The Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes before the season began. In another big move, Wayne Gretzky signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent.
Another superstar, Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that he would retire when the season was over. Though only 31, Lemieux had been fighting injury and illness for the better part of seven seasons. Lemieux led the NHL in scoring for the sixth time with 122 points. He and Gretzky tied for the lead with 72 assists apiece, while Keith Tkachuk of Phoenix and Teemu Selanne of Anaheim led in goals with 52 each.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche had the league's best record with 107 points to lead the Pacific Division. The Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils were next with 104 points to lead the Central and Atlantic Divisions, respectively, and the Philadelphia Flyers were just 1 point behind New Jersey. The Buffalo Sabres took first place in the Northeast Division with 94 points.
Much of Buffalo's success was due to great goaltending by Dominik Hasek, who won both the Vezina Trophy and the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP. He was the first goalie to win the Hart Trophy since Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens in 1962.
But Detroit had the hot goalie in the playoffs. The Red Wings beat the Avalanche in six games in the Western Conference final series to advance to the Stanley Cup final. In the East, the Philadelphia Flyers won three five-game series, eliminating the Pittsburg Penguins, the Buffalo Sabres, and the New York Rangers, who had defeated the Devils in the second round.
Detroit won the championship with ease, outscoring the Rangers 16-6 in taking four straight games. Vernon, who had a 16-4 record and a 1.76 goals-against average, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs.