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Opinion

Fans will make Winnipeg a go-to town for NHL players

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILESWinnipeg Jets' Paul Stastny (left), in Game 5 against the Minnesota Wild Friday, waived his no-trade clause to allow his trade from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILESWinnipeg Jets' Paul Stastny (left), in Game 5 against the Minnesota Wild Friday, waived his no-trade clause to allow his trade from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/4/2018 (813 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When you witness the kind of atmosphere and passion for a series-clinching Round 1 victory that we saw last Friday night — as the Winnipeg Jets eliminated the Minnesota Wild in Game 5 — it’s hard not to revisit the absurdity that a number of NHL players would actually choose not to play in this city.

Then again, with the team’s fortunes turned around, this could be the last year we see and hear about this sort of limitation for the 204.

Whether it’s the NFL, CFL or NHL, professional sporting careers do not last. The "Not For Long" football league is infamous for its average career length of 3.5 seasons. (The NFL players association says it is 3.3 years, and the NFL argues it is six years for a drafted rookie who makes his Year 1 roster.) A former president of the CFLPA said the average CFL career is just 3.2 years. ESPN tells us the average career for a NHL player is only five seasons long.

The average player may not have enough time — or leverage — in any of the above leagues to choose where they want to play. Nevertheless, it is common knowledge that when it comes to players with clout, Winnipeg and the Jets franchise are frequently near the top of the no-trade lists cited by NHL athletes to their agents.

Even if the city is as "cold and dark" as suggested — with or without a tongue in cheek from several members of the San Jose Sharks back in January — isn’t the most important thing about a hockey destination supposed to be what we witnessed on Friday night?

A sold-out building and playoff atmosphere, fans resplendent in white, in response to which the players, reportedly inspired by the environment, essentially put their opponents away 31 seconds into the contest? A crowd of approximately 36,000 people outside Bell MTS Place celebrating their first playoff series victory since 1987? A home-ice record during the regular season where they won 32 games and lost only seven? Aren’t these the things that should matter most as a hockey destination?

While it’s true many of these conditions are new for the 2017-18 season, the passion and support for this club has been steady since its 2011 return.

When you do have a choice of where you want to play as an athlete, there are generally three considerations. Obviously, competitive financial remuneration is going to be at the top of that list, followed by an already competitive, or soon-to-be-competing, franchise. If the first two conditions are in place, then you should simply want to be where your occupation matters to people. Where the difference between winning and losing actually means something. 

A good example of how the tide is slowly turning is Paul Stastny waiving his no-trade clause, in order to accept a trade to Winnipeg before the trade deadline.

While festivities outside of an arena of a momentum-building playoff team is nothing new, playing a sport in a city where the game is part of the culture and fabric of the community is as rewarding as it gets.

Since this is only the second time the franchise has made it to the post-season in the Jets 2.0 era, and as we all know, the first time since 1987 they have made it out of the first round, it’s probably naive to expect perception to change overnight. Yet with this team and a sustainable system in place, I expect players who continue to be vocal about not wanting to play in an environment more receptive than most in the NHL will shed more light on their flawed sense of priorities, than what this city can offer as a destination. 

Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

 

Doug Brown

Doug Brown
Columnist

Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

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History

Updated on Monday, April 23, 2018 at 12:19 PM CDT: Edits details of Stastny's move to Winnipeg.

April 25, 2018 at 8:15 AM: Fixes typo

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