Teemu Selanne is back in Winnipeg tonight to say a proper good-bye to Winnipeg fans who once again have an NHL team of their own.
Selanne's abrupt trade on Feb. 7, 1996 still rankles him. It was a trade that then-Jets-GM John Paddock said in the end might have been a mistake, but as sad as it was, one that was pretty much unavoidable.
That's because the team's new owners and their then-hockey-adviser-turned-failed-GM Bobby Smith couldn't afford an expensive team in Phoenix, either.
"It wasn't a very good time, not a fun thing," said Paddock, now the Philadelphia Flyers' assistant GM. "It was somewhat worded to me that we couldn't have three $3-million forwards on the team.
"That's how times have and haven't changed. It was a financial decision; we had to change the money around and it still happens today."
Paddock agreed that the deal never turned out well for the Jets/Phoenix Coyotes.
"The players (we got) never developed," said Paddock, who was cut adrift by the franchise in 1997. "It (the trade) was something that had to happen, in some ways a mistake... but sometimes you have to do things.
"There are a lot of ifs and buts and would'ves, but overall how would you have kept all those players in Phoenix? If he had never left, others would have down the road, but I had nothing to do with that.
"The team would have changed anyway, but in a perfect world, would you trade him? Of course not."
Before the mess of 1996, Paddock had a front-row seat for Selanne's quick rise to stardom in Winnipeg.
"I sure remember his first goal in San Jose and thinking his fairly decent start was clearly going to mark him fairly quickly," Paddock said. "But if you remember, we had bigger fish to fry to start that season. We had some new players, like Keith (Tkachuk) and Alex (Zhamnov) but we were 4-11 out of the gate, very bad, and he was the only glimmer early."
Paddock said that the team's top defenceman, Phil Housley, was a perfect fit for Selanne. Both were fast and skilled.
"Teemu had chemistry with Phil and that kept building until he broke Mike Bossy's record," Paddock said. "Teemu was just such an electrifying guy, an electrifying player and an electrifying personality. Winnipeg hadn't been accustomed to that, even with Dale (Hawerchuk) for a long time, I don't imagine."
Paddock has been a devoted Selanne fan for a long time.
"Look at his longevity," Paddock said. "You have to be surprised at that for a player his age, over 40, and the level he played at to have 80 points last year.
"What an accomplishment that was."