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. This edition will cover the team’s second season in the Valley of the Sun.
1997-98 Phoenix Coyotes Stayed Competitive
The 1997-98 Phoenix Coyotes dropped from third place in their initial season down one notch to fourth place. The alignment again included the Toronto Maple Leafs who again finished out of playoff contention. The Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings were matched up against the Coyotes in the first round of the postseason. The team hired Jim Schoenfeld as their new head coach taking over for Don Hay.
Here are the final standings that year:
- Playoff teams are marked with an asterisk (*)
|Detroit Red Wings*||82||44||23||15||103||.628||250||196||0.64||-0.02|
|St. Louis Blues*||82||45||29||8||98||.598||256||204||0.63||0.00|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||82||30||43||9||69||.421||194||237||-0.46||0.07|
|Los Angeles Kings*||82||38||33||11||87||.530||227||225||-0.01||-0.03|
|San Jose Sharks*||82||34||38||10||78||.476||210||216||-0.10||-0.03|
|Mighty Ducks of Anaheim||82||26||43||13||65||.396||205||261||-0.66||0.02|
The one-two punch of captain Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick continued to lead the team in scoring and toughness. Tkachuk gathered 40 goals, 26 assists including 11 power play tallies. He sat in the penalty box for 147 minutes. Roenick chipped in 24 goals, 32 assists with six power play scores. He too sat in the penalty box with 103 minutes assessed to him. The team also added a new centre who was tearing up the American Hockey League with 36 goals, 56 assists in 68 games. His name was Daniel Briere. He played just five games in the 1997-98 season and scored one goal.
Nikolai Khabibulin continued to take up residence in between the pipes for the 1997-98 Phoenix Coyotes. His statistics were pretty much in line with the team’s initial season. He had 30 wins, 28 losses and 10 ties. His 2.74 goals against average came down from the first year. He also had a .900 save percentage which was not great. The teams relinquished 2.77 goals a game and only four other teams gave up more goals per game in the Western Conference.
Unfortunately, the Coyotes were facing the eventual Stanley Cup victors in the formidable Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings finished with 103 points, which was right behind the Dallas Stars who had an impressive 109 points. The series against the Red Wings started out in where the two teams split the first two games. Detroit won Game 1 by the score of 6-3, but the upstart Coyotes took Game 2 by a 7-4 final score. The series moved to Phoenix and saw the Coyotes take a 2-1 game lead by being victorious in a close one, 3-2. But, the powerful Wings showed their dominance by taking the next three games and winning the series four games to two. Tkachuk and Roenick again paced the team in playoff scoring collecting eight goals and six assists between them.
Even in defeat, the Coyotes showed they were a playoff team. They filled America West arena with an average of 15,404 fans per game, showing that Phoenix could support an NHL team.
In making the playoffs in the first two seasons of their existence, the 1997-98 Phoenix Coyotes showed they belonged. They would be moved from the Central Division to the Pacific Division in the next season. Will this change help or hinder the team? This 1997-98 season was successful in that the team qualified for the postseason in their second year. They were built on the offence of guys like Tkachuk, Roenick, Cliff Ronning, and Rick Tocchet. These guys were tough too. Just between Tkachuk (147), Roenick (103), and Tocchet (157) they were assessed plenty of penalty minutes. That also meant that they wouldn’t take anything from opposing players. These were the days when NHL players who scored could also drop the gloves in an instant if it was called for.
Another popular player was Dallas Drake. He was an “in-your-face” defender and consistently would pester his opponent. He had his purpose on the roster and performed well. Here he takes on Marc Bergevin and handles himself very well.
Being a new franchise, the team was starting to gel together and players were getting to know each other’s moves and tendencies. In one word you could describe them as “competitive.” This was just their second season.
Be sure to follow along as we recapture the Coyotes of the past 25 years.