How expansion and relocation around the league have affected the Winnipeg Jets

Oct 19, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) chases Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine (29) during the third period at MTS Centre. Winnipeg won 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) chases Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine (29) during the third period at MTS Centre. Winnipeg won 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports /

The season opener is less than a month away, but the amount of tasty news and rumors churning through the mill are about as numerous as the amount of times the Maple Leafs have lost to a zamboni driver.

They’re out there, but they’re few and far between.

Which means it’s time to get a little weird.

We’re going to take a look at the ways expansion and relocation have affected the Winnipeg Jets, diving into the obscure ways it has impacted this team and of course hitting on the obvious that happened back in 1996.

Let’s dig in.

1996 relocation has indirect, long term impact on current Jets team

The 1996 relocation of the Winnipeg Jets to the Arizona Coyotes was devastating. I won’t pretend to have first-hand experience of that as I was neither born in Winnipeg nor old enough to realize that when my dad wore his Bruins jersey to go play beer league, he wasn’t playing in the NHL.

So you can say that relocation wasn’t exactly top of mind for me then.

But it’s not hard to draw a conclusion that a passionate, Canadian fan base in Manitoba, who had a pro hockey team around for 25 years and an NHL team for 17, would have been crushed by the vacuum left in the local sports scene. Kids from NHL cities can build a close bond to their local teams, especially if they’re able to catch a few games each year. That was no more. And adults get to appreciate the best hockey players on the planet while using one of the most credible excuses available to crush a few beers and hot dogs on a week night.

Your boss will understand. Right?

That too, was no more.

The weird thing about the timing of the Jets’ relocation was that the Quebec Nordiques had relocated to Colorado just a year previous. The freshly relocated Colorado Avalanche went on to immediately win the Cup in their first year. Talk about salt in the wound for Nordiques fans.

Winnipeg fans didn’t really have to worry about that, though, as the team was below .500 the final three years prior to relocation.

Speaking of being below .500, that’s when, in 2016, the Jets 2.0 version was below that threshold for the only time in its short, 12 year existence. And that’s when a few odd things collide that did and still do have a massive impact on our current Jets, especially when it comes to that 2016 draft.

The Winnipeg Jets selected 2nd overall in that draft.

As you are all well aware of, Winnipeg relocated to Phoenix, Arizona. And in 2016, the first overall pick was Auston Matthews, who happens to be from Arizona. I think it’s safe to say that without the Coyotes in town, Auston Matthews doesn’t happen. Well, he does, but he’s probably a football player or a baseball player. Definitely not a hockey player.

And if Auston Matthews never happens, guess who the Winnipeg Jets likely choose 2nd overall in 2016, assuming the Leafs choose Laine first?

Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Ever heard of him?

There is, of course, still a chance that we would have taken Jesse Puljujarvi, who seemed destined to go third all season. But that’s not the point.

The other random thing that collided with the 2016 draft was a bit of help from our WHA merger cousins – the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were so putrid from 2010 onwards, that they “won” back-to-back-to-back first overall picks from 2010-2012, and again in 2015, getting that Connor McDavid guy who skates like, really fast.

After four Oilers first overall picks within six drafts, enough was enough. So the NHL decided that, starting in 2016, the draft lottery wouldn’t just be for the top pick, but would also include picks two and three, to lower the chances of the worst team (we’re looking at you, Edmonton) picking first.

And lone behold, our Winnipeg Jets jump up four slots, winning the first ever 2nd overall pick lottery, and selecting there instead of 6th. Fun fact: we were actually tied with Arizona (who else?) for 24th in the league, but because they had more Regulation/Overtime wins, we finished below them in the standings, thus granting us future lottery ball luck. And it’s a good thing we did.

Though, as I was researching this, I realized that Matthew Tkachuk went 6th overall in that draft, where we were “supposed” to pick. Hm.

So there you have it. Winnipeg relocation in 1996 led to Auston Matthews becoming a future superstar 20 years later, therefore making Laine the 2nd choice in the 2016 draft. Laine scored 140 goals for us before he turned 22 and then was traded for Pierre-Luc Dubois, who we presumably would have selected if Auston Matthews had never watched the Coyotes growing up.


