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Sports fans love to reminisce over the days that it all went wrong: the wasted draft pick, the tragic trade or the defecting hero. These may not be, by definition, the worst roster moves ever made, but they were the ones that affected us on a personal level. These are the events that caused -- and still cause -- us to sit on our bar stools and lament the cruel twists of life.
When we asked Winnipeghockey.com contributor R.J. Oliviera for his list of heartbreaking transactions, we got more than we bargained for ... a laundry list of 15 or 20. Oddly, none of them were dated later than October 18, 1995 -- the day the Winnipeg Jets were officially sold to U.S. businessmen. Seems time sort of stopped for Jets fans. And, sure, the Phoenix Coyotes have lost Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick over a four-month span this year ... but, like Oliviera, we're not sure Phoenix fans have even developed that kind of gut-wrenching passion for their team yet. So we look back on the former Winnipeg Jets, who broke hearts by trading the likes of Teemu Selanne, Stu Barnes, Dave Babych, Dale Hawerchuk and Bobby Hull.
| October 18,
| The Winnipeg Jets announce the official sale of the club to Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern
Winnipeg, Manitoba, seems an unlikely choice for a professional sports league to choose for expansion ... but there was no way the NHL could deny the city's credentials at the time. The Winnipeg Jets helped the rogue World Hockey Association get off the ground by luring Bobby Hull away from the NHL with a $1 million check. That helped 60-some other proven NHLers make the leap of faith and made the WHA a legitimate threat to the stodgy NHL.
Then, once they had a franchise, the Jets helped changed the way hockey was played by employing a wide-open offense sparked by a European invasion that was years ahead of its time. And they dominated, winning three of the seven WHA titles. With hockey still being Canada's game in 1979, there was no way Winnipeg wouldn't be one of the four WHA teams absorbed into the NHL.
The Jets community tried to band together, but couldn't save the team. Glenn Cratty/Allsport|
Of course, it didn't take long for the economics to catch up. Despite a rabid and faithful fan base, not to mention always having one of the most exciting teams to watch, the Jets just couldn't make ends meet in the severely outdated Winnipeg Arena. The '94 lockout sealed the deal and the Jets started looking for buyers.
The city tried mightily, but Operation Grassroots couldn't save the team. Twice, local groups seemed on the verge of making it happen, only to have the deals fall apart in the 11th hour. As the lame-duck 1995-96 season began, the team was sold to American businessmen Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern. Two months later, Phoenix was announced as home. Four months after that, a nickname and logo were unveiled.
The Winnipeg Jets played their last game on April 28, 1996, having stretched the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings to six games in a spirited first-round matchup.
Fans in Manitoba still have a hard time understanding how hockey can be played in the desert, especially when they see Coyotes fans incorporate the famous "white out" for playoff games. A white out in Phoenix? Has anybody in Phoenix ever driven their no-heat pickup truck across a lake in a horizontal snow?
Call it karma, but the Phoenix Coyotes have yet to win a playoff series. Now that's a white out.
|| Winnipeg Keeps On Fighting;
Jets Fans Die Hard With A Vengeance
Minneapolis Star-Tribune -- May 21, 1995
By Conrad deFiebre
Mark Olson was sitting in his real-estate office Saturday morning writing thank-you notes to people who had helped with his Save the Jets social last week, and he was crying.
"How can a grown man just sit here and cry about this?" he said between sobs. "But there are a lot of people who have given their souls to this. If it doesn't happen, there'll be a lot of souls leaving Winnipeg."
There have been plenty of tears the last few weeks as this prairie city of 675,000 has ridden an emotional roller coaster hitched to the fate of its struggling NHL team, which soon might be headed to Minnesota.
Fly-by-night pro teams are an old story, and Minnesotans know something of the experience after losing the North Stars to Dallas two years ago. But it's unlikely that any city has spent more emotion or fought as hard to save its team as Winnipeg.
