It would be great to hear that the Winnipeg franchise has decided to grab back the history of NHL hockey in the city by naming their new team the Jets. Exciting, but a bit odd, given that the history of the team is now in Phoenix.
The whole “will they, won’t they?” odyssey which brought the bigtime back to what residents call “the ‘Peg” would have made the most sense had the team they got been the Coyotes. Then it would be pack up the van with the tangibles—skate sharpening equipment, glove dryers, and all the other goodies (several tons of stuff, by most people’s reckoning) and with a bunch of imaginary boxes filled with history.
That, obviously, would close a circle which never should have been opened, but for the disaster that took Winnipeg’s team away and left the city to figure out what it is in the absence of major-league sports. All of that is over, and listening to Winnipeg radio over the past few weeks (most notably the fantastic Illegal Curve hockey show) demonstrates the overwhelming joy that is being shared by all of the three-quarters of a million people who live there.
The trouble is, those imaginary boxes can’t be packed, because the new franchise doesn’t come from the roots of the old. It comes from a place where, as we all know, hockey has failed twice. And the present team, the former Atlanta Thrashers, has no history worth transporting north, even though those imaginary boxes don’t weigh anything.
Listening to Illegal Curve, I’ve heard a lot of suggestions as to what the team should be called. The Jets, of course, leads. The Moose is in there—the name of the recently relocated AHL franchise that the city has had to let go. The Rebels and the Red River Rebels have been floated. There’s a historical connection there for those who care to look it up.
But one idea that I haven’t heard, but that makes the most sense of all, is to draw upon the history of the franchise while not trying to recreate the exact sense of the past that “Jets” invokes, and which, really, is in Arizona. So here it is:
Call them the Manitoba Golden Jets.
Manitoba because it’s not just Winnipeg’s team. People all over the province are excited and committed, emotionally and financially, to the cause of their new club.
Golden Jets because the history of their greatest player (Teemu Selanne aside) is resident in the name. In fact, it could easily be argued that the team wouldn’t have been anything without Bobby Hull.
To understand this, you have to go back to the summer of 1972, when the NHL’s worst fear was about to be realized—that their best players were going to “jump” as the term of the day had it, to a new league. Bobby Hull, Chicago’s great sniper and a bull of a man who before he was done had scored 610 NHL goals and 303 in the WHA, was the marquis player to make the move. It would be easy to argue that he alone made the league go, and kept it going for as long as it did (1972-79).
Before too long, others followed to what Ed Willes in his excellent book Rebel League: The Short and Unruly History of the World Hockey Association categorizes as a wild and nutty experiment full of adventure and failure, but all the more exciting for it. Names like Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovlich, Gerry Cheevers, and Paul Henderson, luminaries of the game in the 1970s, played in the league.
And for those who like their history, so did Wayne Gretzky, signing in Indianapolis as a 17 year-old.
The Golden Jet stood above them all, however, and the day he arrived in Winnipeg with his family, tens of thousands of fans came out to meet them at a rally the team held. His dominance never waned, and he led the team to three Avco World Trophy wins, in 1976, ’78, and ’79, before the team was folded back into the NHL when the WHA failed.
The name Golden Jets also raises interesting possibilities for logos and artwork. Think of a black uniform with gold accents, a stylized jet somewhat reminiscent of the Jets logo but with subtle distinctions to set it in a new era. The road uniform would be, as they are, a reverse of that, but with black accents for a bit of menace, as if to suggest that they stole the team away once, but that’s never going to happen again. (Who is they? Come on.)
And the third jersey—blue, white, and red, like that of the Jets, just to make the point that nothing new is ever really detached from what was in the past, no matter whether the league has created the absurdity of a history stranded, for a year at least, in Phoenix and then headed off to—Quebec? Kansas City? And if the latter, how long will that last? And then where’s the history? It will slowly dissipate with time, as did the histories of teams that bounced from place to place in the past.
Winnipeg has to reclaim its past, but it also has to be honest about what’s been lost. But have Bobby Hull come to town as honorary captain to drop the first puck, and all’s well. His nickname emblazoned on the fronts of the sweaters cements it.
The Golden Jets it is.
Brian Kennedy’s book Living the Hockey Dream tells the story of Bobby Hull’s going to Winnipeg, both from his point of view and from that of his son, a kid at the time of the biggest “jump” in hockey history.