Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The Winnipeg Jets from A to Zed
(Ed. Note: August is known to be a very quiet month in the hockey world. As we wait for September to arrive and training camps to begin, let’s learn a little history about all 30 teams. Behold, our summer A-Z(ed) series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to drop some knowledge on us! Add your own choices in the comments!)
By: Cara, blogger for Arctic Ice Hockey and Eyes on the Prize
A. Avco World Trophy (aka Avco Cup)
Before the original NHL Jets, there were the other original Jets who toiled away in the WHA. The Jets won the Avco World Cup trophy three times, with two of the wins coming in the final two years the WHA existed.
In the WHA, the Jets were the superior team against long-time rival, the Edmonton Oilers. After the merger between the WHA and NHL, Winnipeg regularly defeated the Oilers in big games. Yet, once Wayne Gretzky started playing for the Oilers, that began to change. Edmonton became the Jets most hated rival for whom they could not beat, mainly because the Oilers featured the best player in the world.
Hopefully Connor McDavid does not inflict the same type of pain on Jets fans this time around.
B. Bobby Hull
Bobby Hull has no connection to the current Winnipeg Jets organization. His former WHA team is now in the NHL and in Arizona, but he is important enough to the game of hockey as the one who signed the first million dollar contract at Portage and Main (see: P).
He has also been accused of spousal abuse while still playing in the NHL. His son, Brett Hull, became estranged from his father over these allegations but later wore his father’s number when he played five games for the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2005-2006 season before retiring.
C. Carlyle, Randy
While Randy Carlyle is best remembered by younger hockey fans as a failed coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he once was a talented defender who played for the Winnipeg Jets (amongst other teams). Carlyle also has ties to Winnipeg from the AHL when he coached the Manitoba Moose prior to getting a NHL job with the Anaheim Ducks. Carlyle’s last NHL stop was with the Jets for nine seasons and his first NHL coaching job was with the Jets immediately after he retired.
Although Carlyle won his Norris Trophy with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he still left a legacy on the Jets as a talented defender who put up points. Later on he showed to be a good AHL coach, at least from the outside. While Carlyle became a punching bag as coach of the Leafs, he is still held in high esteem in Winnipeg, partially because of his playing career and partially because of his success in coaching the Moose.
If Carlyle had been hired instead of Paul Maurice, even with his massive failings in Toronto, many fans and media would have supported the move.
D. Dan Snyder
Dan Snyder was killed in a high-speed car crash with teammate Dany Heatley behind the wheel. The Atlanta Thrashers created an award in his honour and it is still given to the player whom "best embodies perseverance, dedication and hard work without reward or recognition, so that his team and teammates might succeed." The award moved with the team to Winnipeg and is annually awarded to this day. The Ontario Hockey League also has an award named after him that recognizes humanitarian efforts by a player.
E. European Players
The original Jets were forefathers in bringing over European talent. Anders Hedberg was the first European signed by the Jets and ended up changing the game as more and more teams brought over European players as time went on.
But Winnipeg was the first to really mine Europe for talent in those early days and that helped them when they moved to the NHL as they had a larger talent base to build from then some teams.
Of course, this base of talent could not beat out Wayne Gretzky, but who could? Instead, the moves should be lauded as a way to try to move the odds into the favour of the Jets when it looked like it would be impossible. The Jets are a small market team and innovation is often what keeps those teams afloat. Signing European players was groundbreaking and left a legacy on the NHL that is still felt today.
F. Finnish Flash
Explaining what the Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne, means to Winnipeg is an exercise in explaining Winnipeg itself. A small city on the prairies where nothing is won and everything is lost in excruciating fashion, Selanne loved it here. He loved the fans. Except he had to leave because nothing is won and everything is lost. The player who owns the seemingly unbeatable rookie goal record had to leave because the money was gone. He was traded to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and loved it there, too. He never came back unless it was with the opposition.
