Not since 2009 has the Phoenix Coyotes’ General Manager and head coach needed to stand before members of the media to answer questions about the team’s failure to make the playoffs. But that’s exactly what Don Maloney and Dave Tippett found themselves doing earlier this week. Neither men are happy with not being able to compete for the Stanley Cup this spring, but they also appear to be very optimistic about the team’s future. And for Maloney, this optimism is extended to the team remaining in Arizona as well.
Regarding this past season, Tippett minces no words about not qualifying for postseason play. He’s not happy about it whatsoever.
“It’s disappointing”, coach Tippett said about the Yotes 21-18-9 finish which landed them in tenth place in Western Conference, four points removed from playoff spot. “Disappoint because the playoffs are just the first step. You earn the right to be a playoff team, to have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. And to miss the first step, well that’s failure for a team.”
“There’s just no other way to put it, you’ve just got to get yourself in the playoffs”, he continued. “You play this game for the playoffs, you play this game to win championships. So when you don’t get a chance to, that’s not good.”
As for what led to the disappointment that was the Coyotes 2013 campaign, Tippett acknowledged that injuries played a part in the Coyotes’ finish, but wasn’t about to blame it on them entirely. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are banged up, but that’s just a part of what you deal with this time of year and hopefully they get healed up and are ready to go next year.”
“I thought our role players did a really good job but the consistency of having a leading scorer, a top line, we really didn’t feel like we had that a lot this year”, Tippett added. “That was one of the differences from last year. I was talking with Shane (Doan) about how we had Vrbata, Hanzal and Whitney and were lined, everybody knew that was the first line and everything sort of filled in place beneath that.
“We never really got to that stability this year. Things just didn’t sync up as well as they did in the past and that’s one of the things we have to address.”
Phoenix had eight players netting 20-plus points but none over 30, led by Keith Yandle’s 10 goals and 20 assists during the 48 game strike-shortened season. Radim Vrbata had 12 goals and 16 assists, (three in last game vs. Ducks) while captain Shane Doan led in goals scored, 13.
Where Tippett used the word “disappointing” to sum his thoughts on the season, “frustrating” was the one Malone chose to describe it.
“Our offense wasn’t there consistently enough, certainly on the road. We were lacking that goal or two.” The Coyotes GM said, then pointed to the lack of preparation time due to the strike shortened season, something he feels is instrumental to the success of the team he manages. “The lack of practice time (played a role), I truly believe that. With Dave Tippett and his staff and the way we operate, the way we play, the way our style is…its discipline and style and detail. And it takes a few weeks to try and digest it. Not having that extra practice time certainly didn’t help.”
Regarding possible offseason acquisitions for the Yotes, coach Tippett believe any players brought in should complement the work-ethic style of play of those already assembled in Arizona.
“The hard working, grind it out style is what you have to have to win”, he insists. “Skill players can work hard and grind it out too. You look at LA that won last year. They’re a hard working, grinding team, but they still have skill.”
GM Maloney feels the minor touch ups are what the doctor ordered for his team. “All in all I don’t take a look at our group and say we need major surgery here or we’ve got some major, major problems here. I think it’s a little step back from a terrific season a couple seasons ago to being close but not quite there.“
“I like the push we’re getting from our younger players. They’re starting to play some meaningful roles in this organization, which is what we have to have.”
However, he doesn’t shirk his responsibility for improvement.
“But we’ve got to be better”, he stated. “The manager’s got to be better. The coaches have to be better. And the players have to be better. That’s how we move forward here. This year we didn’t get the job done. Hopefully that’s the last time we’re going to hear that speech for the next five to ten years.”
As he plans ahead, Maloney not only has to make decisions about the on-ice personal but also the head coach as well. Tippett’s contract is set to expire this summer and an agreement must be worked out. But this is something the Yotes bench boss isn’t overly concerned with, although he does make it clear he’d like to remain with that organization. “I’m just going to let things play out. Really the ownership situation has to fall into place before any of that comes in. I’d like to stay with this group. Don (Maloney) and I have both talk about how we like the group, we like the core. I’d like to keep building this. But that being said, it just needs some stability.”
“I’m going to coach somewhere next year. I hope it’s here, but I’m going to coach somewhere next year… I hope.”
Of course, any discussion of the Coyotes future includes questions of whether or not the franchise will remain in the Arizona desert or uproot and move elsewhere, as Tippet alluded to when discussing his situation there. These questions will only be answered if and when their ownership issues are finally addressed. But Maloney expresses confidence that they will indeed remain put.
“Well I certain don’t think that”, he said about the possibility that the tam could relocated this summer. “The NHL has been adamant about keeping the team here. I think we’ve all seen since Greg Jamison’s bid in January didn’t come to fruition, it’s been very quiet. And that’s been on purpose. The NHL has purposely gone 180 degrees the opposite direction in the sense that there are no stories out there about what’s happening behind the scenes. But rest assured they have been working diligently trying to get an ownership in place that will have long term success. And that’s what we want.”
Still, it’s a weight that must soon be lifted if the Coyotes are to move forward with any certainty from here on out as Maloney points out. “Great organizations begin from the top down. We’ve been relatively successful on the ice but …and we can replay the tape from last year, and the year before, and the year before…we have to have it settled.”
“The positive thing for Arizona hockey fans is that it will be settled and we still remain hopeful that it’ll work out here, Maloney then concluded. “I’m encouraged by the things I know, but I’m an optimistic person by nature too. I think from an organization standpoint, we’re in a great position to push this thing forward and build this franchise. But we have to have something come to resolution on our ownership. And we’re optimistic that means playing her in the city of Glendale and in this great building in front of these great fans.”