There were rumblings last spring that the Arizona Coyotes might fire Dave Tippett because the team missed the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. It seemed silly at the time but now goes beyond that after they won again to hold third place in the Pacific Division Friday, Nov. 27.
Tippett might be a unanimous choice to win the Jack Adams Award for best coach so far this 2015-16 NHL season. The Coyotes have a serious lack of experience, a captain that was in his prime before the last lockout and a dearth of top-tier talents.
Yet they hold the final guaranteed Stanley Cup-playoff berth in the Pacific Division. It does not hurt that the division is so weak as to be under .500 when every other division is at least 23 points over ahead of Saturday’s action, but Arizona is also in the top half of the 2015-16 NHL season in point percentage so its postseason qualification is legitimate.
With all the young talent filling significant roles so effectively, Tippett’s coaching deserves credit. He has been a Jack Adams finalist before, so his coaching has gotten recognition. He has led the Coyotes to the 2012 Pacific Division title and they reached the Western Conference finals then—the first two postseason series won in franchise history.
No one should look to replace a coach for failing to make the Stanley Cup playoffs in a Western Conference that required 99 points for postseason qualification, especially when his goalie had an off year and the rest of Arizona’s roster was painfully inadequate. In reality, Tippett deserves to be a Jack Adams finalist anytime he gets this perennial payroll-floor roster close to the postseason.
The Coyotes win because they adheres to a system built on sound fundamental hockey. They can rely on each other because they know no one is going off script. They can be patient because they will play sound in their own end. That and the development are indications of Tippett’s worthiness for the Adams.
Young players in new roles are flourishing because of the structure and direction they get from Tippett’s staff. Arizona’s draft-and-develop approach is a sustainable, affordable model employable only because those young players will get the development they need and the opportunity to play larger NHL roles at younger ages.
The size of contributions from young players might be the best argument for Tippett to win the Adams. In 22 games so far this 2015-16 NHL season, 20-year old rookie Max Domi has eight goals and 11 assists. Fellow rookie Anthony Duclair is several months younger and has eight goals with six assists. Tobias Rieder is in his second year and 22, adding five goals and seven assists.
Even Arizona veterans called upon for the largest roles are young. Mikkel Boedker is third on the team in scoring with six goals and nine assists at 25, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of the best blue-line talents in the world at 24 and his defensive partner Michael Stone is 25. Even leading scorer Martin Hanzal (19 points) is only 28, and elite prospect Dylan Strome has not even played in Arizona yet.
Maybe this young team cannot hold onto a postseason spot during the 2015-16 NHL season, but this team has already shown itself to be within reach of that goal with an arrow pointing straight up in the near future. With Tippett at the helm, the Coyotes could be true Stanley Cup contenders within a couple years if they can hold onto players past their final restricted free agent contract.