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Following their mid-1970s run in the WHA, the Winnipeg Jets were one of the fortunate teams to make the leap into the NHL. The franchise lasted in the Canadian city until 1996, when they ditched the cold weather for the dry heat of Arizona, where they were reborn as the Phoenix Coyotes. Now known by the more regional moniker, the Arizona Coyotes, this team has found a permanent home, but still seeks its first championship.
One of the most successful teams in the now defunct WHA, the team did not find the same level of success and accomplishment in the NHL. Some of this adversity was due to the incredible play of Western Conference powerhouse teams of the day, which included the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.
Financial issues plagued the team throughout the 1990s and eventually forced the sale of the team to a group that promptly relocated them to the US, landing them in Phoenix, Arizona. Under their new identity, the Coyotes continued to struggle on the ice, working hard but still coming up as mediocre in the standings.
The early years in Phoenix are remembered, primarily, for the talent that was brought in to help spur the team forward. This would include great players such as Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, and Rick Tocchet. Shane Doan emerged as a young star and Nikolai Khabibulin was steadfast in goal. And while the team did make the playoffs five times in their first six seasons in the desert, they could not find a way out of the first round. In fact, following their second round loss in 1987 as the Whalers, the organization did not win a playoff series until 2012, when the Coyotes shocked the Blackhawks in six games. They would go on to defeat the Nashville Predators in the second round before being eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in a five game series.
Wayne Gretzky, part owner of the club, moved into the head coaching role in 2005. Though memorable for the legend behind the bench, the four Gretzky years in Phoenix did not produce a winning record or playoff appearance. Upon passing the coaching baton to Dave Tippett, the Coyotes immediately saw a change, reaching 50 wins for the first time in their history. Three straight playoff appearances would follow, but did not get them to the Finals. Tippett stayed on as coach even through the team’s financial struggles, but after the strike shortened season of 2012-2013 he could not bring his team to the same level of play. The Coyotes have not made the playoffs since 2012 and parted ways with Tippett in the summer of 2017.
Also leaving the team in 2017 was the last player to have come over from Winnipeg, Shane Doan. Serving as the team captain since 2003, Doan decided in August of 2017 to retire from the NHL. Undoubtedly, a new era has begun in Arizona. Former player Rick Tocchet was chosen to lead the team as the new coach for the start of the 2017-2018 season. Tasked with bringing his team into the new season and finding a new captain, Tocchet worried less about team record and more about building a cohesive roster with chemistry. He took his time with the vacant captaincy and eventually gave the honors to Oliver Ekman-Larrson.
The team’s leading scorer for the 2017-2018 season was Clayton Keller, a young phenom whose 65 points led the team in both goals and assists. Second on the team list was Derek Stepan. The former New York Ranger had a great first season in Arizona and factors into the leadership for this team. So, too, does defenseman Alex Goligoski. Oliver Ekman-Larsson also plays a big part for the new generation in Arizona. All of these players are making major contributions again this season. So, too, is newcomer Alex Galchenyuk.
Tocchet’s plan may be starting come together, especially with the addition Antti Raanta to the team. Arizona locked him up with a three year deal, cementing his place on the roster. An injury threatens to shut him down for the season, but when healthy, he is brilliant in the net. Christian Dvorak saw the team invest in him to the tune of six years and $26.7 million. Expect even more changes for the Coyotes as management is sure to continue trying to bolster the lineup.
Some of the greatest players to suit up in Arizona include Shane Doan, Keith Tkachuk, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jeremy Roenick, Curtis Joseph, and Mike Smith. Additional information about the Arizona Coyotes hockey club can be found by clicking here.