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Winnipeg Wonders Why?

Eric Legault

When looking at the history of the Winnipeg Jets, one could arguably say that they've had three eras: the Bobby Hull era, the Dale Hawerchuk era, and the Teemu Selanne era. With the team's imminent departure to Phoenix a fourth era is definitely expected and darkly looming, but the manner and timing of the third era's closure threw Jets' fans into apoplectic shock on Wednesday, February 7th. Unless you own a copy of Martha Stewart's instructional video "Delightful Ways To Throw A Tasteful Sunday Brunch Party from Your Very Own Cave" you already know about "The Trade." Yet the departure of Teemu Selanne to Anaheim is an indelible event that will be forever known to Winnipeg fans not as the loss of a fine player, but an unequivocal reminder of the loss of the franchise.

Rebuilding is clearly the modus operandi of Jets management right now. First there was the Tverdovsky/Kilger for Selanne deal. Then on Feb. 15, the Jets further reworked their roster by sending defenceman Darryl Shannon and rarely used Michal Grosek to Buffalo for verteran blueliner Craig Muni, and d-man Stewart Malgunas to Washington for gritty forward Denis Chasse. However, it was the Selanne deal that made Jets' fans in Winnipeg acutely aware that this is no longer their team. Trading a proven sniper for young, potential stars is a sure way of saying to fans that the future, rather than the playoffs, is the focus, which is particularly biting for fans expecting a Cinderella finish for the team's last season.

"There's so much sadness in Winnipeg over the moving of this franchise," said Teemu. "Maybe it's time for me to go. It hurts, but this is the business side of hockey."

Business side, shmisness side, it's an ugly side of hockey, and ugly is how many Jets' fans on alt.sports.hockey.nhl.winnipeg-jets took this trade. Steve McLeod pulled no punches when he said, "Hmm .. so what .. did Paddock get up today and think 'Hey, you know I think I'll send the team's season down the drain and trade away Winnipeg's most liked player for nothing to pay Winnipeg back for its years of support'? What kind of lame, pea-brained idiot makes a trade like that anyway?" Others weren't quite so hospitable. "Paddock must have been WAY too deep into the sauce," hypothesized Jason Schellenberg. "Paddock you are going to place much hotter than Phoenix, hockey hell," noted Shaun N. Some were bitter or felt betrayed. "Well, this is one way to make this a season to remember," said Timothy Nuessler. "It's more like a season that I will want to, but try as I might, never forget." Pekko Juvonen wrote one simple word in his search for an answer: "Why?"

While Jets' fans were trying to adapt to the Selanne-less Jets, Tverdovsky and Kilger were trying to adjust to the trade. "I was in definite shock," said the 19-year-old Kilger. "I'm glad it's (his first game) over," said Tverdovsky. "It was a tough day yesterday. I just wanted to win this game then concentrate on the next game."

If not for the relocation of the team, fans might have been more receptive to the idea of losing one of the city's greatest athletes, and an extraordinary person as well. Now the fans don't even have the pleasure of watching two potential superstars blossom into their prime. Bitterness aside, they're isn't much argument over the potential that Kilger and Tverdovsky have. The former has been compared to a better version of Keith Primeau, while the latter has been controversially labeled as another Bobby Orr. The two were politely cheered upon their entrance onto the ice for their first game against the Senators, and one fan even had a "Welcome" sign, yet underneath it said "But we want Teemu back."

Therein lies another aspect of the trade that is hard to swallow. Not the loss of Selanne to the Jets and their fans, but the loss of Selanne the person. No other athlete has been so dear to Winnipeg's heart, EVER. No other athlete was so quick to sign an autograph, attend a charity event, grant a quick interview, or flash a Finnish smile. His storybook rookie season gave fans a hope that was missing since the Hull-Hedberg-Nilsson days. Yet he was disposed of so quickly and callously that even the hardened hearts of already betrayed Winnipeg hockey fans were quick to ache once again.

"John Paddock has effectively given Winnipeg fans the finger," said local hockey scribe Scott Taylor.

So how did Selanne take the trade? In a local radio interview the night of the trade, Teemu's reaction was painfully fresh. "Just try to forget this. Life goes on. I just want to think positive." Was he angry? "Not really, just disappointed... happy to have been here... too bad that I have to go." Later, after the trade had time to sink in, Selanne gave the impression that he was badly let down in an interview with Finland's largest daily newspaper, the Helsingin Sanomat, published on Feb. 9. "The new owner of the Jets (Richard Burke) assured me as recently as last week that I'm an important part of the Jets team which will be moving to Phoenix next season," said Selanne. "It seems you can't trust anyone in the NHL." To which Burke responded: "I understand why Teemu is upset. But when I told him that we weren't shopping him, that was true, we weren't. The trade developed after that conversation." Burke said he sent Selanne a note apologizing and explaining. "I told him it was a compliment to him that every club our general manager talked with about a possible trade asked about Teemu. That happened four or five times."

Yet there are some people who have even dared to sully the smell of roses that has been wafting around Selanne throughout this situation. Anaheim coach Ron Wilson reportedly told media types that Selanne has told him: "I'm really ticked off they traded me. I'm not going to miss those guys." Even former teammate and current Canadien Stephane Quintal added to the debatable and conspiratorial bridge-burning allegations. "If the Jets won 4-2 and (Selanne) didn't get any points, he wasn't happy," said Quintal. "If they lost 4-2 and he scored both goals he was happy." Not so, countered Paddock. "I don't agree with that. I don't think that was ever a problem. Teemu's a happy-go-lucky guy. He's always smiling. That's his personality. Maybe some people took it the wrong way. I do think Teemu's motivated by his own play. Slumps bother him. If he goes five or six games without a goal, it bothers him. But it should. That's what he's paid to do."

So life continues for the fans and for Selanne. The Flash joined the Ducks, and played his first game. "It definitely feels weird. At least it's done now. The tough part is over." The Flash played his second game. "Every shift I started feeling more comfortable. Every day I feel more like I belong to this team. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks I can say, 'Trade, what trade?'" There's probably not a single Jet fan who would take away Teemu's right to happiness or his right to adapt to his new life. But there will be a lot of Jets' fans saying, "Jets, what Jets?", or "Playoffs, what playoffs?"

Neither will the failure of the Spirit of Manitoba or the Save the Jets campaign be remembered as profound events that marked the demise of the franchise. The day the Jets lost the Finnish Flash will always be known as the day the Lights Went Out In Winnipeg. Teemu has left the building.

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