But yet, Teemu is part of the fabric of hockey in Winnipeg. He never won here; he never could win here. He left because all the greats leave in the end. He will never “come home” and yet the memories of him shooting his glove with his stick celebrating the record setting goal (see: G), the sign tracking the goals themselves. Those live here forever in the pictures that will surely fade over time.
G. Glove Shoot-off
Teemu Selanne’s famous celebration would be vilified today. After breaking the rookie goal scoring record, Selanne shot his glove with his stick.
The moment and the celebration of the moment is in stark contrast to how players like Alex Ovechkin and his exuberant celebrations are viewed. Selanne had planned the celebration, yet his joy in the moment made it okay. Selanne’s joy in the moment, pleasure in breaking the record was what made it great. He left Winnipeg too soon yet he still gave Winnipeg on of the most iconic moments in the Jets history. Funny thing is he did it against the now relocated Quebec Nordiques franchise.
H. Heatley, Dany and Hossa, Marian
After Dany Heatley killed teammate Dan Snyder in a car accident (see: D), he needed a fresh start. Marian Hossa was the quality player given up by the Ottawa Senators to get Heatley and the trade should have helped the Thrashers win more, but it did not because they were the Thrashers and could not have nice things.
Hossa was traded for scraps to the Pittsburgh Penguins where they lost in the Stanley Cup Finals. He then signed with the Detroit Red Wings and lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Penguins. Hossa has finally won three Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks. And Heatley? Well he’s a f---in’ all-star.
I. Izzy Asper
The Asper family is one of Winnipeg’s wealthiest families and it was patriarch Israel Asper who almost saved the Jets in 1996 by helping a group spearheaded by Mark Chipman. Although the team ended up moving to Phoenix, Asper’s mere presence helped give the group much needed credibility.
Asper died eight years before the Jets returned and there were always some questions about why he did not just give the money to keep the team. He tried; it was just too little too late. Yet Asper played a key role in the making of Winnipeg into the town it is today and his legacy is less about hockey and more about everything he has done for the community.
His daughter helped spearhead the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, a world-class museum that is the first national museum in Canada that is not in Ottawa. Chipman has managed to buy the Jets after forming True North Sports and Entertainment. Although Asper was not around to back the second bid, his legacy was not tarnished by the failure to keep the Jets in 1996.
J. Johan Hedberg
Johan Hedberg has a spot in Winnipeg hockey history as well as Atlanta hockey history. Hedberg was a popular figure on the Manitoba Moose, Winnipeg’s AHL team before the NHL returned.
Hedberg was not a massive figure in Thrashers history, but his ties to the city of Winnipeg and True North Sports and Entertainment through the Manitoba Moose make him important. Maybe even more important is his nickname and his helmet paid tribute to the Moose long after he left town for the NHL. Hedberg became a NHLer in Pittsburg and made his way to Atlanta where he remained popular with fans and teammates a like.
Hedberg may be best known for the time he turned into a turtle.
K. Kane, Evander
Evander Kane was an oddly controversial figure in the Jets short time in Winnipeg.
Kane had things shaved into his head, made a money-phone in Las Vegas, and allegedly skipped out on restaurant bills. He left in a blaze of glory (or something) with Dustin Byfuglien supposedly stealing his tracksuit and throwing it into a shower because he was late.
It is thought that Kane being traded was a long time coming. While he is a massively talented player, there always seemed to be a disconnect between him and the decision makers. Trading Kane could prove to be a mistake in the near future as Andrew Ladd is up for a contract extension this off-season and is getting up there in age. Trading Kane meant trading a possible replacement for Ladd.
The worst part about trading Kane though was losing his social media acumen. Kane has taken to trolling better than the troll in The Three Billy Goats Gruff by simply ignoring his days in Winnipeg or by flat out blurring them out of his memory. Yes, that is a Kane Jets jersey he blurred out.
