Yesterday, Dave Tippett was announced as the 16th head coach in the history of the Edmonton Oilers. It will also be his 16th year as an NHL head coach, having spent seven years (six seasons due to lockout) in Dallas and eight years with the Coyotes organization. He signed a three-year deal, but he and Ken Holland would like him to last longer than that and stop the constant change behind the Oilers bench since 2009.
Ralph Krueger coached 48 games, Todd Nelson 51, Ken Hitchcock 62, Pat Quinn 82, Dallas Eakins 113, Tom Renney 164 and Todd McLellan 266 over the past ten seasons. Constant change isn’t good and it usually only extends the losing.
A lack of continuity within the coach and assistant coach positions (14 over the past decade), and the players (140 with minimum 10 GP), needs to stop. This organization needs stability and continuity in many areas and Tippett is hopeful he can be part of the solution.
I had a one-on-one interview with Tippett on TSN 1260 yesterday and we discussed a variety of topics. My added thoughts are in italics.
Jason Gregor: You mentioned earlier today how excited your mom is for you to be in Edmonton. How mentally refreshed are you after two years away from coaching?
Dave Tippett: Well, I’m anxious to get back into that scrum if that tells you anything (laughs). I missed the scrums. It’s good to be back and the last year or so I’ve been pretty busy with the hockey business. It’s been more on the hockey building part of the team but I miss the action. We have a few months before we get to the players. It’s a good feeling to be back, I feel comfortable in this role and anxious to get going.
Gregor: You mentioned earlier how Ken Holland was kind of hard to track down at times, and he outlined you had multiple meetings which lasted four or five hours. So did he reach out to you originally, or did you reach out to him and let him know you were interested in the vacancy?
Tippett: We had talked a little bit about his availability for the GM in Seattle, so actually we started talking about Seattle before. We kind of stayed in contact and then when it turned that he came here, then he kind of flipped it around on me and asked me what my plans were. So it kind of evolved from there.
Gregor: Craig Button said last week on our show when people go to interview for NHL GM or coaching jobs, and the GM interviews the coach, or an owner is interviewing a GM, it is also the coach or GM interviewing the interviewer at the same time about their plan for and direction for organization. Was there anything specific you asked Ken in regards to what he was looking for in a head coach or his plans in the organization?
Tippett: I think we both asked each other a lot of questions about where he thought things were going, where he thought the depth was in their lineup. The things that he felt like he had to look into. So it was just a real comfortable conversation with him. He kind of explained where he’s coming from, I kind of explained how I see things going from the coaching perspective, so we got along very well.
When you go through interviews sometimes they can be a little uncomfortable and other times you feel like the conversation flows. I felt like it was a real good comfortable conversation with him and the things that he wanted to try to do.
Gregor: Outside of 2017 the Oilers organization hasn’t been able to find consistency for over a decade. From a coaching perspective, how do you ensure this team finds more consistency in their play?
Tippett: I’m a big believer that it’s every day, it’s not just we’re going to be consistent, you don’t talk about it. You do it. It’s your practice habits. It’s how you carry yourselves. From a coaching perspective I like consistency in our meetings, consistency in your words, you get into a rhythm of everything you’re doing. Players just feel like they’re in that rhythm, they feel like they’re prepared and they can go out and do what they do best, which is play well.
Gregor: Everybody wants to practice well Dave, how do you ensure they do it?
Tippett: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah. Everybody talks about it, don’t they?
There is an accountability that comes with practice. It’s an accountability and an expectation that’s got to start right from the first day. If things are lax the first day then they’ll think that is the way it’s going to be and those are the things that aren’t going to happen.
I talked to Barry Trotz about the Island when he went in there last year and they set a standard from day one that this is how they are going to practice, this is their expectations and his team followed suit. So there are things that you can do to put your beliefs and principals in place and that’s what I expect to do here.
