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What if ...

If MEC had been successful in raising sufficient capital to purchase the Jets and secure private and public sector funding for the construction of a new arena, the Jets would have played in Winnipeg for the 1996-1997 season and beyond. This is a story, strictly fictional, of one potential account of what would have happened in the 1996-1997 season, the 25th of the Jets proud history, the season that was never played.

The Jets 25th Season
Date Event
June, 1996 Long time NHL veteran and Winnipeg Jet Randy Gilhen announces his retirement.
July, 1996 Amid much speculation and rumor regarding the future of the coaching staff, Winnipeg Jets General Manager John Paddock announces that Head Coach Terry Simpson will return for the 1996-1997 season. Simpson will be assisted by former Jet Paul MacLean and the recently retired Randy Gilhen. The Jets announced the formation of Jets Broadcasting, Inc., which will handle all the production of the radio and television broadcasts for Winnipeg Jets games, both home and away. Jets Broadcasting grants CJOB rights to carry radio broadcasts produced by Jets Broadcasting and grants each of CKND and CKY a fifteen game package of televised games to be produced by Jets Broadcasting and aired by each station. Jets Broadcasting also announces that they have hired Curt Keilback to again become the Voice of the Jets, and that color commentary will be provided by former Jet Randy Carlyle, who was previously an assistant coach with the Jets.
August, 1996 The Jets announce that in honor of their 25th season, that they will wear a new third jersey in 10 selected home games this coming season. The jersey will be a replica of the style worn by the Jets during the 1978-1979 season, when they last competed in the now-defunct World Hockey Association.
September, 1996 Training camp opens for the Jets 25th season with two notable absences. Alexei Zhamnov is unsigned, unable to come to contract terms with the Jets, but since he is a restricted free agent, is not able to sign with another NHL team without the Jets getting five first round draft choices as compensation from the team that signs him. Keith Tkachuk, visibly annoyed that teammate Teemu Selanne received a long-term contract extension one year earlier amid rumors that the prior ownership group wanted to trade him, announces that he will not report to the Jets until they "show me the proper respect someone of my stature deserves". The Jets counter that they will not discuss Tkachuk's contract until he reports to training camp.
October 2, 1996 The Jets trade the rights to Alexei Zhamnov to the Chicago Blackhawks in a three team trade that sees the rights to Jeremy Roenick, also a restricted free agent, go from the Blackhawks to the Los Angeles Kings, while the Jets receive defenseman Phillippe Boucher, winger Vladimir Tsyplakov and goaltender Jean-Claude Bergeron from the Kings. Bergeron becomes the backup for workhorse Nikolai Khabibulin, while Boucher and Tsyplakov prepare to join the Jets for their first game of the season in Hartford. The Jets also announce the signing of free agent forward Ed Olczyk, who has been waiting for an offer from an NHL team.
October 3, 1996 Keith Tkachuk reports to the Jets and pronounces himself fit enough to play as the Jets board the plane for their season opening game in Hartford.
October 5, 1996 Prior to the Jets first game of the season in Hartford, Keith Tkachuk throws a temper tantrum in the visitors' dressing room after seeing his jersey without the familiar 'C' on it. Tkachuk confronts Head Coach Terry Simpson who informed him that Kris King will remain the team captain. Tkachuk storms out of the meeting and draws a 'C' in chalk on his jersey, then puts on the jersey and goes out for the warmup. The Jets go on to drop a 4-2 decision to the Whalers. Teemu Selanne has a goal and an assist for the Jets, while Tkachuk registers no points and no shots on goal. He is noticeably out of shape as the game goes on and does not see the ice in the final ten minutes of the game. Tkachuk offers only a terse 'no comment' to reporters after the game.
October 6, 1996 The Jets announce that Keith Tkachuk will be fined an undisclosed amount for his actions on the prior night.
October 7, 1996 The Jets battle the Boston Bruins to a 2-2 tie. The Jets, with goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin on the bench for an extra attacker, score in the final minute of the third period to come away from Boston with one point. Massachusetts native Keith Tkachuk is a healthy scratch. Head Coach Terry Simpson tells reporters that Tkachuk is not in game shape. Tkachuk does not attend the game and misses the team flight back to Winnipeg.
October 9, 1996 The Winnipeg Free Press runs a front page article, authored by Scott Taylor, extolling the virtues of former Jets co-owner and president Barry Shenkarow. The Free Press promises that this article is the first in a series of a lengthy "exposé" on the Jets ownership.
October 10, 1996 The Jets open the home portion of their 25th season wearing their new third jersey. A full house at the ShenkArena sees the Jets beat the Sharks 5-1. Former Jet Ab McDonald, the Jets first captain, is on hand to drop the puck at the pre-game ceremonial faceoff. Keith Tkachuk is back in the Jets lineup and is soundly booed by the crowd. Television cameras show a sly grin on Tkachuk's face as the crowd expresses itself.
