From the day the Jets moved to Phoenix in 96′ fans cried for the return of the Jets. While at that time the future looked bleak many fans remained firm in there belief that the tradition of the Winnipeg Jets would return. Last year when it looked like Phoenix was on the move back to Winnipeg most of those doubters started to believe again that the Jets could indeed return. We can sit and discuss what would have happened had that been the case but it’s not so we won’t waste time speculating there.
What we all know happened was the Atlanta Thrashers have now become our beloved Winnipeg Jets and several new debates have flared up starting with the name of the team, then the logo and now the jerseys. What I want to focus on right now is the job True North has done by honouring the tradition while building a new brand for the future. This is something that is not done easily or often.
When the Cleveland Browns got a franchise back and kept the name they also kept the look and brand, something that many in Winnipeg would have been fine with. The Ottawa Senators kept the name of their long lost NHL franchise and while the brand was updated with a modern logo but the colors remained the same as the team from the 20′s and even the “O” logo has been used as a secondary logo with the modern club. They also chose to honour and retire the #8 of Frank Finnigan on the opening night. Finnigan’s number 8 is one of only three numbers to have been retired by a franchise they never played for. The other two is of course Gretzky’s league wide 99 and Minnesota Wild retired the number 1 for the fans when they got an NHL franchise back.
On the topic of the Wild, this was a city that much like Winnipeg was in love with their previous team and to this day you will still see North Stars merchandise on fans at the games in Minnesota, but as Dallas kept the name “Stars” the option of using the same name was not an option like it was here in Winnipeg so the Wild owners took a complete break from the tradition and have treated the Wild as a new beginning.
The Jets meanwhile have walked that fine line between the respect for the past traditions while embracing the future and new beginnings. No Jets fan will argue that our previous NHL stint was not the most successful and we can’t blame the Oilers for that as much as we’d like to. The WHA years of course were ripe with success and winning so they were not always “losers” as some people argued as a point for a completely new name.
The new brand has very little tie in with the past brand as the new military look and feel will be much different then the word mark friendly look of the Jets of old with the big hockey stick J. I’ll admit I wanted the J to stay a stick forever but I feel that because this team is a new team not our Jets of old that the new look is an important step in realizing that fact and remembering it.
An often talked about subject is the retired numbers that travelled to Phoenix with the Coyotes, and this could become an even more interesting debate if the Coyotes can not find a local buyer and are forced to move after all and end up in say Quebec.
When the Nordiques left for Colorado the team decided to leave those retired numbers behind. When Hartford moved to Carolina only Gordie Howe’s number 9 stayed out of circulation but a banner has not been hung to signify the retirement. Only the numbers of the retired players in Minnesota and Winnipeg have moved to the new city.
So the way True North decides to handle the past Jets is anyone’s guess at this moment and is one that will have to be decided quickly as Evander Kane wears Hull’s 9, Chris Thorburn wears Teppo Numminen’s 27 and Bryan Little wore Hawerchuck’s 10 but is currently listed as 18 on the official Jets website.
Scott Brown of True North has tweeted only twice since joining Twitter, the first was to announce some player signings the second was to state that any player could wear any number they wanted and that the numbers would be honoured not retired.
The most likely situation is a ring of honour like the Leafs do in Toronto where 15 players have their name and number recognized. However if the Coyotes moved to Quebec and became the Nordiques and if they decided to re-retire the numbers of the players left behind by the Avalanche and not honour the former Jets, it could make for some interesting debates next year but again that’s all speculation that we’ll leave it at that for now.
We are always taught growing up to honour the past and build for the future, so far True North has done a very commendable job at applying that logic under tough circumstances and there will always be those that sit firmly on the side of tradition and those that sit firmly on the side of the future I think the most reasonable place to sit this time is on the fence. Let’s honour our past and remember the greats that helped build the passion that now fuels the new Jets. Let’s not forget Bennie Haskins for bringing us professional hockey to begin with. But at the same time let us open up to be ready for what the future will bring and have an open mind to change. Let’s commend Kane for talking to Hull about wearing #9 even though the team doesn’t require him to do so. Let’s applaud the fact that Little has appeared to change his number to not wear Hawerchuck’s #10. But lets not cringe if Kane wears #9 on the ice, that’s part of moving on for the future and lets support our players no matter how they decide to honour the past.
Change can be scary but it’s often for the best.