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 Good – Randy Carlyle
Most hockey fans have had that moment where they forget an NHL head coach used to play in the league because they’ve seen them coach for so many years. Coaching since 1996, Randy Carlyle is one of those enigma’s who makes it tough to remember that he was one of the best defencemen in Winnipeg Jets’ history. When the Jets acquired this smooth-skating, offensive defencemen in 1984, the makeup of the team instantly changed. Jets fans, who were tired of losing were hopeful Carlyle was the missing link. Although the former Toronto Maple Leafs and Anaheim Ducks head coach may have won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2006, his largest impact was in Winnipeg.
It’s always risky for a General Manager to trade a 1st round draft pick, but Carlyle turned out to be worth ten 1st round picks. Jets fans were enamored by Carlyle, watching him fly down the ice, his dirty-blonde hair flowing in the wind, as he slid one of his 226 assists to one of his teammates and helped them light up the goal lamp. Carlyle’s ability to move the puck up the ice quickly allowed the Jets offense to flow and get the goals they needed to beat the high-scoring Edmonton Oilers. The Sudbury native netted 80 goals during his tenure in Winnipeg and would end his player career in the ‘Peg, before making the move to assistant during the 1995-96 season. When the team was moved, the new assistant coach didn’t follow them down south. Instead he would sharpen his coaching skills as the Manitoba Moose head coach in the IHL. The 80’s was a rollercoaster for the Winnipeg Jets that often left fans wondering what if they hadn’t run into the Oilers every year – could things have been different? Maybe, but Stanley Cup or not, Carlyle’s impact is undeniable.
Earlier this year, the Winnipeg Jets inducted a 64-year-old Carlyle, along with his former teammate Thomas Steen, into the Jets’ Hall of Fame. When you watch the ceremony, you can feel how much Carlyle loved playing in Winnipeg, which really stresses why his impact has been so important to the franchise. Canadian teams, notably Wester Canadian ones, often have difficulty attracting free-agents and retaining players because their hockey-crazed markets aren’t easy to play in. Despite this, as Carlyle said at his ceremony, “I came here and made a commitment to playing here, to becoming part of the community here. I had a tremendous amount of enjoyment, and it wasn’t just on the ice – it was off the ice.” Canadian hockey fans wish this sentiment was felt by more players because fans know that you can’t have passion without pressure. Carlyle welcomed that pressure, delivered on the ice and embraced the community, making his impact especially special. Coach Carlyle led the Ducks to their first-ever Stanley cup and, although player-Carlyle couldn’t bring the Cup to the Manitoba capital, there is no denying his impact. You don’t get to look up and see your name in the rafters if you didn’t have one.