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 – Teemu Selanne – “The Finnish Flash”
“You keep shooting, you hope it goes in, and you smile” – Teemu Selänne
You would be hard pressed to find a single person in Winnipeg that would tell ‘The Finnish Flash’ to stop shooting because, to many Jets fans, he’s the best they’ve ever seen. Teemu Selänne’s impact in Winnipeg was more than good – it was historic. The young Finn garnered Gretzky comparisons after his record-setting 76 goals and 56 assists in his rookie season. This 1992-93 season was particularly significant because of what happened in 1996: the Jets were moved to Phoenix and, at the time, Winnipeg had no idea if or when they would get their team back. Selänne’s unbelievable rookie campaign not only impacted the Jets’ organization forever, but also the NHL’s record books. This meant that if Winnipeg didn’t ever their Jets back, they could have lived on in infamy through Selänne’s record. Although the Jets never won the Stanley cup or even the Conference Finals – which meant they were at risk of being forgotten – Selänne ensured this wouldn’t be the case and that Winnipeg would never be overlooked.
Teemu loved Winnipeg and they loved him back. So, just like Selänne made sure Winnipeg was never forgotten, Winnipeg continues to make sure Selänne won’t be either. Theirs was a special kind of relationship that has not been replicated since. The young Finn expected to play his whole career in Winnipeg and, even with rumours that the team would be moved to Phoenix in the 1995-96 season, Selänne didn’t want to be traded – he wanted to play the last game in the Winnipeg Arena as a Jet. Unfortunately, the fairytale story of a young Finnish kid coming to the prairies, setting records, tallying 3-6 points in four seasons came to a tragic end when Selänne got the call he was being traded to Anaheim. Teemu was blindsided. He was forced to leave his friends and teammates without saying good-bye and ask his nine-month pregnant wife to travel with him down south. The impact of Selänne was nothing but amazing and the impact of the Jets’ front office choices were devastating to both Selänne and the loyal Jets nation.
Even though the writing was on the wall – the Jets were leaving Winnipeg in 1996 – it’s difficult not to wonder what impact Selänne could have had in that final playoff run for the Jets. The numbers suggest that if Selänne had been available to play against the Red Wings, the final game may not have been played on April 28, 1996 and, with a little luck, it could have been played in June during the Stanley Cup finals. Regardless, Selänne didn’t get that chance and neither did the Jets fans, who watched their team do the final skate in Winnipeg Arena without their prodigal son. Selänne wanted to hoist up a Stanley Cup in Winnipeg but Jets fans were still happy when they saw him raise the trophy for Anaheim in 2007. That’s the impact Selänne had on Winnipeg – it didn’t matter what jersey he was in, fans just wanted to see that Finnish smile.