February 01, 2010
How was your summer? Relaxing? Stress free? Not a care in the world? If you're a Phoenix Coyotes fan, you were likely checking online for daily updates on courtroom hearings, unsure if you'd have to change your vanity Arizona license plate from "YOTESFN" to "HMLTON1."
It wasn't an easy summer, but the Coyotes began moving forward as Wayne Gretzky resigned as head coach and Dave Tippett took the reigns, just three months after being fired by the Dallas Stars. Not long after, Jim Balsillie lost out in his bid for the Coyotes.
With the season ready to begin two weeks after Tippett came on board, not much was expected out of the Coyotes on the ice. Despite finally having a solid coach behind the bench, finding a spot in the Western Conference's top eight would be a daunting challenge.
Yet as of today, Tippett has guided Phoenix to the fourth spot in the West and earned himself serious coach of the year consideration. But the Western Conference and one notable East contender are going to make the Jack Adams race a heated one.
Tippett's success is thanks in no small part to his assessment system of his players, as ESPN's Scott Burnside discovered while spending a day with him in January:
Tippett established years ago a way of assessing players' performances, a modified plus/minus system that looked at a player's involvement in scoring chances for and against, hits, turnovers, takeaways. He and his coaching staff tabulate things like double-driving the net, where two players are driving the net to try to create scoring chances or getting back into the play to disrupt an opponent's scoring chance.
The system takes into account each player's role on the team. An offensive player, one who logs power-play time, should have a significantly higher "plus" rating under Tippett's system than a player who is a stay-at-home defenseman or defensive forward. But within the system, each player can be graded and have their effectiveness tracked over time.
The system has worked in Phoenix and Tippett has been getting stellar results out of his players, including Scottie Upshall(notes), who was having a career season until he tore his ACL in a game against Calgary last week.
Combined with the tumultuous off-season, Tippett being thrown into the mix in the middle of training camp and the surprise outcome of Phoenix's season so far, is the Jack Adams Award his to lose?
Since the Adams is typically given to a coach whose team improves greatly over the course of a season, Tippett has some decent competition. The Ottawa Senators dealt away Dany Heatley(notes) and began the season with goaltending issues; but with Brian Elliott's(notes) help, Cory Clouston has managed to guide the Senators in playoff contention.
If any team was given less of a chance than Phoenix, it was the Colorado Avalanche, with some yahoos picking them to finish dead last in the Northwest Division. Beginning with their opening night win over San Jose, the Avalanche have showed their fast start wasn't a joke and are right behind the Vancouver Canucks for tops in the Northwest.
Joe Sacco took over a Colorado team facing their first season in the post-Joe Sakic(notes) era and on the backs of his young, talented roster, as well as goaltender Craig Anderson(notes), the Avs are looking at a return trip the playoffs.
Finally, the rising stars of the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings, could surpass their point totals from each of the past three seasons by the Olympic break if they continue their winning streak. The long-traveled Terry Murray has used his mix of youth and veteran talent put the Kings in the mix in the Western Conference.
Like Tippett, Clouston and Sacco, Murray's players are buying into his system that has yielded a winning result, much to the chagrin of those who didn't expect what they're getting out of any of their teams this season.