The original Winnipeg Jets had a good run lasting from 1972 to 1996. They were one of best teams in the World Hockey Association, winning the Avco Cup on three different occasions. When they joined the NHL in 1979 they initially went through some tough times. However, with the drafting of players like Dave Babych and Dale Hawerchuk, the team quickly rose in the standings. In the 1990s the team was powered by the likes of Teemu Selanne, Alexei Zhamnov, and Keith Tkachuk.
While the team had some great years during the NHL’s first run in the city, it could have been a lot better had they not made some terrible decisions. The drafted more than their fair share of players who ended up being gigantic busts. They gave away star players and got almost nothing in return. They also had a chance to acquire arguably the greatest player to ever play the game but decided to pass on the opportunity. If the team had not made these regretful decisions, chances are the Jets would have never left the NHL in the first place.
Here are huge mistakes the original Winnipeg Jets should still be ashamed they made.
15. Trading For Steve Penney
Few goalies in the history of the NHL fell from grace as quickly as Steve Penney did. After being a late round draft choice by the Montreal Canadiens in 1980, Penney became a fan favorite after his performance in the 1984 playoffs. He was Montreal’s starting goalie for the 1984-85 season, but it would be his only season as the starter. Penney struggled the next season and then-rookie Patrick Roy took the starting role and never let go.
Penney was unhappy with his new role in Montreal and asked for a trade in the Summer of 1986. The Jets decided they wanted to shake things up in goal and traded their then starting goalie Brian Hayward to Montreal for Penney. The Jet’s were hoping that Penney could go back to the player he was during his rookie year. However, Penny would just play 15 miserable games for the Jets while Hayward would become a solid backup in Montreal.
14. Drafting Andrew McBain
Andrew McBain had a terrific draft year in 1982-83 while playing for the OHL’s North Bay Centennials. The forward showed an amazing play making ability by racking up 87 assists and leading his team with 120 points. The Jets were ecstatic when McBain fell to them with the 8th overall selection in the 1983 NHL draft. Despite the Jets head coach Tom Watt wanting to have McBain continue his development in junior, GM John Ferguson wanted him to stay with the big club.
Rushing McBain to the NHL ended up being a bad idea. McBain would spend his first few seasons with the Jets as a role player. After not scoring more than 11 goals in his first four seasons he finally broke out in 1987-88 when he scored a solid 32 goals. The next season McBain earned more time on the powerplay and would score a career high 37 goals. Despite finally producing in the NHL the Jets traded him to Pittsburgh in the Summer of 1989. From that point on McBain’s NHL career went on the decline, as he only managed to hit the double-digit goal mark one more time in his career. Despite having two good seasons with the Jets, that doesn’t make up for the four sub-par par seasons he had in Winnipeg. It’s was an especially regretful mistake by the Jets considering future Hall of Famer Cam Neely went with the very next selection after McBain.
13. Paying a Ransom for Manson
Prior to being traded to the Jets in 1994, Dave Manson had a track record of being a game-changing defenseman. Not only he was he able to put up points up on the board, but he was one of the meanest blueliners around. Manson’s career year came in 1988-89 with the Chicago Blackhawks when he recorded 54 points and a whopping 352 penalty minutes. However, Manson only played parts of three season’s with the Jets and was mediocre at best.
The worst part about Manson being a bust in Winnipeg was the fact that the Jet’s gave up a king’s ransom in order to acquire him from the Edmonton Oilers. The Jets gave up Mats Lindgren, Boris Mironov, a 1994 1st and 4th round draft pick. Mats Lindgren had just been taken by the Jets 15th overall in 1993. Boris Mironov went on to have a solid decade-long NHL career. Unfortunately for Edmonton, they used the 4th overall draft pick to select the future bust, Jason Bonsignore. Either way, the trade ended up being a big win for the Oilers and a giant loss for the Winnipeg.
12. Trading Pat Elynuik for John Druce
The Winnipeg Jets took Pat Elynuik 8th overall in 1986 after a phenomenal junior career. Elynuik twice hit the 50 goal plateau in junior and was a major reason why the Prince Albert Raiders won the 1985 Memorial Cup. After having a cup of coffee with the Jets in 1987-88, Elyniuk became full-time Jet a season later. He did not at all look out of place, recording 26 goals and 51 points in 56 games.
Elyniuk would go on to play another three seasons with the Jets, where he was close to a point per game player. Despite him being a productive player in Winnipeg, the team traded him to the Washington Capitals at the end of training camp in 1992. The player the Jets got in return was John Druce, who was most famous for scoring 14 goals in 15 games for Capitals during the 1990 playoffs. Druce’s stay in Winnipeg lasted just 50 mediocre games before he was gone. While Elyniuk’s production tailed off once he left the Jets, who knows how his career would have gone had he not left Winnipeg.
