As the journey forward to the preseason opener continues, the looks back into the past do as well. Today we stop at the number 44 and for the first time on the trip down memory lane, we encounter a number that actually has a lot going for it. Eight different players have suited up in a sweater with 44 on the back for the Jets/Coyotes franchise and several have worn it with aplomb. Included in that list is Norm Maciver who wore it from Winnipeg to the move to Phoenix, Shawn Cronin who was a heavy handed enforcer for the Jets for 3 seasons and 703 pims, Andrei Nazarov who was a rarity as a Russian tough guy and Nick Boynton, an All-star for Boston who struggled to keep that same form in Phoenix. The current Coyote wearing 44 is Chris Brown whom Brendan covered in depth today. Hopefully someday Chris could be known as the greatest Coyote to wear the number 44, but he has his work cut out for him.
That's because the best player to wear 44 in franchise history wore it really, really well. He's also the first person on this list who wore that number for Winnipeg and never in the desert. The greatest 44 in Coyote history is Dave Babych.
Babych was the first pick in the NHL history of the Jets franchise going number 2 overall in the 1980 entry draft. Babych had a good rookie year going 6 and 38 for 44 points in 69 games. But that was only the beginning. In the next four seasons, Babych would put up 68, 74, 57, and 62 points with a career high 19 goals coming in the 81/82 year. That 81/82 season was a special one for many reasons as not only was the 19 goals a franchise record for blueliners(later passed by Dave Ellett in 89) but so were his 68 points(he would pass it the next season with 74 and that record would later fall at the hands of Phil Housley). He and rookie sensation Dale Hawerchuk (wonder if we'll hear about him again, wink wink) would lead the Jets to their first playoff birth that season. He was an All-star for the Jets in 1983, as a starter no less, and again in 1984. Also in 84, he would help the Jets win their first ever playoff series over the Calgary Flames before they were swept by eventual Cup champion Edmonton. During his time in Winnipeg, he led the team in points by a defensemen every year.
Babych would return to the Jets for the 1985 season, but only for 19 games as he was traded to Hartford on November 21 for Ray Neufeld in one of the worst trades in franchise history. Neufeld was depth player for 2 more seasons for the Jets putting up identical 18 goal and 18 assist seasons, while Babych would lead the Whalers in points for defensemen in each of the following 4 seasons. The 1990/91 season would end that streak of being his teams top blueline scorer because he would only play in 8 games due to wrist surgery. He would be claimed by Minnesota in the offseason during the expansion draft and would then be traded to Vancouver a month later. Babych would provide veteran leadership for a fairly young Vancouver roster, changing his game slightly to become more of a two way defenceman and helping them come within a game of the Stanley Cup during the 94 playoffs. He would play 19 total seasons in the NHL and is currently 98th on the all time games played list with 1195.
Babych is unquestionably the greatest 44 in the history of the Coyote franchise, but he has to be penalized for having a small role in the travesty known as Slap Shot 2. However, one thing working huge in his favor is that he sported one of the greatest hockey 'staches for his entire career.