“They could have had the Coyotes.”
Since May 2011 when TNSE Chairman Mark Chipman revealed that the city of Winnipeg was “literally 10 minutes away” from being handed the keys to the Arizona Coyotes (aka: The OG Jets), it’s been a thought that’s always haunted the back of my mind and the door to that “what if” question has been opened again thanks to inspiration from Yahoo’s “Puck Daddy” blog.
I am a sucker for a good “what if” story that explores a made up alternative history, which is why I’ve enjoyed Puck Daddy’s “Alternate History Project” – The ones featuring the Penguins, Flames and Hurricanes are all especially entertaining reads.
Drew Mindell from Illegal Curve took care of the Winnipeg Jets alt-history and pondered what life would have been like if Wayne Gretzky had actually been sold to the Winnipeg Jets and not the Edmonton Oilers. It’s a great read you should check out. The Gretzky story might be the greatest “What if..” the city of Winnipeg will ever have.
But… They could have had the Coyotes.
What would have happened if TNSE had gotten them? How different would have things been in Winnipeg? Heck, how different would things be for the entire NHL? The mind (well ok, maybe just my mind only) races…
In case you’re not able to read the WFP article linked, the main takeaway is this quote from Chipman speaking to a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon:
“We literally came within 10 minutes of acquiring (the Coyotes) in May 2010 when the City of Glendale met a 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time deadline to wire the funds necessary to pay for the league’s losses for the (2010-11) season”
So let’s start there..
The City of Glendale does the smart, responsible thing and decides NOT to throw millions of tax payer dollars at the money sinkhole that is the then Phoenix Coyotes. They don’t pay the NHL and the league turns around and awards the sale of the Coyotes to Mark Chipman and True North Sports & Entertainment.
And off we go..
The Summer of 2010
Turns out Winnipeg got a pretty darn good hockey team back from the desert.
The 09-10 Coyotes finished with a 50-25-7 record which was good enough for fourth place in the Western Conference and led to a tough seven game series loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
GM Don Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett did a masterful job of keeping the Coyotes focused on playing hockey while all kinds of uncertainty swirled around them. There is no way TNSE could justify letting two very well respected hockey men go, just to bring in their own personal favorites, so Don and Dave remain in charge in Winnipeg.
Meanwhile, players are reportedly happy to go from a ‘meh’ hockey market such as Glendale to a rabid fan base in Winnipeg… Almost all of them, except one:
Ilya has already made his now infamous comments about living in Winnipeg and even though he has one year left on his deal, he’s already quietly informed management he has zero intention of playing in frigid Winnipeg. This isn’t much of an issue for Maloney however as he quickly finds a trade partner and sends Winnipeg – already celebrating the Jets return – into even more of a frenzy.
In a trade that rocks the NHL Draft in Los Angeles, the Jets trade goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, center Kyle Turris and the 13th overall pick to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for goalie Jonas Hiller and winger Teemu Selanne.
The Jets are coming back home, captain Shane Doan is leading them, and they are bringing The Finnish Flash back with them.
The 2010-11 Season
The new Jets fly in their first season back in Winnipeg.
Led by Teemu, the Jets offense runs roughshod over the NHL west boasting two 30+ goal scorers (Doan and Selanne) as well as four other 20+ goal scorers (Radim Vrbata, Lauri Korpikoski, Lee Stempniak and Martin Hanzal). The defense is anchored by all-star Keith Yandle, while Jonas Hiller posts career numbers behind a solid Dave Tippet coached defense.
The Jets almost match last year’s record in Arizona by posting a 50-27-5 record in 2010-11 and claim the NHL Pacific division. They take on the seventh seeded Nashville Predators in the first round of the 2011 playoffs and survive a brutal series that goes the full seven games, but injuries to Selanne, defenseman Adrian Aucoin and Hanzal leave them open to a quick second round exit at the hands of Bryzgalov and the Ducks.
Meanwhile, Atlanta as an NHL city still has major issues and the Atlanta Spirit Group finds a way to screw over the Atlanta fan base with the NHL doing nothing to help. The Thrashers are sold to a group that moves the team to Kansas City, Missouri.
Sorry Atlanta, it was just never meant to be.
As for the Winnipeg Jets, after two 50 win seasons, why mess with a good thing right?
The Jets do make minor tweaks, one notable move was a trade sending 20-goal-do-everything-forward Lee Stempniak to Calgary for Daymond Langkow and David Moss who both add some depth to the club that the team felt it needed after the previous playoff exit.
The Jets 2011-12 season is even more successful as the previous one as they claim a third straight 50 win season, a second Pacific division regular season crown, go on to defeat the Blackhawks, Predators and Kings en route to the city’s first Stanley Cup appearance of the modern NHL era.
However they run into a roadblock when they play the Kansas City Thrashers in the Cup final.
