"Dave's been unbelievable. He's a guy with a wealth of experience, reads situations very well, and is a great teacher of young players, so he's been very good for our staff." -- Dave Tippett on Dave King
How long has Dave King been toting a whistle in this game?
Long enough to measure his tenure in generations, not years. And long enough, as it turns out, to join one of his former players behind the bench.
King, the former head coach of the Calgary Flames
and Columbus Blue Jackets
, and associate coach of the Montreal Canadiens
, was on the verge of retirement in September, sorting a few things out in Germany, when he got a call from the Phoenix Coyotes
One of his former star pupils with the Canadian national team, Dave Tippett
, had just been named head coach of the Desert Dogs and put in a good word with GM Don Maloney
Before you could say "Metallurg Magnitogorsk," the 61-year-old King was jetting back for his ninth NHL season, as an assistant coach with the 'Yotes.
"Oh, yeah, it's interesting," King tells NHL.com after a recent game against Dallas. "I've coached 'Tipper' and I've coached (Phoenix goaltending coach) Sean Burke
. And on the other side, I've coached (Stars assistant coaches) Andy Moog
and Stu Barnes
. You get games like this, and you kind of go, 'What the heck?' you know?
"And about a month-and-a-half ago (on Oct. 8), we were playing against Buffalo and (forward) Drew Stafford
," adds King. "I coached his dad, Gordie, in major junior in Billings (with the WHL's long-extinct Bighorns). So it's really interesting to me, interesting to be the old guy on the block. Kind of neat."
If not for Tippett's endorsement, King might have quietly finished up a 30-plus-year coaching career in Europe. After his departure from Columbus in 2003, the native of North Battleford, Sask., had spent two seasons with the Hamburg Freezers of Germany's Deutsche Eishockey Liga, one winter with Magnitogorsk of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, and two campaigns back in the DEL with the Mannheim Eagles.
"Basically, my wife ... was trying to convince me to retire," says King, who spent nine years at the helm of the Canadian national men's team. "I wasn't going to come back (from Europe) until at least December, let some things sort themselves out, see if I was enjoying what I was going to be doing, or not doing.
"When this came up, I thought, 'Heck, this is really terrific. A chance to be in the best league, in a very good situation, too.'"
After a summer of turmoil that had many predicting a season in the Pacific Division cellar, not many would have called Phoenix circa 2009 "a very good situation." But King is bullish on the club's potential, and the Coyotes continue to defy the oddsmakers. Heading into play Wednesday night, Phoenix was in third place in the Pacific at 18-11-1 and would be the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs if the postseason started today.
"Really, everybody seems to look at our situation and say, 'It must be difficult.' But in many ways, it sets up a 'Let's-show-'em' kind of an attitude, you know?" says King. "Everyone picked us to finish dead last in the conference, and there's all the controversy over the ownership, and people tended to think that was the kiss of death to the team.
"But I think our guys are out to prove that's not right. We're trying to show people that we are better than they think we are and that, budget or not, we can win with our team the way it is. They've been very focused. It hasn't been a distraction at all."
Tippett said King has, as he'd suspected, proven a great fit on the Phoenix staff.
"Dave's been unbelievable," Tippett said. "He's a guy with a wealth of experience, reads situations very well, and is a great teacher of young players, so he's been very good for our staff."
King, for his part, recalls Tippett, who toiled for one season with Canada's Nats in 1983-84, as having the best defensive anticipation skills of any player he ever coached.
"You could count on him to be back when people were taking chances and taking risks, and if they failed, he was there," King said. "So he was a real solid player, very smart, very poised, and those same traits, I think, exist as a coach. There's absolutely no difference.
"I think he's the whole package as a coach. We work as much on offense as we do on defense. I think he really has a good understanding of the game, and I can see why he was so successful in Dallas" for six years, adds King. "He's got great poise, and he does a good job of getting his team prepared, and getting on the same page."
So, does King -- who already had a winter home in Phoenix -- regret his decision to spend his days in a freezing rink, instead of golfing and taking in the Arizona sun like thousands of other Canadian snowbirds?
Not a bit.
"When you get back in it, and you get a chance to work every day with such good athletes and such good staff, it's nice to come to work every day. You really enjoy it," says King, who coached Canada at three Olympics, winning silver in 1992 at Albertville, and was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2001.
"It's a tough league, and that's never changed from the days when I started my NHL career back in Calgary. It's the most difficult league in the world to coach in, because every team does their homework. Every team does their preparation. With the salary cap now ... it makes for equal competition, which makes for real tough games, and that's exciting.
"There're no guarantees, never a game we go into where we think we can't win. And that's a good thing."