The Winnipeg Jets have made the Conference Finals for the first time in their history. That history is long, quite odd and anomalous with the NHL doing janky things to this team. Very surprising that the League would do such a thing, I know.
From 1971 to 1979 the trend of alternative professional leagues like the AFL and ABA came to the world of hockey. And much like the other leagues designed to challenge their established brethren, the WHA took hold in cities devoid of professional hockey and other places the NHL did not inhabit. As early 1977 with the WHA was failing and only a few teams could financially survive there were talks of a merger. This did not happen until 1979.
Bask in the 70’s cheesiness of these logos! You can just seem them on a lava lamp or painted on the side of a van!
The NHL went through an era of great expansion from 1967 through the addition of the WHA teams. Prior to the addition of the WHA teams, the NHL only added one team in Canada which was the Canucks. Vancouver was in talks to be included in 1967 but nothing came and they were promised a team in the next expansion batch. The WHA was the opposite. They had teams in Quebec City, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Calgary (no connection to any team in the NHL.)
Bobby Hull was a star player for the Chicago Blackhawks and was one of the first to jump from the NHL to WHA for a substantial pay raise. He played for the Blackhawks from 1957 until 1972 and the Jets from 1972 until the leagues merged in 1972. Hull can be best compared to Ovi as he was a prolific scorer with a shot once clocked at 118 mph. Unlike Ovie, he was also known for his fast skating. He was clocked skating at 29.7 mph.
Not truly fair to compare Hull to Ovi as Hull is a handsome man while Ovie looks like a caveman and meth user
The Jets owner Ben Hatskin wanted to land Hull so bad that he worked with other owners to come up with the salary that was far beyond what the NHL was paying at the time. The Jets were one of the first teams to draft players from Europe (sorry Don Cherry.)
The WHA Jets were a powerhouse. In seven years in the WHA, they appeared in the Finals five times winning three including beating the Oilers with Gretzky in 1979. They won the Avco World Trophy three times.
This is the Great Value Stanley Cup
Prior to the merger the NHL and WHA would host exhibition games. The Jets were as good as any of the NHL teams they played. The Jets were so good that the beat the Soviet National Team in 1978 on a tour of Canada the Soviets were on. They won 5-3. You know how when you move you always misplace something? You try really hard to be organized and get everything where you need it? Well much like when you moved apartments or houses, the Jets lost things. They lost players and success when they moved to the NHL.
The NHL considered which WHA teams to add to the League as they wouldn’t take every team. They didn’t want to take on all the teams and the financial instability that came with them. Also, several established teams had issues with the teams. The Canadian teams didn’t want to Nordiques and Jets to be added as the Hockey Night in Canada money would be split 6 ways instead of 3. Boston didn’t want to share New England with Hartford while Montreal didn’t like the idea of having the Nordiques in the same province. The Canucks and Kings strangely objected as they fear giving up east coast games. And finally, Harold Ballard held quite a grudge against the WHA because players jumped ship from the NHL to join their league.
When the teams joined the NHL they were considered expansion teams and not a standing team. The teams had to pay a $6 million dollar expansion fee to the League. That figure was the same that the Canucks and Sabres paid when they joined the League in 1970 but up $4 million from the 1967 expansion fee of $4 million. Just for comparison, the Sharks paid a $45 million fee to join the League, the Panthers and Ducks paid a $50 million fee to join the League, Nashville paid an $80 million fee to join the League, and the Knights paid a staggering $500 million.
What affected the Jets the most was that the stars such as Bobby Hull were forced to return to their NHL team. The teams that were heavy in former NHL players such as the Jets received no compensation for the players that were reclaimed. It gutted these teams. The Jets gave up 3 of their top 6 scorers in the Reclamation Draft. Not only that but the 4 WHA teams were also put at the END of the NHL Draft. The Oilers also had the last pick because everything the NHL does is hokey (not a typo.)
somethings never change…..
Gretzky did not sign a standard player contract when he signed with the Oilers. Instead, he signed a personal service contract with Peter Pocklington when he was drafted by the team. Gretzky’s contract SHOULD have been voided and he was eligible to be snatched by a team in the Reclamation Draft. However, he refused to void it and instead the Oilers agreed to draft last overall.
To make matters even more convoluted than they already were, the League had the WHA teams do an expansion draft to draft players FROM the League that just took the players they had.
The seventeen NHL teams could protect 2 veteran goalies and 15 skaters. The teams also received $125,000 for each player selected from their teams. That money came from expansion fee. In a strange twist, Hull was reclaimed by Blackhawks who the Jets then selected him in the Expansion Draft. He played half a season with the Jets in their inaugural NHL season before being dealt at the trade deadline. With their roster gutted, the Jets bombed in their first two years.
This sums up the Jets first two years.
The Jets did turn that failure into a huge success as they drafted really well including some guy named Teemu Selanne. They changed their fortunes and made the playoffs eleven out of fifteen years. That regular season success didn’t translate to postseason success. Again, this was due to the NHL and its need to be contrived.
