A look at the Phoenix Coyotess’ & Winnipeg Jets’ All-Decade team for the 1990s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.
Team: Phoenix Coyotes (1996-97 to 1999-00) & Winnipeg Jets (1990-91 to 1995-96)
326-366-94, .475 WIN PCT, 2,411 GF vs. 2,559 GA, -148 Diff, 7/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
The Winnipeg Jets were a hard-luck team. They were never better than the teams in the Smythe division, always playing one of the Kings, Flames and Oilers in the playoffs. And they were practically bi-polar, as evidenced by their 18-point increase from ’90-91 to ’91-92 and their 30-point decrease from ’92-93 to ’93-94. The Jets never seemed to be able to establish their identity fully, especially after Dale Hawerchuk left town. And in their entire 16-year run, they won just two playoff series, and none after 1987. The Jets fared a little better after relocating to Phoenix as the Coyotes, making the playoffs four straight seasons and posting .500 or better records each year, but still failed to win a playoff series.
The Jets/Coyotes were one of the worst non-expansion teams in the league during the 1990s: their 47.5% win percentage ranked 19th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. They had modest offense, ranking 14th with an average of 3.07 goals for per game. But they were held back by their defense, which allowed 3.26 goals against per game (ranked 19th). Overall their goal differential was a -148, which also ranked 19th. It could be argued the move failed to help the franchise: the Coyotes have never been the model for stability, having been on the verge of moving several times. And the NHL rectified their mistake by creating the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 out of the ashes of the Atlanta Thrashers. But despite their status as a hard-luck franchise, there were have been some excellent players to don the Jets’ and Coyotes’ colours.
Left Wing: Keith Tkachuk (576 GP, 294-258-552, 19, 1400 PIM, 36 GWG)
Keith Tkachuk was one of the premier power forwards of his era. He started a little slowly, scoring 8 points in 17 games during ’91-92, and then 28 goals and 51 points in ’92-93. But he hit his stride the following season, averaging nearly a point-per-game from ’94-95 to ’99-00. He twice hit the 50-goal mark, and had two other 40-goal seasons. His high was 98 points in ’95-96, and he had two others in the 81-86 range. He had trouble staying healthy, failing to play more than 69 games from ’97-98 to ’99-00, but he was always a star and a threat. He fired 200+ shots on goal five times, with another season of 199. He scored 11+ powerplay goals five times, including 22 in ’93-94 and 20 in ’95-96. He also chipped in 12 shorthanded markers. He was rough and tumble too: he posted 147+ PIM for seven straight seasons, including a high of 255 in ’94-95. And he was no slouch in the clutch, with his 36 game-winning goals representing 12% of his goal total. Tkachuk was a Second-Team All Star in 1995 and 1998, and played in three straight All-Star games from 1997 to 1999. He was one of the best Jets/Coyotes wingers of all time, and one of the top American players in NHL history.
Centre: Alexei Zhamnov (235 GP, 103-164-267, -12, 205 PIM, 11 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Jeremy Roenick
Alexei Zhamnov could be someone enigmatic, but there was no denying his talent. He exploded onto the scene with a 25-goal, 72-point performance in ’92-93, and followed that up with an identical 26-goal, 71-point season in ’93-94. But ’94-95 was where he truly caught fire, scoring 30 goals and 65 points in just 48 games during the lockout-shortened season. That effort earned him a spot on the NHL Second All-Star Team in 1995. His final year in Winnipeg was the following season, where he scored 59 points in 58 games during ’95-96. Zhamnov was a gifted playmaker, posting two seasons in the 45-47 assists range, and yet he managed to score at least 22 goal in every season despite never playing more than 68 games per year. If he had been more durable, he could have conceivably finished in the 90-100 point range (he was on pace for a 53-goal, 114-point season in ’94-95). Zhamnov also scored at least 5 powerplay goals per year, and added 11 game-winning goals. He also fired at least 155 shots on goal in each season. But when the team relocated from Winnipeg to Phoenix, Zhamnov was traded to Chicago for Jeremy Roenick. Roenick was more durable than Zhamnov, playing 72+ games in each of the next for seasons. While not the offensive force he had been, Roenick still scored a point-per-game and had three seasons in the 69-78 points range. But Zhamnov’s star shone just a little more brightly in Winnipeg than Roenick’s did in Phoenix.
