Randy CARLYLE was the face of hockey in Manitoba for close to 20 years but he knows he's about to have a new role when next he slips into town on a business trip.
"I guess I'll be the enemy. Yeah, I'm the enemy now," chortled Carlyle from his summer home just outside of Sudbury, Ont. "I'm excited to come into the building for the first time and I'm happy for the people of Manitoba, but at the same time I'll have a job to do. I think the NHL belongs in Winnipeg and I'm glad they've got their team back."
Carlyle came to the Winnipeg Jets as a player. When Mark Chipman brought the Moose to Winnipeg he was an assistant coach, but quickly moved on to hold the head coach and GM titles and even spent a year as team president.
If anyone knows the inner workings of True North and the personalities of Chipman and his hockey man, Craig Heisinger, it's Carlyle.
"It's been a long process and they've taken a long look at this and they've developed a plan," he said. "They've done all their homework and due diligence and they've made an educated assessment. The feedback they've got from the people of Manitoba allowed them to move forward. It took five-plus years to get here and this is the end result."
Carlyle also knows the people of Manitoba and he's both happy for them and confident in their will to make this work.
"It's great for the community and I think it gives them the respect they deserve in the hockey world and nationally in Canada," said Carlyle, coach of the Anaheim Ducks and a Stanley Cup winner in 2007. "Winnipeg has taken a lot of negative press over the years for various reasons but if you've lived there and experienced what the people are all about and how hard they work and how committed they are to their communities and the province of Manitoba, you get an appreciation for them. One thing I've always said about Manitobans, 'Just don't tell them they can't.' "
Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault stood behind the Moose bench for one season before moving to the West Coast and he took time out from fielding questions about his club's pursuit of the Stanley Cup to discuss his old bosses.
"I think Winnipeg is going to do great. Working with Mark and Craig for a whole season, seeing how professional they are, running an American League franchise in an NHL fashion. The way they treated their players, the way they treated the staff," said Vigneault.
"I know Mark is a very persistent individual. He had been working a long time to bring NHL back to Winnipeg.
" I think the fans there are real passionate, love their hockey. There's no doubt in my mind that it's going to work."
Carlyle says he doesn't care what the team is called.
"I don't really have an opinion one way or another. I can understand why people would be passionate about the Jets. But I can see on the other hand, that's an era that's gone by. This is a new era of hockey in Manitoba and I can see lots of reasons for it to have another name."
Heisinger was an equipment man with the Jets while Carlyle was a player and the careers of the two men are intertwined.
"I was the guy that converted him from an equipment guy to a hockey management guy because I just felt his skills were being... not wasted that's not the correct term. But the one thing about Zinger is if you gave him an assignment he always found a way to get it done. It wasn't about excuses," said Carlyle. "There's no such thing as an excuse for him. He still maintains that same level of commitment and competitiveness and work ethic."
A Norris Trophy-winning defenceman with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carlyle was coveted by then-Jets GM John Ferguson and after he came to Winnipeg in a trade the two began a friendship that far exceeded the boundaries of hockey.
"He'd be excited and real happy for the people of Manitoba," said Carlyle of Ferguson, who died in 2007. "I'm sure he's upstairs looking down over this taking that big cigar out of his mouth and with a smile on his face going, "Ha, ha, ha. They're back."