11. Trading Kris Draper for a $1
Kris Draper was originally a third-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets back in 1989. The former forward for the Canadian National Team would spend four years with the Jets organization, although he only managed to get into twenty games with the team. Draper was clearly not a part of the Jets future plans and it wasn’t surprising that they traded him to the Wings in 1993. What was surprising is what they got in return from Detroit, a single dollar.
Draper may have had a hard time getting into the Jets lineup, but in his first year with the Wings, he already found a permanent spot. Draper would go on to play an incredible 17 seasons in the Motor City, winning four Stanley Cups and a Selke trophy. While Draper wasn’t the most skilled player, his tenacious work ethic and leadership skills were worth far more than the measly buck the Wings spent to get him.
10. Drafting Ryan Stewart
Ryan Stewart was drafted by the Jets with the 18th overall selection in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft. Winnipeg had every right to be excited about what Stewart could potentially bring to the team. During his draft year while playing for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers he scored a solid 33 goals in 54 games. His next season in junior was even better as he netted an impressive 52 goals in 62 games.
Stewart would actually make the Jets lineup in 1985-86. He appeared in three games with Jets, scoring one goal. Unfortunately for Stewart, those would not only be all the games he played for the Jets, but those were the only three NHL games of his career. Injuries played a big part in hampering his development and by 1993 his career was already over.
9. Trading Dave Babych for Ray Neufeld
The 1979-80 season was a terrible first year in the NHL for the Winnipeg Jets. The one positive thing about being such a poor team is it gave them the chance to take defenseman Dave Babych 2nd overall in the 1980 draft. When you get drafted that high, great things are expected out of you. Not only did Babych live up to expectations, he exceeded them. During his five-plus seasons with the Jets, Babych was by far the team’s more dangerous blueliner. The 1982-83 season was particularly special for Babych as he recorded 84 points while also being named an NHL All-Star.
Babych was the cornerstone of the Jets, that’s why it was a bit of shock when in November of 1985 they shipped him off to Hartford for Ray Neufeld. While Babych continued to play in the NHL for what seemed like an eternity, Neufeld played just four mediocre seasons with the Jets before retiring shortly after.
8. Trading Selanne Instead of Tkachuk
In 1995 the Winnipeg Jets were bleeding money and the owners of the team needed to rid themselves of some big contracts. In the end, it came down to trading Teemu Selanne or Keith Tkachuk. While both players were incredibly valuable to the team, they decided to keep the American-born Tkachuk. The main reason they ended up shipping off the “Finnish Flash” to Anaheim was that the owners weren’t sure his knees would hold up, while Tkachuk was relatively injury free.
While Tkachuk would go on to score a couple of fifty goal seasons for the franchise, Selanne ended up being the better player in the long run. Chances are Selanne might have stayed with the franchise the for the majority of his career had he not been traded. To make matters worse, the Jets didn’t get a ton of value back for Selanne. While this trade decision mostly affected the Coyotes future, it was still decision the Jets old brass should still regret.
7. Drafting Sergei Bautin
The Winnipeg Jets taking defenseman Sergei Bautin with 17th overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft was a bit of a puzzling move, to say the least. Bautin wasn’t your typical young prospect as he was already 25 years old when he was drafted. If that didn’t keep the Jets from drafting him, you would think his uninspiring stats would. The season prior to being drafted in 1991-92, Bautin managed to record just three points in 32 games for Moscow Dynamo.
Bautin made his NHL debut with the Jets during the 1992-93 season, and it was an actually decent debut. He finished the year with 23 points while still providing some grit to his game. Unfortunately for Bautin and the Jets, it all went downhill from there. After recording just seven points the following season he was shipped off to Detroit. He failed to find a role with Detroit and would take off to Europe shortly after. While there wasn’t a ton of talented players taken after Bautin, the Jets instead could have taken a defenseman like Jason Smith, went on to play over a 1000 NHL games in his career.
6. Not Protecting Kent Nilsson in Expansion
Prior to the 1979-80 season, the NHL and WHA had agreed on a deal the merge the two leagues. Four WHA teams; Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec, and Winnipeg would join the league. The one problem for the new WHA teams entering the league is that NHL teams held the rights to many WHA players. While the NHL teams were allowed to claim the WHA players they owned, the WHA teams were allowed to protect up to two goaltenders and two skaters.
The two skaters the Winnipeg Jets ended up protecting was forward Morris Lukowich and defenseman Scott Campbell. While Lukowich went on to have a bunch of successful seasons with Winnipeg, Campbell suffered from health problems and only lasted another season with the Jets. What made the protecting of Campbell even worse is that fact the Jets let star player Kent Nilsson go to Atlanta in the expansion. Nilsson would go on to be to be an absolute stud with the Flames franchise, including scoring a career-high 131 points during the 1980-81 season.
