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Coyotes' duo blocks out adversity; Maloney, Tippett overcome restraints

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Perched on a seat well above the ice, Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney peers down as the tip of his reading glasses rests between his lips, occasionally putting them on to glance at the papers piled in his lap.

At the bottom of the arena, coach Dave Tippett barks out orders and shouts encouragement to the players swirling around him, sporadically mixing in digs when someone does something wrong.

Two men, separated by about 30 rows of seats, have turned one of the most difficult situations in sports into a success story by working closely together.

With Maloney finding players who fit the team's needs and financial constraints and Tippett getting them to buy into a we're-in-this-together approach, the Coyotes have created a buzz in the hockey world and a once-moribund fan base by reaching the Western Conference finals in their third season without an owner.

"Obviously, they're doing something right," All-Star defenseman Keith Yandle said after Phoenix's practice on Thursday. "I don't know what they talk about when they're together, but they know how to put together a hockey team."

How they've done it is what makes what Maloney and Tippett have done special.

The past decade has been difficult for the Coyotes, from the four non-playoff seasons with Wayne Gretzky as coach to the bankruptcy filing in 2009 that led to the NHL buying the team.

The search for a new owner was supposed to be relatively quick, but instead turned into three years of failed hopes and deals.

Caught in the middle were Maloney and Tippett, left to build a team without the financial or organizational support of an owner.

With the NHL holding the purse strings, the Coyotes didn't have the money to pursue big-name free agents or make blockbuster trades. Even when they've had a line on a player, they sometimes had to convince him Phoenix was a good fit and that the ownership issue wouldn't interfere with success.

There also were limitations in marketing and corporate sponsorships, along with uncertainty about the team's future in the desert that weighed on everyone in the organization while creating a blase attitude among the fans.

Maloney and Tippett made it work with a like-minded approach, the general manager finding players that fit Tippett's system and the budget, the coach getting them to buy into an all-as-one attitude.

It's worked.

The Coyotes have reached the playoffs all three years the duo has been together and this season earned the team's first division title. They also reached the playoffs' second round for the first time since 1987 and will play the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals starting Sunday night, marking the farthest the team has gotten in 33 years in the NHL.

"I think we have a very similar viewpoint for what it's going to take for us to win," Maloney said. "That's what makes it a good partnership."

Maloney and Tippett were teammates with the Hartford Whalers in the 1980s and nearly reunited in 2000, when Maloney was assistant general manager with the New York Rangers. Tippett instead went to Dallas -- he took the job before the Rangers had a chance to call him back -- where he won two Pacific Division titles and led the Stars to the 2008 Western Conference finals.

Tippett was fired in 2009 and when it became clear Gretzky wouldn't be returning to Phoenix, Maloney immediately called him.

"It seemed like a perfect fit," Maloney said.

Still does.

Hired nine days before the 2009-10 season, Tippett led Phoenix to 50 wins and 107 points to break team records and into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. He was named the NHL's coach of the year after the season and last year led the Coyotes back into the playoffs despite a slew of injuries.

Playing without an owner for the third straight season, Tippett again was Phoenix's rock this season.

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