In an improbable two weeks since a formal farewell to the Jets was held in Winnipeg Arena, Winnipeggers have packed rallies and fund-raisers, lit up talk-radio switchboards and donated at least $ 13 million. The outpouring of public support for a cellar-dwelling, money-losing hockey team quickly prompted three levels of Canadian government to reverse field and pledge more than $90 million to a new arena.
What once was a hopeless acquiescence to the reality of Winnipeg's undersized market for pro sports has become a crusade. "We all realized how important this was to the future of our community," said Al Golden, a Winnipeg City Council member. "Anybody who stands in our way would not want to live in this country if they let us down."
So what is it that makes otherwise staid Manitobans paint their faces Jets blue and dance for hours in a downtown intersection on the hope that there's a deal to keep the team in town? Several things:
Canadians' love of hockey, their national pastime. "In Canada, hockey is a passion," said Jamie Kraemer, an accountant who donated $ 1,000 to the Save the Jets fund.
A lack of other major sports. "If we lose the Jets, we've got curling," said Olson. Not to mention the Winnipeg Goldeneyes, who play in the Northern League as the St. Paul Saints, and the Blue Bombers of the CFL, which gets little respect even in Canada.
A realization that the Jets represent one of Winnipeg's last links to greatness in a tough economy for a remote mid-continent town built as a 19th-century rail center.
Winnipeg is about the size of Omaha, Neb., and the locals have their own version of the "Cold Omaha" spectre that haunts franchise crises in the Twin Cities. "We call it 'another Regina,' " Olson said. "At least Regina's got a junior hockey team."
For two weeks, Winnipeggers have been desperately generating heat in a frenzy of activity that has been both inspiring and comical. When thousands gathered at the corner of Portage and Main Avs. on Thursday -- an especially unusual display, because pedestrians are prohibited from crossing the street there -- they blocked traffic for 7 hours. "In the end, everyone stood around and looked confused," wrote Ed Willes, a sports columnist for the tabloid Winnipeg Sun.
|| Kronis Kent E Krahn, Winnipeg, Manitoba:
Sometimes it's not a deal for one or more players that breaks hearts. Sometimes it's the whole damn franchise. Winnipeg to Phoenix. Need I say more?
Curtis Calwell, London, Ontario:
I used to live in Winnipeg and when the Jets left for Phoenix, it broke my heart. We did everything we could to keep them in Winnipeg, but it wasn't good enough. Sure, they never made it anywhere in the playoffs, but we loved 'em, and they were the only pro sports franchise we had. I still root for them now that they are the Coyotes in Phoenix, but they'll always be the Winnipeg Jets in my heart.
| February 7,
| Jets trade RW Teemu Selanne, G Marc Chouinard and a 4th-round pick (Kim Staal) to Anaheim for
D Oleg Tverdovsky, C Chad Kilger and a 3rd-round pick (Per-Anton Lundstrom)
How do you turn a former 70-goal scorer and Calder Trophy winner into a young defenseman and two draft picks? Start with a lightning bolt like Teemu Selanne and use these easy-to-follow instructions.
Trade the fan favorite Selanne to Anaheim, along with prospect Marc Chouinard and a fourth-round draft pick for Oleg Tverdovsky, Chad Kilger and a third-round pick.
Selanne's 76 goals in 1992-93 shattered the rookie scoring record. Glenn Cratty/Allsport|
Watch the former No. 4 overall Kilger turn out to be a big bust and trade him to Chicago for Keith Carney and Jim Cummins.
Then send Tverdovsky back to Anaheim in exchange for Travis Green and a first-round pick that turns out to be Scott Kelman. On that very same day, trade Cummins to Montreal for a sixth-round draft pick.
Don't ever sign Kelman, sending him back into the draft for zero compensation.
Trade Green to Toronto along with Craig Mills and Robert Reichel in exchange for third-year defenseman Danny Markov.
Send Carney to Anaheim for the 41st pick in the 2001 draft.
