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Seattle expansion team getting big assist from Tippett as senior adviser

Former NHL player, coach helping design arena, pick front office

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

A Seattle expansion team will play in the NHL starting in 2021-22. is posting a series of stories this month about the NHL Seattle organization, the local hockey scene and the city's rich hockey history.

Today, NHL Seattle senior adviser Dave Tippett.

SEATTLE -- Dave Tippett doesn't want to coach Seattle's NHL expansion team. He doesn't want to be general manager either. He's happy being a senior adviser for now and with whatever his title will be eventually.

To understand why, you have to understand how he became involved, what he's doing and who he is. He's the grandson of a carpenter and an auto mechanic. He's a guy who flipped houses when he played in the NHL and made motorcycles from scratch when he coached in the NHL.

This is a chance to help build an NHL organization, from the arena to the training center to the front office to the fan base.

"I would like to build a 'legacy' franchise where you actually have a chance to win all the time, you're part of the community -- a franchise that, for lack of a better way to put it, is like an old Original Six," Tippett said. "You're not going to get to Original Six, but you can have a culture and a presence that people will look at it and say, 'This is really well done.' "

After the Arizona Coyotes bought him out in 2017 because of philosophical differences, Tippett was unsure of what he wanted to do after 14 years as an NHL coach. Then he received a call from Tim Leiweke in late January or early February.

When Tippett was an assistant with the Los Angeles Kings from 1999-2002, Leiweke was CEO of their parent company. Now Leiweke was CEO of Oak View Group, trying to redevelop KeyArena and bring an NHL expansion team to Seattle.

Leiweke asked if Tippett would be interested in helping.

The night of Feb. 28, Tippett texted Leiweke to wish him luck. OVG was starting a season-ticket drive the next morning, hoping to gather 10,000 deposits.

"We're optimistic," Leiweke texted Tippett. "I think it's going to go all right."

OVG hit 10,000 in 12 minutes. 

"That was better than all right," Tippett texted Leiweke.

A few weeks later, Tippett met with Leiweke; his brother, Tod, CEO of NHL Seattle; and Jerry Bruckheimer, a Hollywood producer and part of the ownership group. They sat in Bruckheimer's office for a couple of hours and talked hockey.

"I left there thinking, 'This is going to be an amazing project,' " Tippett said.

Tippett sent Tod Leiweke a note outlining ways he could help, from studying the success of the Vegas Golden Knights' inaugural season in 2017-18 to helping assemble the hockey operations staff. They met in Seattle.

"I said, 'Really? You really want to do this, huh?' " Tod Leiweke said. "At that point in time, I said, 'Look, Tip, the skills necessary for a GM are not necessarily the skills of a coach, and so how are you going to feel when we go out and recruit a GM?' And I said, 'Look, if you want to be the coach, this might not be the perfect way to position yourself.'

"His response was, 'I just want to be a part of this organization.' And it's exactly what we needed, not a guy aiming for a specific position but a guy saying, 'I want to build. I want to help build.' "

Tippett moved to Seattle around June 1.

Video: Tippett on new Seattle franchise, expansion draft

He studied the Golden Knights and presented his findings to ownership. He spent time at American Hockey League headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts, researching what might be the best fit for an AHL affiliate.

He met with the local junior teams. Russ Farwell, vice president of hockey operations for Seattle of the Western Hockey League, was Tippett's GM with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1993-94. Garry Davidson, GM of Everett of the WHL, was friends with Andy Murray when Murray coached the Kings and Tippett was in Los Angeles.

Tippett met with minor hockey associations, did radio shows, mingled with fans.

One day, he was sitting around the office when Tod Leiweke invited him to a meeting about building permits.

"Tod laughs and says, 'I want to bring you to the dark side,' " Tippett said. "So I'm sitting there at this meeting. There was a lot of talk going on. All of a sudden, this Ken Johnsen started talking a little bit. Tod and I were walking back to the office. I said, 'Who was that guy?' He goes, 'Oh, he does some work for the city.' I said, 'We could use that guy.' "

Johnsen, who has extensive experience with construction of local landmarks, now leads construction projects for OVG in Seattle.

Tippett has been able to give input and learn from Tod Leiweke.

"He has a vision of things, and if he needs more help, he goes out and finds more help," Tippett said. "It's been really interesting to watch him, the way he builds an organization. You try to tell people that it's like an unbelievable class in how you bring people together or build a situation. He makes everybody feel wanted and needed."

The best part? Tippett visited the Chicago Blackhawks' and Minnesota Wild's new practice facilities, and he has blueprints of facilities across the NHL.

"I've designed some houses before, my own houses," he said. "I had an architect draw it, but the whole mindset of it, I have an interest in that."

When he played for the Hartford Whalers in the 1980s, he ran his own reno business.

"I was flipping houses before anybody," he said. "I'd buy them in auctions in the summer and do all the work."

When he was coaching the Dallas Stars in the 2000s, he built a radical chopper. He ordered parts and put them together in his garage, and some biker buddies let him use their shop to do metal work. He showed off the finished product to them.

"I was saying, 'This is pretty cool, isn't it?' " he said. "They looked at it, and it's an amazing-looking bike. But they said, 'Tip, chrome won't get you home.' "

He built another one later, an old-school bobber with tanks off a 1950 Harley.

Now he gets to help design the team areas in an $800 million arena and a $75 million training center. It isn't just about style; it's about substance. First-class facilities will help with the next step: recruiting first-class people. First-class people are what make a first-class organization.

Chrome won't get you home, right?

"When people walk in, they've got to realize that, hey, this is a great situation," Tippett said.

Tippett will work with Tod Leiweke and ownership to hire a general manager, likely after the 2018-19 season. That will be critical to what comes afterward. 

"You've got to trust that leader to know that he's going to bring in the good people," Tippett said. "Your head amateur scout, you hire him because you trust him. You think he's going to be a good fit with us. And then below that, he's got to have the guy that he trusts below that. So you have to have that synergy of your leadership core.

"There's probably 60 people in your hockey operations department once you start getting into coaches, trainers, American [Hockey] League coaches, trainers down there, executive assistants, the stats guys, analytics people if you're going to go that direction. You're not going to hire that all in one swath, but your leadership, you're going to have to rely on that leadership core to make sure you have the same values right throughout that whole staff."

Four coaches have been replaced in the NHL this season. Tippett is still in Seattle.

Tippett and his wife, Wendy, went to a theater in Seattle Center next to the arena Dec. 1. NHL Seattle showed "The Mighty Ducks" and "Slap Shot" and streamed NHL games for fans.

He was at Henry's Tavern on Dec. 4, when NHL Seattle showed NHL Network coverage of the expansion announcement in Sea Island, Georgia. The day after that, he was at the arena groundbreaking.

"Quite honestly, I think he's been tested a couple of times," Tod Leiweke said. "I think that there's been organizations where he might have looked and said, 'Hey, I could step behind the bench again.' But I think he's very serious about being here, and I think he's been a phenomenal partner, and I think he will be a partner as we go out and find that GM. 

"The impact he has had on the organization already is just terrific. He's helped on facilities. He's helped on culture. He's helped propagate hockey in this town. And he's helped on business issues outside of what he was trained to do, because coaches who have coached for 15 years in this league develop skill sets that are applicable to all sorts of other things. I think he's having a ball."

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