GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Few outsiders have seen Coyotes coach Dave Tippett when he switches into professor mode.
Captain Shane Doan has.
Hes almost like a baseball manager, Doan said. He knows so decisively what he wants from us in every situation because he studies them all so much.
Tippetts structured style gained national notoriety when the Coyotes qualified for the playoffs the past two seasons despite a roster that general manager Don Maloney admits is not blessed with elite skill.
But its more than just accountability or discipline that allows the Coyotes to compete with the big Western Conference dogs on most nights. Theres a level and style of preparedness they bring one that Tippett has employed since his first NHL coaching gig with the Dallas Stars in 2002.
I like to know whats going on. Lets put it that way, Tippett said with that trademark, dry-martini delivery. I have a lot of stats I keep that nobody ever sees that are a long way from NHL stats. All those are part of the equation.
Tippett wont reveal details about those reams of unorthodox spreadsheets and game logs he keeps.
If I told you, he deadpanned, then Id be giving all of our secrets away.
But there is a common denominator that runs throughout.
His whole philosophy is based on percentages, Maloney said. He believes if you do most things right and most of those involve managing the puck over time, the averages work for you and youll have success.
Its hard to argue with the stats. In eight previous NHL seasons of coaching, Tippett has never posted a losing record; his teams have made the playoffs seven times. Despite the free-agent defection of star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and the continued holdout of center Kyle Turris, Phoenix is in the hunt again, sitting sixth in the Western Conference standings (7-4-2) heading into Tuesdays action, four points behind conference leader Dallas.
The Coyotes dont have a single player among the leagues top 20 in points, but theyre still in the top half of the league in total goals, as they have been for the past three seasons.
Against certain teams, if youre going to play a loose game, youre going to get exploited. Thats what Phoenix is capable of doing, said Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who was Tippetts teammate in Hartford in 1980s. Defensively, theyre responsible and they all move together on the ice, so you just cant cut corners against them.
Quenneville believes the Coyotes are a direct reflection of Tippett.
Nobody was more prepared or competitive in the game than Tippy was, Quenneville said. He could have broken hands, broken fingers where he couldnt tie his skates or even a broken neck, and he wouldnt miss a game. Im sure that flavor rubs off on his players.
Tippett did, in fact, crack vertebrae in his neck during the 1986 Stanley Cup playoffs. It happened in Game 6 of the division finals against the Montreal Canadiens when he was cross-checked from behind. All it took was a little heat rub -- Woodys Magic Mud -- and he was back on the ice for Game 7.
It wasnt until the following training camp that doctors discovered the fracture in an X-ray. It took three surgeries and part of his hip bone to fix the problem and, as Tippett noted, his golf game.
Doan said many of the Coyotes are familiar with Tippetts playing career and playing style. That past gives him street cred.
But thats not why you listen to him, Doan said. You listen because hes fair. He may be strict and brutally honest and hard on you at times, but hes also funny and hes consistent in the way he deals with every guy on the team.
Every guy on the team knows that if they play well, no matter their role, hes going to find a way to get that guy on the ice. That makes it easy to get guys to buy into the notion that if they do their job well, the team will win.
Doan said Tippett sees potential in all of his players and finds ways to engage them, whether its through those wacky stats he keeps or in their focused roles.
Tippett was instrumental in bringing goalie Mike Smith to Phoenix. He coached Smith his first two seasons in Dallas and was convinced this summer that a guy who was waived by Tampa was ready to break out.
It helps when your coach has the confidence in you that you can do the job, Smith said. Mentally, for a goaltender, thats half the battle.
So far, Smith is making everyone forget about Bryzgalov and the Coyotes continue to plug forward, no matter the pieces Tippett is handed.
That really is his strength, Maloney said. He can look at a group and sort out what its going to take to win with what hes got. He really is a terrific co-worker in that sense because hes not always looking outside the system saying we need this guy or weve got to find this.
Its always about the next game and what do we have to do to be successful.
As for the much-hyped defensive system the Coyotes employ, Doan thinks its overblown.
Its not the same system. It changes from one game to the next, he said. He might just move the forwards back a little more against L.A., but against Calgary he wants us pushing the puck a little more.
Doan also cautioned against calling Tippett a purely cerebral coach.
He coaches by feel, too, Doan said. Hes balanced.
Tippett has already won the Jack Adams Award as the leagues best coach (2009-10), and he was arguably just as deserving last year, given the continued ownership limbo of this franchise.
But he shrugs off any praise with such convincing indifference that you find yourself buying into that same simple approach that governs this team.
Its not about me, he said. Players recognize now how we have to play to win. The whole game is about winning. Its not about how much money each individual makes or how many points each individual gets. Its about winning.
We have a great group that recognizes that and strives every day to make sure we give ourselves the best chance.