Essentially the Jets/Coyotes are left with Danny Markov (who has yet to play more than 59 games in a season), a 2001 second-round pick, and a 1999 sixth-round pick in exchange for Selanne.
Selanne, since traded to San Jose, never comes close to his unfathomable rookie season but remains one of the top scorers and one of the most pleasant personalities in the NHL.
|| Selanne Deal Sign Of The Times
Toronto Sun -- February 8, 1996
By Ken Fidlin
The details of the collective bargaining agreement are stamped all over many of the trades that have been made this year, including the one that sent Winnipeg's Teemu Selanne to Anaheim yesterday, essentially in exchange for Chad Kilger and Oleg Tverdovsky.
Selanne makes $ 2.75 million a season, which makes him the 28th-highest paid player in the NHL. Within a few years, he'll be in the top 10, up in the $ 5-million range. The two teens who go to Winnipeg/Phoenix make $ 1.45 million between them. Each is five years away from arbitration and 11 years away from free agency. The Jets could have these two budding stars locked up for their entire careers. Their initial signing bonuses have been conveniently taken care of by Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
The quiet word out of the Duck Pond is that the Ducks have soured on Tverdovsky, once described as the second coming of Bobby Orr, because he plays with all the toughness of Betty Orr. And after watching Kilger for half a season, the Anaheim braintrust is not as certain as it once was that he has big-time star potential.
Beyond that, coach Ron Wilson is reportedly salivating at the prospect of putting Selanne and Paul Kariya together on the same forward line. But the after-taste of this trade will be similar to many of the deals that we have seen this season. The general trend has been to deal big-ticket, prime-time players for cheap, unproven prospects who will massage the bottom line for years to come.
Selanne Vows Not To Believe Any More Lies
Vancouver Sun -- February 16, 1996
By Iain MacIntyre
For those who think truth in advertising is hard to find, try sniffing for honesty around professional sports. After whiffing the stench first-hand, Teemu Selanne said he won't get fooled again.
Selanne played against the Canucks Thursday night with his new team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, eight days after his old team, the Winnipeg Jets, betrayed him in a trade for prospects Oleg Tverdovsky and Chad Kilger.
The day before the National Hockey League deal, which followed weeks of public and media speculation about Selanne's future, Jets' assistant general manager Mike O'Hearn said Winnipeg's marquee player was not on the trade block.
Near January's All-Star break, co-owner Richard Burke even phoned Selanne to tell him he would not be traded.
"He said: 'Don't worry about these rumors,"' Selanne said at his Vancouver hotel after skipping the Ducks' morning skate. ' "You are a big part of our future in Phoenix,' he said. They said they wanted to improve the team, but 'you're the one guy we won't trade."'
So far, Selanne's the only notable guy general manager John Paddock has traded. The Jets are forbidden to trade Keith Tkachuk after matching Chicago's free-agent offer to the winger last summer, and Winnipeg centre Alexei Zhamnov is a free agent after this season, making him a risky commodity. This left Selanne as the most marketable Jet.
"But why can't they just tell the guy: 'Look, if we can improve our team, we may trade you,"' one prominent Canuck said. "What, did they think he couldn't handle that?"
"These are lessons for life," Selanne said. "This is a business; feelings have nothing to do with it. I learned a lot. If some team doesn't need me, I'm more than happy to go where a team wants me."
|| DzNutz, Winnipeg, Manitoba:
When the Jets, in their last season in Winnipeg, traded the fan favorite (and local hero) Teemu Selanne to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for Oleg Tverdovsky and Chad Kilger. I think there were a few draft picks involved, but who cares? Now the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise doesn't have any of these players. I classify that as one of the worst hockey (if not professional sports) trades ever.
