BY JAKE THIELEN
Canadian Thanksgiving might not have been until Monday, but last weekend thousands of hockey-loving Canadians got to give thanks a little early. Sunday, Oct. 9, marked the return of the Winnipeg Jets to the NHL after a 15-year hiatus.
In May, the NHL announced that the Atlanta Thrashers had been sold to a group that had planned to move the team to Winnipeg for the 2011-2012 season and beyond. Winnipeg had been without an NHL team since the old Jets moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes following the 1995-1996 season.
The return of the Jets was obviously a huge event for the people of Winnipeg, as the MTS Center is already sold out for all Jets games for the next couple years.
It’s no surprise then that the team’s home opener Sunday against Montreal resulted in a media frenzy. News organizations from all over Canada covered the game, and it was shown on NHL Network in the U.S.
In addition, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in attendance at the game, and earlier that day he unveiled a commemorative 50-cent coin that features the Jets’ logo.
It’s obvious that Canadians are ecstatic to have the NHL back in Winnipeg, but is all of this fanfare and celebration a bit excessive? Should they already be celebrating so much for a team that hasn’t won anything?
Nik Antropov (right) jams in the puck past Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price for the first goal of the new Winnipeg Jets franchise.
In professional sports leagues, celebrations are usually reserved for when a team actually accomplishes something, like winning a championship. Last year, the Atlanta Thrashers finished 12th in the Eastern Conference standings. The only thing this team has accomplished is finally escaping an Atlanta market that seems to be unable to support professional hockey. The Thrashers were the second NHL franchise to leave Atlanta for Canada; the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary in 1980.
While the Thrashers did have their loyal fans, the team struggled to sell tickets and merchandise. In Winnipeg that will not be an issue, despite the possibility that the team will again finish near the bottom of the now geographically-challenged Southeast Division.
Even with the crazy atmosphere and fan excitement, the Jets lost 5-1 to Montreal in their return to the NHL. In all likelihood, the Jets are still at least a couple of years away from being legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
At the very least, I can say with relative certainty that the Jets are the first 12th place team to ever be honored with its own commemorative
I can’t imagine a scenario like that happening in the United States. If or when an NFL team moves to Los Angeles, I don’t see the president making the trip to do the ceremonial coin toss. There’s even less of a chance that the U.S. government would issue any legal tender with an NFL team’s logo on it.
But somehow, it doesn’t seem out of line for a nation that celebrates hockey with such passion. Canadian hockey fans haven’t had much to cheer for outside of the Olympics and junior hockey, as no Canadian NHL team has won the Stanley Cup since Montreal in 1993.
The people of Winnipeg have waited 15 years for their Jets to come back to the NHL; if they want to celebrate a little, let’s give them a break.
But please, Winnipeg, don’t get carried away. I don’t want to see Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd riding on a float downtown after the Jets get their first win. Save the parade for when the Jets actually win something truly meaningful.
Jake Thielen is a contributing writer for Center Ice Chat. He currently is a high school sports writer for troy.patch.com. Follow him on Twitter @jthielen87.