Almost Home


As a Winnipegger, I’ve spent the last couple of years watching the NHL’s endless machinations to keep a team in Phoenix with considerable amusement and maybe just a touch of anger. For all the talk of arenas and owners, or lack thereof, I’d be lying if I said that I ever felt as if my Arctic outpost got the same level of league attention when things were going to hell in ’94 and ’95.

So tonight, as the first bits of news have begun trickling in that my hometown really was on the verge of getting a second bite at the cherry, I’m struck by how unsettled I’m feeling about the whole enterprise.

By 1996, like so many Jets’ fans, I was completely fed up with the NHL, and yet even then, the economic conditions that had sent the Nordiques away and threatened the Oilers and Flames were hard to ignore if one chose to be honest about the situation.

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The Canadian dollar was headed for a lengthy swoon, and anyone foolhardy enough to own a team in a marginal market like Winnipeg was going to need deep pockets and extra revenue streams from a modern facility to cope. Even then, any team in that economic environment was still certain to be a very questionable proposition.

The owner and building didn’t happen, obviously, and away they went, headed to their desert oasis so that they might continue a long history of never being very good. My fandom, like most people’s, was rooted in local bonds built during childhood that carried on into my adult years. As a result, after the team moved the Coyotes became just another team from a place I didn’t give a rat’s ass about, no different from St. Louis or L.A. or PIttsburgh.

My indifference was mostly real, with only a slight bit of covering for the disappointment, and that attitude appeared to be shared by most of my fellow Manitobans. The Coyotes didn’t exactly carry many fans with them from here, and obviously I’m in that number that chose to gravitate elsewhere.

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Even as the league’s center of financial power began to shift north after the lockout, there was still that nagging sense that the NHL’s move to conquer the Sunbelt was too precious a project to be allowed to simply fail without a monumental effort in every shaky market to prop things up. We’ve certainly seen that in Phoenix, and a cynic, or a realist, take your pick, might have thought that it would happen again elsewhere.

As a result, the default position for most people was that the league brass would rather die in a fire than retrace their steps to Winnipeg. Time has never really healed the wound here, and if anyone doubted that, the reaction by the locals during these last two years of speculation that a team might well be viable again in our mosquito-ridden hellhole should have tipped everyone off. Bruce Arthur touched on this the other day, showing a decent understanding of this insular spot for an auslander.

This really has been a community struggling very hard to rein in its hope so as not to be crushed if things went badly, and as the events of the last few days have sent this affair near the finish line, I was reminded of an article from the past that had nothing at all to do with hockey and absolutely everything to do with here.

Paul Tough passed through these parts nearly a decade ago to interview John K. Samson of the Weakerthans, and ended up writing more than a few hard truths about Winnipeg and its citizens. I was always particularly struck by this bit:

At the same time, there is a small-town resent­ment that often gets expressed as a com­pli­cated kind of self-loathing.

I can’t imagine a sentence that could possibly do a better job of describing the local zeitgeist that has been in place since forever, and even in these days where hope has replaced our normal skepticism about the motives of people in the league office, there’s still the clear sense that the NHL is only coming here because of an abject failure elsewhere, and not out of a belief that we were done wrong in the ’90s or that Winnipeg was a first choice market in their eyes. 

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As an aside, it’s also, from my perspective, slightly unseemly to gloat over the failure of that other market, for whatever reasons it might have occured. As I mentioned last week, it’s not always easy to be a fan in the Southern U.S., and if their team is leaving, the people that cheered the Thrashers have every reason to feel as if they were let down in a way. I’ve been there. I get it. It feels like crap.


With that all said, tonight is a night where the people here can begin to hope, in a tangible way, that something that means so much to so many will again grace our city in a meaningful way. Whether there is enough support for a viable franchise to exist in the long term is still an open question, but for the first time in a decade and a half, Winnipeg will have a proper chance to offer its answer.

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  • Quicksilver ballet

    As hockey fans, Winnipeg certainly hasn’t missed much since moving in the mid 90’s. Since the yr the Jets left i think the Oilers have only made the playoffs 4 times in the 15 yrs. During this span, both Edmonton and Calgary have been like kids showing at a fantasy draft, not knowing their only there to pad the pot.

    Believe me, you haven’t missed much since 96.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      Betty promised the Wings that they’d be the next Western team to move to the East, but rumours abound that the Jets/Moose will simply take Atlanta’s spot in the SE div for next season.

      • ubermiguel

        Nashville or Columbus would be naturals to move to the east. I would perfer to see the more competitive Predators in the east.

        They should call them the Manitoba Mosquitos or just the plain old Winnipeg Insects, so we can enjoy crushing them.

