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 third season in the Valley of the Sun.
1998-99 Phoenix Coyotes Moved to Pacific Division
The NHL realigned the Western Conference and moved the Coyotes from the Central Division to the Pacific Division. The division had four teams and with the Nashville Predators being added as an expansion team in the Central, it made the conference still total 13 teams with some adjustments.
The Colorado Avalanche moved from the Pacific to the newly named Northwest Division. The Toronto Maple Leafs moved from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference. The Dallas Stars went from Central to the Pacific, while the Edmonton Oilers migrated from the Central to the Northwest. The Calgary Flames moved to Northwest from the Pacific.
The three players who were the scoring leaders for the third Phoenix Coyotes campaign were back at in the next season. Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, and Rick Tocchet led the way. Roenick tallied 24 goals, 48 assists for 72 points in 78 games. Tkachuk was behind him with 36 goals, 32 assists for 68 points in 68 games. Tocchet had 26 goals, 30 assists playing in 81 games. The trio also was penalized quite a bit. Roenick had 130 penalty minutes, while Tkachuk collected 151, and Tocchet had 147. Remember, this was “old time” hockey where it wasn’t unusual for scorers to also be gritty and tough.
A couple of young players were coming into their own this season. Daniel Briere and Shane Doan both added 22 points to demonstrate the future scoring for the Desert Dogs.
Nikolai Khabibulin had a monster year in net. He showed a 32-23-7 record with a superb .923 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against-average. He also added eight shutouts. One would think those were NHL-leading stats, but this was the year of Dominik Hasek. He had an amazing 30-18-14 record while compiling a league-leading .937 save percentage to go along with a 1.87 GAA. Pretty tough to beat those numbers.
As what had become a heartbreaking postseason, the Coyotes took a commanding three games to one lead against the tough St. Louis Blues. The Blues took the first game by a tally of 3-1. But then the upstart Coyotes took the next three games to then only need one more victory to move past the first round of the postseason. That didn’t happen as the more talented and experienced Blues rallied to win the final three games including a thriller in Game 7 by the score of 1-0 in overtime. Dallas Drake led all scorers for Phoenix with four goals, three assists with a spectacular 22.2 percent shooting percentage. Perhaps he should have had the puck on his stick more often.
Through three seasons of existence in Phoenix, the Coyotes went to the postseason and could have gone further if they had some breaks. The team averaged 15,512 fans into a building not built or aligned well for NHL hockey. The “White Out” had become a yearly tradition in Phoenix. The 1998-99 Phoenix Coyotes took the Western Conference’s leading team, St. Louis Blues, to seven games in the playoffs and had them on the ropes. Had they arrived? You’ll need to read the next chapter of the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes series to find out.