It may come as a surprise to some, but the Arizona Coyotes franchise has existed as an NHL team for 35 seasons. And given that today marks number 35 on our countdown to the beginning of the preseason, it seems like a good time to take a look back at some of the highlights (and lowlights) from three and a half decades of hockey.
From Humble Beginnings
As almost everyone knows, the franchise's roots are in Winnipeg with the first incarnation of the Jets. The Jets were not originally an NHL club though; they began in the World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1972. As a member of the WHA, the Jets were incredibly successful, winning the most titles (3) in the WHA's brief tenure before joining the NHL in 1979.
But in what would become an all too familiar occurrence for the NHL Jets, disaster struck. The Jets lost three of their top scorers in the merger, and the player they opted to protect, Scott Campbell, would be forced into retirement because of asthma exacerbated by Winnipeg's frigid climate.
As a result, the team would finish dead last in their first two years in the league, including the 1980-81 season which saw them go 9-57-14 and concede 400 goals (for reference, the Coyotes gave up 231 last year).
Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen and Respectability
The Jets franchise would get a first overall selection out of their abysmal performance, and they used it to pick Dale Hawerchuk. That selection would prove to be a good one, as Hawerchuk would play 713 games with the franchise while collecting 379 goals and 550 assists. He remains the team's goals and points leader, with the next closest player being Shane Doan with 354 goals and 508 points in almost twice as many games (1,315).
Winnipeg would also benefit from a 1979 fifth round selection in Thomas Steen. Steen played only for Winnipeg in his NHL career and formed formidable one-two punch with Hawerchuk. Steen is the franchise's assist leader with 553 and was the longest tenured player in Jets history (Doan and Teppo Numminen have since passed him on the franchise's all-time games played list).
However, the team's location in the NHL made playoff success elusive. By virtue of being in Western Canada, the Jets were all but assured of having to play both Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers and Lanny MacDonald's Calgary Flames for a shot at the Stanley Cup. While the Jets would make the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons from 1982-1988, they would win only two playoff series and amass an 0-5 postseason series record against the Oilers in that stretch.
Mixed Results, Decline, and Relocation
After that run of postseason appearances, the Jets would alternate between first round exits and missing the playoffs entirely. Hawerchuk departed the Jets to play for the Buffalo Sabres in 1990 and the team's finances became further strained as the Canadian dollar's purchasing power versus the American dollar meant the Jets were paying more for players than they could afford.
The team's last hurrah was a first round exit at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings (sound familiar?). Defenseman Norm MacIver would score the final goal in Jets history, though he would play two more years with the team in Phoenix before finishing his career in the International Hockey League.
The Winnipeg Jets were ultimately a team trapped in a vicious cycle of mediocrity: not good enough to attract marquee free agents at reduced prices, yet not bad enough to constantly gain stars in the draft. Their overall record of 506-660-172 reflects that fact.
Still, echoes of the old Manitoba club remain in Arizona. Doan is the last active NHLer to have played for the original Jets with Teemu Selanne's retirement, and equipment manager Stan Wilson remains with the team. Additionally, current Coyotes prospect Max Domi is the son of Tie Domi, who played with the Jets for three seasons, recording 15 goals, 25 assists and 724 PIMs.
There remains a debate among Coyotes fans as to how applicable the traditions and records of the team in Winnipeg are to a fanbase and market completely unconnected to that Manitoba team. But the team's past is its past, and the blue-collar mentality that endeared the Jets to the city of Winnipeg is the same spirit that ties the Coyotes and their fans so closely together today, albeit in a much warmer climate.