L. Leveille, Daulton
In the trade that sent Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis to Pittsburgh, the Thrashers received Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito, and the 29th pick in the 2008 draft. With that pick, they selected Daulton Leveille of Michigan State University. (Some notables still on the board when Atlanta drafted him: Roman Josi, Derek Stepan, Braden Holtby, Gustav Nyqvist...)
Leveille not even was a decent NCAA player, topping out at 25-points (in 38 games) his sophomore season. Leveille was just one of many bad decisions the Thrashers made during their time in Atlanta. While he was far from the biggest, it was those decisions along with a warring ownership group that helped end the Thrashers time in Atlanta.
Don Waddell was not good for the Thrashers and his involvement with the team was quite damaging. There were all the bad trades and all the decisions that helped hold the Thrashers back from becoming a respectable NHL team. Expansion rules make it really hard to create a NHL team, but the Thrashers made it harder on themselves by making bad decisions.
M. Mick E. Moose
The Winnipeg Jets holdover mascot from True North Sports and Entertainment’s AHL days, Mick E. Moose is a truly terrifying moose that may be loved by some.
Mick. E. Moose has been with True North Sports and Entertainment for so long that his inherent creepiness just seems right at games. No word yet on if he is retaining his NHL mascot role with the Manitoba Moose returning to town this year or if the Jets are going to unveil a new mascot for the NHL or AHL team.
N. Norm Beaudin
Every team has a player that they sign first and for the Jets that first signing was Norm Beaudin. Beaudin played with the original Jets for three year and in that time played in one All Star Game. But the most notable thing that Beaudin did in a Jets uniform was sign with the team. He was the first player to choose little Winnipeg and play hockey here.
Although he was not notable or famous member of the WHA team, his place in team history was firmly cemented by putting pen to paper. He has never been a household name in Winnipeg and that is an oversight because as remarkable as Bobby Hull signing a million dollar contract at Portage and Main, he was not the first player to sign with the team.
O. “Our Jets will fly forever”
For the Jets last game ever the fans on the upper deck hung a banner that read, “Our Jets will fly 4 ever”. For the Jets first playoff game this year (game three, first round), fans replicated the sign and hung it from the same place.
"@BromsFilthyMC: OUR JETS WILL FLY -4-EVER #WPGWhiteout #GoJetsGo" pic.twitter.com/oDV40SXpcQ
— Jeremie Robin (@Sabadecade) April 23, 2015
Winnipeg can never let go of anything fully, so even with a good NHL team in town, the old team has to be remembered. Holding onto what you know and love is easy. It feels right, even if it is old and worn out. Jets fans’ replicating the sign was them not letting go of an extremely painful moment when the team left for a warmer climate.
Instead of celebrating the current team, the fan base constantly goes back the moments of the team that left them instead of making up new moments and new memories. Playing into nostalgia is nice, but it sometimes seems over time it becomes an act of not letting go. Nothing will bring the original franchise back. A perfectly good team is constantly having to deal with weird moments of nostalgia from it’s fans who seem to have a hard time letting go of a team that left 19 years ago.
P. Portage and Main
When Bobby Hull signed for $1-million, it happened at Portage and Main. When the Jets left, fans went to Portage and Main. When the Jets returned, fans went to Portage and Main. When they played their first playoff game in 19 years, fans watched at Portage and Main.
Portage and Main is usually closed to pedestrians, so there is a certain amount of oddness in this being the gathering point of hockey fans. Yet the central location makes it a remarkably easy spot to find and there is no place more famous in hockey lure in Winnipeg than the self-proclaimed windiest corner in Canada.
The Forks may lack the traffic issues that meeting at Portage and Main present, but in a city that drives everywhere there is the additional issue of parking. Portage and Main used to be a happening place. It is now closed off to pedestrians and people rarely walk there. Instead, sometimes the cars don’t drive and the people play on the street in celebration of hockey happiness.