Much like the crazy format, the NHL uses now. From the NHL’s site;
The first four teams in each division earned playoff berths. In each division, the first-place team opposed the fourth-place team and the second-place team opposed the third-place team in a best-of-five Division Semifinal (DSF) series. In each division, the two winners of the DSF met in a best-of-seven Division Final (DF) series. The two winners in each conference met in a best-of-seven Conference Final (CF) series. In the Prince of Wales Conference, the Adams Division winner opposed the Patrick Division winner; in the Clarence Campbell Conference, the Smythe Division winner opposed the Norris Division winner. The two CF winners met in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final (F) series.
So basically the format was the same as today except for no wild card teams. The Jets got handed a shitty hand when it came to this playoff format. The Oilers, Canucks, Jets, Kings, and Flames were all in the Smythe Division. To make it to the CONFERENCE FINALS they had to beat either the Oilers or Flames or BOTH. In the 80’s the Oilers/Flames won the Stanley Cup in 84, 85, 87, 88, 89, and 90 ( the only Flames Cup came in 1989, all others are the Oilers.) The Flames/Oilers also represented the Clarence Campbell Conference (Western Conference) in the Stanley Cup in 83 and 86. From 1983 until 1990 the Flames or Oilers were in the Finals EVERY year and won the Cup 6 out of 8 of those years.
With the Smythe and playoff format as it was the Jets were guaranteed to play one if not both of these perennial juggernauts. During that time frame from 1983-90, The Jets and Oilers faced each other 6 times. The Jets didn’t fare well; they won only FOUR games during that span. The Jets only won two playoff series and each time it was against the Flames.
After their string of making the playoffs, the 1990’s hit the Canadian teams hard. They hit them so hard Tom Wilson approved. In the late 90’s the NHL expanded all over the US but not into Canada. Free agency made things harder on the Canadian teams. Canadian teams used to pay all players in Canadian dollars. Team revenues where collected in Canadian dollars which were often close to value to the American dollars. The exception was when players came to Canadian teams from US teams in a trade. However, as the value of the Canadian dollar dropped more and more players demanded to be paid in US dollars. In 1996 the exchange rate was at $1.40.
To add to the issues, Winnipeg was and still is one of the smallest hockey cities in the League. They became the smallest city after Quebec City moved in 1995. Winnipeg Arena had no luxury boxes and had obstructed views.
Barry Shenkarow owned the Jets at the end of the 90’s. He wanted to sell the team as he was losing money. A local owner could not be found. Bettman went on to say “there doesn’t seem to be anybody, in a serious fashion, who wants to own the franchise.” Good job Bettman!
In the end, the team was sold to Steven Gluckstern and Richard Burke. They originally wanted to move the team to Minnesota to replace the North Stars. A deal fell through with the Target Center so the two reached a deal with Jerry Colangelo to move the team to Phoenix. The team became the Coyotes.
The financial instability followed the Jet to Phoenix. The team went bankrupt in 2009 and struggled to get ownership for years. You can read about the whole clusterf&*k here.
The owners of the new Jets, True North Sports and Entertainment, tried to buy the Coyotes twice and return them to Winnipeg. They also tried to buy the Predators with the intent to move them as well. Both teams eventually made deals with their cities to remain. T.N.S. E. next targeted the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Flames take 2, had a very unsuccessful run at it. In 2003 Time Warner sold the team to Atlanta Spirit L.L.C. Eight days after the team was sold to Time Warner the Dany Heatley car accident happened. The team was always close to moving as it was a financial disaster. Atlanta Spirit claimed they lost $130 million over six years. After those 6 years, T.N.S.E. swooped in and bought the team. On May 30, 2011, the team was sold to T.N.S.E. and the move to Winnipeg began. The NHL denied that the team was moving, but did say they supported the move.
During their time in the Atlanta, the Thrashers played 902 games. They won 342, lost 437, tied 45, lost 49 in OT, and lost 29 in Atlanta. They had a 0.447 win percentage. It’s no surprise that the 11 years in the Atlanta were not a success. Another unsuccessful aspect of the Thrashers was the Nasty Nest. The Nasty Nest would chant and shout at the opposing team to disrupt them while they played. So they were the forerunner to the Predator fans. Thanks Atlanta!
In 2011-12 the NHL announced that Thrashers would be moving to Winnipeg and become the Jets again. The Thrashers sold for $170 million with $60 being a relocation fee. T.N.S.E. did not acquire the Thrashers name but they do have Atlanta’s history. The Jets release the name of the team at the 2011 Draft.
The NHL is pants on head stupid and cannot adapt well. The League had the new Jets play in the Southeast Division because NHL. For the 2013-14 Jets moved to the Western Conference and in 2014-15 the Jets finally made the playoffs for the first playoff appearance in Winnipeg since 1996. This year is the first time the Jets (or Coyotes-Jets) have ever made the Conference Finals.
As with everything in the NHL this was the long, confusing and full of bizarre decisions that defy logic in all ways.