Impact – ”Having a strong effect on someone or something.”
The Winnipeg Jets have a history like no other. They were dominant in the WHA, struggled to make the jump to the NHL and as soon as they began to pick up steam – POOF! they were gone. As fans, we are only privy to certain aspects of team chemistry. We may occasionally hear rumours about players’ behaviours in locker rooms, hotels, team busses and on the bench, but, for the most part, fans are silent observers. 2020 has forced us all into a state of reflection, remembering how things were and how they got to where they are now. That’s why it felt important to look at which players impacted the Jets franchise, for the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Ugly – Dave Babych
The ugly impact of Dave Babych leaving the Winnipeg Jets’ is still felt today. The combination of Babych and Randy Carlyle was lethal and lightyears ahead of its time. Modern hockey fans re-watching the classic games would see similarities with Mikhail Sergachev and Kevin Shattenkirk. Fast, puck-moving, offensive defencemen were rare in the 80s but the Jets had two of them in 1984 and 1985. Those two seasons could have led to a decade together if General Manager, John Ferguson Sr. would have been able to foresee the direction that the NHL was trending. While this impacted Jets’ fans on-the-ice, Babych leaving meant the moustache left too and – for all those 80’s teens in Winnipeg – that growing their ‘Babych-stache’ had been all-for-not. When Babych left and Ray Neufeld came in, the ‘Babych-stache’ was no more. This ugly impact may have been appreciated by the women of the 80s but, for Jets’ fans, letting Babych go was a low blow on more than one level.
The ugly impact of Babych leaving transcended his goals, assists and plus-minus totals. By all accounts, Babych was the team leader on-the-ice and in the dressing room. Losing that type of energy not only impacts a team – it could cripple it. Babych’s exit meant Carlyle lost his partner, Coach Barry Long lost his leader and Winnipeg lost the ‘Babych-stache’. The immediate effects hurt Jets’ fans but it hurt even more watching Babych play 15 productive seasons in the NHL after his departure from the ‘Peg.
“Leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example.”
At 59 years old, Babych continues to lead the same way he did in the 80’s Jets’ locker room. The former Jet carried a young girl who had fallen 15-feet and banged her head 35 minutes to safety after finding her on a Vancouver trail. Unable to walk, the young girl had yelled for help and – sure enough – the ‘Babych-stache’ was there to help. The humility of Babych was further exemplified when the young girl’s father called to thank him and he simply said, ‘I was glad I was in the right place at the right time to do what was right.’ This is the leadership, humility and grace that John Ferguson traded away for a 32-year old forward that would play 4 unproductive seasons in Winnipeg. Ray Neufeld was never able to fill Babych’s shoes and frankly it was unrealistic and unfair for anyone to expect him too. Babych was bigger than life in Winnipeg and his legend was cut short. Denying any fan a legend will impact them, but denying Jets’ fans Dave Babych was downright ugly.