When it was announced that the Atlanta Thrashed had run their course and would be moving to Winnipeg, hockey fans across Canada were beside themselves with joy. With seven NHL teams located north of the Canada/US border it was quite obvious to everyone that as a country we were now 16.7% more awesome. Then it was announced that the relocated Thrashers would be renamed the Jets and another piece of the puzzle fell into place. The new logo looks pretty nice too and merchandise bearing the new logo flew off the shelves.
All in all it's be a very exciting summer for hockey fans in Winnipeg but, to be completely honest, I don't really care about the Jets.
I'll admit that I don't really know much about the City of Winnipeg. In 1999 I stopped in Winnipeg for the night on a road trip from Edmonton to Woodstock, but aside from that one night, I've never set foot in the city. It's my understanding that it can be a little cold at times, tends to be windy, has a lot of mosquitoes, and seems to flood from time to time. Any classic rock fan knows that The Guess Who came from Winnipeg and that Neil Young grew up there. Oh and of course they used to have a hockey team that the Oilers consistently beat up on during my childhood.
From 1972 through to the end of the 1995/96 season the Oilers and Jets played in the same division. But were the two ever really rivals? In the days of the WHA the Jets were a very good hockey team averaging 43 wins and 90 points for the seven years the league existed. The Jets made the playoffs six times, winning the Avco Cup three times and losing in the finals two other times. By comparison the Oilers averaged a losing record and 77 points. The Oilers made the playoffs five times but only won a single series which was followed by a loss to the Jets in the 1979 Avco Cup.
Jump from the WHA to the NHL and of course it’s a very different story. In the seventeen seasons between the merger and departing for Phoenix, the Jets twice finished second in the division and twice won a playoff series (both times beating Calgary, thanks for that). In that same time the Oilers won five Stanley Cups and… well, I’ll just leave it at that. Head to head it wasn’t close with the Oilers compiling an 86-43-8 record against the Jets including a 22-4 record in the playoffs.
Rivalries are created in two ways: either in the playoffs or through geography. During their time in the WHA and later in the NHL the Oilers and Jets were teams in very different places and when they did meet in the payoffs the series often didn’t last long enough for a rivalry to be created; five of the eight playoff series between the two teams have been sweeps. Had the WHA held it all together for another few seasons the Jets and Oilers might have developed a rivalry but might have also means didn’t. Strike one.
Geographically Calgary is obviously the closest team to Edmonton, a primary reason that the Battle of Alberta has lasted through some rather lean years in terms of on ice talent. Even Vancouver is closer to Edmonton than Winnipeg is. That those two teams are the ones I think most Oiler fans would select as our biggest rivals is no coincidence. Strike two, which in this case means you're out.
To my way of thinking the Oilers and Jets weren't rivals before and aren't rivals now. The Jets are just another team in the NHL that just happens to call a Canadian city home. In a lot of ways no different than the Maple Leafs, just with less annoying fans.