Best Of The Rest: Arizona Coyotes – Keith Tkachuk

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Updated: July 21, 2014
Winnipeg Jets v Washington Capitals

Welcome to LWOS’ Summer Hockey Series, Best of the Rest.  Plenty of sites do a version of a 30 greats in 30 days series, but this year we are doing something a little bit different.  We want to look at the best player from each team who is not in the Hockey Hall Of Fame.  In order to do this there are some rules.  First the player must have been a significant part of this franchise (franchises include their time in a previous city… see Winnipeg/Atlanta) and must be retired for at least 3 years, making them Hall of Fame eligible.  To see all the articles in the series, check out the homepage here.

Summer of Hockey

The Arizona Coyotes franchise, which includes both the WHA and NHL Winnipeg Jets, have little success when it comes to sending players to the National Hockey Leagues Hall of Fame. It starts with Dale Hawerchuk. Drafted 1st overall in 1981 by the Winnipeg Jets, Hawerchuk played 9 of his 17 seasons with the Jets organization. Winning the Calder Memorial Trophy in 1982, Hawerchuk became the youngest player to crack the 100-point mark, a record that has since been topped by Sidney Crosby in 2006. Hawerchuk was an absolute star, which is crazy when you consider that he was selected ahead of Ron Francis and Grant Fuhr, two players that are already in the Hall of Fame. Bobby Hull had four 50+goal seasons with the WHA’s Jets, including a 77-goal campaign in 1974-75, but he is most remembered for his work with the Chicago Blackhawks in the late 50s through the early 70s.

Mike Gartner, Brett Hull and Serge Savard complete the list, all of whom were a part of the organization during the tail-end of their careers. One player that jumps to mind when you think of the Coyotes is current captain, Shane Doan. Drafted 7th overall in 1995 by the Winnipeg Jets, Doan has spent his entire career with the same organization. He’s played in the 2004 and 2009 NHL All-Star Game, won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2010 and the Mark Messier Leadership Trophy in 2012. His 862 points 1,315 games puts him at #2 in all-time scoring for the Coyotes, just behind Hawerchuk.

He would make an excellent choice for the Hall of Fame… one day. Unfortunately for this series, Doan does not qualify at the time since he is still an active player. Without further ado, here is the nominee for the Arizona Coyotes.

 

Arizona Coyotes – Keith Tkachuk

In a trade that brings this whole scenario full circle, the Jets acquired the 19th overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft for Dale Hawerchuk. While Hawerchuk’s career went on to last 8 more seasons, the Jets didn’t do to badly themselves when they selected Keith Tkachuk with that pick. The rugged power-forward was a scoring machine who could hit and play an aggressive game at a consistent pace.

His first season in the NHL was the 1991-92 season, which Tkachuk played just 17 games. While he only managed to put up 8 points during that stretch, his 28 penalty minutes did not go unnoticed. It would actually become quite the trend over the course of Tkachuk’s career. It was just a sample of what “Big Walt” had to offer, which became evident in the final four seasons of the Jets lifespan before the move to Phoenix.

In the span of the 1992-93 season up until the 1995-96 season, Tkachuk scored 141 goals, which includes a 41-goal season, a 50-goal season, and scoring 22 goals in 48 games. While his scoring prowess was on full display, eyes shifted towards the amount of time Tkachuk spent in the penalty box. Tkachuk’s next two seasons following his rookie campaign saw him hitting the 200+ mark in penalty minutes, each year. In 1994-95, he managed to reduce his time in the box by 100 minutes (thanks to a lock-out) but even then, he still managed 152 penalty minutes that year and 155 the next.

After scoring 50 goals in 76 games, the Jets became the Coyotes when the franchise shipped out to Phoenix. That following season, Tkachuk bested himself by scoring 52 goals and leading the NHL in that department. It was the second time in two years that Tkachuk hit the 50-goal plateau. While the Coyotes were bested in the playoffs by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, losing in 7 games in the Conference quarterfinals, Tkachuk managed to score 6 goals during that stretch, making him a star in the eyes of the Phoenix faithful.

