So what's the story, John Ferguson? Isn't this the same Babych you and the Jets were calling the "franchise" after you drafted him second overall in 1980? The player who prompted you to persuade ex- Montreal defenseman Serge Savard to play his last two years in Winnipeg to give the young defenseman a little tutoring? THAT Dave Babych?
"We needed a strong wing," says Ferguson, through teeth that would be clenched even if he didn't have a cigar in his mouth. "That plus the seriousness of our goals-allowed situation [the Jets are averaging a dismal 4.68 goals-against per game] and the nonsupport of our goaltender necessitated the trade."
Huh? You need a goalie so you get a right wing? You say you're hurting defensively so you trade a defenseman? What's in those cigars?
The word is that Ferguson felt Babych lacked a mean streak on ice. Also, it's true that Babych never measured up to the superstar tag he owned when he came out of junior hockey with the Portland Winter Hawks and into the NHL at age 19. So what's new? Portland is to the NHL what Nebraska is to the NFL, a team whose players are often not as great at the next level. " Portland does a good job selling its players," says Ferguson. But if Babych wasn't the Orr apparent, he was undeniably a solid defenseman for Winnipeg, someone Long could count on to get the puck out of the zone.
"He wasn't playing badly," says Long. "Dave played megaminutes. Power play, penalty killing, regular shift."
Indeed, could Babych ever look as inept as the Jets' defensemen did in giving up a breakaway goal to Hartford's Paul Lawless in the one-sided loss to the Whalers? That one caused Ferguson to moan, "If I live another 20 years, I'll never see another play like [they] pulled off. We were beaten by a full zone."
And while the Jets struggled on and off the ice, Babych had problems of his own coming to grips with what he thought would never happen. It probably didn't help that his first game as a Whaler was against the Jets. Babych was on the bench (located beside the Jets' bench) when Winnipeg defenseman Tim Watters came rushing off the ice yelling for a change. "I stood up ready to jump into play, when I remembered I was on the other team," says Babych. "I decided it wouldn't be a good move."
But Babych also says, "It hurts to leave, but I guess it's true what Gordie Howe used to tell guys who got traded: 'There are 19 good guys there, but there are 19 good guys here, too.' "
Which is a far cry from Babych's teary-eyed reaction the night Ferguson told him of the trade. "He was very broken by it," says Ferguson.
But not as broken as the Jets' defense and, worse, their spirit.