I won’t pretend that I have dozens of great memories about the Leafs and their fremarkable battles with the old Winnipeg Jets. (Nor will I have a treasure trove of fond recollections from the Toronto’s many tilts with the Atlanta Thrashers…in fact, I have to keep reminding myself that it was indeed the Thrashers who have moved north to Winnipeg, not the Coyotes…)
That’s not to say there weren’t good games between the two sides from the time the Jets joined the NHL in 1979-’80 and when they left for the U.S. south in the mid 1990s. It’s just that, since the two teams were in different Conferences an d they never met in the playoffs, well, it was difficult to get too amped up about playing the Jets. (I do remember seeing Selanne and the Jets in action in the early-mid ‘90s at the Gardens—just before or after his 70-goal season and subsequent serious injury…but beyond that, my memory bank is fairly blank when it comes to the Leafs and the Jets in those days. Sometimes I try to block out most of the ‘80s, from the Leafs perspective. You may have some Jets-Leafs memories and if so, by all means send your comments along…)
But the thing is, it is nice that another hockey-mad Canadian city will be back playing in the NHL this season, and that the Leafs will be able to face what should be a pretty good young team, with a fair bit of skill. (Cormier, Kane, Little, Ladd, Klinberg, Enstrom, Bogosian, Byfuglien are all first-rate and very young, skilled players…) In fact, I would even argue that their “top-six” forwards are potentially superior to Toronto’s “top-six” right now, but that’s a discussion for another day, once the season is underway and we see how certain individuals are actually performing.
But I just like the idea that the Jets are back in operation. While they may still feel like the Thrashers for a while, the fact that a team is back in Winnipeg will make that mental transition a bit easier for many fans, certainly easier for me, at least. Winnipeg should never have lost their team in the first place—and the relative lack of success and uncertainty/confusion surrounding the Coyotes through the years may be further evidence of that.
Now, as I alluded to above, there is certainly no great history between the two franchises, and I’ve touched on this a bit before (click to see an earlier post). But while they will ultimately be in different Conferences, the fact that they will both be in the East this season should get at least the nucleus of a rivalry off and running in 2011-’12. Both the Jets and the Leafs are youth-oriented teams and both should emergence as stronger squads two and three years from now.
In the meantime, perhaps we’ll get to see the two clubs engage in some on-ice battles that may be well worth watching—and remembering.