Practice habits start with the coach, but ultimately it is up to the players to hold each other to a high level. In 2006 I watched a Detroit Red Wings practice and they didn’t miss one pass the entire time. I mentioned it to Mike Babcock afterwards and he said that is all due to Nick Lidstrom and the other leaders. Then I asked Lidstrom about it. “If you can’t make the right pass in practice you won’t do it in a game. We challenged ourselves to make every pass count.” That type of accountability needs to start from the players. Tippett can set the tone, with the pace and quickness, but the intensity and drive must come from the players.
Gregor: We had Shane Doan on the program earlier, and he played under you for eight seasons in Arizona and Phoenix and shared some really good insight on the players he felt would succeed under you. The one thing he said, regardless of stature of the player, that you demand is to ensure your players are in the battle all of the time. Shane admitted some guys who didn’t buy in early did eventually buy in, and a lot of them had some of their best years. How do you get a player to understand how to be in the battle every night?
Tippett: Well you tell him exactly what is expected and be very honest with him and keep him accountable to whether he is doing it or not. Sometimes the accountability is talking to people. Other times I use it a lot of stats, a lot of the analytics stuff to explain to a player where his level is at and where it should be and where he can get to. So there are a lot of different ways to motivate players and every player is different. Some people you can motivate them through just talking. Other ones you’ve really got to lay it out. Some players you show them some video and they actually get exactly what you’re talking about. There’s a lot of different factors to get the message across, but ultimately you find what works best for each player, and then you try to mold all of the players together. If you do that, you have a good hockey team.
Gregor: You haven’t had that luxury of having a super elite forward before. Mike Modano was excellent your first year, but he wasn’t in his prime. Connor McDavid has the most points in the NHL over the last three years and Leon Draisaitl has the seventh most. Does that alter your approach of how you will coach the team? Does it change at all when you have the most offensive weapon?
Tippett: Yeah, you use those weapons to the maximum asset you can. That’s the whole thing.
We talked a little bit about it in the press conference about maximizing every player, and that’s the superstars as well as the role players. Obviously, when you have a player of Connor’s stature and Draisaitl as well, they have the ability to impact the game, and the percentage of them impacting the game is higher than other players. So you have to use them correctly. Every team has good players and you need good players to win, and sometimes you’ve got really good players that they help you win by a little more, or give you a better chance to win. Connor is one of those players.
Gregor: Oliver Ekman-Larsson told me a few seasons ago, and I think it was the first year after you had left Arizona, that the one thing he really appreciated about you as a coach is you found a way for him to become more of a leader. How do you make guys who maybe weren’t natural vocal guys or leaders become or take on a bigger role? How do you empower your players?
Tippett: Well there are ways. There is positive reinforcement. With Oliver, and he was a little bit quiet at first, change of culture coming over and stuff. He was quiet but as he grew as a player, his confidence grew. And when you have a player of that stature on your team, he needs to take a leadership role. So basically I spent a lot of time talking about that with him. Shane Doan had a huge influence on this as well. He could sit there and watch when Doaner was, and he was, one of the best captains in the history of the league.
Oliver got a lot of good lessons all over the place, but I had a good relationship with Oliver. There’s a lot of honesty and you get to know a player, not just as a player but as a person, and get to know how they tick a little bit and you know when to push them and prod them and when to let them learn some lessons on their own.
Gregor: What will you be looking for specifically in your assistant coaches?
Tippett: I have an idea on the roles I want each of them in. I want to talk to the guys that were here before and just talk about the roles that they’ve been in the past year or so.
You’ve got to look at special teams. I’d like to have someone who is a real good skill development guy, do extra stuff after practice with players. I really like to collaborate as a staff, but everybody can get into their little routines. That’s all part of a new staff and we’ll see where it all pans out when it finishes here. But we’ll be a real cohesive staff. It’s hard to tell your team or expect your team to be a very cohesive group if your staff is not a cohesive group. So those are things that I expect to be in place before we start.