October 15, 1996 After numerous delays, ground is broken at the site of the new Manitoba Entertainment Complex in downtown Winnipeg. Premier Gary Filmon, Mayor Susan Thompson, Jets General Manager John Paddock, along with members of MEC and Jets players are present at the ceremony. NHL President Gary Bettman is invited, but declines, citing a prior engagement.
October 20, 1996 Prior to the Jets game against the Miami Panthers, the Jets honor one of the best lines in hockey history, as they raise a banner to the rafters of the ShenkArena in honor of the "Hot Line". Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull are on hand as Winnipeggers and the Jets pay their respects to these legends of the WHA. The Jets go on to win 5-4 in overtime, but not before blowing a two goal lead late in the third period, as goaltender J.C. Bergeron has a forgettable performance in his first action of the season.
October 23, 1996 For the 15th consecutive day, the Winnipeg Free Press runs a front page article condemning the Jets ownership. This article, along with the prior 14 articles, suggests that the members of the MEC are 'leeches' and 'grossly incompetent'. Scott Taylor personally lobbies NHL President Gary Bettman for the league to seize control of the Jets franchise and place Barry Shenkarow in charge. MEC and Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club file legal action in Court of Queen's Bench against the Free Press and Taylor, alleging libel and slander, and ask the court to enjoin the Free Press from running any future such articles.
October 24, 1996 Court of Queen's Bench refuses to grant the injunction against the Free Press, but strongly cautions the Free Press that MEC and the Jets have shown "strong cause" for their lawsuit. The Jets announce that Scott Taylor's media credentials will be revoked.
October 25, 1996 For the first time since October 8, no article appears in the Winnipeg Free Press regarding the Jets ownership or former co-owner Barry Shenkarow. The Free Press announces that Scott Taylor has been named Sports Editor.
November 1, 1996 The Jets close a four game road trip with a 7-2 loss in Calgary to the Flames. Keith Tkachuk scores his first two goals of the season in the loss, the Jets fourth straight.
November 2, 1996 Keith Tkachuk announces that he is walking out on the Jets, disgruntled over lack of progress on a new contract. "It's all bulls***", he told reporters. "They tell me that I'm their franchise player, and they don't want to pay me like one. I think I've earned the right to be paid among the best players in this game.", he added.
November 3, 1996 The Jets tie Montreal 4-4 at the ShenkArena. The biggest cheer of the night from the home crowd came for the announcement that Keith Tkachuk was not dressed. Prior to the game, Scott Taylor is escorted from the ShenkArena by force as he attempts to enter the building with a ticket he purchased. The Jets offer him his money back and tell him not to come back.
November 4, 1996 After a meeting with Jets General Manager John Paddock, Keith Tkachuk announces that he is rejoining the team. He further announces that he will no longer be speaking to the media. "You guys are just out for blood", he said to a reporter as he left the interview room.
November 6, 1996 The Jets come through with a hard fought win against the Dallas Stars at the ShenkArena, beating the Stars 3-2. Surprise starter J.C. Bergeron backstops the Jets to the much-needed victory, earning his first win as a Jet. Keith Tkachuk's third period goal proved to be the winner.
November 15, 1996 Winnipeg Free Press beat writer Tim Campbell is asked to continue the paper's crusade against MEC and the Jets ownership and refuses. He is fired later in the day.
November 16, 1996 Tim Campbell is hired by the Winnipeg Sun as their new beat writer to follow the Jets.
November 18, 1996 The Jets drop a 5-2 decision to the Detroit Red Wings at the ShenkArena. The Jets laid an egg in front of a big crowd and were treated to frequent booing throughout the third period.
November 19, 1996 Struggling with a 5-10-3 record, Jets General Manager John Paddock relieves Head Coach Terry Simpson of his duties. Simpson's replacement is current assistant Paul MacLean, while Randy Carlyle moves down from the broadcast booth to fill the vacant assistant coaching position. Jordy Douglas becomes the new color commentator on both radio and television broadcasts.
November 20, 1996 The Jets are spanked 7-0 by the Colorado Avalanche at McNichols Arena in their first game under new Head Coach Paul MacLean. After the game, MacLean closes the dressing room to reporters and proceeds to unleash a verbal barrage that could be heard across the rink.
November 23, 1996 The Jets return home and beat the New York Islanders 6-1 at the ShenkArena. The Jets win for the first time under new Head Coach Paul MacLean.
November 24, 1996 Craig Janney, struggling with only one goal and five assists, is traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a seventh round draft choice in the 1997 Entry Draft.
November 28, 1996 A snowstorm dumps 30 cm of snow on Winnipeg. The New Jersey Devils, already en route, are forced to circle above the city for three hours as a runway is cleared at the Winnipeg International Airport for them to land. The Devils arrive at the ShenkArena two hours before game time, but not before grabbing a pre-game meal at McDonald's. The Jets proceed to whip the lethargic Devils 12-1 before a crowd of 845, despite the fact that over 12,000 tickets were sold. Teemu Selanne has a career high five goals, while Keith Tkachuk, Ed Olczyk and Dallas Drake score two goals each.
