Friday, July 22, 2011

The Urban Legend That Won’t Die

Recently, I read a column by Ed Tait in the Liberal Party of Canada’s daily publication, better known to most of you as the Winnipeg Free Press.

In his column, Tait had this to say regarding former Edmonton Oiler Charlie Huddy, who had just accepted a position as an assistant to an assistant coach of Mark Chipman’s personal hockey team:

Huddy, after all, was part of that Oiler dynasty that forever stood in the way of any kind of Jets’ postseason success -- including that (in)famous 1990 series in which the Oil came back from a 3-1 deficit in a series against Winnipeg to win in seven and ultimately grab the last of their Stanley Cup titles.

“That Oiler dynasty that forever stood in the way of any kind of Jets’ postseason success,” was the specific line that got the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end.

John Ferguson, rest his soul, the larger-than-life figure who cast a long shadow over the Jets during his decade as the team’s general manager, would no doubt be comforted by those words. However, to keep blaming the Jets’ perennial playoff failures that began to border on comical on the fact that they were in the same division as the Oilers is perpetuating a myth that has no basis in fact.

The Jets hired John Ferguson as their Vice-President and General Manager in November 1978 and he remained in that position until October 1988 when Jets’ President Barry Shenkarow fired him before a home game against the Los Angeles Kings. Upon taking the job, Ferguson took over a largely shoestring operation and built it up to major-league standards. He played an important role in leading the Jets into the NHL, and for that, all Jets fans owe him a debt of gratitude. Through no fault of Ferguson’s, the Jets, along with the other three former WHA teams who joined the NHL in 1979, were stripped of most of their talent and entered the NHL with very little to build on.

Ferguson then began his “master plan” to rebuild the Jets into a championship contender though the draft. He worked tirelessly and remained remarkably patient through some lean years. His drafts brought some very talented players to Winnipeg and the Jets soon emerged from the depths of expansion to establish themselves as a team that no longer qualified as a soft touch on the schedule for visiting teams.

Unfortunately, the Jets’ path to contention stalled. They didn’t get any better.

Ferguson presided over the Jets for nine full NHL seasons. The Jets posted a winning record in only two of those nine seasons. After Ferguson’s dismissal, the Jets would go on to post three more winning seasons before leaving for Phoenix. In total, the Jets posted five winning records during their 17 seasons in the NHL.

This is not the resume of a successful, revered franchise.

Yes, the Jets always seemed to meet the Oilers come playoff time, and it was always the Oilers who came out on top. However, the Jets were always meeting the Oilers in the first round because they couldn’t separate themselves from the mediocre Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks to avoid meeting the Oilers.

Even if the Jets had managed to avoid meeting Edmonton in the first round, there’s no reason to believe that those Jets teams would have fared better against any other opponent. The Jets went down embarrassingly meekly in far too many of their playoff games. They had the talent to at least make the Oilers sweat and failed miserably to even do that much. Lesser teams at least made respectable showings when they visited Edmonton at playoff time.

No, the Oiler dynasty did not stand in the way of the Winnipeg Jets. It was the Winnipeg Jets who stood in the way of the Winnipeg Jets.

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