Ken, Winnipeg, Manitoba:
When Teemu Selanne was traded from the Jets to the Ducks, it tore the hearts out of many Jets fans. Selanne had turned the city upside down with his rookie performance, and won the town over for his personality and humor. For a city struggling to keep its squad, to lose the most beloved player, possibly in the history of the team (save perhaps Hull), for a couple of unproven kids, it was absolutely gut-wrentching.
| November 26,
| Jets trade C Stu Barnes and a 6th-round pick
later re-acquired by Winnipeg) to Florida for C Randy Gilhen
When the Jets moved to Phoenix, Randy Gilhen stayed behind to captain the Manitoba Moose of the IHL. Not that it mattered. He scored only 22 points (while posting a minus-29) in 106 games with the Jets.
Barnes has been to the NHL finals with two teams.|
Stu Barnes, meanwhile, becomes a huge fan favorite in Florida over the next three seasons. Then does the same in Pittsburgh and Buffalo, where he helped the Sabres reach the 1999 final.
|| Old Trade Haunts Mike Smith
Toronto Star -- May 29, 1999
By Ken Campbell
Dateline: Nov. 25, 1993. Winnipeg Jets GM Mike Smith trades Stu Barnes and a sixth-round pick to the Florida Panthers for Randy Gilhen.
Stu Barnes for Randy Gilhen. Think about it. Smith does occasionally and he still shudders.
Most of what Smith has touched has turned to gold with the Maple Leafs, but Barnes-for-Gilhen was one of the biggest clunkers of his career.
''It was a terrible trade for the Winnipeg Jets,'' Smith said. ''One of the worst trades I've ever made.''
At least he can take some solace in the fact that Bryan Murray one-upped him when the Panthers GM dealt Barnes and Jason Woolley to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Chris Wells.
Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was an assistant with the Panthers at the time and doesn't dispute that the trade began a downward spiral for a team that had made the Stanley Cup final just a couple of months before.
| November 21,
| Jets trade D Dave Babych to Hartford for RW Ray Nuefeld
For a team that prided itself on importing players from all corners of the world, the Jets sure went out of their way to bring in a hometown kid. Hard-hitting Ray Neufeld could excite fans with his bone-jarring checks, and having grown up in Winnipeg he would sure to be a big draw.
You risked your neck going across the middle on Babych. Al Bello/Allsport|
But was it worth sending two-time All-Star and team cornerstone Dave Babych to Hartford? Probably not. Neufeld had little or no impact on the Jets in parts four seasons before being traded to Boston. Babych, however, hung around the NHL into the late '90s.
|| Babych Is Still Clicking As The NHL
Counter Reaches 1,000 Games
Vancouver Sun -- February 6, 1996
By Mike Beamish
If there is a rap against Babych, it's that his temperament and thick wrists seem more suited to fly fishing than beating someone's head in.
A finesse player in a pugilist's body, Babych ultimately frustrated an old hardhead like John Ferguson.
In one of the most baffling trades of 1985, or any other season, Ferguson, then the Jets' general manager, traded Babych to the Whalers for right winger Ray Neufeld, a run-of-the-Zamboni grinder.
This was the same Babych Ferguson called "the franchise" after he drafted him second over-all behind Doug Wickenheiser and ahead of Denis Savard in the 1980 draft.
Fergy was so tickled, he talked Serge Savard into postponing his retirement for two years so he could work with the rookie.
Sixteen seasons later, Babych has outlasted the managerial careers of Ferguson and Savard.
His NHL career undoubtedly will last longer than the Jets' stay in Winnipeg.
|| Gabriel Desjardins, Mountain View, Calif.:
Twenty games into the 1985-86 season, the Winnipeg Jets traded Dave Babych to the Hartford Whalers for Ray Neufeld. Babych was the Jets top defenseman, a No. 2 pick -- he was 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, and even at age 37, Bob Probert couldn't knock him down. But the Jets GM, John Ferguson, never seemed to do things that made any sense -- as a player, he picked a fight with Bobby Hull, knowing full well that Hull had a broken nose. In his first NHL draft as a GM, Ferguson passed over Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson to draft Jimmy Mann, whose claim to fame was 854 penalty minutes in junior. Now he'd traded one of the best defensemen in the NHL for a role player, a guy who supposedly made big hits and could play on the second line. When I went to watch the Jets after that, things were never the same. They'd finished fifth in the league in 1984-85, but declined without Babych. Neufeld's presence did nothing to help the team. He scored a few goals, but he was already past his prime!
