Winnipeg Jets Open First NHL Season In 15 Years
Something that likely seemed impossible 15 years ago will officially be reality this evening. The Winnipeg Jets will open their NHL season, at home, against the Montreal Canadiens.
In 1996, the Jets were victims of a poor Canadian dollar and the NHL’s growing expansion into the United States. The smallest market team, the Jets were forced to pay players salaries in American money, while generating revenues in Canadian dollars. At the end of the season, the Jets picked up and left their loyal, but not big enough fanbase and moved to Phoenix.
As ESPN reports, things have changed a lot in the last 15 years, and the Jets are ready to start their new season – but as a different franchise. While this team is called the Jets, it is really the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that never really had the success on or off the ice that the NHL had hoped. As the team became less and less of a priority in Atlanta, it was clear that selling was the best option, and Winnipeg was dying to take the team off their hands. So while these Jets may not have the same franchise records and history of the original Jets, as they still remain in Phoenix, it’s likely not much of a problem to the people in Winnipeg who have waited to get a hockey team again.
With the American and Canadian dollars hovering around parity, it is not as hard to sustain a Canadian franchise today. On top of this, some American teams are faltering, often because fans just aren’t showing up to the games. Phoenix is one of those teams, interestingly enough, but markets such as Florida and Columbus are also among the lower tiers in revenue. Perhaps most surprisingly, a New York team, the Islanders, is one of the worst in league when it comes to cashflow. Combine these factors with fans in other Canadian markets (Quebec City, Hamilton) clamouring for a team and we may just see a few more move North.
While the Jets aren’t expected to win many games this year, fans in Winnipeg and Canada as a whole likely won’t care too much. The puck dropping on the Jets’ first season in 15 years will represent not only the return of the NHL to Winnipeg, but also the potential return of more teams to Canada.