WINNIPEG — In some ways, the impromptu street hockey game at the corner of Portage and Main that broke out in May of 2011 seems like an eternity ago.
The news that the Atlanta Thrashers were locating to Winnipeg — broken by colleague Stephen Brunt, then of the Globe and Mail — was welcome news in the Manitoba capital and the feeling in the streets was palpable.
It didn’t matter that the official announcement didn’t happen for more than a week.
The NHL was back and civic pride was everywhere.
Things were happening fast.
Fifteen years after the Jets departed for Arizona to become the Coyotes — a move that had a long-term impact on the collective psyche of many around these parts — there was a new team to get to know.
There was also plenty of work to be done by the hockey club and one of the first orders of business was to make decisions about the hockey operations staff.
Winnipeg decided to part ways with general manager Rick Dudley in June and replaced him with Kevin Cheveldayoff.
That move raised a few eyebrows, though not because Cheveldayoff wasn’t qualified.
Cheveldayoff had been under consideration for GM jobs with the New York Islanders and the Coyotes previously and was the assistant GM of the Chicago Blackhawks when they captured the Stanley Cup in 2010.
But he was best known as the GM of the Chicago Wolves, who just so happened to be the biggest rival of the Manitoba Moose dating back to their time in the International Hockey League.
Cheveldayoff helped the Wolves capture four championships (two Calder Cups in the American Hockey League and two Turner Cups in the IHL), so it was clear why the folks at True North Sports and Entertainment respected his abilities.
Can you believe that series of events took place nearly 10 years ago?
Cheveldayoff remains with the Jets and is the sixth-longest tenured GM in the NHL, a sign of stability in a position that is often associated with volatility.
The calendar has meant different things to different people during the pandemic, but with the NHL and NHLPA getting closer to sorting out the final details, a new season — one which includes the Jets playing in an all-Canadian Division — appears to be just around the corner.
That will be the 10th season of Jets 2.0 hockey.
A lot of things have transpired since the Jets returned and here are 10 monumental moments that shaped where the organization stands today:
Mark Scheifele selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft
There was an obvious buzz inside Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., as Cheveldayoff stepped to the podium and announced the Winnipeg Jets are proud to select Mark Scheifele from the Barrie Colts.
Scheifele was a bit of a late bloomer and despite a strong showing with Team Canada at the U18 championship, he was not found in the Top-10 on any of the mock drafts.
On a personal note, I had already typed the #NHLJets select Sean Couturier in my Twitter feed and was waiting to press send.
Couturier had previously been considered as a potential first overall pick prior to a bout of mononucleosis, while Ryan Strome (New York Islanders) and Mika Zibanejad (Ottawa Senators) had been chosen prior to the Jets selection.
But Scheifele had impressed the Jets brass in interviews and was highly-regarded by Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk, the head coach of the Colts.
Ultimately, the choice to select Scheifele has turned out incredibly well.
Scheifele is coming off four consecutive seasons of being a point-per-game player and he’s eager to take the next step in his development after being knocked out of the qualifying round three shifts into Game 1 of the series with the Calgary Flames with a lower-body injury.
Not only has Scheifele blossomed into the No. 1 centre the Jets were hoping for, but his willingness to sign an eight-year deal worth $49 million in July of 2016 was also an extremely important building block for the franchise.
Connor Hellebuyck is chosen in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Draft
It’s fair to assume the Jets were merely taking a flier on Hellebuyck in the late rounds, but choosing the guy that caught the eye of goalie consultant Rick St. Croix when he was a member of the Odessa Jackalopes in the NAHL has proven to be quite astute.
Sure, there were a few of the expected growing pains after Hellebuyck turned pro following two dynamic seasons at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, but he’s grown into a Vezina winning netminder and has firmly cemented his status as one of the top goalies in the entire NHL.
After Ondrej Pavelec suffered a knee injury in November of 2015, Hellebuyck was summoned from the minors and he earned a victory in his NHL debut against the Minnesota Wild. He took the NHL by storm, but was returned to the Manitoba Moose after Pavelec got back to full health.
The following season Pavelec was placed on waivers and spent the entire season in the minors as Hellebuyck got his first taste of being an NHL starter.
Hellebuyck started the 2017-18 season as the backup to veteran Steve Mason, but that brought out the best in him.
Not only did Hellebuyck take back the No. 1 job, but he earned his first nomination for the Vezina Trophy, an award he won earlier this year.
Paul Maurice replaces Claude Noel
The choice to dismiss Noel on Jan. 12 of 2014 after a lopsided 6-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets wasn’t an easy one, but the Jets were reeling.
Following five consecutive losses to open the calendar year, the Jets had slipped to 19-23-5 and had struggled to find an identity.
Noel’s tenure ended with a record of 80-79-18, good for a winning percentage of .503.