| June 9,
| Jets trade C Dale Hawerchuk and a 1st-round pick (Brad May) to Buffalo for D Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and a 1st-round pick (Keith Tkachuk)
The silver lining behind the Jets' 9-57-14 record in their sophomore NHL season was the No. 1 overall pick in 1981. Enter Dale Hawerchuk, fresh off an 81-goal season for Cornwall of the Quebec League (not including the eight he scored in five Memorial Cup games).
Hawerchuk never broke 40 goals again after leaving Winnipeg.|
Coupled with the arrival of the previous year's top pick, Thomas Steen, the Jets were about to turn a corner. And turn it they did, going 33-33-14 for one of the best single-season turnarounds in history. Hawerchuk scored 45 goals, the first of his seven 40-goal seasons in Winnipeg, en route to the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
But, to all good things must end, and eventually Hawerchuk found himself at odds with GM Mike Smith. After a brutal seven-game loss to Edmonton in the 1990 playoffs, the Jets traded their savior. They got their money's worth, netting Phil Housley and the pick that would become Keith Tkachuk, but fans forever missed Hawerchuk's hands around the net.
Housley, it should be noted, also was traded after clashing with Smith ... literally ... at the team's postseason dinner.
|| Jets Aren't Lamenting Loss Of Hawerchuk -- Yet
Los Angeles Daily News -- October 23, 1990
By Rick Sadowski
The Winnipeg Jets are finding that life without Dale Hawerchuk can
be pretty depressing.
Shipping the high-scoring center to the Buffalo Sabres last June in
return for defenseman Phil Housley and a pair of grinding forwards,
Scott Arniel and Jeff Parker, added to the Jets' tremendous speed on
defense but left them woefully thin up front.
The general consensus around the NHL was that the Jets would follow
the Hawerchuk trade with a deal involving one of their other
puck-rushing defensemen -- Dave Ellett, Teppo Numminen or Fredrik
Olausson -- in exchange for
a forward with some scoring ability.
But a second deal never came off, and now the Jets are stuck with a
lineup that includes only one player who has ever scored as many as 35
goals in a season. That would be journeyman Brent Ashton, 30, who in
1986-87 collected 40 while splitting time between Quebec and Detroit.
Is it any wonder, then, that Winnipeg scored a total of 12 goals
during a six-game losing streak that dropped the club into the Smythe
Division basement heading into this weekend? In their first eight
games, Jets forwards scored 12 goals; centers Arniel, Thomas Steen,
Danton Cole and Kris Draper accounted for four.
Remember, good things were expected of the Jets after their
85-point season of a year ago, when they finished with the league's
seventh-best record and beat out the Kings for third place in the
"The only people who keep bringing up Hawerchuk are the press," coach Bob Murdoch said. "I'm not knocking Dale, but he wanted out and we gave him his wish. We were successful last season because we had 20 people working hard and believing in themselves.
"No, we don't have any 50-goal scorers. But we do have a lot of
guys who are capable of scoring 25 or 30. Before this season is over, I
believe they will."
| February 27,
| Jets trade RW Bobby Hull to Hartford
for future considerations
Bobby Hull was at the end of his career. Nobody was doubting that, or expecting any miracles. It just seemed a shame that the end came so soon after Winnipeg joined the NHL, thanks mostly to seven years of absolute stellar play from Hull.
He brought NHL hockey to Winnipeg, played in only 18 games of the inaugural season, then quietly took his old knees to Hartford for the final nine games of his NHL career.
Hull had no reason to come to Winnipeg. Ben Hatskin offered him a million reasons, but it probably wasn't the money that won him over. Appreciating the maverick attitude, he jumped to the WHA and gave the league life. Then he made Winnipeg the best team in the league and earned the Jets a place in the NHL.
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