It was an eventful season for the National Hockey League. First came realignment, as the NHL went from four to six divisions. Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay and Washington were grouped in the Eastern Conference's new Southeast Division and Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver moved into the new Northwest Division in the Western Conference.
Two days before the New York Rangers' season ended, Wayne Gretzky announced his retirement. He held or shared 61 NHL records, including most goals (894), most assists (1,963) and most points (2,857).
Jaromir Jagr of the Pittsburgh Penguins led the league in scoring for the second straight year with 127 points and won the Hart Trophy as MVP. It was the third year in a row that the trophy went to a player from the Czech Republic; goaltender Dominik Hasek had won it the previous two years. Four of the top six scorers were from Europe. Teemu Selanne of Finland and Anaheim won the first Richard Trophy as the leading goal scorer and was second to Jagr in total points. Peter Forsberg of Sweden and the Colorado Avalanche was fourth and Alexei Yashin of the Soviet Union and the Ottawa Senators finished sixth. The top scorer among rookies was another Czech, Milan Hejduk of the Avalanche.
The Dallas Stars again had the league's best record, with 114 points to lead the Pacific Division. The New Jersey Devils led the Atlantic Division with 105 points while the Ottawa Senators were tops in the Northeast Division with 103. Colorado, Detroit, and Carolina were the other division leaders.
Dallas swept Edmonton in the opening round and eliminated St. Louis in a six-game series that included three games that went into overtime. In the conference championship series, the Stars trailed the Avalanche, 3-2, but won at Colorado to even the series and the won again at home to get into the Stanley Cup finals.
The Buffalo Sabres, who had finished fourth in the Northeast Division, swept the first-place Ottawa Senators in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, then eliminated the Boston Bruins in a six-game series and the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games to get to the finals.
It seemed as if the Stanley Cup championship ought to be a breeze for Dallas, but the Sabres gave the Stars a real battle. They won the first game in overtime at Dallas and, after the Stars won the next two, the Sabres evened the series. Dallas took a 3-2 lead by winning at home. Game 6, at Buffalo, went into the third overtime. Brett Hull scored a controversial goal with 5:09 remaining in the extra period to win the game and the series. Replays clearly showed that Hull had a skate in the crease when he scored, but there was no review.
Joe Nieuwendyk of Dallas won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. He scored 11 goals, including 7 game-winning goals, in the post-season.