In 1972 Winnipeg was granted one of the founding franchises in the World Hockey Association (WHA). The National Hockey League had recently expanded to 16 teams, adding franchises in many hockey-hungry cities (only one in Canada), but also in Atlanta, Oakland and Los Angeles. The WHA brought major professional hockey to Ottawa, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and later Calgary.
The Jets' first signing was Norm Beaudin "the Original Jet" and its first major signing was Bobby Hull, also known as the Golden Jet. The move -- partially financed by the rest of the WHA's teams -- was widely seen as giving legitimacy to the WHA as a serious rival major league.
The Jets were further noteworthy in hockey history for being the first North American club to seriously explore Europe as a source of hockey talent. Winnipeg's fortunes were bolstered by acquisitions such as Swedish forwards Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, who starred with Hull on the WHA's most famous and successful forward line (nicknamed "the Hot Line"), and defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg, who would serve as the team's captain and win accolades as the WHA's best defenceman. Behind these players and other European stars such as Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Veli-Pekka Ketola, leavened by players such as Peter Sullivan, Norm Beaudin and goaltender Joe Daley, the Jets were the most successful team in the short-lived WHA. The team won three Avco Cups, including in the league's final season against Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. The Jets made the finals five of the WHA's seven seasons and were widely considered one of the best teams in hockey, NHL or WHA, of the era.
Another notable accomplishment was the Jets' 5-3 victory over the Soviet National team on January 5, 1978, making the Jets the first team to ever defeat the Soviet elite squad.
NHL Winnipeg Jets (1979 - 1996)____________________________________________
By 1979, the vast majority of the WHA's teams had folded, but the Jets were still going strong and they were absorbed into the NHL. In doing so, they had to give up three of their top six scorers--the core of the last WHA champion--and were forced to draft 18th out of 21 teams. With a decimated roster, the Jets finished last in the league in the next two seasons, including a horrendous 9-win season in 1980-81--still the worst in franchise history. This stands in marked contrast to the other 1979 Avco Cup finalist, the Oilers, who became one of the most powerful teams the game has ever seen during the 1980s.
Unfortunately, regular-season success didn't transfer to the playoffs. This was because they played in the same division as the powerful Oilers and Flames (by this time in Calgary). Due to the way the playoffs were structured at the time, the Jets were all but assured of having to beat either the Oilers or the Flames (or both) to get to the conference finals. For example, in 1984-85, they finished with the fourth-best record in the league, with 96 points--both their best finishes as an NHL team. While they managed to dispatch the Flames 3 games to 1, they were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Oilers in four games. In fact, Winnipeg and Edmonton played each other in the playoffs 6 times between 1983 and 1990, with Edmonton winning every series, holding the Jets to just 4 total victories. 1987 was the last time that the Jets won a playoff series, defeating Calgary in the opening round — a drought that has continued to plague the franchise's current location in Phoenix.
As the NHL expanded in the United States, operating costs and salaries grew rapidly. This hit the league's Canadian teams particularly hard. Playing in the league's second-smallest market (and after the Nordiques' move to Denver as the Colorado Avalanche, the smallest market), the Jets were unable to retain their best players. Various schemes were devised to save the team through a tremendous grassroots effort and government funds. Loyal fans raised over $13 million CAD through various fund raising events in their bid to keep the team. In the end, their efforts were not enough. The Winnipeg Jets played their last game on April 28, 1996 - a home playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 4-1. The last goal ever scored by a Jet was netted by Norm Maciver. The money that had been raised was later donated to several Winnipeg charities.
During their history, the Jets retired two numbers: #9, Bobby Hull, and #25, Thomas Steen. Both numbers hang in Jobing.com Arena with the new Phoenix Coyotes franchise. Bobby Hull's #9 jersey was temporarily "un-retired" with the acquisition of his son Brett by the Phoenix franchise. Brett wore his father's famous jersey until his own retirement on October 15, 2005, subsequent to which the number was re-retired.
Possible return to Winnipeg_______________________________________________
There is considerable support within the city to bring NHL hockey back to Winnipeg in order to restore the pride the city had in having an NHL team. Many Winnipeg fans have stated that they would prefer for their city to get expansion team as opposed to having to re-locate another city's team, however the NHL has stated that it has no plans for expansion in the immediate future.
Many analysts have concluded that improvements in the economics of both the city and the league, combined with the strength of the Canadian dollar, mean that the city could again support an NHL franchise, as evidenced by the new financial stability of the remaining "small-market" Canadian teams. Pessimists note that even if that is true, such a move would require the support of NHL team owners, who might see little or no benefit to their franchises from having a team in Winnipeg. Optimists note that during the 2006-2007 NHL All-Star Game in Dallas, Texas, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stated that Winnipeg could sustain an NHL team. However, many pessimists contend that Bettman only made the statement to put pressure on Pennsylvanian government officials (who were negotiating a new arena lease with the Pittsburgh Penguins) and that it should not be interpreted as genuine support from Bettman for a new NHL team in Winnipeg.
Although a new arena has since been built in downtown Winnipeg to replace the aged Winnipeg Arena, the arena's managers have stated that the 15,000 seat MTS Centre was not erected in hopes of attracting an NHL team back to the city. However, the arena could be easily upgraded to NHL standards.
A frenzy erupted in the local and national media and many Winnipeg businessmen expressed that they were pro-actively approaching the idea and were in the process of forming an ownership group, although as of the end of the 2006-2007 season there had been no official statement.