  • Bucknuck

    Lived near Winnipeg pretty much my entire life, but will always still cheer for the Oilers first..but will definitely be a very big fan of the Jets..
    They gotta do whatever they gotta do to get that team name back..if they Call them the Moose or Falcons or something like that, tickets wouldnt sell the same..the Hardcore fans would go..but all those casual sports fans that show up only because its their home team, not because they are actually dedicated fans of the sport wont show because the Moose will always just be the Moose to them, plus the connection to Vancouver makes me almost throw up..
    Went to an Oilers VS Vancouver Pre season game here in Winnipeg a few years ago..and believe it or not, Oilers jerseys were outnumbering Canucks almost two to one…

    • Ender

      Nothing is confirmed yet – that’s true. But the Winnipeg mayor went on record as saying that the Jets are coming home. He doesn’t say that unless he knows it’s true.

      The legal beagles are crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, but at this point it’s going to happen. If there was a major hurdle that could derail this deal, they’d have hit it by now and the people that matter wouldn’t be saying what they’re saying.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    I’ve heard a lot of names tossed around. To me, the smart money goes with Manitoba Jets (and a re-designed logo) as the new name. Jets gear has been selling here consistently for the past 15 years.

    The fans are going to wear their Jets jerseys to every game, just like they wear it now to Moose games. It’d be bad PR for the first game back to have 15,003 fans wearing Jets gear if the team is named anything else…

    • Ender

      Sometimes when a team comes home, retaining the old team name can be a saavy way of using old loyalties to create new ties to the fanbase. Witness the CFL attempting to drive ticket sales by introducing their Baltimore expansion team as the Colts in an attempt to draw back the NFL fans that had lost their beloved franchise. It worked, not in small part, because the original NFL Baltimore Colts were in town for 30 years and had some very sucessful periods in that span.

      Sometimes, though, it’s best just to walk away from a name. The Colorado Rockies were only around for 6 years and they were never really all that successful. (Fun fact: Did you know the Rockies were coached by Don Cherry and featured players that included Lanny McDonald and . . . you may have heard of this guy . . . Steve Tambellini.) Because the team never really distinguished itself, owners were only too ready to leave that name buried in the past when hockey came back to Denver and the quick success of the new team made the Avalanche far more popular than the Rockies had ever been.

      I know Winnipeg fans are dang-near rioting in the streets to buy season tickets already. However, with only 5 winning (.500+) seasons in 17 tries as the Jets, perhaps it’s time to let the old name go and build a new team that can become synonymous with something other than futility.

      • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

        I don’t think anyone could know the answer to this problem, but Winnipeg’s loyalty to the Jets franchise is… really impressive. When the Globe story was leaked last night, there was a party with a couple hundred people at Portage and Main. There will be another one when the legit announcement is made.

        Manitoba premier Greg Selinger hinted at it being Tuesday, which is right in line with the Globe article.

        • Captain Ron

          When the official announcement is made there will likely be thousands of people at Portage and Main. They’ll be happy to have something meaningful to watch live as they drink the winter away. I think they have to call them the Winnipeg Jets but I do remember during the “save the Jets campaign” there was a real outcry for them to be renamed the “Manitoba Jets” by many people in the province who likely donated to the cause at the time. For me it will always be the Winnipeg Jets. Its the most recognizable name by a long shot. I was watching the price is right the other morning when they they zoomed in on a guy proudly showing off none other than a Winnipeg Jets jersey. A couple of years ago I attended a Pittsburg / Florida game in Pittsburg and sure enough ther was one guy in the stands proudly wearing his White Jets jersey among all the black Penguins sweaters. My wife and I laughed like hell and then took a picture of the guy to back up the story. Its like Forrest Gump gone wild there everywhere with those damn jerseys, including being seen regularly at Flames games.

      • I think it is closer to the Cleveland Browns situation. The team leaves and everyone is heartbroken. A new team comes back that isn’t the same franchise that left but they bring back the old name and history nonetheless.

        I’d bet they are the Winnipeg Jets again. The new jerseys etc will be close to the old ones but just different enough to induce fans to buy new versions of the old stuff.

        Just my thoughts.

  • Winnipeg will be getting a good young team. Lots of long contracts and future RFA’s. Should be good team for the next 5 years. My money is on the name being the Manitoba Jets because this way you distance yourself from the past a little bit while still keeping the most important part of the tradition. No public funds should be used for this however. If the richest man in Canada cant make money off the team it shouldnt go to Winnipeg in the first place.

  • Bucknuck

    Glad to see the ‘Peg get a team. I always loved to hate them. For some reason I hate seeing the NHL be second best, and there is no way that it will be second best in that town.

    Go Jets… or Moose… or whatever they are gonna call you.