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Relocated NHL Teams: The Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets were a Canadian ice hockey team that played in the World Hockey Association (WHA) from 1972 to 1979 and the NHL from 1979 to 1996. The Jets franchise was formed in 1972 as a charter franchise for the upstart WHA. The “Jets” nickname was picked as a reference to Winnipeg’s growing reputation in the airline industry. The team joined the NHL in 1979 as the WHA struggled financially and many of its constituent teams folded. During their entire time in Winnipeg, the Jets played their home games at the Winnipeg Arena.

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The Winnipeg Jets enjoyed great success during their WHA years. They won the WHA AVCO cup three times, having made the finals 5 times. They only failed to make the WHA payoffs once, in 1975. Upon joining the NHL however, the Jets found the going tough, failing to make the playoffs for the first two seasons. The team’s first major signing had been Bobby Hull back in 1972 as they entered the WHA. Hull signed from the Chicago Black Hawks but had to sit out the first two games as he battled the Black Hawks in court over contractual disagreements. Once legally a Jets player, Hull contributed immensely to the team’s success as he was regularly among the top scorers in the team. His most prolific season was 1974/75 as he scored 77 goals which would have been a single season record had he achieved it in the NHL.

Hull who left in 1980 would be replaced in 1981 by Dale Hawerchuk. Dale would immediately lift the Jets into playoff places as he surpassed the 100 point in his first season. Unlike Hull, Dale was unable to bring Winnipeg the kind of success they had enjoyed in the WHA years. His best season was 1987/88 when he notched 121 points. Teemu Selanne took over the mantle from Dale, signing for the Jets in 1992. The rookie hit the ground running, smashing in 76 goals and a total of 132 points, a new league record for a rookie. He would not reach those heights for the Jets again however. The Jets were regular playoff contenders, but were seemingly jinxed as they failed to advance past the first round even once in eleven attempts. The Edmonton Oilers were a constant thorn in the Jet’s back side. The two teams met six times in the playoffs with the Oilers coming out on top every single time and then proceeding to win the Stanley Cup five of those times.

Why were the Winnipeg Jets Relocated?

Despite playing in the league’s second smallest market, the Jets had a loyal fan following and regularly played in front of sold-out crowds. However, the league’s Canadian teams were all going through a rough time in the early 90s. The Canadian dollar was under pressure from other major currencies including the US dollar. With most players demanding to be paid in US dollars while gate fees were paid in Canadian Dollars, the Jets were one of the teams finding it hard to meet their wage obligations. The aging and small sized Winnipeg Arena also could not raise enough revenue to support the team’s operations. During the lockout shortened 1994/1995 season, rumors of the Jets’ possible relocation began to spread. A group known as the “Spirit of Manitoba” began efforts to save the team and raised more the $500,000 in a bid to purchase the Jets. However the deal fell apart and the team was eventually purchased by a Phoenix-based business man called Jerry Colangelo before the beginning of the 1995/96 season. In the final game of that lame duck season, a sell-out crowd wearing all white came to watch their beloved Jets battle the Detroit Red Wings in the first playoff round. The Jets lost 4-1 and a few days later flew out to Arizona where they were renamed the Phoenix Coyotes. The city of Winnipeg would see a return of the NHL in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers was relocated to Winnipeg. Pressure from fans resulted in the relocated team being renamed the Winnipeg Jets.

Winnipeg Jets Notable Players

Bobby Hull LW 1972-1979

Dale Hawerchuk C 1981-1990

Serge Savard D 1981-1983

Ulf Nilsson C 1974-1978

Anders Hedberg RW 1974-1978

Lars-Erik Sjoberg D 1974-1979

Kent Nilsson C 1977-1979

Joe Daley G 1972-1979

Willy Lindstrom RW 1975-1979

Paul MacLean RW 1981-1988

Ron Wilson D 1979-1988

Laurie Boschman C 1982-1990

Randy Carlyle D 1983-1993

Keith Tkachuk LW 1991-1996

Teemu Selanne RW 1992-1996

Eddie Olczyk C 1990-1993, 1994-1996

Fredrik Olausson D 1986-1994

Teppo Numminen D 1988-1996

Darrin Shannon LW 1991-1996

Moe Mantha D 1981-1984, 1989-1992

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