invited Don Maloney
to his rural summer home in Dent, Minn., so he could fire questions at the Phoenix Coyotes
general manager as if he were a reporter interrogating a never-say-die leader.
"You could see his passion and the way he wanted this thing to work out," Tippett told NHL.com, "but there was a lot of negativity surrounding it and I'd be a liar if I said I didn't have a lot of questions about where things were going."
Tippett was less than three months removed from being fired by the Dallas Stars
after six seasons as the head coach there. He wasn't planning to jump right back into the coaching cauldron, and certainly had no illusions about taking over a team with a murky future.
But after listening to Maloney during their day-long visit, the gig in Phoenix looked too good to pass up.
"I tried to emphasize the upside of the organization -- a great place to live, a great arena, a staff he was familiar with and a chance to build something from the ground floor," Maloney told NHL.com in an e-mail.
Tippett was officially announced as the Coyotes' new coach on Sept. 24, roughly two weeks into camp. Now, his name leads the discussion for the Jack Adams
Award as the Coyotes embark on their first journey to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2002.
Tippett has helped breathe new life and fire into this moribund franchise that spent the last seven springs on the sidelines and then this past summer embroiled in controversy due to the bankruptcy proceedings playing out in Judge Redfield T. Baum's courtroom.
"I just felt with Donny and Ulf Samuelsson
and the ability to bring in Dave King, I thought it would be real good coaching staff and a motivated team that wanted to get back on ice, put the focus on hockey instead of on the business side of things," said Tippett, who won 271 games with the Stars. "The building part of this was very intriguing to me."
Tippett didn't have to sell himself to Maloney; the GM came after him.
"I was most interested finding a coach who had a similar philosophy as my own – understanding the balance between patience and teaching with the importance of winning this season," Maloney said. "Tip is a thinker and an excellent communicator."
Tippett quickly told Maloney he needed 20 games to "root around and see what is here."
He found that Maloney had put together an experienced, but thin, roster based on the budgetary restrictions forced upon him. But Tippett, who replaced Wayne Gretzky
, saw a jump in these players, a willingness to be coached.
The Coyotes were 9-4 in October, 15-11-1 through November and 25-13-4 by New Year's Day. They enter Wednesday's game fourth in the Western Conference with 83 points thanks to a 39-22-5 record.
"There is a process you go through, but I was surprised by how willing guys were to jump in and take certain roles and kind of have a clean slate with ice time and everything else," Tippett said. "Because of the off-ice distractions they were very bonded internally. They wanted to do well. From a coach's perspective, that's a nice way to start."
Tippett knew the team wouldn't be rich in offense. Shane Doan
was the only player who scored at least 30 goals in 2008-09. Robert Lang
and Petr Prucha
were the only other players who previously completed a 30-goal season in the NHL.
He turned his efforts to defending the net. The Stars last season were among the worst defensive teams in the League, but that came after a run of five-straight seasons among the NHL's best in goals-against and penalty kill efficiency.
The Coyotes are 21st in goals for and last in power-play efficiency, but behind goalie Ilya Bryzgalov
, who is having a breakout season and is a Vezina Trophy candidate, they are seventh in goals against and eighth in penalty killing.
"Last year we looked very much like a junior team," Bryzgalov told NHL.com. "There were lots of guys here that were young and we were not ready. The worst part is I didn't see the passion to work from those guys, to work hard and develop themselves. It was tough, but now it's totally different. Everybody works hard. Everybody wants to play. Everybody wants to challenge each other. Everybody wants to be a part of this."
Doan believes Tippett's focus on details, as minute as they may be, have been a huge factor in the Coyotes' success.
"He does a good job in measuring the game in simple stats so it's that much easier to find your game," Doan told NHL.com. "You can see it clearly what he wants and it's easy for him to tell you that. I think that's a huge asset as a coach."
"There is a process you go through, but I was surprised by how willing guys were to jump in and take certain roles and kind of have a clean slate with ice time and everything else. Because of the off-ice distractions they were very bonded internally. They wanted to do well. From a coach's perspective, that's a nice way to start." -- Dave Tippett
The Coyotes, Doan said, have come to emulate Tippett's teams in Dallas. They are not flashy, just hard to play against. Opponents leave the arena with looks of bewilderment.
"It seemed like after you were done playing Tip's teams in Dallas the other teams were like, 'We just didn't play that well,' " Doan said. "We hear that from other teams now. They're like, 'We lost because we just didn't play our best game.' They don't know how to explain the loss. I remember thinking that exact same thing."
Tippett saw his trust in Maloney's passion pay off last week when the Coyotes stole the show at the trade deadline by making a number of moves. They added some payroll, but more importantly added some depth for what they believe can be a long playoff run.
The Coyotes brought in five NHL players and gave away just two.
"We thought if we ran into a few injuries, to have NHL players with NHL experience will be very key to us going down the stretch here," Tippett said. "We had been running thin most of the year so this gives us some added depth and a full roster."
Off the ice, Tippett has found the Arizona lifestyle fits him and his wife, Wendy, perfectly. He was hoping to play some more golf, but he's hit the links just once since September, and that was during the Olympic break.
He instead winds down by taking his dogs, Ozzie and Karma, on long walks and revving up his motorcycle for relaxing rides.
"My golf plans are all shot to hell, but it's a very comfortable place to live," he said. "I signed a four-year contract and when I took this job I thought it was very intriguing. I'd like to get a franchise here that nobody wonders where it's going to be, but just that it's going to be good for a long time."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl