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JONES: Unique NHL season another experience for Edmonton Oilers head coach

Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett behind the bench during the first period in Toronto on Friday January 22, 2021.
Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett behind the bench during the first period in Toronto on Friday January 22, 2021.

There’s a philosophy of life that possibly applies here.

“He who ends up with the most experiences, wins.”

When it comes to being a head coach of a team going down the stretch in a scramble for the final playoff positioning in the exclusive experience of playing in a Canadian Division of the NHL, it’s already been an experience for everybody involved.

While they still have a great deal of growth to go, Dave Tippett’s Edmonton Oilers are now clearly going to be in the playoffs coming out of a division the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks couldn’t handle. And they appear to have grown enough that GMKen Holland may decide to do absolutely nothing on Monday’s trade deadline.

Tippett was already positioned for an extraordinary experience this spring of giving birth to an expansion franchise. He could be sitting in Seattle right now putting the final plans together for the NHL expansion draft with the Kraken.

When he was convinced by Holland to join him in Edmonton to accept the challenge of taking the Oilers back to the top there was no pandemic involved.

When he signed on, Tippett didn’t picture himself standing behind the bench in an empty arena wearing a mask over his face riding out the third wave of a pandemic coaching in a compressed 56-game schedule that now seems to be revised every second day because of positive tests and postponed games.

“Coaching in Edmonton, in a Canadian market, the interest and just the passion for the team is unbelievable,” said Tippet when I posed the question to him to conclude a post-game Zoom call after the overtime loss to the Canadiens in Montreal Monday.

“To play in this division with fans would be incredible with the energy in the building and the energy on game nights. The players and coaches alike miss the fans. You miss that energy in the building. That being said you still have to win games and create your own emotion.

“It’s a different year, but I’ll say one thing. It would be a lot more fun with fans.”

Tippett has coached in the NHL without fans before.

He coached the Coyotes for seven seasons.

The undrafted native of Moosomin, Saskatchewan that I covered when he played for Canada at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984 and went on to play 721 NHL games with Hartford, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, coached the Coyotes from 2010-11 until 2016-17.

And coaching that fractured franchise through those turbulent times was certainly an experience.

The winner of the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year in his first year in Phoenix in 2010, Tippett goes into the remainder of this season with a 23-14-2 record coming off last year’s 37-25-9.

On the same night that Connor McDavid reached 500 points back in February, Tippett won his 600th NHL game with significantly less notice than the NHL’s best player.

So far Tippett seems like exactly the right guy to be coaching this club as several young players mature for all to see, on TV at least, into pros that appear to be benefitting from this exceptional experience under his guidance. There’s no coaching manual for this.

The top end talent Tippett has to work with here is obvious to the most uneducated eye. But as this torture test of a season continues, it’s becoming more and more obvious that there has been real growth throughout the line-up that ought to be a big benefit going forward.

Tippett says he’s been impressed not only with his leadership group but many of the others that have embraced the challenges. He’s got a good group.

“For the most part we’ve handled it very well. The attitude of the players has been very good. Whatever is set in front of you, you have to accept it and move on.

“This year, you’re more cognizant of really digging in to how your team feels. There’s a lot of outside factors going on throughout the whole league that you are very aware of so you become more cognizant of how your whole team is up to speed on everything.

“You are always trying to figure out how it affects your group. How does the Vancouver situation affect your whole group? You try to monitor it, make sure you are talking to your team and making sure you are doing things right that allow us to move along the best we can.

“With a lot of these things I’ve always thought the best way to be is up front with your team. There’s been a lot of situations that makes you put in a lot more thought of how you’re treating your team from day to day.

“As your group matures and you are finding different ways to win and recognizing how different games are going to go, I think the maturity of our group continues to grow and allows us to adapt to different situations.

“It’s been a different year all the way around but I think our players have handled it very well. As much as there have been these challenges there’s been no complaining. It’s been going about our business and becoming a better hockey team.”

Teams adopt the personalities of their coach. Dave Tippett appears to have the perfect personality to coach a team through a pandemic.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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