Monday, December 17, 2007

How Good A Coach Is Dave Tippett?

When I write about my coach of the year pick Jacques Lemaire of the Minnesota Wild, David Johnson writes in that he would pick Dave Tippett of the Dallas Stars. The same situation occurred last year. Although I think of Tippett as a competent NHL coach, I don't see him as a candidate I would pick for the coach of the year, so I want to take a closer look at Tippett and his credentials.

Dave Tippett was hired by the Dallas Stars in 2002. His team has always been a playoff team, but has never had any real playoff success. He comes at the end of the run of the Dallas Stars who won the Stanley Cup in 1999. They still have Mike Modano, but he is not nearly as prolific an offensive player anymore. Gone from the Stanley Cup champion team are Ed Belfour, Brett Hull, Joe Nieuwendyk, Jamie Langenbrunner (traded for Jason Arnott who is also gone) and captain Derian Hatcher. This team has turned over a large portion of their roster. They still have a talented goaltender in Marty Turco. They have kept a very talented defenceman in Sergei Zubov and he is complemented by other defensive stalwarts such as Philippe Boucher and Mattias Norstrom, as well as defensively responsible forwards such as Jere Lehtinen, Brendan Morrow, Jeff Halpern, Stu Barnes and Mike Modano. They are a defensively strong team. When he argues for Tippett as coach of the year, David Johnson likes to argue that they have a weak offence as Mike Ribiero is their top scorer. Ribiero is playing quite well this season and has 33 points in 30 games. Though he is not a player traditionally thought of as a game breaking scorer who would lead his team, he has more points than the top scorer on several other teams. Brendan Morrow and Sergei Zubov currently are only one point behind Ribiero. Dallas is currently the tenth best offensive team in the NHL (with 2.91 goals per game) and also the tenth best defensive team (with 2.54 goals per game). This is why they are doing well in the standings.

How much of Dallas's success should be credited to Dave Tippett? It's always hard to properly assess questions like that in any statistical way. There is no sabermetric way to assess that for players let alone coaches in hockey. Subjectively, I don't see anything that suggests Tippett is nearly as valuable to his team as Jacques Lemaire is to Minnesota, or Ted Nolan is to the New York Islanders or Ken Hitchcock is to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Thus I cannot see any reason to call him one of the three best coaches in the NHL and nominate him for coach of the year.

The NHL has not done a good job of picking coaches of the year. Most of the time, they pick the coach of the most improved team. That metric does not flatter Tippett either. This season people like Andy Murray of the St Louis Blues, Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins, John Stevens of the Philadelphia Flyers and Ken Hitchcock of the Columbus Blue Jackets stand out. It is unlikely Tippett will be nominated for coach of the year by the NHL's standard.

It is worth noting that picking the coach of the most improved team is a very poor method. Last year, Alain Vigneault of the Vancouver Canucks was chosen as coach of the year. This year, Vancouver is tied for the Northwest division lead with 38 points (tied with Minnesota) and Vignealt is not on the radar screen for coach of the year. Does that mean he is not coaching nearly as well this year as he was last year?

Dallas has gone through the upheaval of the firing of GM Doug Armstrong this season. Many people figured that Dave Tippett could have been fired as well or instead of Armstrong. Though neither firings were merited, the new GM tandem of Brett Hull and Les Jackson may want to pick a new coach. This puts Dave Tippett on the hot seat. If Dallas finishes poorly or loses quickly in the playoffs, Tippett could be replaced as a coach. Should Tippett come available as an unemployed coach, how certain am I that another team would immediately hire him? It is possible but far from a certainty. This is not a sign of the top coach in hockey. Were Tippett the top coach in hockey, hid firing would seem unlikely and if it happened, there would be no shortage of teams lining up to hire him.

Dave Tippett is a solid competent coach. He neither deserves to be considered for coach of the year nor for firing. I see no reason to consider the best coach in hockey (or even one of the top handful). I think David Johnson overrates him.

First off, I am not saying he should win the coach of the year award. At least not so far this year but I think he should get more consideration for being a pretty good coach. You never hear his name come up and yet he has been one of the most successful coaches since he took over the Dallas Stars coaching position.

Though he is not a player traditionally thought of as a game breaking scorer who would lead his team, he has more points than the top scorer on several other teams.

Dave Tippett has to be given some credit for Ribeiro's success. He came to Dallas as a reasonably skilled offensive player but who is weak defensively and not necessarily a good team player. Montreal was just happy to find someone to take him off their hands. But Tippett brought him in and used him in a role that Ribeiro could excel in, as a power play specialist. Ribeiro had some good success in that role and Tippett has slowly been expanding his role and this year has been playing more even strength play and his minutes have been upped by ~3 min/game. This is smart coaching and Tippett has done with Ribeiro what Montreal was unable to do.

In my mind, Dave Tippett has definitely shown himself to be a very good coach. Is he deserving of the coach of the year award? Probably not this year but he certainly deserves more recognition than he is getting. If he were coaching in a real hockey market he would be getting far more attention and recognition as a very good coach.
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