The old adage states, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well, neither was the ‘Peg. The Winnipeg Jets have been building their empire in the WHA since 1972 and later joined the NHL in 1979. The foundation of the team has always been grounded in their belief in tough hockey, never being afraid to take a risk and, most importantly, there being no better night out than a ‘Whiteout’ night out. We all know that before anything of real value can truly flourish, time must be taken to cultivate it to grow. While the Jets’ exodus from town was certainly a blemish on the empire’s reputation, it should not diminish the moves the team has made to better the franchise and the city as a whole. The Jets didn’t waste any time to start wheelin’ and dealin’ and neither should we. So without further adieu, here are the trades that altered the Jets’ DNA.
OUT: Jamie Hislop and Barry Legge → Quebec Nordiques
IN: Barry Melrose → Winnipeg Jets
John “Bowie” Ferguson was at the Jets’ helm as they embarked on their journey from the WHA and into the NHL and Bowie wasted no time trying to improve the team. The entry draft took place on June 13, 1979. Winnipeg made their first trade on June 28, 1979 and acquired defenceman Barry Melrose in exchange for Jamie Hislop and the lanky hometown defenceman Barry Legge. On the surface, this trade was minimal as Melrose would go on to play only two seasons with the Jets, but this trade allowed Ferguson to imprint himself on the NHL. Ferguson would go on to make major trades that would land him both cornerstone pieces and future hall-of-famers. These trades were facilitated by the earlier work of Ferguson who – aside from his short temper – was by all accounts in good standing with other NHL managers. While his first trade may not have been the best trade, it showed a willingness to make moves for other managers and the fanbase. The Jets meant business and fans wanted one thing from their team managers: eagerness to improve and making a trade 15 days after your franchise has entered a new league is the epitome of eagerness. With the WHA in their past and NHL in their future, bringing in Barry Melrose was the right way to start this new journey.
Although his statline was far from impressive, Melrose has and always will be the first NHL trade acquisition for the Winnipeg Jets. Still adjusting to their jump to the NHL and a heavily stacked Smythe Division, Melrose’s two seasons playing for the Jets went 20-49-11 and then 9-57-14, a franchise worst. Melrose would only play one full season with the Jets and didn’t make a true mark in the NHL until he coached the 1993 Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup Final. Although the majority of NHL fans know Melrose from his work as a TV-pundit, Jets’ fans know him as the first trade their NHL team ever made. While Melrose was not on the team for the Jets’ first playoff appearance in the 1981-82 season, his acquisition two years prior significantly contributed to their future success.