In the 1997-98 season, Tkachuk led the Coyotes in goals, points, powerplay goals, game-winning goals and even shots. He would repeat that performance the following year, but for the most part in the 1998-99 season but the following two seasons were a rough patch. Tkachuk struggled with injuries the following two seasons and in 2000-01, he was traded o the St. Louis Blues for Ladislav Nagy, Michal Handzus, Jeff Taffe and a 1st round pick (which would become Ben Eager).

Tkachuk became an instant impact for the Blues. After putting up 8 points in the final 12 games of the sason with the Blues, Tkachuk helped the team reach the Western Conference finals before they bowed out to the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Colorado Avalanche. Tkachuk put up three consecutive 30-goal campaigns following that season but will forever be remembered for failing his physical in 2005-06 and being suspended for showing up overweight at training camp. Injuries caught up to him once again and he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers for Glen Metropolit, a 1st and 3rd round pick in 2007 and a 2nd round pick in 2008.

In similar fashion to when he was traded to the Blues, Tkachuk let his presence be felt when he posted 15 points in 18 games with the Thrashers and gave hope to Atlanta fans that they could have a 30-goal scorer for years to come. It was short-lived this time around however, as Tkachuk was dealt back to St. Louis, where he would spend the final three seasons of his career before hanging up the skates in 2010.

While Tkachuk failed to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, he reached success internationally. In fact, every level he played at, he medaled. Back-to-back appearances with the United States World Junior Championship team in 1991 and 1992 resulted in a Bronze medal in ’92. In 1996, Tkachuk was part of the Gold medal team in the World Cup of Hockey, though he was also part of that team in 2004, which failed to medal. His most prized accomplishment came at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Although it came at the cost of losing in the finals, Tkachuk and Team USA finished their run with a Silver medal. Tkachuk was also part of the 1992, 1998 and 2006 Olympic team.

So what about his accomplishments? If a Stanley Cup ring isn’t found in his trophy case, what makes Keith Tkachuk so special? Let’s start with his production. Tkachuk is one of just five American players to hit the 500 goal mark, finishing with 538 career. He also became the 6th American-born player to reach 1,000 career points. With those two statistics alone, Tkachuk is highly regarded as one of the best hockey players to come out of the United States.

All-Star games are often seen as a side-show but it’s a true testament to the best of the NHL that year and for five years, Tkachuk was a part of the best. Tkachuk competed in the NHL All-Star game in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009 and was also named to the NHL Second All-Star Team twice, in 1995 and 1998.

His 52-goal campaign back in 1996-97 that saw him win the NHL  goal-scoring race made him the first American-born player to do so, but he also became just the 4th player that year to hit both 50-goals and 200+ penalty minutes in the same season, which was a fine example of the type of player Tkachuk was over the years. Back in Phoenix, he still holds on to the franchise records for career game-winning goals with 40, and career penalty minutes with 1,508.

Keith Tkachuk served as the captain of the Winnipeg Jets starting in 1993 but was stripped at the start of the 1995-96 season when he signed a front-loaded offer sheet with the Chicago Blackhawks that would pay him $17 million over the course of 5 years, the first year earning him $6 million. The end result was the Jets matching the sheet instantly and ripping the C off his jersey, handing it to Kris King. It wasn’t until the last game of the playoffs when King suffered an injury and Tkachuk regained the captaincy. Tkachuk served as the team’s official captain until their move to Arizona and the entirety of his run with the Coyotes up until his trade in 2001.

The lack of a Stanley Cup win doesn’t help Tkachuk’s case for Hall of Fame hopes but he still has a laundry list of accomplishments; International success, personal success with 500+ goals and 1000+ points over his career, and regarded as one of the best US-born players of all time. That alone should be enough to earn Big Walt a spot in the Hall of Fame and it’s not a matter of IF it will happen, only WHEN.

 

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