5. Alternating Goalies in 1990 Playoffs
One of the Winnipeg Jet’s biggest rivals back in the day were the Edmonton Oilers. The rivalry between the two teams dated back to the WHA, where Winnipeg dominated the Oilers. However, once the team’s joined the NHL in 1979, it’s been all Edmonton. It’s not hard to see why the Oilers had the Jet’s number in the 1980s as they were loaded with stars like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Jari Kurri. The two teams were both in the Smythe Division so they always seemed to match up with each other in the playoffs.
While the Oilers usually dominated every playoff series between the two teams, the 1990 playoffs was a completely different story. The Jets were actually up 3-1 on the Oilers but eventually fell to Edmonton in seven games. One of the reasons for Winnipeg blowing the series lead had to do with head coach Bob Murdoch deciding to alternate starting goalies each game. Both Bob Essensa and Stephane Beauregard appeared in four playoff games for the Jets. By switching goalies every game it was near impossible for any of the goalies to find any rhythm. If Murdoch just stuck with the Jets regular season starter, Bob Essensa, Winnipeg might finally have knocked out the Oilers.
4. Hiring Mike Smith as GM
It’s hard to deny that Mike Smith did do some good things during his six years as the Winnipeg Jets General Manager. He was credited with helping bring in some of the first Russian players to the NHL. The two notable Russian players he drafted for the Jets were Alexei Zhamnov and Nikolai Khabibulin. When it comes to trading, Smith did acquire fan favorites in Kris King and Tie Domi.
While there wasn’t a whole lot of examples when it comes to the good things Mike Smith did as GM, the list of terrible decisions he made with the Jets is a long one. He made many questionable draft selections on players who ended up being busts. He traded great players like Phil Housley and Stu Barnes and got almost nothing in return. However, the worst thing Smith did was push the Jets star player Dale Hawerchuk right out of town. Hawerchuk thought he would be a Jet forever, but he just couldn’t tolerate working with Smith and asked for a trade.
3. Drafting Jimmy Mann
The Winnipeg Jets joined the National Hockey League in 1979 and with their very first NHL draft pick, they selected Jimmy Mann, 19th overall. During his junior career with the Sherbrooke Castors of the QMJHL, Mann proved he could put up points while still be an imposing player on the ice. While he brought the toughness to the NHL with him, his scoring ability was left behind in juniors.
Mann played parts of five seasons with Jets, never recording more than eight points in a season. While he didn’t record many points, he sure did rack up the penalty minutes. During his rookie season in 1979-80, he had a whopping 287 penalty minutes. He was traded to the Quebec Nordiques in 1984 and what little he had for an NHL career quickly fizzled out. The Jets completely wasted their first ever NHL draft pick on a player that turned out to be nothing but a goon. To makes matters worse for the Jets, the very next player drafted after Mann was future NHL Hall of Famer Michel Goulet.
2. Not Building A New Arena
By the late 1980s it was apparent that if a new arena for the Jets wasn’t built, the team had no chance at surviving. The Winnipeg Arena was showing signs of aging and the fact that it didn’t feature any luxury suites meant they were leaving a ton of potential money on the table. The city actually had plans to expand the arena in the early 1980s but that fell through.
In the early 1990s, the Jets owners, as well as the City of Winnipeg continued to make plans for building a new arena for Jets to play in. Their plan was to find a local buyer for the team that would pay for a portion of a new arena. Unfortunately, they were not able to find anybody who wanted to buy and keep the team in Winnipeg. The Jets owners had no choice but to sell the team in 1995 to Jerry Colangelo, who moved the team to Arizona in 1996. The Winnipeg Jets might not have left the city in the first place had they managed to get all their ducks in a row and build a new arena before it was too late.
1. Missing Out on ” The Great One”
Wayne Gretzky as Winnipeg Jet? It was actually a lot closer to happening than you might think. The crazy part about it all is that it all came down to a game of backgammon that never happened. The year was 1979 and Wayne Gretzky had just finished the first year of his seven-year contract with the WHA’s Indianapolis Racers. The WHA was going to merge with the NHL in time for the 1979-80 season. However, due to financial struggles, the Racers were folding and were not joining the NHL. This meant that the Racers owner Nelson Skalbania was going to sell Gretzky off to the highest bidder. Skalbania got to make a profit off Gretzky because he had actually signed Wayne to a personal services contract as a teenager.
Skalbania first approached one of the Winnipeg Jets owners Michael Gobuty to gauge his interest in acquiring Gretzky. At the time the Jets scouts actually weren’t too keen on Gretzky feeling he was “too skinny” to make it in the NHL. Gobuty also wasn’t too happy with Skalbania’s high asking price. In the end, Skalbania challenged Gobuty to a game of backgammon. The stakes were if Gobuty won, he would get Gretzky at his asking price. If Skalbania won, he wanted to get part of the Jets ownership. The game never ended up taking place as Gobuty wasn’t too confident in his backgammon skills. Skalbania would eventually sell Gretzky to the Oilers for his asking price and the rest is history.
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