Originally a part of the WHA as the Winnipeg Jets, the franchise that would eventually become the Arizona Coyotes thrived in their early years, winning titles in the fledgling rival league to the NHL. However, in 1979 the WHA folded and the Jets were incorporated into the NHL, where their small market size limited their ability to compete. After over a decade of largely struggling, the team moved to Arizona and was renamed the Phoenix Coyotes. Here is where this franchise’s story begins.
Having already been a functioning hockey team for years, the Coyotes were able to adapt rather quickly to their new surroundings in the American Southwest. While their star center Alexei Zhamnov was traded away, the team received Jeremy Roenick in exchange, who became one of the club’s key players. Other great Coyotes in that initial season included Keith Tkachuk, Rick Tocchet, Mike Gartner, and Oleg Tverdovsky. Phoenix finished the season with 83 points and a winning season, but fell in the first round of the NHL Playoffs to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. This would be a repeating theme for the first several years in Arizona as the team continued to falter once reaching the postseason despite solid regular seasons. The most painful exit was in 1999 when a 7-game series loss to the St. Louis Blues erased a 3-1 series lead and ended with an overtime goal.
In the new millennium, the Coyotes started terribly. Financial hardships restricted their roster and they failed to reach the postseason in 6 straight years between 2003 and 2009. Eventually, the team had to file for bankruptcy! But in strange fashion, with the turmoil surrounding the club the Coyotes rose to new heights under coach Dave Tippett. Winning 50 games behind Shane Doan and Matthew Lombardi, Arizona returned to the playoffs, where they subsequently fell again in the first round, this time to the Detroit Red Wings.
The first round stain would remain with the Phoenix Coyotes until 2012, when they engineered a thrilling run to the Western Conference Finals. Behind tremendous players like Doan, Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata, Keith Yandle, and goaltender Mike Smith the Coyotes navigated through the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators before ultimately succumbing to the Los Angeles Kings just one step before the Stanley Cup Finals.
Unfortunately, the team has been unable to build off of that run and hasn’t reached the playoffs since. In 2014, the franchise officially renamed themselves the Arizona Coyotes, exchanging city title for state. The 2014-2015 season hasn’t started off well for the Coyotes, but there are individually great players that look poised to help the team improve for the future. Key members of the team now include Yandle, Antoine Vermette, Doan, Mikkel Boedker, Martin Hanzal, and their tremendous goalie Mike Smith.
But while the current struggles on ice are despairing, the Arizona Coyotes are a team capable of greatness, as evidenced by their deep playoff run just 3 seasons ago. Perhaps there will be a happy moment soon when the team claims their first Stanley Cup and begin to show their full potential in the NHL!
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