EDMONTON — Shane Doan had only played 18 games for new head coach Dave Tippett back in the 2009-10 season, but it was after a 3-2 win at home by his Phoenix Coyotes that he saw something he says now, “was one of the things I’ll never forget.”
The Coyotes beat Dallas 3-2, and Doan had shed his gear, dispensed with the media interviews, showered, and was walking out of the Coyotes dressing room, headed fort his car.
“I was walking out of the dressing room and there was, like, 13 of his ex-players from the Stars, waiting to go into his coaching office. All waiting to say hi to him. And he was excited to see them all.”
All signs point to the Edmonton Oilers head coaching position being Dave Tippett’s, if he chooses to accept the mission. So, we spoke to a couple of ex-players, and a few other folks around the game, to get a vibe for what kind of coach he would be. Particularly as it pertains to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, two of the NHL’s top four scorers who would surely trade some regular-season points for the chance to pile up a few in the post-season.
“I would tell them, be prepared to have to play a full 200-foot game,” began Ray Whitney, who played two seasons under Tippett in Phoenix. Whitney tied his second-best points total ever, with 77 points for the Coyotes in the 2011-12 campaign.
“I think Tipp has learned that the game has changed. You’re going to have to give those types of players the time and space to do what they’re going to do. And Connor and Leon, they’re going to get their points no matter what,” Whitney said. “What they’ll have to buy into is, Leon, if you don’t score 50 goals and 100 points — but you get 40 goals and 85 points and we make the playoffs — is that going to be good enough? If they buy into it, they still might get to their 100 points, but they will be much better at both ends of the rink.
“Dave’s is a team where everybody is asked to play the same way — within reason.”
Doan was the captain for every one of the eight seasons Tippett coached in the desert. He chuckled at the mention of Tippett being known as a “defensive coach.” As if there are any NHL bosses who aren’t concerned with what’s happening in their own end.
“The defence part is the structure part. The part you can control. Everyone comes into the league with decent skill, but the defensive side has to be coached a bit,” Doan said. “He wants you to be offensive. Look at what (Radim) Vrbata and Ray Whitney did — they had their best years when they played for him. He’s not going to hold anyone back.
“The guys who have the ability to make plays will have more freedom, but at the same time he’ll hold everyone accountable to how he expects everyone to play the game. Which is,” Doan adds, “the right way.”
“Structure” is the term most coaches say when you ask what they think of Tippett’s style. And as evidenced by Doan’s opening story, Tippett is known to get his players to feel responsible, or accountable, to performing for him, while some coaches strive to have their players be accountable “to the guy next to him in the dressing room.”
It’s two ends to the same means, and it could be said that Tippett’s close relationship with his players has not —– into playoff wins. In 14 seasons as a head coach, his teams made the post-season eight times, winning just five rounds. They went out in Round 1 in five springs.
Tippett’s Coyotes missed the playoffs in each of his final five seasons behind the Coyotes bench, the caveat there being the financial and organizational mess the Phoenix/Arizona team has been. They have had a rock-bottom budget and a carousel of owners, two things that are not conducive to building a winner.
“He took a team that no one thought could possibly do anything, to 107 points his first season there. After things got really, really bad, he took them to average over 100 points in his first three seasons there,” Doan said. “You just got eroded over time. Without the ability to do things the right way, you just eventually pick away (at the roster). It was pretty much impossible to have any kind of success at the end, when Tipp was there. Look at it still: Rick Tocchet is doing an unbelievable job … and they still missed the playoffs.”
“If I’m your leading scorer, that’s not a superstar level,” laughed Whitney. “But when you play as a team like that, we got a long way on less talent than what the Oilers have already.”
The decision should come shortly, and it is likely Tippett deciding on the Oilers, as much as it is the team choosing the coach.
Is Tippett what the Oilers need? If he isn’t, Shane Doan would love to know what it is that can take Edmonton over the top.
“He’s stern — not overly bubbly — but at the same time very friendly. He has a really good mix,” said Doan. “Very personable, but at the same time he’ll hold everyone accountable.
“I hope he gets the job.”