Profiles in Excellence: Dave Tippett

Dave TippettRank #39 – 19 points

Coaching Experience: Dallas Stars, 2002-2009 Phoenix Coyotes, 2009-present

Jack Adams Award: 2009-10

Regular Season W-L-T-OL: 321-181-28-44; Playoff W-L: 24-30

Pacific Division Titles: 2002-03, 2005-06

Playoff Appearances: 2003-2008, 2010

Dave Tippett is the second most successful head coach to come out of the NHL coaching class of the 2000s (only Mike Babcock has done better). Tippett made his NHL coaching debut the same year as Babcock did but failed to equal Babcock’s success in post season play. (Unlike Babcock who has done it thrice; Tippett has never reached the Stanley Cup finals. The closest he ever came was in 2008 when he led the Dallas Stars to the conference finals before losing ironically to Mike Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings).

Tippett was a left winger from Saskatchewan and grew up playing junior hockey there before playing two years of NCAA hockey at the University of North Dakota where they won the 1982 NCAA Title. Twice he played on the Canadian Olympic Hockey team in 1984 and 1992. He was drafted by the Hartford Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes) and spent most of his playing career there until the 1990s when he bounced around with the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Philadelphia Flyers before ending his playing career in the minors in 1995.

He immediately took up coaching in the International Hockey League (IHL) and did well, winning the IHL championship in 1999. After that he served three seasons as an assistant coach to Andy Murray with the Los Angeles Kings.

When the Dallas Stars needed a new head coach in 2002 they chose Tippett. Again Tippett did not disappoint, leading the Stars to two divisional titles, and five playoff appearances in six winning seasons. In 2007 he became the seventh NHL coach ever to lead a team to two consecutive 50-win seasons.

Tippett’s winning formula has been a defense first strategy. In seven seasons of coaching his teams have finished in the top ten in defense six times. Offensively his teams have been average in their goal production; weak on the power-play and weaker still in short-handed offense.

His idyll in Dallas ended in 2009 when the Stars failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in Tippett’s NHL career. Plagued with injuries and the emotional aftershocks of the Sean Avery scandal, the Stars barely broke the .500 level that season which gave Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk the perfect excuse to remove Tippett.

It was then Tippett faced the sternest and onerous coaching challenge of his life. He was given the head coaching job of the Phoenix Coyotes one week before the regular season started. The Coyotes were on a precipice, having filed for bankruptcy in May thus forcing the NHL to take over the franchise. All the while the team had to cope with rumors of the team moving to Hamilton, Ontario.

All great coaches revel in the opportunity of salvaging losing teams but even this situation appeared on the surface too much for Tippett to handle. Survival alone outweighed all other considerations.

Amazingly, Tippett defied the odds and everyone’s expectations with a coaching performance that would earn him the 2010 Jack Adams Award as the NHL coach of the year. The Coyotes won a record 50 wins and broke the one hundred point mark for the first time in their franchise history. The Coyotes were the fourth best team in the Western Conference and made their first playoff appearance since 2002. Thanks to the All-Star goaltending work of Ilya Bryzgalov, the Coyotes had the third best defense in the NHL and were sixth in penalty-killing.

Even more importantly, Tippett made his players believers. This is borne out by what defenseman Ed Jovanovski tells Craig Custance of The Sporting News, “He’s given each guy a role and explained his role, and each guy is doing it. He’s got that calming influence about him and doesn’t get rattled behind the bench. When something needs to be said, he says it loudly and clearly.”

And forward Lee Stempniak, “I came over (in a trade from Toronto) and I was impressed. He has a structure that everybody sticks to, but at the same time you’re skating, you can be aggressive, play and trust your instincts. He keeps everyone on the same page but allows you to keep that aggressive style of play. Everything is communication.”

Sadly for Tippett and the Coyotes they were beaten in the first round of the 2010 playoffs by Red Wings but Tippett’s receiving the Jack Adams award is an appropriate ending to a bravura coaching performance.

As of today, Tippett’s Coyotes (after a slow start) are vying fiercely for the Pacific Division lead with Terry Murray’s Los Angeles Kings.

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