Maurice was officially hired on Jan. 13 and brought with him ample NHL experience, which included his time with the Hartford Whalers (where he became the second-youngest head coach in NHL history), Carolina Hurricanes (on two separate occasions) and Toronto Maple Leafs.
During his introductory press conference, Maurice announced he had accepted the interim label because he wanted to ensure it was a fit for both sides.
His immediate goal was to help provide the Jets with more of a defensive structure and to be tougher to play against.
As we approach the six-year anniversary of his hiring, Maurice is still running the bench and is the second-longest tenured head coach in the NHL — behind only Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Jets have transformed from a heavy-hitting club to one that is far more skilled.
Under the guidance of Maurice, the Jets are 279-190-54 (.579) during the regular season but are 12-19 (.391) in the post-season and have dropped three consecutive series.
Maurice was given a multi-year contract extension in early February, but it’s an important year ahead as this team works toward returning to contender status.
On Feb. 11, 2015, the Jets traded Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and the rights to goalie Jason Kasdorf for a package that included defenceman Tyler Myers, right-wingers Drew Stafford and Joel Armia, prospect Brendan Lemieux and a 2015 first-round pick that turned out to be Jack Roslovic. For many reasons, that deal was a win for the Jets.
Kane was chosen fourth overall by the Thrashers in the 2009 NHL Draft and made an immediate impact with the Jets, becoming the first player in 2.0 franchise history to score 30 goals in what was his third NHL season. The talented and hard-nosed left-winger had expressed his desire to play elsewhere on several occasions after his arrival and things came to a head in Vancouver with the infamous “tracksuit incident” in February of 2015.
Days after Kane was scratched for a game against his hometown Vancouver Canucks, it was announced he would be having season-ending shoulder surgery.
Kane found a new home with the Sabres and has since moved to the San Jose Sharks, cashing in on a lucrative long-term deal.
The Jets received two players (Myers and Stafford) that helped them qualify for the 2015 playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks, plus three other players who became NHL regulars. Although the Jets were swept by the Ducks, it was the first appearance in the post-season since the Thrashers were swept by the New York Rangers in 2007.
Oddly enough, the only player still with the two organizations following the blockbuster deal is Roslovic, who is a restricted free agent and remains unsigned.
2016 draft lottery luck
There were plenty of folks inside the Jets’ fan base that was downright disappointed the team didn’t do a better job of losing (or even tanking) during the stretch run because of the potential to cost them a higher draft pick.
But with a charm from his daughter in his pocket, Cheveldayoff saw his team take advantage of a little lottery luck — moving up from sixth to second — that led to the arrival of an elite goal scorer in Patrik Laine.
Laine’s long-term future with the Jets may be up in the air, but his arrival helped the organization immensely, both on the ice and in raising the profile globally — which included a trip to Finland for a pair of games against the Florida Panthers in November of 2018.
The skilled winger was the runner-up (to first-overall pick Auston Matthews) for the Calder Trophy in 2016-17, then followed that up with a 44-goal, 70-point season as a sophomore.
Laine has worked hard to round out this overall game and improve his consistency, and it’s become abundantly clear that the guy who is tied for seventh in goals since he entered the NHL is merely scratching the surface when it comes to reaching his potential.
Blake Wheeler named second captain in 2.0 history
After Andrew Ladd was traded in 2016, it was a natural progression for his longtime linemate to be given the C the following season.
Wheeler was already part of the leadership group as an alternate captain, an emotional guy who leads by example and holds his teammates to a high standard.
The Jets have been a direct beneficiary of the deal the Boston Bruins made with the Thrashers at the trade deadline in 2011.
The Bruins didn’t want to move Wheeler or Mark Stuart in the deal for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik, but it was the cost of doing business for a team that ultimately captured the Stanley Cup in a seven-game series with the Vancouver Canucks.
Since the trade, Wheeler has grown into a top-line player, an elite playmaker and the main distributor on the Jets power play.
The captain turned 34 this past summer and with four years left on his contract, the item at the top of his to-do list is to win the Stanley Cup he missed out on with the Bruins.
Jacob Trouba‘s 2016 trade request
Jacob Trouba first made it known he would like to be traded out of Winnipeg in 2016 during a contract stalemate but it would take a while before a deal could be made.
The Jets had an abundance of right-shot blue-liners leving Trouba, the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, to play on the left side of the second pairing. Power play time was tough to come by, as well.
Neither of those things seemed like good options for Trouba, who was a restricted free agent at the time and was looking for both a new deal and a better opportunity that could help him produce a bigger payday down the road.
The contract talks stretched on into November (when a two-year bridge for $6 million was signed) and in Trouba’s first game of the season, Myers suffered an injury that ended up knocking him out of the remainder of the campaign.