Kansas City (still playing in the Southeast division much like the Jets remained in the Pacific) at the time of the trade deadline was out of a payoff spot by eight points but they made some big moves picking up forward Antoine Vermette and defenseman Marek Zidlicky. The additions as well much needed clutch goaltending, boosted the Thrashers into a playoff spot where they upset the second seed Bruins THEN the top seeded Rangers before surviving the Penguins in the East final.
Eventual Conn Smythe Winner Ondrej Pavelec wasn’t bothered at all by the Jets offensive attack and posted two shutouts in the 4-1 Cup series win over Winnipeg.
While Kansas City toasted it’s new hockey champions, Jets fans wondered what could have been if they had a guy like “Pavs” in goal for their home team.
Hitting Rock Bottom
The NHL lockout of 2012-13 stopped a lot of momentum that the Jets had.
Teemu Selanne announced his retirement shortly after the Cup final. Adrian Aucoin and Ray Whitney both left via free agency and the team wasn’t able to bring in any notable free agents in return. Martin Hanzal was traded to Columbus and their new GM Kevin Cheveldayoff just before the start of the shortened season for goalie Steve Mason.
The Jets struggled to get anything going and were consistently inconsistent through the 48 game short season.
The following 2013-14 season wasn’t much better as the club narrowly missed the playoffs yet again. The team was moved to and now playing in a stupidly tough Central division with the Blackhawks, Wild, Stars, Predators, Blues and Thrashers (who the NHL moved over from the East) which doesn’t help matters at all.
The Thrashers especially give the Jets fits each time they play, the tone set by Thrashers All-Star forward Dustin Byfuglien who crushes and injures Doan in the first meeting of the new division rivals to open the 2013-14 season.
While the team is mired in sub-par play, Don Maloney seemingly refuses to turn over a roster which only a few years ago was contending for a Cup, but now was aged and known by many cynics in Winnipeg as “The Coyotes Core.”
Sure the club had drafted ok. Jets fans were excited for 2013 first round pick and hometown boy Max Domi, while Dylan Larkin seemed like a steal of a pick in the first round of 2014 not to mention Christian Dvorak in the second round.. But outside of some decent drafts, it felt like Maloney was doing nothing but sitting in a cabin watching seasons go by.
Dave Tippet was fired December 17, 2014. Dallas Eakins – who himself had just been fired from the Oilers a few days earlier – was brought in. The coaching change while lighting a small fire under the team in January, didn’t matter to the season overall.
2014-15 was rock bottom for the Winnipeg Jets as they finished dead last in the Western conference, but the second half of the season was notable for the club as Maloney traded away players like Keith Yandle, Shane Doan and David Moss for picks with an eye to the future and an eye on the 2015 NHL draft lottery where the lower the finish in the standings meant a better chance at a possible future superstar.
The Chosen One
“Jets fans have spent all those years dreaming of Stanley Cup silver, but Connor McDavid gold is almost as nice!”
- The first caller into TSN1290 the night The Jets won the lotto
The pain of the last three seasons Jets fans have carried – of being so close to a Stanley Cup only to see the team waste away in front of them almost to the point where fan apathy over the club started to reign… All of that vanished the moment Bill Daley pulled out that golden draft lottery card to reveal the winners of the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery and in turn, the “Connor McDavid” sweepstakes.
Supported by an amazing quartet of kids in Larkin, Domi, Duclair (who the Jets still got in that Keith Yandle deal) and McDavid at forward, while still having perennial all-star Oliver Ekman-Larsson on defense, the Jets took off to an amazing start, but were derailed by an injury to McDavid (damn you Blake Wheeler for that dangerous hit behind the net!) that deflated the team in early February and knocked them out of playoff contention. The struggles of Steve Mason in goal didn’t help and there was already talk that 2012 draft pick Connor Hellebuyck wasn’t going to be the answer to the Jets woes – at least not yet.
Now the Jets are coming off a great 2016-17 season where a trade deadline acquisition and re-signing of goalie Ben Bishop seems to have shored things up in goal, helped mentor young Hellebuyck and led to some playoff success – a first round series win against the Blackhawks still seemed like a great accomplishment even after the Edmonton Oilers, led by Auston Matthews (yes, the Oilers won another stupid draft lottery) and PK Subban (picked up in a blockbuster trade that sent Taylor Hall to Montreal) dispatched the Jets in five games in the second round.
The future is very bright in Winnipeg…
Would Winnipeg have been better off with the Coyotes instead of the Thrashers? Would TNSE really have held on to Maloney and Tippett? Could Winnipeg gotten McDavid away from the Oilers much like they could have gotten Gretzky? Does any of this matter in the end? Did I spend way too much time thinking up these dream scenarios? Will some of you find holes in my already questionable timeline and logic?
(The answers: Possibly, Probably, Doubtful with Winnipeg’s luck, Not really, Yes waaaay too much time, and Of course you will.)
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