Asking Winnipeg Jets fans who’s their favourite player of All-Time is like asking a parent who their favourite child is. Combine that with the fact that top-10 lists are extremely subjective and to avoid this awkward conundrum, I present the Top Winnipeg Jets of every generation.
The 90s –
The 90s changed everything – literally everything. There were technological advances in music, electronics, and of course those curves on hockey sticks. For those unfamiliar in the 1992 Stanley Cup final, Marty McSorley received a penalty for an illegally curved stick that resulted in a costly goal, which helped the Canadiens on their way to the last Stanley Cup to be lifted by a Canadian team. Illegal curves or not, the early 90s were filled with goals and Jets fans enjoyed their fair share thanks to these legends.
Teppo Numminen –
There are only 68 players in NHL history that have played 20+ seasons in their careers. Playing a meaningful 20-year career – eight of which were spent in the ‘Peg – Teppo Numminen can proudly say he is amongst this elite group of ironmen. The second-round selection from Finland was never expected to be a blue-chip prospect. As a smooth skating defenceman in the Finish Elite League who averaged 14-points and a +11 plus/minus over the course of three seasons, he was nothing overly impressive. Numminen was drafted as a second-round defenceman in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft, but he didn’t make they jump from Finland to Canada until 1988. In his first year, he had a less than memorable rookie campaign, posting only 15-points and a -11 plus/minus in 69 games. But the Finnish Ironman knew Winnipeg’s relationship with Finland was special and was determined to redeem himself.
There’s redemption and then there’s tripling your point total. In his Sophomore season Numminen increased his point total, improved his plus/minus ratio, missed one game all year and, most importantly, helped his team make the playoffs. Once again, the Jets came up short with a first-round exit to their nemesis, the Edmonton Oilers, but Jets’ fans wanted playoff hockey and they got it. During the 90s, Numminen continued to improve. The most notable improvement being between the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons where Numminen played every single game, bumped his point-total from 33 to 39 and improved his plus/minus from -15 to +15, proving he was not a liability on-the-ice. The high-scoring early 90s was menacing for both goaltenders and defenders, which is why Numminen’s dramatic plus/minus jump was so impressive. Also, he was an intelligent and determined hockey player, which was a lethal combination in the ‘90s. With this, after a one-year sabbatical, these improvements propelled the Jets back to the playoffs… only to have another first round exit.
Numminen did not leave Winnipeg under his own volition. It was forced on him – just like it was forced on all Jets’ fans. Numminen enjoyed seven seasons in Phoenix before ending his career in Buffalo, where he would prove his Ironman status by returning to play 79 games following heart surgery. It is no surprise that he held the record for most games played by a European player until his Swedish neighbour, Nicklas Lidström broke it. Numminen spent three seasons as the Buffalo Sabres assistant coach before retiring back in Finland, where he currently helps coach his 12-year-old son’s hockey team. When asked in an interview with the Winnipeg Sun about the relationship between Winnipeg and Finland, Numminen said, “If you ask Finnish people, I don’t know if they know exactly where Winnipeg is but they think Winnipeg is almost the capital of Canada. That’s how well-known it is. They know a lot about the Jets and their history because there’s always been a connection.” Whether it’s as a professional athlete or citizen, when you spend ten years somewhere it becomes home. This bond between nations truly is the beauty of sport and one that Numminen was proud to perpetuate.