Dave Tippett is the new coach of the Edmonton Oilers.
Tippett was previously the head coach in Dallas from 2002-2009, and in Phoenix/Arizona from 2009-2017. He guided the Stars and the Coyotes to one Western Conference Final each.
Tippett got to guide the Stars as the key players from their Stanley Cup in 1999 neared the ends of their respective careers. Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov, and Jere Lehtinen were the holdovers from the Stanley Cup team that were still there during Tippett’s last season in Dallas. He inherited a veteran roster that had a lot of talent on it in 2002-03. Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov, Bill Guerin, Jere Lehtinen, Jason Arnott, Brenden Morrow, Scott Young, Pierre Turgeon, Stu Barnes, Claude Lemieux, Daryl Sydor, Derian Hatcher, Richard Matvichuk, Kirk Muller…. That was a loaded roster! Dallas was a successful team while Tippett was there, but he had a solid core to work with.
It was a different story in Phoenix.
The roster that Tippett inherited in Phoenix was much thinner than the one he got in Dallas. Shane Doan, Olli Jokinen, Ed Jovanovski, Keith Yandle, Derek Morris, Steve Reinprecht, Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, and Kyle Turris… that is what Tippett had to work with. They obviously missed the playoffs in Tippett’s first season, but they would make the playoffs in each of the next three years, highlighted by a trip to the Western Conference Final in 2012. Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson had made their way on to the Coyotes roster by then. That team honestly had no business getting as far as they did that season, but that’s how the playoffs go sometimes (just ask Oilers fans about 2006, or ask Carolina fans about 2006 and 2019). Tippett got every last drop of production out of that roster.
Tippett’s Coyotes did not find any more success in his tenure. They would miss the playoffs in Tippett’s final 5 seasons behind their bench. In that time, the franchise struggled with ownership issues. They decided to embark on a rebuild, and they started accumulating a bushel of young players. In addition to mainstays like Doan, Ekman-Larsson, and Vrbata, Tippett had young kids like Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, Jordan Martinook, Brendan Perlini, Jacob Chychrun, and Anthony Duclair playing key roles on the team in his final year. To Tippett’s credit, the Coyotes were always annoying to play against while he was there, even when they were struggling.
Critics of the Tippett hiring point to the fact that he missed the playoffs in each of his last 5 seasons as a concern. I don’t care who was coaching the Coyotes in those 5 years, they weren’t going to be successful in that time with that roster. Those critics would also point to the fact that he hasn’t coached in two years as a concern. Valid, but it’s not like a coach with as much experience as Tippett has will have forgotten how to coach. I’d argue that some time away from the game would have provided Tippett an opportunity for self reflection. Taking a step back and viewing the game more objectively can do wonders for one’s perspective on things sometimes. It’s also not as if Tippett had his feet up for the last two years… he was a senior advisor in Seattle, so he has been following the game. I don’t view these concerns as major concerns.
The other big criticism of Tippett is that he coaches a defensive style, and that is somehow going to reduce the impact that McDavid and Draisaitl can have in games. The same criticisms were there when Hitchcock was hired, therefore Tippett and Hitchcock are the same, so what do the Oilers gain by hiring Tippett?
Tippett’s teams have only finished in the top half of the league in goals for twice (both in Dallas: 2005-06 and 2007-08). Tippett’s Coyotes never finished higher than 15th in the league in goals for. Some of it has to do with his coaching style, but a lot of it has to do with roster construction and injuries as well. For example, Dallas’s goals for rankings in 2005-06, 2006-07, and 2007-08 were 8th, 21st, and 9th. What happened in 2006-07? In that season, Modano, Morrow, Lindros, and Eriksson all missed significant time with injuries. Jason Arnott left Dallas before the 2006-07 season, and Mike Ribiero arrived in his stead. Ribiero’s 59 points in 2006-07 were less than Arnott’s 76 points from the previous season. All of those things added up. The coach was the same, but there were extenuating circumstances that altered how many goals the team scored. My point is that while Tippett’s teams have rarely put up big goal totals, the skill that is on the roster has a bigger impact on total offence than coaching does. I’m really not worried about Tippett coaching the offence out of McDavid and Draisaitl. That didn’t happen with Hitchcock, so I don’t expect it to happen with Tippett. Even if you don’t want to watch boring defensive hockey, I’m sure you forgive him if the Oilers are winning those boring defensive games.
