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You could call them The Hunger Games.
Could there be two teams in the same division much more hungry to make the playoffs than the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers?
The Coyotes have missed the playoffs for the last seven straight seasons.
The last time they made them, Dave Tippett was their coach and steered them to playoff series wins over Chicago and Nashville before losing the Western Conference Final.
Tippett managed to get the Coyotes into the playoffs three straight seasons. Before that the team missed the playoffs six consecutive seasons.
That’s a long time to be wandering lost in the desert.
In Edmonton, you now have Tippett attempting to coach the Oilers out from their Decade of Darkness, missing the playoffs 12 of the last 13 years and having the worst record in the entire league over the last decade.
One thing that struck Tippett when he took over the team this season, he insisted, was the hunger involved with the veteran players to end the flailing and failing.
He believed it had a lot to do with the team’s 7-2-1 start. And it might have something to do with the 5-1-1 run they’re currently on coming out of their near-disastrous December.
Following Friday’s practice, I asked him if he thinks the same sort of hunger exists with the current Coyotes that he believes exists with the Oilers.
“Probably, yes,” he said. “They were in a constant rebuild for a while. Now they’re out of the rebuild and are looking to challenge for a playoff spot.
“It’s no different with any team that hasn’t been making the playoffs. You’re looking to get back in it. It’s like with our team right now.”
When you consider that Gerald Gallant, two years after taking a first-year expansion team to the Stanley Cup final, was fired for coaching the Vegas Golden Knights to a four-game losing streak, it’s remarkable that Tippett survived eight seasons in the desert.
“You look at the Coyotes right now and they’re a skilled team. They’ve built some skill into their lineup. When I was there, I always thought we were a very hard working team but kind of lacked some of the offensive talent to get us to the next level,” he said. “We had great goaltending for years and we had some real good veterans. When the team was going through some financial troubles, those veterans that held that team together with Shane Doan being at the forefront of that.
“Now, they’ve come out of it. They’ve got new ownership. They have a young team that is skilled. And they’re playing very well.”
Tippett isn’t making a study of how the Coyotes are handing things. He has his own study in Ken Holland’s big picture project of being a Stanley Cup championship team here in the Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl era. And swears he’s loving what’s dead ahead.
“I love that we’re playing real meaningful games every night. It makes it fun to play. It makes it fun to coach.”
After the Oilers play Arizona Saturday afternoon, they have a 10-day break before they return to play a Battle of Alberta game with the Calgary Flames. That’s followed by a visit of the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues and another Battle of Alberta game the following night in Calgary.
That’s three games in four nights.
Then, they head down to Phoenix for a return match against the Coyotes.
If you’re a player, you’re more likely to go lay on a beach than go on a weeklong bender knowing what you’ll be coming back here.
“I think this is great. I think we’re going to find out a lot about our team,” Tippett said. “We have one game here before the break. We’re really focusing on this game. But then you come out of the break and play really meaningful games. With these really meaningful games, you find out a lot about your team and the commitment to really push this thing into a playoff spot.”
Tippett was coaching the Coyotes when this Grand Canyon-sized hole in the schedule was first created, and hated it then. But he’s comfortable with it now.
“I think if you ask the players, they like it. It gives them a good break,” he said. “When it first came out, I didn’t like it at all. The first time I was in Arizona and we had five days off and couldn’t practice until 5 p.m. on the fifth day, and then went in and played back-to-back.
“If it’s about preventing injuries for players, that was enticing injuries. The way they have it structured now, we have three days to practice before we play our first game coming out of it. And the other thing they’re doing is that the other teams you’re playing had their breaks at the same time now. There’s no advantage or disadvantage coming out of it.
“Having it better thought out, I’m in a different place with it now. I’m alright with it now.”
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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