Almost Home

Robert Cleave
May 19 2011 10:21PM

            

As a Winnipegger, I've spent the last couple of years watching the NHL's endless machinations to keep a team in Phoenix with considerable amusement and maybe just a touch of anger. For all the talk of arenas and owners, or lack thereof, I'd be lying if I said that I ever felt as if my Arctic outpost got the same level of league attention when things were going to hell in '94 and '95.

So tonight, as the first bits of news have begun trickling in that my hometown really was on the verge of getting a second bite at the cherry, I'm struck by how unsettled I'm feeling about the whole enterprise.

By 1996, like so many Jets' fans, I was completely fed up with the NHL, and yet even then, the economic conditions that had sent the Nordiques away and threatened the Oilers and Flames were hard to ignore if one chose to be honest about the situation.

TOUGH TIMES

The Canadian dollar was headed for a lengthy swoon, and anyone foolhardy enough to own a team in a marginal market like Winnipeg was going to need deep pockets and extra revenue streams from a modern facility to cope. Even then, any team in that economic environment was still certain to be a very questionable proposition.

The owner and building didn't happen, obviously, and away they went, headed to their desert oasis so that they might continue a long history of never being very good. My fandom, like most people's, was rooted in local bonds built during childhood that carried on into my adult years. As a result, after the team moved the Coyotes became just another team from a place I didn't give a rat's ass about, no different from St. Louis or L.A. or PIttsburgh.

My indifference was mostly real, with only a slight bit of covering for the disappointment, and that attitude appeared to be shared by most of my fellow Manitobans. The Coyotes didn't exactly carry many fans with them from here, and obviously I'm in that number that chose to gravitate elsewhere.

Even as the league's center of financial power began to shift north after the lockout, there was still that nagging sense that the NHL's move to conquer the Sunbelt was too precious a project to be allowed to simply fail without a monumental effort in every shaky market to prop things up. We've certainly seen that in Phoenix, and a cynic, or a realist, take your pick, might have thought that it would happen again elsewhere.

As a result, the default position for most people was that the league brass would rather die in a fire than retrace their steps to Winnipeg. Time has never really healed the wound here, and if anyone doubted that, the reaction by the locals during these last two years of speculation that a team might well be viable again in our mosquito-ridden hellhole should have tipped everyone off. Bruce Arthur touched on this the other day, showing a decent understanding of this insular spot for an auslander.

This really has been a community struggling very hard to rein in its hope so as not to be crushed if things went badly, and as the events of the last few days have sent this affair near the finish line, I was reminded of an article from the past that had nothing at all to do with hockey and absolutely everything to do with here.

Paul Tough passed through these parts nearly a decade ago to interview John K. Samson of the Weakerthans, and ended up writing more than a few hard truths about Winnipeg and its citizens. I was always particularly struck by this bit:

At the same time, there is a small-town resent­ment that often gets expressed as a com­pli­cated kind of self-loathing.

I can't imagine a sentence that could possibly do a better job of describing the local zeitgeist that has been in place since forever, and even in these days where hope has replaced our normal skepticism about the motives of people in the league office, there's still the clear sense that the NHL is only coming here because of an abject failure elsewhere, and not out of a belief that we were done wrong in the '90s or that Winnipeg was a first choice market in their eyes. 

As an aside, it's also, from my perspective, slightly unseemly to gloat over the failure of that other market, for whatever reasons it might have occured. As I mentioned last week, it's not always easy to be a fan in the Southern U.S., and if their team is leaving, the people that cheered the Thrashers have every reason to feel as if they were let down in a way. I've been there. I get it. It feels like crap.

A NEW HOPE

With that all said, tonight is a night where the people here can begin to hope, in a tangible way, that something that means so much to so many will again grace our city in a meaningful way. Whether there is enough support for a viable franchise to exist in the long term is still an open question, but for the first time in a decade and a half, Winnipeg will have a proper chance to offer its answer.

