With their deadline deal for Paul Stastny, the Winnipeg Jets look to be all in this year. With all the talent on their roster, they should be. Winnipeg has built themselves into a formidable foe for any Western Conference opponent for years to come with smart drafting and patient nurturing of their young talent. The deal they made with St. Louis marks the beginning of something truly new for Winnipeg’s standing in the National Hockey League. Winnipeg is now a destination town for NHL talent.
These words have never been said about the city of Winnipeg. They might have been said during Teemu Salene’s time in Manitoba if players would have been allowed to move around as freely as they can today, but for the majority of the Jets’ two stints in Winnipeg, the league's budding millionaires haven’t seemed particularly eager to venture north.
Here are a few fun facts about the city of Winnipeg:
- Roughly 700,000 people call it home.
- It used to flood a lot.
- It flooded so much that the Red River Floodway was constructed.
- The average temperature in February is 17 degrees Fahrenheit.
- A bit of Mars is named Winnipeg because it’s sometimes warmer than Winnipeg.
- Winnipeg is the Slurpee Capital of Canada.
While it does seem like an excellent place to raise a family, being the Slurpee capital of Canada doesn’t quite carry the same status as cities like New York, Toronto, and LA. Even visiting franchises don’t seem to look forward to trekking into Winnipeg.
The San Jose Sharks found themselves in hot water earlier in the year when players confessed their lack of enthusiasm for spending time in Manitoba’s capital. Tomas Hurtl in particular complained openly about how cold and dark it was, but hey, in February, it’s a balmy 40 degrees Fahrenheit in his hometown of Prague. A lot of the heat Winnipeg takes for its lack thereof is undeserved, but the stigma has been an issue for the young franchise, hell, it was an issue before the latest Jets franchise even got there.
Back in 2011, when Atlanta and Phoenix were both looking for a new start, Ilya Bryzgalov refused to negotiate a new contract with the Coyotes because he was so turned off by the prospect of living in Winnipeg. The Thrashers ended up moving before the Coyotes could and Bryzgalov was spared his nightmare. But it shows how the intangibles of a location can become an issue for a team trying to forge an identity.
This brings us back to Paul Stastny. Though not the statistical monster he once was, Stastny is still a very valuable part of any team he plays for. In St. Louis Statsny seemed to have found a home. His on and off-ice chemistry with his teammates seemed great, and there really seemed to be a solid bond between player and city. Stastny had a no-trade clause while with the Blues, which he waived at their request when it became apparent that the season the team would end up having would not meet the optimism of the season they started.
This essentially meant that Stastny was in control of where he would end up, and low and behold the man chose Winnipeg. Now that doesn’t mean he was excited about the elite nightlife of Canada’s 8th largest city, it means he was excited about the city’s prospects of winning a Stanley Cup, and that’s okay.
The Jets are a deep playoff run away from becoming a marquee landing pad for established talent in the league. It’s already proven to be a marquee launchpad for some of the NHL’s brightest, and the home-grown talent will do a lot to sell free agents and trade-bait players in future. This current squad is incredibly tightknit, seeming to have the kind of chemistry most rosters dream about. They have a classic, team-first Canadian hockey culture in their locker room and the unwavering support of a fanbase who hasn’t seen a playoff victory in 22 years. That stat is probably going to change this year. When it does, a whole lot of other things are going to change as well, including Winnipeg’s image problem.