Winnipeg Jets: Then and now

Winnipeg Jets NHL history involves two teams in two drastically different eras.

Winnipeg’s story is a tale of two histories and two very different teams. They are one of the franchises that have fallen victim to moves. At the end of the original team’s era, it was popular for franchises to move if they weren’t flourishing in their current environment. The Winnipeg Jets became one of those franchises.

Despite their first organization moving to Phoenix and becoming the Arizona Coyotes, the fans of the Winnipeg Jets weren’t going to go without a team forever. Similar to Minnesota, they were destined to get a franchise back, and they did. That was the only similarity between the two franchises.

The time it took for the Jets to get a team back was quite a bit longer than Minnesota’s wait. Winnipeg had to wait almost 15 years while Minnesota waited around seven years. Minnesota’s new team was part of an expansion while the Jets was a team that was relocated. Winnipeg were able to retain their name; Minnesota did not because they moved to a new location.

Now that Winnipeg has their team back and have had a few years to get settled back into the NHL, we can compare the two and see how things have unfolded. If the team picked up where they left off or if things have completely changed. Or, if it’s possible to decide which team is the better of the two.

A brief history

The original Winnipeg Jets started out in the NHL in 1979 with coach Tom McVie who took over after a series of coaching changes, but he would not stick around either, leaving after just two seasons. The team would go through multiple coaches and players throughout their 17 years.

The original Winnipeg Jets ended up being pushed out of Winnipeg due to money issues trying to keep the team afloat as well as affording updates to their current arena. There were talks of the team being moved to Minnesota because of the North Stars leaving for Dallas, but those plans eventually fell through. So, it was decided the team would go to Phoenix and Winnipeg would be left without hockey.

Winnipeg was without hockey until 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers would be moved back to Manitoba and land as the Jets. They were given a second chance to have NHL hockey and so far, they haven’t wasted it. Their current coach is Paul Maurice and he’s been their coach for the last four seasons. Keep in mind the team is still new and still building.

Minnesota and Columbus are still considered new teams and they’ve already been around close to 20 years, so Winnipeg is still quite young in the NHL.

How they played

Starting out as a new franchise is hard for anyone and the Jets were no exception, struggling the first few years they existed. The original Jets played when Gretzky was “King” and that meant a lot of skating with players seeming to be bunched together, but when one got open they had some room to move depending on where they were on the ice. They had a lot more open ice and the ability to move quickly without interference.

With players like Dale Hawerchuk, Doug Smail, Randy Carlyle, Teemu Selanne and Shane Doan, Winnipeg had their fair share of star players. Selanne and Doan both got their starts with Winnipeg and went on to have 20-plus year careers with different respective teams.

The new team’s style

The new team is bigger, faster and not necessarily more skilled but more advanced plays have been added since the new team’s inception. The puck movement is a lot faster and the players don’t hold onto the puck as long unless they are on a breakaway.

When Winnipeg has the puck, they are quick to make the pass and get rid of the puck rather than risk a turnover. In just five years the team has managed to have 40 wins two out of those 5 years while the original team did that just 3 times in 17 seasons.

This team unlike their predecessor was on their feet and running as soon as they started to play. They didn’t finish poorly but they didn’t manage to qualify for the playoffs until their third season, which remains the only season they have made it. The original team made the playoffs 11 out of 17 seasons which is more than most teams.

The new team has star players as well like Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Andrew Ladd, Drew Stafford and Zach Bogosian, all of who have made a difference in how the Jets have played as of late. Especially Wheeler who has gone from regular player to captain over his years with the Jets, and he’s become quite the leader.

Despite both teams having great players and the same name, they are not the same team. It’s hard to compare two teams that are from such different eras of time. There are four specific reasons explained as to why it’s hard to compare them, fairly.

Why it’s difficult to compare: Four reasons

Attempts can be made to compare any two teams in the NHL at any time during its longstanding history, such as the original Winnipeg Jets (1979-1996) and the newer Jets (2011-present). This can prove to be quite difficult because of the amount of time that passed between the two teams. Two different eras were involved and quite a few players.

There was a 15-year gap of no hockey in Winnipeg and a lot changed in the NHL.

When teams are compared it’s usually in the same year or at least the same few years not a huge gap but it can be done. Things just have to be pointed out on why the teams differ and if it’s even possible to determine who is the better team.