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Robert Cleave is a perpetually grumpy Winnipegger.
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#51 newb
May 20 2011, 03:13PM
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Winnipeg will be getting a good young team. Lots of long contracts and future RFA's. Should be good team for the next 5 years. My money is on the name being the Manitoba Jets because this way you distance yourself from the past a little bit while still keeping the most important part of the tradition. No public funds should be used for this however. If the richest man in Canada cant make money off the team it shouldnt go to Winnipeg in the first place.

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#52 Mantastic
May 20 2011, 03:18PM
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MOAR PEOPLE TO HATE THE CANUCKS!!!!!

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#53 Ender
May 20 2011, 03:18PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

I've heard a lot of names tossed around. To me, the smart money goes with Manitoba Jets (and a re-designed logo) as the new name. Jets gear has been selling here consistently for the past 15 years.

The fans are going to wear their Jets jerseys to every game, just like they wear it now to Moose games. It'd be bad PR for the first game back to have 15,003 fans wearing Jets gear if the team is named anything else...

Sometimes when a team comes home, retaining the old team name can be a saavy way of using old loyalties to create new ties to the fanbase. Witness the CFL attempting to drive ticket sales by introducing their Baltimore expansion team as the Colts in an attempt to draw back the NFL fans that had lost their beloved franchise. It worked, not in small part, because the original NFL Baltimore Colts were in town for 30 years and had some very sucessful periods in that span.

Sometimes, though, it's best just to walk away from a name. The Colorado Rockies were only around for 6 years and they were never really all that successful. (Fun fact: Did you know the Rockies were coached by Don Cherry and featured players that included Lanny McDonald and . . . you may have heard of this guy . . . Steve Tambellini.) Because the team never really distinguished itself, owners were only too ready to leave that name buried in the past when hockey came back to Denver and the quick success of the new team made the Avalanche far more popular than the Rockies had ever been.

I know Winnipeg fans are dang-near rioting in the streets to buy season tickets already. However, with only 5 winning (.500+) seasons in 17 tries as the Jets, perhaps it's time to let the old name go and build a new team that can become synonymous with something other than futility.

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#54 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
May 20 2011, 03:33PM
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Ender wrote:

Sometimes when a team comes home, retaining the old team name can be a saavy way of using old loyalties to create new ties to the fanbase. Witness the CFL attempting to drive ticket sales by introducing their Baltimore expansion team as the Colts in an attempt to draw back the NFL fans that had lost their beloved franchise. It worked, not in small part, because the original NFL Baltimore Colts were in town for 30 years and had some very sucessful periods in that span.

Sometimes, though, it's best just to walk away from a name. The Colorado Rockies were only around for 6 years and they were never really all that successful. (Fun fact: Did you know the Rockies were coached by Don Cherry and featured players that included Lanny McDonald and . . . you may have heard of this guy . . . Steve Tambellini.) Because the team never really distinguished itself, owners were only too ready to leave that name buried in the past when hockey came back to Denver and the quick success of the new team made the Avalanche far more popular than the Rockies had ever been.

I know Winnipeg fans are dang-near rioting in the streets to buy season tickets already. However, with only 5 winning (.500+) seasons in 17 tries as the Jets, perhaps it's time to let the old name go and build a new team that can become synonymous with something other than futility.

I don't think anyone could know the answer to this problem, but Winnipeg's loyalty to the Jets franchise is... really impressive. When the Globe story was leaked last night, there was a party with a couple hundred people at Portage and Main. There will be another one when the legit announcement is made.

Manitoba premier Greg Selinger hinted at it being Tuesday, which is right in line with the Globe article.

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#55 Bucknuck
May 20 2011, 04:34PM
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Glad to see the 'Peg get a team. I always loved to hate them. For some reason I hate seeing the NHL be second best, and there is no way that it will be second best in that town.

