Asking Winnipeg Jets fans who’s their favourite player of All-Time is like asking a parent who their favourite child is. Combine that with the fact that top-10 lists are extremely subjective and to avoid this awkward conundrum, I present the Top Winnipeg Jets of every generation.
The 80s –
The 80s gave the world MTV, Mcdonald’s Chicken McNuggets and – for NHL fans – goals, goals and more goals. In hockey terms, the 80s were arguably the most competitive, exciting and fun decade in NHL history. The decade offered the perfect blend of increased goal scoring, young talent and, for Jets fans, a plethora of high-flying talent. These are the greatest Jets of the 80s –
Dale Hawerchuck –
If it wants to be called “Ducky,” it better look like a duck, swim like a duck, quack like a duck, and have scored over 500 NHL goals. Hawerchuk’s clever nickname comes from some locker room banter about his stride being duck-like in the Juniors. In hindsight, I bet a lot of his ex-teammates wish they would’ve adopted this stride because Hawerchuk created a Winnipeg legacy that is virtually unmatched. Hawerchuk spent nearly 10 years in Winnipeg after the Jets selected the Toronto native #1 overall in the 1981 draft. In his rookie season, Hawerchuk became the youngest player in NHL history to reach the 100-point plateau – a record that stood until 2006 when Sydney Crosby burst onto the scene. If fans were not able to witness Hawerchuk’s greatness firsthand, this should put his talent in perspective: in the mid-80s, General Managers were asked which player they would start a franchise and Hawerchuk was ranked third, behind the elite company of Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey. Hawerchuk certainly belonged.
Photo Credit: HHOF.com
Hawerchuk dominated the QMJHL during his two years with the Cornwall Royals. Rookie of the Year, playoff MVP, Canadian Junior Player of the Year and two consecutive Memorial Cup championships…Hawerchuk won everything under the sun for the Royals. Hopes that his success would translate to the NHL came to fruition when he was selected as the number one draft pick by Winnipeg. There was a reason the Jets held the number one pick to select Hawerchuk: they had been abysmal in their first two years in the NHL. Nonetheless, in his rookie season Hawerchuk piled up 103-points to help the Jets conquer one of the biggest single-season turnarounds in hockey history that included a 48-point improvement and making the playoffs. This success was likely backed by the addition of Maclean, who allowed Hawerchuk to move into a playmaker role and consistently improve his assist-totals every year. This helped spread out big-bodied opponents, which created a more free-flowing and dynamic game for the high-flying Jets. In 9 seasons with the Jets, Hawerchuk had six 100-point seasons, two 90-point seasons and one 80-point season. This consistency explains why first-year head coach Bob Murdoch was met with such vitriol when he decided to cut the captain’s minutes.
Hawerchuk’s on-ice statistics are astonishing but pale in comparison to his off-ice contributions. Hawerchuk was an integral member of the Winnipeg community during his time with the Jets, where he lived in Gimmli, Manitoba, a small lakeside community about an hour north of Winnipeg. Sharing the Peg’s intense passion for the sport, Hawerchuk loved how hockey-crazy the city was. He wasn’t bothered when fans approached him to offer suggestions and ask questions – he embraced it. Like his hockey-loving fans, Hawerchuk wanted nothing more than to bring the Stanley Cup to Winnipeg. Unfortunately, although “Ducky” holds two memorial cups, Canada cups from ‘87 and ’91, and countless personal accolades, he was never able to hoist the Stanley Cup up for the Jets. This mission was ruin by Bob Murdoch, who created a less-than-amicable departure for Hawerchuk. Notably, the lack of minutes given to him despite his consistent production and the franchise choosing a first-year coach over their leader of nine years left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Jets fans. Yes, the trade would produce Keith Tkachuk and Phil Housley, but losing Hawerchuk was like losing a hero to many. This hero would go on to have five more productive years in Buffalo, proving that Murdoch was wrong to give up on him so fast. Hawerchuk went on to coach the Barrie Colts of the OHL for nine years until recently, when he was forced to take a leave for health reasons. “Ducky” battled stomach cancer for as long as he could and, on August 20, 2020, tragically lost that battle. The hockey world may only remember Hawerchuk for his goals and assists, but Winnipeg will always think of him as one of their own.