Q. [The] Queen's Portrait
Back in the old Winnipeg Arena there hung a picture of Queen Elizabeth II. While there is no real reason as to why the picture was hanging in the Winnipeg Arena, the MTS Centre has had many fans pay tribute to the image by having people dress up as the Queen and carry a replica image just for old time's sake. The original portrait is part of Winnipeg lore nowadays, a throwback to a time when Winnipeg seemed like an emerging city and not one plopped down in the middle of nowhere as a trading post because of it’s central location and waterways (the Red and Assiniboine Rivers). Those days are gone now. The only thing still here are the railway yard that divide the city in half. We still have the Queen’s portrait in our minds though, holding onto the days that we thought were only a sign of what was to come.
R. Rebel League
The WHA was a rebel league created in direct competition to the NHL in the 1970s. While the WHA did not reach the same levels of popularity as the NHL and folded shortly after it was formed, it was a key piece to hockey history and played a massive role in the Jets history.
First of all, by creating a league in direct competition to the NHL, the WHA helped push player pay and other issues to the forefront. While there is little documentation about this, it seems probable that following Bobby Hull’s million dollar contract that NHLers started demanding more compensation. Anyways, without the WHA the Jets never happen in the first place and then they never apply to join the NHL and then they never move to Arizona, and then the Thrashers never get sold to True North Sports and Entertainment and then there would be chanting of “Silver Medal” at Ryan Miller.
S. Stefan, Patrik
Patrick Stefan is a draft bust. He is best known for missing an empty net (as a member of the Dallas Stars) and Ales Hemsky went down the ice and tied the game with an individual effort.
Stefan was drafted before both Sedin twins. He could have been a decent player, but the Thrashers were never set up for young players to succeed in those early days, and in some ways, Stefan was never going to succeed in the NHL because of that.
Patrik Stefan is the player that best describes the Atlanta Thrashers; he had potential but it was all squandered away by incompetence and just plain badness. Asking a teenager to rescue a franchise is bad. Asking a teenager to be the cornerstone of a franchise when the franchise does not yet have a foundation because it is so new is a recipe for disaster.
And you wondered why the Thrashers sucked for so long.
T. Thorburn, Chris
The franchise’s longest tenured player is also not good at hockey. Somehow Thorburn has managed to be a mainstay on the Jets.
His best qualities are he is a good teammate and sometimes fights players badly. He likes to wear toques and has a nose that has been broken too many times. He was a part of the hugely popular (and terrible) GST line during the Jets first season. Thorburn was never much of a scorer, but he is a typical old-school fourth liner who somehow has showed the Thrashers/Jets franchise that he is worth keeping around even with his lack of skills.
Thorburn is what he is. Although he was also a fan favourite early on, and while he still has some fans, he has definitely gained more detractors as time has gone on and people have grown weary of the older grinder as younger players seem to be pushed to the fringes to keep the likes of Thorburn around.
If he lasts beyond his current contract (two seasons left), you can expect rioting at Portage and Main.
U. Ulf Nilsson
Ulf Nilsson was one of the first European player the Jets signed. Alongside fellow Swede Anders Hedberg, Nilsson was a key part in the Jets early success in the WHA.
As time went on he signed in the NHL with the New York Rangers, leaving the rebel league for brighter lights and potentially more money. The money part is hard to nail down because of the lack of contract information available from that time. Unless the contract was noteworthy like Bobby Hull’s, there was no mention of how much money a player would get paid in the NHL.
Anyways, Nilsson was a part of the Jets’ innovation to acquire more skilled players by going over to Europe and signing players from there instead of limiting themselves to a small player pool in North America. It did not always work, but the fearlessness needed to take that chance is something that the reincarnation of the organization has rarely shown today. They eschewed the conventions of needing North American players and in turn built a really good team around a few Europeans and a NHL star.
V. Valabik, Boris
Boris Valabik is a bad defenceman who was given up in the Blake Wheeler trade. He was once touted as the next Zdeno Chara, but obviously did not reach that level.