Go Jets... or Moose... or whatever they are gonna call you.

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#56 magisterrex
May 20 2011, 06:05PM
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Not using the Jets name would be an advertising criminal act.

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#57 Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"
May 20 2011, 07:02PM
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magisterrex wrote:

Not using the Jets name would be an advertising criminal act.

True but Phoenix owns the name. Sad but true. Maybe the entire ownership group of Phoenix will get raptured tomorrow! Oh Shoot Harold Camping is a liar. http://www.cnbc.com/id/43054329 oh well It would have been a good way for the Jets to come home.

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#58 Captain Ron
May 20 2011, 07:03PM
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DieselDave wrote:

Is that a picture of Winnipeg? I didn't know they had tall buildings.

They don't Dave. The land is so flat it just looks that way with the shimmer of flood water in the background.

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#59 Captain Ron
May 20 2011, 07:21PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

I don't think anyone could know the answer to this problem, but Winnipeg's loyalty to the Jets franchise is... really impressive. When the Globe story was leaked last night, there was a party with a couple hundred people at Portage and Main. There will be another one when the legit announcement is made.

Manitoba premier Greg Selinger hinted at it being Tuesday, which is right in line with the Globe article.

When the official announcement is made there will likely be thousands of people at Portage and Main. They'll be happy to have something meaningful to watch live as they drink the winter away. I think they have to call them the Winnipeg Jets but I do remember during the "save the Jets campaign" there was a real outcry for them to be renamed the "Manitoba Jets" by many people in the province who likely donated to the cause at the time. For me it will always be the Winnipeg Jets. Its the most recognizable name by a long shot. I was watching the price is right the other morning when they they zoomed in on a guy proudly showing off none other than a Winnipeg Jets jersey. A couple of years ago I attended a Pittsburg / Florida game in Pittsburg and sure enough ther was one guy in the stands proudly wearing his White Jets jersey among all the black Penguins sweaters. My wife and I laughed like hell and then took a picture of the guy to back up the story. Its like Forrest Gump gone wild there everywhere with those damn jerseys, including being seen regularly at Flames games.

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#61 rubbertrout
May 20 2011, 09:56PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

I don't quite know where this sentiment is coming from. I've lived in Edmonton and I live in Winnipeg right now. Winnipeg's summers are actually a little nicer than Edmonton's, and the winters are probably about the same. The travel schedule will be a little easier for a team in Winnipeg, especially once the new airport terminal opens in 2012. I would imagine Winnipeg and Edmonton will be nearly identical in terms of where players want to play.

Edit: The nightlife is better in Edmonton, but the restaurant scene in Winnipeg is outstanding (except that you can't get a donair here, ever). Roads are better in Edmonton, but there's the whole cabin/cottage scene in Manitoba with all the lakes.

More travel (even with a new and improved airport). Edmonton is already the worst for that.

Cabin/cottage stuff is for the summer season. Most players go home for those seasons.

Taxes are way better in Alberta.

Basically a smaller and seedier version of Edmonton. Right now the peg has a better facility but if the tea leaves I'm reading are right RX2 will be state of the art.

Advantage Edmonton.

Both will be towards the bottom and always will. I think that Edmonton has the edge though.

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#62 rubbertrout
May 20 2011, 10:01PM
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@Ender

I think it is closer to the Cleveland Browns situation. The team leaves and everyone is heartbroken. A new team comes back that isn't the same franchise that left but they bring back the old name and history nonetheless.

I'd bet they are the Winnipeg Jets again. The new jerseys etc will be close to the old ones but just different enough to induce fans to buy new versions of the old stuff.

Just my thoughts.

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#63 Dog Train
May 20 2011, 11:08PM
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Travel is going to suck for the new Jets if they have to play in the Southeast for at least a season like expected.

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#64 Todd
May 21 2011, 12:10AM
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The Manitoba Flood will be yet another team to beat on the Flames. YAY!

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