The idea is like comparing players such as Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky. They played in two unique but different times and things were not the same. The more common idea is if players like Crosby and Ovechkin were compared, they have played in the same time and for almost the same amount of time, it’s easier.

Technology both equipment and medical: First reason

This is the biggest reason it’s nearly impossible to compare the two teams accurately. Technology has come so far in such a short time. When the original team started, helmets were just becoming something players would wear; now it’s mandatory. Face shields weren’t even a thought then and now they are also mandatory for all new players.

Mouth guards were always something players wore but did not take nearly as seriously as now.

All of the equipment players wear now was so different 20 years ago, the gear did its job as it was made to, but now it’s a lot safer. Goalie gear, in particular, has seen a lot of changes, including rules to make it smaller and less bulky. Sticks have changed from mainly wood to composite, fiberglass and all sorts of combinations that would make a lot of people’s heads spin.

They’re lighter, sleeker and easier for players to maneuver with rather than a big bulky stick that was hard to take shots with. Nothing against wooden sticks which were great at the time, but thanks to technology, sticks can be designed with a computer and can be tested for accuracy before they even reach a player’s hands.

It’s rather amazing how far hockey sticks have advanced over the years.

Technology has also affected the hockey world in terms of medical conditions, players are diagnosed quicker and a lot of times are able to heal faster due to new advancements. The biggest area that has grown over the years is the knowledge of concussions.

Concussion has become a buzzword over the past few years all over the sports community. 20 or more years ago, during the original Jets playing days, concussions were merely a smack to the head, shake it off and get back on the ice.

Now, there are tests before a player even hits the ice to immediately follow up on a suspicious hit to the head to make sure the player has not sustained a concussion.

The advance in technology involving the head injury has dramatically changed how the game has been played. Hits to the head are now considered a serious penalty and not just part of the game. Players are not allowed to re-enter the game if they have sustained a concussion.

There are also concussion spotters in games that watch for players who may receive a hit to the head. If a spotter sees such a hit, they get the message down to the bench and that player is pulled until further evaluation can be done, usually resulting in the player missing out on the rest of the game.

That may sound dramatic to some but it’s better the player misses one game than the whole season.

Concussions have affected players long after they are done lacing up their skates and that’s why the medical field has started paying more attention to it. The first Jets players were probably affected by concussions but didn’t know how serious until it was too late. Now, the new team will be able to hopefully prevent or at least lessen the result of a concussion if one is sustained.

Technology part two: Media

Along with the advancement of medical technology, the media technology has taken dramatic leaps forward as well. More and more cameras are being developed like net cams, bench cams and cameras that can be attached to player’s helmets, where viewers can basically ride along with the player as they skate.

The first two cameras are used in games currently while the helmet cam has not been allowed in play yet, and it’s unlikely that it will be just because it would probably be in the way and not very helpful.

With more cameras being available, the ability to have replays done has been added as well. The rules have changed over the years for how replays are allowed but coaches are able to challenge to have a replay done.

Several goals that would have been allowed without the replay system have been disallowed because of it and vice-versa. The main rule with replays is the call on the ice stands unless the video clearly proves the opposite. So, if the call on the ice was a goal, then there has to be conclusive evidence that it was not a goal, if it’s not conclusive then the call stands, and it is a goal.

This rule has caused some uproar but overall has been accepted and used for the last few years. This would have changed a few games back in the day and there would probably have been some dramatically different results too.

Players have gotten bigger: Second reason

Players have grown in size over the years both in height and weight. Obviously, every player is different and there are short and tall players but overall players have gotten taller and bigger muscle-wise. According to the Hockey News, players have been continuously getting bigger over the years and thus better.

Their bodies can handle more and they can do more than past counterparts who were limited because of their size.

With players getting bigger, they have more power, which results in higher-powered shots that make it more difficult for goalies to stop. Also, the more sizable a player is the harder they can check and hit others. More power typically means more intimidation too, like a team having a player known for hard hitting; their opponents will be on the lookout for that player.

If goalies are growing like regular players that means fewer goals because there will be more of the goalie to block the shot, even if the gear gets smaller. Goalies such as Jonathan Quick, Devan Dubnyk, Pekka Rinne and Ben Bishop are all on the taller side and are able to block quite a few more shots than smaller goalies.

Bigger goalies equal less open net and that is something teams will key in on when they look for goalies. Bigger and faster is the way to go these days, or so it seems.

