GLENDALE, Ariz. – Dave Tippett took a risk by forgoing plans to spend time with his wife at their off-season home in Minnesota to become coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, a franchise with a murky future after being cast into bankruptcy protection.
Four years later, Tippett has taken another leap into uncertainty, agreeing on a long-term contract to continue coaching the Coyotes despite an ownership situation that still hasn’t been resolved.
“I just felt like this was the best fit because of the people you get to work with,” Tippett said on Monday from Jobing.com Arena. “We all have a similar vision for how we would like to build this team. There’s some challenges ahead. We put a foundation in place, but it’s about taking it to the next level.”
Tippett took his initial gamble in the desert in 2009, joining the Coyotes during training camp after being fired by the Dallas Stars the previous season.
The franchise was swirling in instability when Tippett took over, taken into bankruptcy protection three months earlier by former owner Jerry Moyes, who attempted to sell the team to a buyer who wanted to move the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario.
Despite numerous suitors and near-misses, the franchise went into this past off-season still without an owner, still being run by the league.
Finally, it appears an end to the saga could be near—one way or another.
Last month, the NHL agreed to sell the team to Renaissance Sports&Entertainment, a group headed by Canadian investors George Gosbee, Anthony LeBlanc and Daryl Jones. RSE still had to work out a lease agreement with the city of Glendale for Jobing.com Arena and the two sides have been negotiating the past few weeks.
Glendale’s City Council is expected to vote on the lease deal on July 2, a decision that will either keep the team in Arizona or send it packing, possibly to Seattle.
After waiting to see how the ownership situation would play out, Tippett decided last week to re-up with the Coyotes, giving the franchise another dose of stability after general manager Don Maloney, assistant GM Brad Treliving and two assistant coaches signed in recent weeks.
“I always felt fairly certain that we could find a way to make a deal,” Maloney said. “Obviously, it took a little longer than maybe you would have liked because of the uncertainty with the team, but the good thing is that this saga is ending fairly soon.”
Tippett has shaped the Coyotes into a winner despite the limitations that came with the ownership saga.
He had an immediate impact on the franchise after moving behind the bench, leading the Coyotes to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 while earning the 2010 Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year.
Phoenix made the playoffs again the next year despite the limitations of being run by the league and had the best season in franchise history under Tippett in 2011-12, winning its first NHL division title and reaching the Western Conference finals for the first time.
The Coyotes missed the playoffs for the first time under Tippett last season, but it had more to do with injuries and the off-the-ice distractions finally catching up to the players than anything the coach did.
“We all know the job Tipp has done the four years he’s been here,” Maloney said. “Between the patience he’s shown and the respect he has in the locker room, he’s a great fit for us and a key part of our future to continue to build a franchise here in Phoenix.”
Tippett likely would have gotten a bigger payday someplace else.
One of the NHL’s best tactical coaches, he would have been a hot commodity when his contract expired, with teams that had coaching vacancies and even some that didn’t calling for his services.
“His phone probably would have started ringing at 12:01 on July 1,” Maloney said.
But that wasn’t what Tippett wanted.
Loyal and someone who doesn’t like to leave unfinished business, he said all along that he wanted to return to the Coyotes, even showing up at Maloney’s news conference after the GM signed a contract extension.
Tippett waited to see how the ownership situation played out, but once Treliving, associate head coach Jim Playfair and goalies coach Sean Burke joined Maloney in signing to stay in the desert, he decided to join them despite some uncertainty still in the air.
“Once Don signed, once Brad signed, there’s a distinct direction our management team was going and it made it a lot easier for me to justify staying with the group,” Tippett said.
Tippett’s signing gives the Coyotes even more direction.
Exactly where they’re headed is still up in the air.