Dave Tippett still has players’ ear, will to win with Coyotes

The smiles have been few and far between for Dave Tippett this season.

Matt Kartozian/Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Until this season, the two most persistent misconceptions about Coyotes coach Dave Tippett were that he doesn’t smile or he wouldn’t know how to coach a skill-rich team.

If Tippett gets rolling, he can hold court while drawing on volumes of humorous anecdotes. And if you take a look into his history, you’ll notice the Dallas Stars teams he coached finished in the league’s top 11 in scoring for five consecutive seasons and in the top six three times. 

With the Coyotes muddling through their worst season in a decade, however, two fan-driven narratives have surfaced: 

— Tippett has lost the locker room, and the Coyotes need a new voice.

— Tippett doesn’t care any more and wants out. 

If facial expressions could speak, you’d understand how far-fetched the former notion sounds to the leaders of this team. 

"I can’t figure out or even fathom where that’s coming from because it is the furthest thing from the truth," captain Shane Doan said, sounding as if he had just swallowed something sour. "If that’s true then they’re losing me, too, because I know that’s not in my mind."

Assistant captain Keith Yandle has an idea why the rumor exists.

"Any time your team struggles, people look for something — someone to point fingers at," he said. "We know how prepared he is and how prepared he gets us for games. He’s the main reason why we do win games. To think he has lost the locker room — there is zero truth to that. Every guy in here enjoys playing for him."

There is no doubt that Tippett is frustrated by the way the season has played out. He is frustrated by his roster limitations, frustrated that goalie Mike Smith hasn’t regained his form, frustrated by the organization’s continued financial constraints and frustrated that he can’t find any solutions.

It is evident in his grim face every time he enters the interview room after a loss. It is evident in his increasingly blunt comments when a line of questioning persists. It is even apparent to his wife, Wendy.

"You do take it home. Without question, you take it home," he said in a rare glimpse into his internal turmoil. "I hate to lose. I’ve never been in this position before. As far as what I’m like at home, that’s probably a better question for my wife."

Whenever a team misses the playoffs three seasons in a row, change is likely. Those changes normally impact more than just the roster. Coaches and GMs often take the fall. 

There is no indication that Tippett is in trouble. New majority owner Andrew Barroway is still in evaluation mode, but he told FOX Sports Arizona that Tippett and GM Don Maloney will be here for the rest of the season.

If Tippett were to lose his job after the season, he would be in demand because he is highly respected around the league. The Toronto Sun reported on Sunday that if the Maple Leafs can’t land free-agent-coach-to-be Mike Babcock, Tippett would be on the short list if he’s available, adding that "the Leafs would likely act quickly."

That, however, is not what Tippett wants. He loves living in Phoenix. So does his wife. He wants to see the organization commit to a viable, long-term plan for success, and he hopes that plan is readily apparent this offseason.

In the meantime, he is working maniacally with his staff to solve the team’s myriad issues that have led to a 16-22-4 start and a 13-point gap between it and the bottom of the Western Conference playoff pack.

"Are there are issues we haven’t looked at that could help?" he said. "Are there personnel issues? Are we using people the right way? All of the above, every night, you’re trying to figure it out."

Tippett might be calling his players out more than he has in the past, but Doan and Yandle said that has not created any tension or rifts. Instead, it’s expected because, as Doan said, "We’re big boys."

"When you’re on his team, you know where you stand and you know how it’s going to be," Yandle said. "He tells you how you’re playing whether you like it or not, but Tip’s not going to tell you one thing and then say something different to you guys. He tells you how it is. It’s something you appreciate as a player."

Tippett’s work ethic also elicits respect.  

"I think he’ll have that drive forever. He’s a competitive guy. He gets in a situation and that competitiveness takes over," Doan said. "If you understand hockey and you want to have a winning organization, then you need people like Dave Tippett at the forefront."

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