Two different eras: Third reason

This is the biggest reason overall that it’s hard to compare the two teams to each other. The fact that they played in two completely different eras of time and the game of hockey has changed so much over that amount of time.

Even the hockey culture has changed. Of course, to many fans, hockey is still a fighting game but it’s not the same kind of fighting as in the past. Back when the original Winnipeg Jets started, fighting was an okay thing to do, encouraged even and bench clearing brawls were a common thing.

Now, the new Winnipeg Jets have been playing in an era that is slowly trying to push fighting out of the game and in effect, changing how the game is played.

Fighting is not as encouraged as it used to be, it’s not fighting until someone is knocked out. Players aren’t allowed to take off their helmets, penalties are more serious and the health of the player now comes first. With the rise in concussions and people becoming more aware of the dangers of concussions, any kind of hit to the head has become taboo.

With the rise of more star players, protecting them from getting hurt is a number one priority.

At the time of the original Winnipeg Jets, teams formerly had one superstar that they protected at all costs, such as Edmonton and Wayne Gretzky. Now, teams have more than one superstar player and that player can stand up for himself. Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, the list can go on and on but these players don’t need to be defended.

Even the smaller players are capable of protecting themselves and “enforcers” as they used to be called are used only in retaliatory measures. With players being bigger and stronger than they used to be thanks to new training and nearly all year training, they are able to defend themselves against others.

Coaches have more freedom in putting together line combinations without having to worry about trying to put an enforcer in the mix. They can put equal ability players together and don’t need to worry about them getting hurt. There’s always a slight possibility of that but less now than back then.

Money: Fourth reason

The final reason it’s hard to compare the two teams is money, which has played a huge role in how hockey has changed over the years. Back when the first Winnipeg team started playing, hockey wasn’t nearly as expensive as it is now, and the contracts weren’t nearly as lucrative. Kids were able to play hockey without worrying about the cost.

Now, more money is being spent on training and turning kids into professionals younger and younger. That is why it seems like the players of today are better than they were 20 some years ago. They have more advanced and focused training rather than just general getting in shape.

The players have to have all the brand-new gear from skates to sticks that end up being rather costly and then there’s still ice time and other fees to pay.

Players are more prepared today and they know how to specifically fix the flaws in their game and use certain technology to help. There are all kinds of things money can buy to make you a better player, but you still have to have the talent as well. Even goalies are getting into it and money is how it all started.


The central method to compare these teams fairly is to show how things have changed over the years and respect the era in which each team originated. The original Winnipeg Jets weren’t a superstar team when they played but they had some decent years like any other team, along with some great players.

One of which recently retired. Shane Doan, who as a rookie played for the original Winnipeg Jets and moved with them to Phoenix, played his entire career as a Jet/Coyote. If the new Winnipeg Jets would have signed him, he would have had the chance to go full circle and back to his original roots, but retirement came first.

Trying to claim which team is better is hard to do even with stats, just because one team scored more goals than the other doesn’t mean they were better. The environment in which the team’s play has changed, the rules have changed, the equipment has changed, and everything around these two teams has changed.

Each team has their things in common such as star players and coaches but so much has changed around them that is it fair to say who is better? Sure, the newer team would probably be the choice because all of their players are better and faster than they ever would have been 20-30 years ago.

However, the team back then didn’t have access to the training facilities they do now. The culture has changed from trying to play multiple sports to being an all-around athlete to focusing on just one sport and having specified training so you can be a pro by the time you’re 18.

So, trying to choose one team over the other is nearly impossible. They both had their skills in their respective eras. The Winnipeg Jets have received a second chance to prove they can be a hockey franchise and they don’t want to waste away that chance. Just five or so years into their new era, they’ve proven to be a force to be reckoned with.

As for the old team, respect is well deserved and earned. They had their days and had to move but they’ve thrived in their new location and continue to despite some continued doubts. They will always be remembered as the original Jets and they gave Winnipeg their first shot at NHL hockey.

Both teams played for the same city in drastically different times, but Winnipeg has proven they deserved to have hockey and hopefully this new team sticks around for years to come.

What do you think of the original Winnipeg team compared to the current team? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Mariah Holland

Hi! I love anything and everything about hockey! I graduated from the University of North Dakota in August 2016 with a degree in Communications emphasizing in Sports Journalism. I hope to write for the Minnesota Wild someday but I love writing for RealSport! I'm a diehard Minnesota Wild fan with Pittsburgh not far behind. Thank you for reading my articles and I hope you enjoy them!