Gregor: I looked in Phoenix when you took over and Ulf Samuelsson and Doug Sulliman had been there the year before under Wayne Gretzky and they stayed with you for two seasons. So it’s not a requirement necessarily that you have to clean house and bring in new guys. Do you think it would be important or beneficial to the players to see one, maybe two assistant coaches they are familiar with, rather than a completely new staff? Would that make the transition easier?
Tippett: Well you know, the thing is even though I haven’t worked with the coaches here, I know them all. When Glen Gulutzan was just coming in as a young guy I was leaving in Dallas. He was coaching on the minor league team there so I know Gully a little bit. [Manny] Viveiros is, I talked to him when he was coaching over in Europe. I talked to him a little bit and he was looking to get back over here so I kind of counselled him on some things and tried to get him back over here.
And Trent Yawney, he’s just, he played and coached a long time. I just know him from being in the league so it’s not as if they’re foreign to me these guys. There’s people obviously that I’ve worked with for a long time but like you said, I’ve done different things. I had Jim Playfair for a long time in Arizona and I hadn’t really known Jim before that at all and he came in and he did a real nice job for us.
You’re looking for the best fit, and someone you know that can do the job. Sometimes that’s a person you know and sometimes it’s not.
Gregor: Do you want to get your coaching staff in place sooner than later?
Tippett: Yes, I’d like to. We’ll see. I want to talk to the guys who were here and just get a feel for them and then we’ll work from there.
Gregor: Now that you’re the head coach, what’s the next step? Will you call each individual player, do you watch video on them first, what’s your next plan of attack?
Tippett: I’ve watched a lot of video already, so I have a pretty good handle on them but I’ll reach out to most of the players here in the next couple of weeks and touch base with them. Next couple of days I’m going to be busy. I’m going to start digging into the coach stuff pretty quick here, and make sure to touch base with the coaches. Slowly we’ll work our way and when we come to training camp hopefully everyone is familiar with everybody and we can get going.
Gregor: Dave, you unearthed a little nugget of information earlier today in how you liked being part of the builder strategy in Seattle because back when you played for the Hartford Whalers, who had the greatest goal song of all time by the way, you were also building houses at that time. How long did you do that for and did you have a preference? Are you more of a two-storey or a bungalow guy?
Tippett: (Laughs) You know what I did…this was back before they had all of those home shows on TV like they do now. I would buy older places, or buy places at bank auctions and I would go in and rehab them all and I would flip them. I would try to do it before the season started. So when the season ended I would try to make sure everything is sold and gone, so I didn’t have to worry about it in the season.
I did it for probably three or four years and then I bought a property in Northern Minnesota and built my own home out there. I still have it there. I had one grandfather who was an auto mechanic when the other one was a carpenter so I grew up with a family building a lot of stuff and I still enjoy doing that in my spare time.
Gregor: Great. Maybe a team building project with your players will be around building something small, like a birdhouse, and you can see their level of attention to detail (laughs).
Tippett: (Laughs) There you go, yeah, we’ll see if that is one of the team building activities we get into. I tend to say not, but you never know I guess (laughs).
Gregor: Has there been one team building excursion or event you felt worked better than others?
Tippett: I’ve tried a lot of different things. There has been some fun things. In Dallas one year there was an exhibition game in Tampa and we stayed over an extra day and had our whole team meet at a hotel and we had a version of the Amazing Race. There was five players to a team and they had to go all over the city of Tampa, with no money and find these different things. We had one assistant coach at a store 15 minutes away. They had to go in there and get some sort of trinket. We had a blast with it, it was just incredible. They had lots of clues to go on, they had to figure it out. We had guys like [Mike] Modano and [Eric] Lindros and their teams had stopped and bought t-shirts for their team, it was a great team building experience. I’ve done a lot of different things. In Dallas we used to go to Colorado a lot for two or three days. There’s ways to bring teams together quick.
It’s harder now, back then you had 28 days in training camp, now you’ve only got 21 days so it’s more of a challenge. But there’s still a lot of things that you can do to make sure your team bonds at the start of the year.
