that were largely lacking from the Coyotes' roster.

Tippett is clearly in the players' corner and his outward patience with player mistakes would appear to be calculated; there's no public lambasting of players here, Porter said. If he were to come to Vancouver, the talent available to him wouldn't go to waste either.

Tippett is definitely a "player's coach"; he gives ice-time to whoever is having success, no matter what line he plays on. One example is Rob Klinkhammer, who had played a grand total of 16 games in the NHL before coming to the Coyotes' organization. He started in the AHL, got called up to fill a roster spot lost to injury, scored in his first game, and remained with the big team for the rest of the season. He also keeps criticism of his players in-house, which helps with trust.
While OEL was pretty much a complete player out of the gate, other prospects have needed more time to improve an aspect of their game, particularly on the defensive side of the puck. One advantage of the Canucks that Tippett doesn't really have in Phoenix is that the Canucks have a larger amount of high-end skill. Because Phoenix had to adhere so rigidly to their defensive scheme, Tippett was largely limited in how much time he could give players to "grow in" to their roles. More often than not, he'd have to either juggle line combinations, develop them in practice, or send them back down to the minors. He might not have that same challenge in Vancouver because the Canucks can overcome defensive lapses or growing pains in ways that Phoenix can't.

So what the heck is Mike Gillis looking for?

That's where we come back to Dowbiggin. No journalist knows Gillis better than Dowbiggin does. Gillis features prominently in Dowbiggin's excellent book 'Money Players' - its been mentioned more than once here at CA. Dowbiggin's tweets on Tuesday evening about the Canucks situation prompted an email exchange between yours truly and the Globe and Mail sports media columnist.

I asked Dowbiggin three questions:

1. What is it that veteran coaches can give veteran teams? A new way of delivering the same message? Or filling in unnoticed gaps?

I think so. The dynamic between Gillis and AV might've been strained too in the last while. Lots of respect there but maybe a time to get new voices. They need youngsters to play in 13-14 and AV is not forgiving of rookies' mistakes. The team has now fundamentally changed in tone. 

2. Is Dave Tippett indeed a player's coach?

I think Tippett can take what he's given. I heard that after he made chicken salad from the scraps he had in Phoenix. He's good with/ younger guys and the bottom half of his roster. Gillis needs an affirmation of his drafting and development so he will want a coach who can work with Gaunce, Jensen, Schroeder etc.

3. What does Mike Gillis look for in the people he works with?

He likes someone who can adapt and develop, not be hidebound. He respects someone who'll challenge him in a smart way. The biggest thing is that he's not making moves to get another job after Vancouver. This is it for him. He's secure in that, so he won't be moved far off his plan.

Tippett would slide nicely into this role. If he's available, you'd be nuts not to grab him. That "if he's available" qualifier is a big if though. The Coyotes are committed firmly to Tippett, and will prove it if they ever get the money to do so. Meanwhile it's tough to imagine him being willing to leave Taco Tuesday's behind in Glendale...

 

SIMILAR TAKES FROM CANUCKSARMY:

 

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Patrick Johnston is a Vancouver journalist. In addition to regular contributions here at Canucks Army, his work has appeared in The Province, Hockey Now and on the CBC. Check out his blog and other writing at http://johnstonwrites.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter: @risingaction
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#1 KleptoKlown
May 29 2013, 11:39AM
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I've always liked Tippett, and he would be among the least controversial choices. I know I would prefer Tippett over Eakins based on experience alone. After hearing the Rangers fired Torts a few minutes ago, I think most Canucks fans would agree that anyone is better than Tortorella.

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#2 Matt
May 29 2013, 02:06PM
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I've been rooting for Tippett since AV got the axe. Hopefully he'll be available - he's a great coach, and a much better veteran option than Ruff or Tortorella.

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#3 Matt
May 29 2013, 03:10PM
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There's a freshly available coaching candidate that will definitely get a conversation going, how about John Tortorella, just relieved of his duties in New York!

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#4 Graham. S.
May 29 2013, 03:16PM
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Great write up - appreciate the thoroughness, and it got me definitely more interested in him as a coach!

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#5 Lemming
May 29 2013, 05:37PM
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Yeah, with how well Tortorella handles the media, I'm sure he's a shoe-in for the coaching job /sarcasm

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#6 Excellent
May 29 2013, 07:27PM
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Excellent writeup. Been waiting for the Tippett one.

I want Tippett. Badly. Is there an NHL coach who has had so little to work with - and got such great results? Nope. He's the only one. He's good with young guys, he's good with veterans like Doan. He'll likely adapt his systems to accommodate a more offensive one in Vancouver. That's right. I'm already talking like he's the new head coach :)

Experience in the W. conference, NHL experience, playoffs experience. Sign him up. Poach him out of Phx asap.

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