- Arizona's Dave Tippett has had the dauting task of assuming a larger role for a rebuilding team while succeeding Wayne Gretzky.
PHILADELPHIA – The afternoon before his team broke its five-game losing streak and recorded its first regulation win this season, Dave Tippett betrayed little concern for the Coyotes' current plight. Yes, the high-sticking penalty whistled late Tuesday night in New Jersey still bothered him. So did what he called "soft goals" allowed in the third against both the Rangers and Islanders over the weekend. But this early into the schedule, with seven rostered players born in 1995 or later, potholes were par for the course.
"We knew this was going to be tough," Tippett said after Wednesday's practice at Wells Fargo Center. "We knew this was going to be a hard go. We'll see how our young players react."
In a wild 5-4 win over the Flyers, featuring two failed coaches' challenges and 11 power plays, Arizona (2-5-0) weathered the storm enough to close a long road trip on a high note. The kids contributed some – Anthony Duclair, the NHL's youngest 20-goal scorer last season, earned his first point of 2016-17, and teenage defenseman Jakob Chychrun earned a bench ovation for his first career fight – but all five goals were struck by relative veterans, while 2015 first-round picks Lawson Crouse and Dylan Strome watched as healthy scratches.
It's a balance the Coyotes are finding as their rebuild accelerates, co-piloted by 27-year-old GM John Chayka, who was promoted to replace Don Maloney on May 4, 2016, and Tippett, who added the sprawling title of Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations to his ledger one day after. Three months later, when Patrick Roy abruptly resigned his posts in Colorado as head coach and VP of hockey operations, Tippett was left as the NHL's only dual-titled bench boss. He spoke about the added responsibilities, and more, with SI.com.
SI: Broadly, how do you manage what's going on right now, the early struggles?
DT: The good thing for me is, I think we're in a situation where we're going to continue to get better. Last year it seemed like we jumped out, we had a great start, but as the year went on we dwindled. I'd like to see us be a group that gets better as the year goes on. When you have as many young players as we do, we'll see improvement in those players through experience, playing in the league. We want to continue to grow as an organization. I think you'll see our team continue to get better as the year goes on.
SI: Is that something you brace for? Do you project that, at some point with a young group, growing pains are going to happen?
DT: You don't plan for growing pains, but you manage them when they come along. There's been some good parts of our game. We've been on this five-game trip, and I think in three of the five games we could've easily gotten points. [Starter] Mike [Smith] got hurt, our goaltending hasn't been at the level it needs to be.
We need all parts of our game to be in place to give ourselves the best chance. For large parts of our game last night [a 5-3 loss to New Jersey] I thought our team played very well. We had a few soft spots in the middle, and the call at the end of the game wasn't, what I thought, an ideal call, but we'll deal with it, move on, put it in the learning department and move on.
SI: How has your job evolved with this new title? What else got added to your plate?
DT: Probably a little more collaboration with John and more collaboration with the ownership. John is a young guy. He's really got a great grasp of what's going on. He's the guy who talks to the other general managers. I feel like I've got a lot of experience in the league, that there are a lot of situations I can make sure that our ownership is up to speed on.
SI: What have you drawn on to help balance the two roles?
DT: The summer is a different balance than in the season. During the season, you're dialed in on the coaching aspect more than anything else. John and I spend a lot of time together, but during the season it's all about coaching.
SI: And in the off-season?
DT: In the off-season, you're dealing with everything from player development to just making sure all the parts of the organization are working, your staff, the staffs now are such a big part. Used to be you had a couple assistants, a couple of trainers, and a way you go. Now you're dealing with six, seven, eight coaches between strength and conditioning and video. There's a lot of management stuff that you have to do to make sure your hockey operations runs efficiently.
SI: The dual-title deal is much more common in the NFL and NBA. You're the only one in the NHL. Why was this the route?
DT: A couple of the ownership guys know football, they talked to me about that model, where a coach has more input on players and not the standard way it's been in the NHL in a lot of places. It's a little bit different structure, but we'll see. We feel like we had a good summer, but we hadn't seen the fruits of that yet.
SI: A weird question that's definitely hokey: You used to run a construction company during the off-season. Any parallels with the idea of building an NHL team?
DT: There is a lot to it. You have to have a foundation in place. Foundation starts crooked, your whole building's going to be crooked. Start with the foundation, make sure your bed's made the right way.
An equipment manager walks past, pushing a squeaky laundry cart. Tippett motions at it.
DT: Grease the wheel every now and then.
SI: Are you still involved in construction?
DT: I used to be, a long time ago, but I haven't done much [lately]. I built a new home three years ago. I was involved in that a little bit. I'm more into the things that don't take as much time now. I started building motorcycles about six, seven years ago. I have a motorcycle shop at my house.
DT: It's just a hobby. The first one I built was during the lockout when I was coaching in Dallas, I was looking for something to do. I had a couple buddies who had a bike shop in Dallas, so I started hanging around then, built one that was this radical chopper. They're old-time Harley guys, so they never liked all the chrome and stuff. So I built another one, a little more of an old-time model. I don't ride them much, but I still tinker with them. It's probably good for me to get my mind off the game every now and then. That's what I use it for the most.
SI: What's the setup?
DT: There's two garages, and a shop in between them.
SI: Two equally random topics for you. Not sure how many people have ever succeeded Wayne Gretzky in a job. Did he leave behind anything in the office, or give you anything during the transition?
DT: There was so much going on that summer. I didn't come in until real late. It was halfway through training camp. There was so much stuff going on with the bankruptcy and all that going on there. I bumped into him a few times, but nothing special.
SI: And did I read correctly that you met your future wife at the celebration for North Dakota's NCAA title team [in 1982]?
DT: I think I ran into her before that. I think it was right around then when we finally…I met her one night, and then met her about a week later. It was right at the end of the season then.
SI: So that was a good stretch for you.
DT: Oh, yeah. Very good stretch. Won a championship and found a wife. That was a good month.