With it all but certain that Winnipeg will end up with another shot at the NHL, the issue is whether the little town on the prairie will make the most of its second run with top-level hockey. But the town is different than it was in 1996, with lowered expectations.
The loss of the Winnipeg Jets, the original outlaw WHA franchise that ended up in the NHL after the two leagues merged, was a big blow to a city that already was reeling from a depressed economy and provincial cutbacks. Winnipeg Arena generated limited revenues, talk of a new arena went nowhere, and the NHL wasn’t eager to save hockey in Manitoba when markets like Minneapolis-St. Paul and Phoenix beckoned. Given all the circumstances, the question wasn’t whether the Jets would leave — it was where they would end up. And that led to a lot of soul-searching among Winnipeggers: without the external validation of the NHL, Winnipeg was just another cold city on the prairie.
Fast forward to today, where the Winnipeg economy is on much more solid footing and the new team will be seen as just one part of a thriving local economy. In 1995 and 1996, the Jets were seen as a major economic player, which just wasn’t true; instead, the NHL is now seen as another business in the city, albeit one with a high profile. And that’s the way it should be.
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