The return of the NHL to Winnipeg has cast an interesting light on the question of who owns history. In corporate terms, the very name Winnipeg Jets and all its history belong to the owners of the Phoenix Coyotes, which is controlled at the moment by the National Hockey League.
That's why True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd. needed the league's permission to use the name Jets, which was easily given since it didn't create an obvious business conflict for the team in Phoenix. The Coyotes, however, continue to own the old Winnipeg Jets records, which are part of the southern team's facts and records book.
Similarly, the new Jets in Winnipeg will own the scoring records of the Atlanta Thrashers, which will form the basis for all Jets statistics and history.
But what about Bobby Hull and Dale Hawerchuk? Who do they belong to?
Well, the Coyotes have retired Hawerchuk's No. 10 in recognition of his play for the team, but they also retired No. 9 in honour of Bobby Hull, whose history they claim, even if he never played in the desert. Chicago also has a stake in Mr. Hull, whose bronze likeness was erected outside the Blackhawks' arena earlier this year. He will always be part of Chicago's history.
Likewise, Hull, Hawerchuk and other greats from Winnipeg's past (including Thomas Steen, whose No. 25 is considered retired by the Coyotes), will continue to be part of this city's hockey heritage, regardless of who legally owns the records.
But if No. 9 is retired in Phoenix and Winnipeg, does it make sense to resurrect it here again? Thrasher-turned-Jet Evander Kane is No. 9 now and he would like to wear it in Winnipeg. True North's policy is to honour former players, but it will not revive the practice of retiring jerseys.
Mr. Kane has shown a lot of class in seeking Mr. Hull's permission, which will undoubtedly be awarded. The best way to honour the Golden Jet, after all, is to once again see No. 9 on the back of a great hockey player. It wouldn't diminish Mr. Hull, but it might start a new tradition of outstanding No. 9s.
Bobby Hull will always have a special relationship with Winnipeg, but ultimately his achievements belong to hockey fans everywhere.