After speaking to Tippett and seeing how he retained coaches in Arizona I expect he will keep a few of the current assistants on board. Viveiros did a lot of work after practice with the players, so he could fill the spot that Tippett outlined very clearly that he wants. I’m curious if Viveiros would stay on only for that though. I think he would like to be more involved, at least on a special teams unit. He was hired to run the PP and never got the chance. He worked on it all summer, and McDavid and Draisaitl told me early in camp last year that they had spoken to him over the summer about a few things. I wonder if Tippett revisits that aspect.
Gulutzan and Yawney have a lot of experience, and it might come down to personality and fit as to which one Tippett feels fits better. He spoke openly about wanting a cohesive coaching staff, so personality and approach will matter to him. I suspect he will have lengthy face-to-face meetings with them this week to learn more about them.
I should have gone more extensive on goalies, or more importantly his plan for goalies. I spoke about it very briefly after the press conference, but didn’t follow up on the air. I wish I had.
In Arizona Tippett liked going with one goalie. *GS is Games started.**
YEAR GOALIE GS SV%
2010 Bryzgalov 69 .920
2011 Bryzgalov 67 .921
2012 Smith 67 .930
2013 Smith 34 .910 (lockout shortened 48 game season)
2014 Smith 61 .915
2015 Smith 61 .904
2016 Smith 32 .916 (he was injured)
2017 Smith 55 .914
It was similar in Dallas
YEAR GOALIE GS SV%
2003 Turco 52 .932
2004 Turco 72 .913
2006 Turco 67 .898 (Backup Hedberg had .898sv% in 15 starts)
2007 Turco 64 .910 (Smith was backup with .912 in 18 starts)
2008 Turco 60 .909 (Smith was backup with .906 in 19 starts before being traded to TB)
2009 Turco 74 .898 (Matt Climie had .894sv% in three starts and Tobias Stephan had .870sv% in five starts).
I did get the impression that a 50-30 split would be more likely now, unless the Oilers find an elite starter. It will be hard to do the latter, so I expect Mikko Koskinen and whichever back up they sign, possibly Mike Smith or Brian Elliott, will have a healthy competition for playing time. The Oilers would be best served not to have a starter get 55+ starts unless he is playing exceptionally well, or the backup is really struggling.
ULTIMATE SPORTS FAN
My ninth annual Ultimate Sports Fan package in support of charity is here again. On June 22nd and 23rd, I am riding in the 190KM MS Bike from Leduc to Camrose, and I’ve come up with a pretty good package for the diehard sports fan.
Here’s how it works: You make a $125 donation and you get one entry. If you make a $250 donation you get two entries, and so on.
We only take 100 entries and we will raise $12,500 for MS. The draw will be the week of June 14th.
This year’s winner will win the following prizes and more.: The final package is valued at over $6,000.00
- The “Oilers experience” at the Oilers home opener in October, which includes tickets, parking, dinner and a behind the scenes tour.
- A pair of Edmonton Eskimos season tickets in the lower bowl.
- Twenty tickets, and a hot dog and beverage (non-alcoholic), to an Oil Kings home game. Also, you will get an Oil King player of your choice to come to your backyard rink or minor hockey practice for an hour. (Between November 1st and December 15th.)
- Four seats in the Edmonton Stingers VIP Hospitality Zone, which includes buffet meal, for one of the Stingers home games of your choice. Also a signed Edmonton Stingers jersey. And your group will receive a pre-game Fan Experience.
- A signed Barclay Donaldson jersey. He was the captain for the Broom County Blades in the greatest hockey movie, Slap Shot. Sweet jersey.
- $500 GC at Atlas Steak and Fish (either location).
- We will add a few more items as well.
We are already at 66% sold out in less than a week. Get in while you can. You can make your donation here. (click Donate Now to the right of my picture).
Thank you for supporting MS and good luck.