Right Wing: Teemu Selanne (231 GP, 147-159-306, -11, 87 PIM, 14 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Ed (Eddie) Olczyk
I honestly do not think there will ever be another NHL rookie who has the impact that Teemu Selanne did. Before Teemu, the record for goals by a rookie was held by Mike Bossy with 53, and Peter Stastny’s 109 points were the benchmark for freshmen. And then in ’92-93 Selanne showed up and the Finnish Flash obliterated both marks, scoring 76 goals and 132 points. Unsurprisingly he racked up the accolades: he was the Rookie of the Year, a First-Team All Star, and a member of the All-Rookie Team. He struggled through an injury-riddled campaign in his sophomore year though, with 25 goals and 54 points (long with an ugly -23 +/- rating) in ’93-94. He rebounded somewhat with 48 points in 45 games during the lockout-shortened ’94-95 season. He was back to his old, incredible self in ’95-96 with 24 goals and 72 points in just 51 games, but he was traded to Anaheim for what I believe were budgetary reasons: the team simply couldn’t afford to keep all of its emerging stars. Honourable mention goes to Eddie Olczyk: he was acquired from Toronto in the Dave Ellett trade and was nearly a point-per-game player, scoring 66 goals and 142 points in 150 games. But no one is going to topple Teemu from the #1 spot on Winnipeg’s right wing in the 1990s.
Defense: Phil Housley (232 GP, 64-195-259, -32, 168 PIM, 9 GWG)
Phil Housley was once referred to as the defenseman most likely to be caught offside in NHL history, and I think that is an apt description of him. Housley had the unfortunately distinction of replacing Dale Hawerchuk as the Jets’ savior, but he did so with aplomb. He scored 18-23 goals per seasons in each of his three years in Winnipeg, and his points’ totals increased from 76 to 86 to 97. He also had 200+ shots on goal, and had two double-digit powerplay goal seasons (scoring 29 overall). Those are fantastic numbers for a defenseman, and would have been solid for most forwards aw well. His defensive play was suspect (his best +/- was a -5 in ’91-92), but that was to be expected given his style of play. Things ended on a sour note as Housley held out in ’93-94 and was traded to St. Louis for Stephane Quintal and Nelson Emerson. Not exactly stellar returns. But there is no denying that Housley was an offensive dynamo for Winnipeg in the early 1990s.
Defense: Teppo Numminen (724 GP, 72-295-367, 35, 263 PIM, 9 GWG)
Teppo Numminen WAS the Jets/Coyotes blueline for the 1990s. He spent every season in the decade with the franchise: six seasons with Winnipeg and four with Phoenix. He played 74+ games six times, and played 42 o 48 games in ’94-95. That is incredible durability. He had six seasons between 7-11 goals, and six seasons of 30+ assists (including a high-water mark of 43 in ’95-96). He never recorded fewer than 21 points, and had two seasons in the 51-54 range. His +/- was volatile, but that is because Winnipeg was such an up and down team. He had two awful seasons (-15 and -23), four solid ones (in the +12 to +25 range), and a few in the middle (-4 to +4). Overall he was -11 in Winnipeg and +46 in Phoenix. He chipped in on the powerplay, recording 31 goals (twice chipping in 6 PPG). He also fired 100+ shots on goal eight times. Numminen was a heart-and-soul type who embodied the franchise much in the way that fellow Europeans like Thomas Steen and Anders Hedberg did: he was a class act all the way.
Goalie: Nikolai Khabibulin (284 GP, 126-113-30, 21 SO, 2.75 GAA, .908 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Bob Essensa
Although slightly better than the 1980s, the Jets’ crease in the 1990s was hardly an embarrassment of riches. Bob Essensa opened the decade as the Jets’ starter, and performed at a level that, at best, approached adequate. He had one very good season (2.88 GAA and .910 PCT in ’91-92), but the rest were so-so: his GAA in ’93-94 was an ugly 3.85, his save percentage was only above .900 once in four seasons, and his record in Winnipeg was 92-97-24. Essensa was essentially traded to Detroit for Tim Cheveldae, who bombed. But this cleared the way for the “Bulin Wall”, Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin began playing with the Jets in ’94-95, and then became the starter in ’95-96 (the Jets’ final season in Winnipeg). In four seasons as the Jets/Coyotes starter, he won 26-32 games a season, had a save percentage always .900 or better (including a high of .923 in ’98-99), and his GAA improved five consecutive seasons to a low of 2.13 in ’98-99. He also chipped in more than a few shutouts, including 7 in ’96-97 and 8 in ’98-99. He also represented the Phoenix Coyotes at the 1998 and 1999 All-Star Games. Unfortunately his tenure came to a bitter end: he missed all of ’99-00 and the majority of ’00-01 with a contract dispute before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2004. While things ended badly (as unfortunately is a trend among star players with the Jets/Coyotes), Khabibulin was undoubtedly the best goalie the franchise had in the 1990s, and arguably their best of all time.