We're 27 days away from hockey, which means it's time to look back at the one and only Teppo Numminen.
On Jan. 30, 2010, the Arizona Coyotes gave Teppo Numminen his well-deserved place in the ring of honor by officially honoring his No. 27. Numminen remains the only defenseman to have that honor bestowed upon him by the Jets/Coyotes franchise.
It all started in 1986, when the defenseman from Finland was taken 29th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL Draft. It would take two years before he made the journey across the pond to Canada, and when he did finally start playing in the NHL, he scored just one goal in his first 69 games played.
Numminen had a breakout season in his second year in the league. At 21 years old, he scored 11 goals, which would end up being the second-highest season total in his career. The production declined each progressive year in Winnipeg, up until the final year of the franchise in Manitoba when he tallied a career-high 54 points in 74 games played.
But let's focus on how he helped the franchise make the transition to Arizona. In those first three years that the Coyotes existed, Numminen played in all 82 regular season games each of those seasons. In the 1996-97 playoffs, he recorded six points in the seven game series against the Anaheim Ducks, just one point shy of the team-leader Cliff Ronning.
He was the only player on the 1997-98 team to play in every regular season game, finished 8th in the NHL in +/- (+25), and even won the bronze medal at the Nagano Olympics. When the Coyotes met the Detroit Red Wings in those playoffs, Numminen went down with a groin injury in Game One, and then Nikolai Khabibulin did the same in Game Three. The Yotes were up 2-1 in the series. Detroit went on to win the series 4-2.
Numminen was back in 1998-99, and led all Coyote defensemen with 30 assists in the regular season, and made his first of three-straight All-Star teams. In the seven-game series against the St. Louis Blues in those playoffs, he was the only defenseman to record more than one goal.
Those first three years and three playoff appearances were enormous in seeing if the Phoenix experiment would work, and Numminen was one of the big reasons why. He went on to stay with the Coyotes through the 2002-03 season. He always played in at least 72 games each year, and scored at least 30 points. His +/- during his seven seasons in Phoenix was +68. In his entire NHL career, he finished +56.
Luckily Numminen has recovered from a heart scare. He underwent open heart surgery before the 2007-08 season, but was able to return for the final game of that season with the Buffalo Sabres, and played in 57 games the next season before retiring. When he retired, he had played in the most NHL games ever by a European born and trained player. Nicklas Lidstrom has since passed that mark of 1,372 games.
Numminen had been an assistant coach with the Sabres from 2011 through the end of this past season, but his contract was not renewed by Buffalo. It would be great to see him return to the Valley sometime in the near future.
With his departure for the Dallas Stars in 2003, the former Coyote great never played a home game in Glendale. But without him on the team during the transition years in Phoenix, the current state of the franchise is probably a lot different than it is right now.
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