Playing Favourites – A Look Back at Winnipeg Jets 2.0

I own a Nik Antropov jersey. I am neither Russian, nor a member of the Antropov family (that I know of). The purchase was transactional (a losing transaction) – the details of which you can find on The Airport Lounge’s audio deficient inaugural podcast. The point is, most fan experiences are not transactional, rather, they are emotional and sometimes irrational.

We spend an inordinate amount of time and lucre supporting these irrational relationships. We are swung by the sharp vicissitudes of fortune that befall NHL players. On the other hand, while appreciative of ‘fans’ in general, professional athletes are not overly concerned with the individual opinions of any one supporter. I’m reasonably certain that Nik Antropov does not have a “Mike Guthrie” jersey (although that would be very cool).

Why do we participate in such one-sided worship? Besides hockey being awesome, it provides a sense of community and agency. People far smarter than me can get into the psychology of the whole exercise, but I do it to increase my investment in the team.

But players come, and players go. The Winnipeg Jets’ player personnel ‘swap meet’ happened again recently. “Gone” are Tucker Poolman and Derek Forbort (both inexplicability signing long term deals with other clubs). “In” are Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt, not to mention our 2021 Draft Class (Side Note: the Jets drafted a guy named Chaz – if you think I’m not going to try to make “Charles in Charge” his nickname – you don’t know me very well).

I mentioned in my last article that Nik Ehlers is currently my favourite player (best wishes Mathieu Perreault), and that, along with all this new change, got me to thinking “Who have been the most popular players in Winnipeg Jets 2.0 history”? This list is about as scientific and empirical as a Xenu sighting, but let’s have some fun:

  1. Dustin Byfuglien “Big Buff” – my opinions on Big Buff tend to fluctuate about as much as his weight did. He was an extremely gifted athlete who could take over a game at any time. A 6’5” rollercoaster of bruising proportions, Byfuglien could fill the box score and the penalty box. He was (and probably still is) Winnipeg’s favourite player.  My opprobrium was always too strong. I focused far too often on the missed defensive assignments and his general apathy to playing 60 full minutes of hockey. I should have focused on the fact that he was a force of nature, capable of rag dolling 2 NHL hockey players at the same time. I miss him.
  2. Mark Scheifele “Man Who Stares At Goats” – I swear (although Mark won’t) that I like Mark Scheifele. My co-host, and raconteur loves Mr.55. I completely understand why Mark is very popular in Winnipeg. He’s good at hockey, handsome, squeaky clean, and looks like what would happen if the Midwest had a baby. He will be the next captain of the Winnipeg Jets. Mark’s effort level on the defensive side of his game however is as inconsistent as his haircuts. For a guy who trains so hard in the offseason, I’ve never really understood his lack of commitment to this aspect of his game. I’m going to stop the criticism here (there is more) or else I jeopardize the longevity of our podcast (sorry Vaughan).
  3. The “GST” Line – Is there anything more quintessentially Canadian than naming a venerated third line hockey pairing after a federal tax? It would be like naming 2 of the 9 teams in a 9-team football league the “Roughriders” (which also happened). The GST Line consisted of Tanner Glass, Jim Slater, and Chris Thorburn and became a bit of a phenomenon. I had never seen, nor have I seen since, a crowd chant a hockey line’s nickname for nearly every shift. Individually, each player was more of a lunch pail guy, but together they captivated audiences (much like the Constructicons…….that’s right, a Transformers joke). Just for fun, I looked up the GST line’s “Expected Goals” on Moneypuck. Yikes. They were near the very bottom of all Jets forward line combinations that year with a paltry 44%…sometimes the heart and mind don’t see the same things.
  4. Andrew Ladd – Andrew was the first captain of Winnipeg Jets 2.0 and the organization put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. This one is more of a “your first love is your strongest love” situations. The Ladd-Little-Wheeler line was the first forward line that made me think we weren’t going to be mired at the bottom of the league forever. Alas, Ladd’s post-Jet career has been a test case for why you don’t give 30-year old’s long term deals, but we wish ‘ol Laddy the best.

There are certainly others. Honourable mentions include: Kyle Conner, Nik Ehlers, Patrick Laine and not Paul Maurice. As the 2021-2022 season barrels toward us, it is fun to look back at those players that brought us joy. For further fun, last on this list was Nik Antropov. The one player jersey I own.

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