Tippett said that he laughs at the notion of him being a defensive coach because he was hired in Dallas because they thought he could get them some more offence! He ran the powerplay as an assistant coach in LA. Tippett spoke to the importance of having the defence jump up to support the offence and move the puck quickly. He believes in structure, but also in allowing his players to flourish with the puck.
The big difference between Hitchcock and Tippett is that there are fewer stories involving players not liking Tippett than there are stories of players not liking Hitchcock. Refer to Mark Spector’s piece from the other day where Shane Doan recounted a tale of Dallas’s first game against Phoenix after Tippett’s departure where 13 players lined up outside of his office wanting to say hi to their old coach. It seemed as if Hitchcock’s harsh and abrasive coaching style didn’t work well with most of the Oilers players last season. By all accounts, Tippett will still hold guys accountable and be stern, but he is more likable as a coach than Hitchcock.
Tippett spoke of building relationships with players as people, not just as players. He also stressed the importance of building a team atmosphere. He coached Dallas for 7 years and Phoenix for 8 years. The idea is that Tippett will provide stability and he will develop strong relationships with the players.
I’m not a hockey coach. I have never played hockey at a high level. I can’t tell you what Tippett’s system was in Dallas or with the Coyotes. I also can’t speak to the types of systems that other potential candidates have used in their past jobs or that they would have ran in Edmonton. What I can tell you is that Holland wouldn’t have hired Tippett without talking about his vision for what kind of system that he would want to use in Edmonton. I’m sure that Holland wouldn’t have hired Tippett if they didn’t share the some of the same values in terms of how the game should be played. That much was confirmed during the press conference. Holland and Tippett met for 4-5 hours on two occasions before this hiring. Tippett said that they were very much in alignment with the pace of play that they want to play at, which is fast.
We know that Holland wants more speed and skill in the lineup, and I’m sure that Tippett isn’t oblivious to the fact that the game is trending towards more speed and skill. Personally, I don’t care what system Tippett uses as long as the Oilers win hockey games.
I know there are a lot of people out there that were happy to hear Tippett talk about his use of analytics. He has been utilizing analytics since the mid 1990’s. One of the big reasons that Coyotes GM John Chayka was hired was because of his expertise in analytics, and Tippett worked by his side for a year. They are a tool that can be used to help make certain coaching decisions, and Tippett is fully aware of that and he is able to utilize them.
If you would have told me five years ago that Ken Holland would be the GM and that Dave Tippett would be the coach of the Oilers right now, I’d have laughed at you and implored you to make it happen sooner! Holland’s resume speaks for itself, and Tippett has long been one of the most respected coaches in hockey. Oilers fans are jaded and skeptical of anything that the franchise does right now, and it’s hard to blame people after the last 13 years… but this is a staff that many fans would have killed for a few short years ago. Those men became available because of eventual failure in their former roles, but they have earned enough respect to warrant an opportunity to right the ship here in Edmonton. Holland has been preaching about structure since he got here, and this looks to be a decision aimed at creating stability here.
Now that the coach is in place, the next step will be figuring out who the assistants will be. Tippett said that he will be talking to each of the current assistants to see where they are at before any decisions are made. Speculation suggests that Jim Playfair and Mark Lamb will be brought in, and that Trent Yawney will go to LA to join former Oilers coach Todd McLellan. We’ll see how it all shakes out.
As for Holland, his focus will now go to the draft. The combine is happening in Buffalo this week, and he will undoubtedly be there to conduct interviews with some of the potential draftees. The combine is just one part of what is a crucial time of the off-season. Buckle up for the next 3 and half weeks leading up to the draft, because that will be when most of the fireworks happen!