Trouba and the Jets went to arbitration in the summer of 2018, but he played three seasons before he was ultimately traded to the New York Rangers for Neal Pionk and a first-round pick that originally belonged to the Jets (prior to the Kevin Hayes deal) and turned into top prospect Ville Heinola.
Trading for Paul Stastny — the first time
Winnipeg was one of the top teams in both the Western Conference and the NHL, and with several key cogs still on their entry-level contracts in 2018, the time was right to pull the trigger on a deal to bolster the depth down the middle.
After a deal with the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard failed to come to fruition, the Jets ended up benefiting from the Blues’ decision to move veteran pivot Stastny, who was a pending unrestricted free agent.
Stastny ended up being a perfect fit playing alongside Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers and his playoff experience and leadership provided a nice boost for a group that was a little green when it came to post-season action.
By trading a coveted first-round pick, Cheveldayoff showed the Jets were willing to push some chips to the middle of the table in order to take a run at the playoff success that had previously alluded them.
The value of Stastny being willing to waive his full no-movement clause to join the Jets can’t be discounted either, even though he ended up signing with the Vegas Golden Knights instead of sticking around after becoming an unrestricted free agent.
In an interesting turn of events, Stastny was re-acquired by the Jets on Oct. 9 and is hoping to provide a similar boost in his second tour of duty.
Game 7 glory in 2018
Those 2018 playoffs were one of the highlights for a franchise that hasn’t enjoyed much success beyond the regular season.
Remember that when the puck dropped against the Minnesota Wild, the Jets — despite finishing second overall in the NHL standings behind the Nashville Predators — didn’t have a single franchise victory on its resume.
No series wins and no individual game wins either.
But while disposing of the Wild in five games was a stepping stone worth mentioning, it was the next series against the Predators that delivered a defining moment.
History will show that the Jets won three road games in that series — including the decisive Game 7 against a team that had won the President’s Trophy and appeared in the Stanley Cup Final the previous spring.
The alternate side of the coin was that after the Jets won the opening game of the Western Conference Final against the Vegas Golden Knights in convincing fashion, they lost four consecutive games and were eliminated from playoff contention after the longest run in franchise history.
Going from zero to nine playoff wins in one unforgettable spring was impressive, but it was also a stark reminder of just how hard it is to capture a Stanley Cup.
That spring the Jets inched just past the midway point of the number of wins required to lift hockey’s Holy Grail.
And the laundry list of lessons learned included the importance of putting away an opponent — as the Jets also lost two home games to the Predators and missed out on an opportunity to close out the series on home ice in the sixth game.
Since the 2018 run, the Jets have gone 3-8 in the playoffs against the St. Louis Blues (who won the Stanley Cup in 2019) and Calgary Flames.
With a core group of players that have been assembled to win now, the Jets enter the new season with a clear goal of turning the tables when it comes to those two early exits.
Dustin Byfuglien steps away
Even though the news came in a form of a press release, the repercussions could not be ignored.
On the morning the Jets were slated to begin training camp in 2019, the announcement that Dustin Byfuglien had been granted a leave of absence sent shockwaves through the organization.
Days earlier, Byfuglien had been on the ice with teammates for an informal skate.
That he was stepping away created more questions than answers, though the belief at the time was the move would be temporary and not permanent.
The saga dragged on for several months and included plenty of twists and turns.
Would Byfuglien return? Would he be traded? Would he retire?
Given his unpredictable nature, nobody really knew for sure what the future was going to bring.
During the 2018-19 season, Byfuglien suffered a pair of ankle injuries that limited him to 42 games — his lowest total in a full season since 2006-07.
The physical and emotional toll of his 869 NHL games (in the regular season) and 66 in the playoffs (which included a Stanley Cup victory with the Blackhawks in 2010) seemed to catch up with him.
A grievance Byfuglien filed with the NHLPA was eventually dropped and the mutual termination of his contract occurred on Apr. 17.
It’s hard to believe that Byfuglien’s final game in a Jets uniform came in April of 2019, a 4-2 loss in Game 6 to the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Byfuglien’s willingness to sign a five-year extension worth $38 million with the Jets can’t be overlooked.
It was a slippery slope for the Jets in January of 2016, as Ladd and Byfuglien were both pending unrestricted free agents.
With the Jets slipping out of the playoff race and both players looking for a significant pay raise, the organization made the determination that one would be signed and the other would be moved.
Talks broke down with Ladd, who was traded back to the Blackhawks for a package that included Marko Dano and a first-round pick.
Byfuglien inked a five-year deal instead of testing the market, which only helped increase his popularity.
Although the unexpected departure and eventual mutual contract termination with Byfuglien last season (with two years left on the deal) was a conclusion neither side could have anticipated, the D-man provided eight exciting seasons and many highlight-reel moments during his tenure.
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