Valabik was never what Atlanta wanted him to be. He was bad. He could never play hockey at the NHL level because his skating was subpar and he could not actually make plays with the puck. Valabik never stuck in the NHL; instead he remains in our hearts and our minds as the greatest big oaf to play for the Thrashers (seriously, he was the opposite of great).
Valabik was a failed first round pick. He was supposed to be the second coming; instead he was used to acquire Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart, a trade that has left the Jets with one very good and one questionable player since 2011. Sometimes, draft busts can be useful.
W. White Out
The Winnipeg Whiteout is one of the truly iconic and truly uncomfortable parts of the Jets history. The White Out has been a thing since the WHA days, I believe and has been a staple at hockey playoff games in Winnipeg ever since.
The idea of a Whiteout is inherently creepy though.
A large gathering of people, whom are mostly white, dressing alike and chanting things together create allusions to groups like the Klu Klux Klan. The allusion is largely unimportant, but it makes it more interesting that even though the home team does not wear white anymore, the White Out is still synonymous with Winnipeg.
When the Jets made the playoffs this past season, the White Out took on a much more militant approach from fans. People were saying it was wrong to wear a dark Jets jersey to a game and that everyone had to be in white. That led to a lone fan wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey because it is white.
I Iike this guy who slipped in here in a Habs white jersey. pic.twitter.com/AJwUdVUmso
— Scott Stinson (@scott_stinson) April 21, 2015
While the undertones of the Whiteout can be uncomfortable if you look at the world through history, there is something fun about quirky about a tradition that gave us this video.
Garnet Exelby (XLB, get it?!) was a fan favourite in Atlanta. A not so great defensive defenceman, Exelby excelled at playing in games and not impacting them offensively.
He was an eighth round pick who made it to the NHL for seven seasons. He played most of them for the lowly Atlanta Thrashers, but the fact he made it to the NHL with the long odds he faced to even make the league is ... impressive.
Y. Young Stars
Before Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele there was Alexander Burmistrov and Evander Kane. Before Alexander Burmistrov and Evander Kane there was Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley.
There have always been young stars for the Thrashers and Jets. The problem has been in retaining them. The Jets hope that the fortunes will change for them with Trouba and Scheifele, but who knows if they will stay long term. This is a concern of Jets fans as no one knows if players will want to stay in Winnipeg if they are young and successful after their restricted free agency years are over.
In some cases, keeping the players is so key an overpay may be needed to keep a key player like Trouba. Some players are worth more than what comparables say they are because of what they mean to a team.
Z. Zhitnik, Alexei
The man known as the return in the Braydon Coburn to Philadelphia trade, Zhitnik was a complete bust for the Thrashers, but he did get to play in the franchise’s first four playoff games. Those four games amounted to nothing and did not help the Thrashers retain crucial players in the subsequent years.
Zhitnik was not a key player and the price that the Thrashers paid would have been better put to actually upgrading a position of need. Waddell decided that trading away a good, young player in Coburn for a bad old player was the way to build the team. The trade for Zhitnik was one of Waddell’s many blunders that set the team back for years.
Meet the author: Cara is a university student and wannabe blogger with Arctic Ice Hockey and Eyes on the Prize where she likes to pretend she actually knows things about hockey. When she was 9 she watched the Salt Lake City Olympics and thought that icing was when shards of ice came up as players stopped. You can follow her book thoughts on Twitter @HappyCaraT.
Previous A to Z Guides: Anaheim | Arizona | Boston | Buffalo | Calgary | Carolina | Chicago | Colorado | Columbus | Dallas | Detroit | Edmonton | Florida | Los Angeles | Minnesota | Montreal | Nashville | New Jersey | NY Islanders | NY Rangers | Ottawa | Philadelphia | Pittsburgh | San Jose | Toronto | Vancouver | Washington
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