A Sour Grape Whines about the Jets Return to Winnipeg

WINNIPEG, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 20: Players of the Winnipeg Jets thank their fans after defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-1 at the MTS Centre on September 20, 2011 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

There is always "that guy" at the party. The one who will throw out comments for the sake of controversy, perhaps thinking he is funny, perhaps half serious, who knows? A part of me doesn't want to link his article because 9 times out of 10 it is best to just ignore these.

Ryan Lambert is a blogger in the hockey world. He achieves one of the most sought after goals of most bloggers. He pushes frequent regular content. It is easier said than done, trust me. Now the quality of his frequent content is debatable. He loves the negative and tends to take the hyper-critical angle but he is humorous sometimes. I'll give him that.  

I liked the headline "Jets Can't Whiteout Thrasher's Past," it is catchy. But that was the only thing I liked about the article. For sake of argument though, lets take him seriously. He raises four main critiques.

  • The Jets should pay more homage to the Atlanta Thrashers like the Calgary Flames did with the Atlanta Flames
  • He is upset that True North cleaned house on the entire hockey operations and coaching staff of the Thrashers.
  • He calls the media in Winnipeg, specifically the Winnipeg Free Press, TSN and the Associated Press "disgusting in the way it has fawned over the city's freshly acquired team" the WFP in particular is "fraught with sappy sentimentality." 
  • Just for good measure he adds that the whole debate on Bobby Hull's number was bizarre and that there is no link to the Jets (1979) as "[TNSE] pounced on the first available team and tried to pass it off as being in some way related to one a handful of people loved a decade and a half ago." Excuse me? A handful of people loved the Jets (1979)? 

Does he raise legitimate points or is the refutation going to be like shooting fish in a barrel?

(1) The Winnipeg Jets should have paid homage to the Thrashers like the Calgary Flames did.

Why?

Lambert is likely part of the Bettman generation of hockey fans that has had very little exposure to NHL relocations in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

The fact is Calgary is the exception, not the rule for the NHL.

In hockey, relocated teams have always changed their names. In the 15 NHL relocations since inception only the Flames kept their name in transit to a new city. One can argue that the North Stars move to Dallas is close enough to count as well, but it is different. Texas is the Lone Star State and the name Stars is a good candidate even without the North Stars origin. In Calgary, the name Flames, has no local root explanation, aside from a gas flare or something like that maybe. 

There is a reason why Calgary kept the Atlanta name. I can speak with some authority on this topic because I was a kid in Calgary at the time and recall the debate for a new name. From the moment it was announced the Flames were coming to Calgary the name debate started. Cowboys, Spurs, Broncos, Cows, etc without exception, all the new names were "western" themed.

I'll let you in on a little secret. People who are born and raised in Calgary are for the most part tired of the whole western cowboy stereotype. People who move to Calgary like it, they enjoy Stampede week. The night life on that week of cowboy dress-up. Yelling Yahooooo drunkenly into the night, pour me another whiskey bartender, lets saddle up and Dosey Doe and get me some of those boots and a Cowboy hat.

But for those of us who are born and raised in Calgary, I assure you, it is all "Been there, done that, bought the shirt a dozen times and know I have to go there again next year."

The idea of naming the team with some kind of Western slant was not resonating with long-time Calgarians in 1980. 

When the idea to just keep the Flames name came up, it resonated mainly because it was the perfect foil to the Oilers. It really didn't have anything to do with keeping a legacy from Atlanta at the time. 

(2) Cleaning house on all the Thrashers staff

What's wrong with doing this?

The Thrashers have not been a successful team. Tell me why a poor hockey operations team should be rewarded with an extension by new owners? 

Cleaning house on a team that has been adrift for years seems like a very natural and obvious thing to do. Atlanta from its ownership, to its hockey operations did not do a very good job, why on earth would True North want to keep them on the payroll? 

A fresh start on a team that is clearly in rebuild mode seems to be the right thing to do. There is no issue here. Rebuild properly with a systematic plan and with a completely new vision. 

(3) The media is fraught with "sappy sentimentality, especially the Winnipeg Free Press"

Now on this point Lambert may have some traction. Bloggers can be biased but the paid media isn't supposed to be. Has the media gone overboard on celebrating the Jets return?

Maybe a little but they are covering a story that reflects that in reality.

The return of the Jets has triggered an overwhelming response. It has taken aback many outside of Winnipeg. The brief 17 minutes it took to sell all season tickets (expensive tickets too by the way) and put 8,000 more people on the waiting list is breathtaking. Thousands of people cheering a rookie practice, these are amazing stories of unprecedented fan enthusiasm. 

Former Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut talks now about getting NHL hockey back in Quebec City by 2013 and suggests the team would play in the 61 year old Pepsi Colisee until the new arena is built. (Ottawa Sun) I think that is unlikely but it should be clear to most now that many outside of Winnipeg have been surprised by the strong response and see how there is gold in those hockey rinks north of the border. 

So covering the return of the Jets positively because of the overwhelming positive response of the people of Winnipeg to their return is not sappy sentimentality. It is informative to millions outside of Winnipeg who simply did not understand what was here for support.

As far as the Winnipeg Free Press being a cheerleader instead of a reporter. I'm not sure they are not just reflecting the reality of what is happening in Winnipeg. No one is moping around and being critical except for distant writers like Lambert.

The WFP will have plenty of time to write critical articles once the team hits the ice. No one in Winnipeg is under any illusions of this team winning the Cup next year. Everyone is well aware that there is some serious work to be done before the playoffs are on the horizon.

(4) Finally, why are the Jets 2.0 connected to the Jets 1.0 aka (the Phoenix Coyotes)

I addressed this issue of historical legacy in one of my earlier articles. Without repeating myself completely the root of the issue is how you define a hockey team. 

Is a hockey team nothing more than the collection of players, sticks, pucks, stats records and so forth that got thrown into a U-haul and driven up to Winnipeg from Atlanta? Mr. Lambert seems to take this position.

Or

Is a hockey team more than that?

Is it a little more abstract. Is part of a hockey team the memories that team leaves with you. Is it the experience of being dressed in white and cheering. Do you see the team as a important symbol of your city that was lost, as if someone came in the night and whisked the Golden Boy off the top of the Manitoba Legislature. How do you describe what is happening when a young boy sits wide-eyed as his father tells him the story of the night Teemu Selanne broke Mike Bossy's rookie record or the times the Jets beat the Flames in the playoffs.

The old history of the Jets is relevant to fans in Winnipeg because they were a part of it, in a way it is theirs. Those people living today and even those who were not born yet or were too young to remember have had the Jets stories and memories passed from one generation to another. The Jets of today are the heirs to that legacy.

All that left Winnipeg was the sticks, the pucks, Shane Doan and a couple of rolls of hockey tape. That is all that went to Phoenix. The hundreds of thousands of hockey fans never went, they stayed. In their minds the memories of the Jets never dimmed, the love of the team never wavered, the old jerseys faded after a thousand washes but were held tightly, the grip on them never lessened an iota.

You see Mr. Lambert, in a sense the most important part of the Jets never really left Winnipeg. 

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