The Winnipeg Jets

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The Winnipeg Jets were a professional team that played in the World Hockey Association (WHA) from 1972-1979 and the NHL from 1979-1996. The team was based at the Winnipeg Arena in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

How did the Winnipeg Jets Start?

On December 1971, the WHA, undertaking an expansion drive in Canada granted a startup franchise to Ben Hatskin for the city of Winnipeg. Other new Franchises were awarded to Ottawa, Quebec, Edmonton and Calgary. The team adopted the name Jets from Winnipeg Jets who played in the Western Canada Hockey League. The team’s first signing was Norm Beaudin followed by an important signing in the form of Bobby Hull.

The Jets in Competition

Winnipeg were one of the most successful teams in the short history of the WHA, making it to the finals of the WHA five out of seven times. They also won the Avco World trophy thrice. They made it to the playoffs in each of their seven years in the WHA. Most of the WHA’s teams had folded by 1979 but Winnipeg were still doing well. They joined the NHL in 1979 along with the Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers and the Edmonton Oilers. Although not mediocre, their NHL era was a far cry from their period in the WHA. As a condition to join the NHL they were required to forfeit three of their best six players and also had to draft 18th out of 21.

This left them with a weakened roster and they finished last during their first two seasons in the NHL. Their record of 9-57-14 in 1980/81 remains the franchise’s worst ever. They would then make the playoffs in the next nine seasons, the cream of which was the 1987 run to the Smythe Division final. They lost the series in four straight games to the Edmonton Oilers. They then finished last in 1988/89 season with a record of 26-42-12. Bob Murdoch was appointed the new coach and he appeared to engineer a revival of sorts as they finished third in the division, though they were eliminated by the Oilers in the second round. Star forward Dale Hawerchuk was traded on draft day and they struggled in the 1990/91 season, finishing last with an awful record of 26-43-11. The final five seasons were up and down with the Jets finishing last twice and characteristically failing to make it past the first round of the playoffs in any of the other seasons. Their last ever game was a 4-1 loss to Detroit Red Wings in game 6 of the first playoff round at a sold out Winnipeg Arena.

Most Notable Moments

Their rivalry with the Edmonton Oilers was one of the defining factors of the Winnipeg Jets’ run in the NHL. The oilers were considered one of the best teams in the league and were instrumental in preventing the jets from making any significant inroads in the playoffs. Winnipeg met the oilers six times in the playoffs losing all of them, at one point going on a losing streak of 16 consecutive games.

On January 5, 1978 the Jets faced the Soviet National team. They beat them 5-3, a major achievement in the sense that no other club team had ever beaten the much revered Soviet squad before.

Winnipeg Jets Most Notable Players

Dale Hawerchuk is arguably the greatest player ever to play for the Jets. He scored a club record 929 points for the Jets in 713 games between 1981 and 1990. He also set the record for youngest player to score 100 points, a feat he achieved during his rookie year. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.

Another Hall of Famer, Bobby Hull is second behind Hawerchuk in terms of goals scored. The Jets retired Bobby’s no.9 shirt in February 1989. Hull played with the Jets during their WHA days having been signed through contributions from league owners and rose to become arguably the greatest talent of the WHA.

Thomas Steen holds the record for most games played (950) in a Jets shirt and is second in the points scored list (817). The Swede played for the Jets between 1981 and 1995, forging a formidable partnership with Dale Hawerchuk. His is the only other number (25) apart from Hull’s that was retired by the Jets.

What Happened to the Winnipeg Jets?

The liberalization of the NFL’s free agency rules and the declining Canadian dollar saw operation costs and salaries become increasingly burdening for Canadian teams. Winnipeg felt the bite particularly hard due to its relatively small market. Additionally the Winnipeg Arena was in dire condition and questions were raised on how much longer the city would be able to support the franchise. Two funds drives held by Winnipeg residents raised a total of $500,000 to help save the team. Owner Barry Shenkarow announced the team would stay in Winnipeg at least one more year.

However, attempts by a local group, The Spirit of Manitoba to purchase the team fell through, effectively ending all hope of keeping the team in Winnipeg. Eventually the franchise was sold to Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern who moved the team to Phoenix and rechristened it the Phoenix Coyotes. Even before the Jets had packed up, Winnipeg had a new ice hockey team as the Minnesota Moose of the American Hockey League moved into town from Minnesota. A new Winnipeg Jets has also returned to Winnipeg following the purchase and subsequent relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers by the True North Sports and Entertainment in 2011.