We here at Last Word on Hockey are starting a “blast from the past” series on the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes. We will review each season starting with the 1996-97 Phoenix Coyotes season, which was their first since relocating from Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Jets were sold to Phoenix businessmen Steven Gluckstern and Richard Burke, and in 1996, the team moved to Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes.
1996-97 Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes were in the Central Division in the 1996-97 season along with the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, the Leafs were in the Western Conference back then. For just starting out, the Coyotes finished third in the Central Division, and fifth in the Western Conference. The aforementioned Maple Leafs did not qualify for the playoffs with a mediocre 68 points.
- Playoff teams are marked with an asterisk (*)
|Detroit Red Wings*||82||38||26||18||94||.573||253||197||0.66||-0.03|
|St. Louis Blues*||82||36||35||11||83||.506||236||239||-0.03||0.01|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||82||30||44||8||68||.415||230||273||-0.48||0.05|
|Mighty Ducks of Anaheim*||82||36||33||13||85||.518||245||233||0.12||-0.03|
|Los Angeles Kings||82||28||43||11||67||.409||214||268||-0.62||0.04|
|San Jose Sharks||82||27||47||8||62||.378||211||278||-0.78||0.03|
The Coyotes had acquired Jeremy Roenick on August 16, 1996. Roenick was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Alex Zhamnov, Craig Mills and a first-round draft pick (Ty Jones). The team also had Keith Tkachuk as their captain who came down from the Jets. He had his second-best season at the time with 52 goals and 34 assists. The 52 goals led the league and he also had 41 even-strength goals to lead in that category as well. His previous season with the Jets was his best when he tallied 50 goals and 48 assists. Trailing the top-two scorers back then was Mike Gartner, who at 37 still could bring it. He had 32 goals, 31 assists, going on to become a Hall-of-Famer.
Nikolai Khabibulin was in the net for the team back then. He accumulated a 30-33-6 record with a 2.83 goals-against-average and a .908 save percentage. However, he did also manage to post seven shutouts. The Russian netminder was a fan favourite and had the nickname “Bulin Wall.” He participated in 72 games that initial season in Phoenix, which nowadays is an anomaly with goalies splitting duties as the norm.
After facing off with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the postseason, the Coyotes came up short losing 4-3. They lost the first two games in Anaheim but came back to take two in Phoenix to even the series 2-2. The pivotal Game 5 saw the Coyotes come up huge with a 5-2 victory. They then only needed one more win to move on in the Western Conference playoffs. Unfortunately, the Ducks took Game 6 in overtime 3-2 in Phoenix. The deciding Game 7 was in Anaheim and the Ducks ruled by shutting out the Coyotes 3-0 to advance. Ducks goalie Guy Hebert made 31 saves to stymie the Coyotes’ chances at advancing.
The dynamic duo of Tkachuk and Roenick managed eight goals and four assists between them, but it wasn’t enough to get them past the pesky Ducks.
The 1996-97 Phoenix Coyotes had accomplished quite a bit by even making the playoffs. Head coach Don Hay could be proud of his group. It was a new beginning for NHL hockey in the desert. This was just the initial year. Be sure to follow along as we recapture the Coyotes of the past 25 years.