GLENDALE, Ariz. – Let’s clear up a common misconception. Don Maloney’s new contract is not a signal that the Coyotes’ 4-year-old ownership saga is steaming to a close.
“One has nothing to do with the other,” Maloney said.
The simple truth is that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly realized the importance of having a general manager in place for myriad reasons, including the NHL Draft on June 30, free agency, which begins on July 5, and the impending free agency of coach Dave Tippett, goalie Mike Smith, center Boyd Gordon and several other players and staff members.
“The hardest part for me since the season ended has been not being able to operate within the normal parameters of my job,” Maloney said. “Whenever I’d get an agent on the phone, for instance, before we got any further, the first question was always, ‘well, what are you doing?’
“Until a few days ago, I didn’t have an answer.”
Maloney hopes many more answers will come in staccato fashion now that he has a contract whose terms still have not been revealed.
“Bill Daly took a page out of his book and got himself a good deal,” Maloney joked. “I gave him the Walmart special.”
The club also took two more important steps when it exercised the options on goalie coach Sean Burke (two years) and assistant coach Jim Playfair (one year) on Tuesday. But the next key domino, Tippett, was standing at the back of the room when Maloney addressed the media on Tuesday. His contract may take a little more finessing.
“We have to work and see if we can come to some understanding that makes him confident enough to sign here with us,” said Maloney, who won’t allow other teams to talk to Tippett while he is under contract. “We’re going to do everything in our power to make that happen.”
Maloney’s statement is not hyperbole. Renaissance Sports and Entertainment, the ownership group headed by George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc, considers Tippett’s re-signing important in more ways than just his ability behind the bench. It considers him a financial asset that directly impacts fan confidence in the franchise and season ticket sales.
What exactly Tippett needs to hear is still a bit vague, but it is clear he wants some assurances that he’ll be able to improve the club, even if it means adding a little more payroll, and he wants assurances that the incoming ownership group can provide something this franchise hasn’t had in four years – arguably longer.
“The biggest thing for me is stability,” Tippett said. “Stability so that players you want to come here or keep here will come or stay instead of asking, ‘Where you at?’
“Get us on a level playing field that way, and then you can build your team.”
And if the team does appear to be one or two pieces away from really making a push for the Stanley Cup, Tippett wants to know that he can have that conversation with management and ownership.
“You have to be working for a chance to win,” he said. “Winning is what we’re in this business for.”
Maloney understands that sentiment, even if the team’s financial constraints weren’t as big of an issue for him in re-signing. He also knows that Tippett will have many more suitors on July 1 because of the number of coaching jobs that will be available.
“Of course he will,” Maloney said. “He’s one of the best in the business.”
Signing Tippett may also give the Coyotes some leverage in their attempts to re-sign Smith and Gordon, both of whom fit well in Tippett’s style of play. But Tippett made it clear that the Coyotes already cleared one major hurdle in an attempt to bring him back.
“Getting Don under contract is a big part for me because now you know who’s going to lead the charge, and I think Don and I work very well together,” said Tippett, who expects to meet with Maloney again later this week for more talks. “But I told Don early in the process that we were going to let things play out a little bit.
“Maybe we will get a little feedback on the ownership front that things are going in the right direction, but there’s got to be an end game.”