Why Winnipeg Jets Fans Won't Let Go

Matt Eichel@@mattyalloutSenior Writer IJanuary 22, 2009

The Winnipeg Jets left Winnipeg over 10 years ago and yes—it is sad.

But being a Winnipeger, there is one thing that can drive someone crazy and still invoke such a passion for a team that has been gone for so long. It's called passion.

It's a sometimes foolhardy passion that most fans don't understand or care to even understand. I've listened to past and present hardcore Jets fans and all they care about is that their voice is heard about how the Jets will be back.

Then there are the other Jets fans who have moved on. They know the Jets are done, finished, never to return from the desert of Arizona.

And even as the Coyotes are now losing more money than the Jets ever were, the debate is re-opened anew. Always with that so tantalizingly open question: "Will the Jets be back?"

First and foremost, I grew up as a Winnipeg Jets fan. And why wouldn't I have? I grew up four hours east of the nearest NHL franchise. I grew up watching the likes of the young Keith Tkachuk, Teemu Selanne, Nikolai Khabibulin, Teppo Numinen, Shane Doan, and Alexei Zhamnov.

The Jets colours were the pride of the windy city of Winnipeg. It was Winnipeg's mark on the world—we had the Jets and the Jets were ours forever. Until Barry Shenkarow decided he didn't want the team in Winnipeg anymore.

Then our hearts were broken, smashed, and tattered on the intersection of Portage and Main as fans fought and rallied to "Save Our Jets."

The irony is, as the final season of Jets hockey came in 1995-'96, we didn't realize how hard we had been cheering all those years of "Go Jets Go."

And go they did.

Now it's been 13 seasons without an NHL franchise in Winnipeg. A lot has changed since then. The old barn where the Jets played and won Avco Cups in the WHA is nowhere to be seen driving down St. James Street.

A small, supposedly NHL size arena is tightly and neatly packed into the downtown core on Portage Avenue.

And yet, there's still a glimmer of hope in every Winnipeger's eye that someday they won't have to go to the MTS Centre to watch the NHL's future stars, but to go there and watch the NHL's current stars.

But moving from the Winnipeg Arena, which housed 15,565 for Jets games to the MTS Centre, which houses even less at 15,015, who even believes that an NHL team can come back to Winnipeg when the Jets couldn't even stay in a slightly larger arena.

In his series on "The History of the NHL Expansion to Canada", BR reporter Steve Thompson highlighted many reasons why many Canadian markets could or could not support teams. In his articles, he referenced that Winnipeg's arena is still too small.

Why would the NHL think of expanding or relocating a team to Winnipeg, when the brand new MTS Centre only houses 15,015? That is over 1,000 seats less than the smallest NHL arena—the New York Islander's Nassau Veterans Memorial Arena at a capacity of 16,234.

With other cities with larger facilities such as Hamilton's Copps Coliseum, which can house 17,383 for the AHL's Bulldogs and Kansas City's Sprint Center, which houses 18,500, why would the NHL consider going to a small market city with an arena too small for the NHL?

Other considerations must be presented, too. How will a team in a small market such as Winnipeg fare when the NHL salary cap becomes too great? What if they don't sell enough tickets even if they did get a larger arena?

The thought of having the Jets back is a novel and great idea. Granted, I would be the first caller into the box office to buy season tickets. Yet, it is time to let go of what is past and let it be past.

With building the MTS Centre, there was not enough planning towards an NHL franchise, no matter how much the media or the city of Winnipeg said they put plans towards drawing another NHL franchise.

The only way Winnipeg can ever successfully even start to bid on an NHL franchise in the future is if they expand the existing MTS Centre, which is unlikely since it is already packed into the downtown core, or build a newer, larger arena.

With talks of possibly building a new football stadium for the Canadian Football League Winnipeg Blue Bombers, backed by private Winnipeg investors, the likelihood of any NHL presence in Manitoba will be zero.

As well, future implications of a franchise in Winnipeg have to be thought of too.  Sure, maybe an NHL team could survive in a five-year time frame.  But what happens after ten years or twenty years?  The Jets only lasted from 1972-1996, not even twenty-five years.

It's sad to think that we are possibly so close and yet so far from that.

For those who want the Jets back, it must be even harder.

Yet every time the situation of the NHL and Winnipeg come up, there is always those on both sides of the fence.  Those wanting the NHL and the Jets and always being stubborn and unrelenting in their reasons that Winnipeg is well-suited presently for an NHL franchise.

Then there are the people who know that the Jets were nice to have around for a while.  It was fun -- a good run while it lasted.

But didn't we, as Jets fans, yell "Go Jets Go"?


Matt Eichel is the Community Leader for the Montreal Canadiens here on Bleacher Report.  Matt also co-hosts Habs All Out Radio, a in-depth talk radio show devoted to all things Montreal Canadiens.  It airs weekly at www.youcastr.com/shows/habs-all-out and is hosted by Matt and Miah D.


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