Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Movers' in NHL are 'shakers'

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AVON, Connecticut -- On Sunday, Winnipeg once again had an NHL team in action after a move from Atlanta, and having so moved, it has a good shot at Lord Stanley's Cup, based on history.

As an American who has followed pro hockey since the days of the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association, I always thought it a crime that Winnipeg was out of the NHL when markets like Nashville, Columbus and other questionable hockey cities were in. Hockey belongs in Winnipeg, as it does in Quebec City and in Hamilton.

The new incarnation of the NHL Winnipeg Jets has history on its side. In the last 25 years, NHL franchises that have relocated to another city have won many Stanley Cups.

The first such franchise was the Calgary Flames, who had moved from Atlanta nine years prior to winning the Stanley Cup in 1989. The Kansas City Scouts moved to Denver in 1976 to become the Colorado Rockies, who then became the New Jersey Devils in 1982 and won Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

The Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995 and won the Cup their very first season in Denver, and won a second Cup in 2001. The former Hartford Whalers won the Cup in North Carolina, of all places, in 2006.

The most colourful example of a relocated NHL franchise winning a Stanley Cup is the Dallas Stars in 1999. The Oakland Seals entered the NHL in 1966 in the first NHL expansion and changed their name to the California Golden Seals in 1970.

The Seals moved to Cleveland in 1976 for two unsuccessful seasons. Not wanting the Cleveland Barons to fold, the NHL allowed the owners of the last-place Minnesota North Stars to purchase the Barons and merge the two teams, which instantly made the North Stars viable, as evident by their reaching the Stanley Cup finals three years later.

The North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993, meaning that when the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup in 2001, one half of the old Oakland Seals franchise were winners.

The Winnipeg Jets are beginning with this type of mandate that statistically gives them a good chance of winning a Cup as well.

People have said Winnipeg is lucky to have this privilege, but the truth is that the NHL is lucky to have a franchise again in a city where pro hockey belongs.

Granted, I wish the new Winnipeg Jets had decided to use the original jersey of the WHA/NHL Jets. But then, it is time for a new start.

It should not be forgotten that in the 1970s, when the Winnipeg Jets were tearing up the WHA with Bobby Hull, Ulf Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Teddy Green, Lars-Erik Sjoberg and so many others, there were only 16, and later 18, teams in the NHL. I would have put that Jets team of the WHA among the top six of the NHL at the time.

The WHA Jets were groundbreaking in starting the active recruitment of top talent from Sweden, a practice that soon permeated the NHL. We must not forget, however, the immediate success of the WHA Jets, both on the ice and in terms of attendance, sent a clear signal to the NHL that Western Canada was fertile territory for NHL expansion.

And let's not forget that in a 22-year period, Winnipeg was host to franchises in the WHA, NHL, IHL and AHL. Furthermore, hockey players were earning slave wages compared to other athletes of the day when Bobby Hull signed his $3.5-million, 10-year contract with the Jets in 1972. Hull's contract resulted in an overdue bump in salary for all pro hockey players.

A new generation of Winnipeg-area residents will be able to see the NHL in action, though unfortunately we live in the different era in terms of ticket pricing. Needless to say, league ticket prices in the WHA were most reasonable for such entertaining hockey.

Even in the first few seasons after the Whalers entered the NHL, my teenage friends and I could buy our own tickets with our savings, as they were still very affordable. Too bad that now people joke about having to take out a second mortgage to be able to buy NHL tickets.

The return of the NHL to Winnipeg can't be all sugar-coated!

I recall when the Ottawa Senators entered the NHL in 1993 as a totally new franchise. The new team proudly displayed the banners for the 11 Stanley Cups won by the first Ottawa Senators team that disbanded in 1934. This year's sale of the Atlanta Thrashers that has resulted in the new incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets gives the new Winnipeg franchise the same opportunity to hang the banners from the glory days of the WHA Winnipeg Jets. By holding on to the heritage of the two Jets teams that came before them in Winnipeg, of both the WHA and the NHL, the new Jets will only further prove to the world that Winnipeg is a hockey city that should never be without an NHL franchise.

Holding on to the past is really only a more compelling and positive strategy for a new beginning. The Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association should not be forgotten by Manitoba residents, nor by the hockey world at large, for their superior play and professionalism that quietly shaped not only the rest of the WHA, but also the NHL. Fans of the new Winnipeg Jets franchise should be fully aware of this mandate.

John Horan is a public relations consultant at Cranbrook Strategies, LLC, in Avon, Connecticut.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 10, 2011 A13

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