The Golden Knights have had a seemingly disproportionate impact on the Jets

The Vegas Golden Knights have become a very easy team for Jets fans to despise. And not because they just won the Cup, but because of their seemingly disproportionate affect on the Winnipeg Jets franchise since joining the league in 2017.

I may also have some residual jealousy that, after becoming a Thrashers fan in 2005, Atlanta was such a horrible franchise that was doomed to the awful fate that expansion teams were destined for back then: being terrible. While Vegas crushed the league nearly immediately.

But the real stinger is the entirety of 2017.

You know the story. Winnipeg makes its glorious return to the league, with some solid mid-20s guys like Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, and Bryan Little. An exceptional run at the draft table produces true stars like Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck, Kyle Connor, and Josh Morrissey. Great role players like Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry are also welcomed to the cause.

Winnipeg is poised for a long window of contention. They’ve drafted well, have a great salary cap sheet, and have the perfect mix of youth and veterans.

Then they steamroll the league, en route to 114 points, 2nd best in the league.

Then they meet Vegas in the Conference Finals, lose four games in a row after winning game one, and the biggest opportunity this city has ever seen for a Stanley Cup goes crashing in its wake.

Yeah. Vegas, baby.

That might be the biggest impact expansion has had on this team. The best team the Jets have ever assembled gets cut short by a first year Cinderella expansion team run that seemed to have been kissed by the lips of fate themselves.

Vegas isn’t exactly done there though. You can say what you want about last season, but after being atop the Western Conference in January last season, there seemed a possibility that that squad could find its groove and cause an upset.

Then deja vu occurred, and Winnipeg lost four straight to Vegas after winning game one.

Vegas’ last, final impact, is during their expansion draft (also in 2017), when we gave them our 13th overall pick – a range where we have had mighty success in – for the 24th overall pick so we could keep Toby Enstrom. Vegas chose Nick Suzuki, and, while this is total revisionist history (who knows where Suzuki was on the Jets’ draft board), perhaps Patrik Laine is eventually traded for a defenceman if the Jets know they have a quality, young center in Suzuki in the mix.

Maybe he actually sticks around, too!

The Central Division is littered with relocation and expansion

If the NHL wanted to get creative (hint: they don’t), they could rename the Central Division the Relocation and Expansion Division. Though that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Chicago and St. Louis are the only two Central Division teams who haven’t recently been relocated or an expansion team. The Blackhawks are, of course, an original six team while the Blues joined as a part of the 1967 expansion.

Every other team has been an expansion team or relocated since 1990.

Firstly, relocation has put the darn Colorado Avalanche in Winnipeg’s Division. After relocating from Quebec in 1995, fate has blessed the Winnipeg Jets with the enormous task of handling Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar for the next decade. If only they were still in Quebec – then maybe it’d be Columbus or Detroit in the Central instead.

An amusing oddity is that two teams – the Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota Wild – are in the same division that their former teams relocated to: the Arizona Coyotes and the Dallas Stars.

Dallas, by keeping the name “Stars”, even stopped Minnesota from being the North Stars again,  which I think is a way cooler name than the “Wild”. At least Arizona let us be the Jets again.

And, after Arizona played the majority of their existence in the Pacific Division, it was – you guessed it – expansion that moved the Coyotes into the Central, after the Seattle Kraken’s welcome to the league pushed Arizona east.

Soccer has the concept of derbys – when teams from the same cities play each other – such as Manchester City verses Manchester United.

Is there such thing as a relocation derby? Is that a thing?

Is it feasible that the Jets-Coyotes and Wild-Stars not get super hyped up about a divisional matchup against the city that stole their old team?

Only in the Central Division is that possible.

Lastly, both Canadian teams who are having major roster retention questions these days (Calgary and Winnipeg) were former Atlanta teams. It’s completely plausible that the NHL’s only twice-failed city has a lingering curse on these two fine, smaller Canadian markets.

Yes, that is very realistic, and has nothing to do with the climate.

Curse you, Atlanta!