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Coyotes are trying to prove they're not a dead team skating

Although the franchise's future in Phoenix is uncertain and Coach Wayne Gretzky is gone, the Coyotes opened by routing the Kings. New head Coach Dave Tippett and the holdover assistants deserve credit.

October 06, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

Dave Tippett barely had a week to prepare the Phoenix Coyotes for the start of the season. Hired hours after Wayne Gretzky resigned as coach -- and while lawyers argued about who will own the bankrupt franchise and where it will play next season -- Tippett inherited a team that has every excuse to fail.

Instead, the Coyotes opened with a 6-3 blitzing of the Kings last Saturday, showing they intend to squeeze something good out of a bad situation.

"It was the first time they could say, 'We're on the ice. Just go,' " said Tippett, who led the Dallas Stars to two Pacific Division titles and five playoff berths in six seasons but was fired after Joe Nieuwendyk became general manager.

"We can only control what happens on the ice and the other stuff will take care of itself. I think the players were really focused on getting playing. The players did a good job of blocking that stuff out probably the last couple of weeks and getting themselves ready to play."

Credit goes to assistant coaches Ulf Samuelsson, Dave King and Doug Sulliman for muting the chaos surrounding the club. Last week, a judge rejected purchase offers from Jim Balsillie and the NHL, scuttling Balsillie's hopes but leaving an opening for the league to make an amended offer that would treat owner Jerry Moyes and creditor Gretzky more fairly.

Credit for the rout in the opener also goes to Tippett, a fine teacher who's universally respected.

"In early August I had a really good, strong feeling we were going to need a coach, and really it was so clear there was one guy for me," said Don Maloney, the Coyotes' general manager.

"At that time, Wayne had one person in his mind, too, and it was Dave. He's got a quiet strength to him, and knowing the personnel of our team I thought he was a perfect fit."

Tippett's familiarity with the division and conference also were pluses. "I really felt fortunate that given the circumstances surrounding it, he'd take the leap of faith and jump into this mess," Maloney said with a smile.

It's bound to be less of a mess with Tippett in place. He was 271-162-59 in six seasons with Dallas, missing the playoffs last season only after the team was unsettled by Sean Avery's antics and devastated by injuries to key players.

He had two years left on his Dallas contract and could have sat home collecting paychecks. That's not his nature.

"It's not about the paycheck. It's about the fun," he said. "We're going to be a work in progress. There's still some young guys but I like it that part of the makeup of our team is those young guys. They do bring a lot of energy -- not just speed on the ice, but energy in the dressing room. It's a good group."

With a good coach in a bad situation.

Are overseas trips worth it?

The wisdom of scheduling regular-season games in Europe is debated every year. It's a great story when players like Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom return to arenas they played in as kids, but not so great to have jet lag and add thousands of miles to your travel schedule.

But these annual jaunts will continue, and the reason was contained in a news release the NHL issued when it announced it would send the Red Wings and Blues to Sweden and the Panthers and Blackhawks to Finland: "Finland and Sweden are the top-ranked countries in terms of overseas visitors to NHL.com."

Translation: Getting Web hits from Scandinavia means more to the NHL than putting fans in seats in Phoenix.

Slap shots

Carolina lost forward Erik Cole to a fractured leg, suffered when he and Boston's Dennis Wideman collided on Saturday. Montreal lost All-Star defenseman Andrei Markov for four months after surgery to repair a lacerated tendon in his foot. Markov collided with Montreal goalie Carey Price.

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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