Nikolai Khabibulin in net for the Jets. You think the new Winnipeg team will want him back? You know, for old time's sake. Photo by Al Bello via Getty Images
UPDATE: The announcement from True North was made this morning at 10:15am MST in Winnipeg that the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers has gone through, pending NHL approval.
The news stations and feeds have been showing footage of Winnipeg preparing for a celebration with balloons and speakers, there have even been rumours that Gary Bettman has been spotted in Winnipeg. Bettman may or may not have been flown in on flying pigs. In what may be the worst kept secret of the week, the Winnipeg NHL fans look to be rewarded with another NHL team, the Atlanta Thrashers. Check back here for more information after the press conference.
True, the new Winnipeg team will not be called the Jets. In fact, according to local media the front runner in the name department is the Manitoba Polar Bears. Now it is a fact that my favourite animal in the world is the polar bear, but even I think that that is a ridiculous name for an NHL team. I dream of a trip to Churchill Manitoba to watch the polar bears in the wild. You might get away with that in the WHL, maybe the AHL if you push it. I just can't see that name on a jersey, even though the logo would be epic and I may find myself fancying the new Winnipeg team slightly more than the Oilers. I said "may" but I think we all know that that would be a stretch for the likes of even me. The fact of the matter appears to be that there will indeed be a team in Winnipeg and that will change the landscape of Canadian hockey and the NHL once again. The new team will eventually change the lines of the NHL divisions and it will change the way fans cheer for the game.
At this point, Oilers, Flames and Canucks fans don't trouble themselves with the Atlanta Thrashers, well not very much at least. The Trashers are just a team that the western Canadian teams play once in a while and they are from some state named Georgia where we think they may grow peaches. Of course that is a major simplification and generalization, but the fact is still that the Trashers are not in the face of the NW Division and they play in a state that many Canadian hockey fans will never visit.
A team in Winnipeg however is in a province that you might pass through. The chances may be slim but you might even have family or work commitments in Winnipeg, you may get to take in a NHL game while you are there on a visit.
In the past, the Winnipeg Jets were a team that Oilers' fans looked forward to seeing the Oilers play. Derek even posted that the Jets gave the Oilers a fair number of points through the years. From what I remember, it was more than that though. For some reason, some cooky Canadian Oilers fans felt a rivalry with the Winnipeg Jets that just doesn't exist with the Colorado Avalanche or the Minnesota Wild. Is it because the latter two are American cities? Maybe, well very likely that's the biggest piece of the puzzle. With other Canadian cities, many fans tend to have the greatest sense of rivalry, competition and overall amounts of passion. There's just something about beating the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens, the Canucks and especially the Flames. It's almost as if a win over the Flames is equal to two wins over the Kings, or the Sharks. As much as all NHL teams should be equal, they aren't.
This may also mean a change to the games that are televised. Traditionally, CBC broadcast games for Hockey Night in Canada that were actually played in Canada. By adding another Canadian team and arena to the mix, there are more options for the schedule, potentially. This may even lead to fewer afternoon games, trying to get onto Versus or NBC. I say may, because as we all know, the focus of the NHL is to get American advertising dollars. The NHL will attempt to keep as many games on American television stations as possible, but Canadians love their Saturday night hockey and that spells money too.
Canadians don't always agree, and you wouldn't expect them to, but there is one thing that does bring the nation together, hockey. The "new" team in Winnipeg will draw in viewership, at least for the first season or two if even just out of curiosity and national pride. Hockey is one of the few things that pulls this country together as a nation. If you have any doubts about that, look at the World Juniors competitions or Olympics. Not everyone may be watching the games, but they still cheer for Canada and their hockey team. Even non-hockey fans know how important it is to Canada's identity and can get behind "their" team.
Obviously, I am completely on-board with another team in Winnipeg, as is Bruce who wrote all about this in the Cult of Hockey. I asked Ben, who is also excited about the return to Winnipeg what he thought of the deal, this is what he had to say:
I'm happy as an Oilers fan, of course, because one of our old divisional whipping boys is back. But more than that, I'm happy as a hockey fan. It doesn't matter to me if they name the team the Manitoba Thunder Buckets. It doesn't matter if they leave Bobby Hull's banner with its thieves in Phoenix. It doesn't even matter if they pretend the Jets never existed at all. For once, hockey is going from a place where people might care to a place where they do. How sad it is that that's the exception rather than the rule, and yet how fine it is that Winnipeg hockey fans finally have justice.
There will be opportunity enough for one and all to present their opinions in the coming weeks, months and hopefully years.