November 30, 1996 The Jets beat the Calgary Flames 5-2 at the ShenkArena for their fourth straight win.
December 2, 1996 Keith Tkachuk calls a press conference to publicly request a trade. Tkachuk calls Jets General Manager John Paddock a "liar" for failing to reward him for his contributions to the Jets. When asked where he would like to be traded to, he replies, "Somewhere with some night life, this stinkin' town's dead. Did someone close the mill?".
December 7, 1996 The Jets broke a two game losing streak with a solid 6-2 win over the New Jersey Devils in the Meadowlands. The Devils outshoot the Jets 51-14 on the night, but are foiled by Nikolai Khabibulin. Defenseman Jeff Finley nets the first hat trick of his NHL career.
December 10, 1996 The Jets recall goaltender Parris Duffus from the Minnesota Moose of the IHL to replace Nikolai Khabibulin, who has a slightly injured groin. After J.C. Bergeron becomes ill before the game, Duffus starts and backstops the Jets to a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Long Island. It was Duffus' first NHL game and victory, but he is returned to the Moose the next day.
December 20, 1996 The Jets drop a 7-3 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the sold out ShenkArena to extend their most recent losing streak to four games.
December 22, 1996 The Jets break their four game losing streak with a 6-5 overtime win over the Calgary Flames. Keith Tkachuk scores two goals in the final minute of the third period to tie the game, then Teemu Selanne sets up Vladimir Tsyplakov for the game winner in the extra period.
December 31, 1996 The Jets close out 1996 with a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks at the ShenkArena. After the game, Keith Tkachuk, in a routine roadside check, records a blood-alcohol level of .10, double the legal limit in Manitoba. When officers arrest him, he is belligerent and takes a punch at one of the policemen.
January 1, 1997 Jets General Manager John Paddock arranges for bail to be posted for Keith Tkachuk, who spent the night in jail, and declines to comment publicly on the matter, citing that "the matter is before the courts". Tkachuk accompanies the Jets to Chicago to start a road trip.
January 9, 1997 The Jets play their first home game since Keith Tkachuk's arrest and play the Detroit Red Wings to a 4-4 tie at the ShenkArena. The chants of "Whiner" and "Tkachuk Sucks" were frequently heard all night long.
January 14, 1997 Jets General Manager John Paddock calls a press conference to announce that he had traded Keith Tkachuk and Dallas Drake to the New York Rangers for three first round draft choices and winger Niklas Sundstrom.
January 15, 1997 In their first game since the trade of Keith Tkachuk, the Jets win 4-2 over the St. Louis Blues at the ShenkArena. Newly signed minor league free agent Chris Kontos scores one goal and records an assist in the victory. Kontos had been playing with the IHL's Minnesota Moose before getting the call from the Jets. Ironically, it was rumored that the Minnesota Moose were going to move to Winnipeg had the "Save the Jets" efforts been unsuccessful.
January 25, 1997 The Jets bring back many of the members of their Avco Cup championship teams as part of season-long celebrations of the Jets 25th season. Former Jets who attended the reunion were such names as Peter Sullivan, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Joe Daley, Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, Ted Green and Willy Lindstrom. The group was saluted with a five minute standing ovation prior to the game against the Vancouver Canucks, which the Jets won 5-3. The Jets, fittingly, used this occasion as one of the games that they elected to wear their third jersey to pay homage to their proud WHA past. The game marked the Jets third straight victory since the Keith Tkachuk trade.
February 8, 1997 In one of the most highly anticipated games in Winnipeg sports history, the Jets played host to Keith Tkachuk and the New York Rangers. Scalpers were getting between $100 and $200 for tickets before the game. The song "Tkachuk Busters" became an instant hit on every radio station in Winnipeg in the week preceding this game. Tkachuk scored a goal and an assist for the Rangers, but the Jets prevailed 5-3 in their seventh victory in the nine games since Tkachuk was traded.
February 18, 1997 The Jets continue to be one of the hottest teams in the NHL, crawling back to within three games of .500 at 25-28-5, as they beat the Los Angeles Kings 6-1 at the ShenkArena. ESPN sends a crew to Winnipeg and the Jets are featured on a "SportsCenter" segment entitled "Addition by Subtraction".
February 24, 1997 Jets General Manager John Paddock announces that he has traded the Jets' 2nd round choice in the 1997 Entry Draft along with defenseman Deron Quint to the New York Islanders for rugged winger Todd Bertuzzi.
February 26, 1997 Jets General Manager John Paddock announces that he has traded the Jets' 5th round choice in the 1997 Entry Draft to the Tampa Bay Lightning for winger Shawn Burr. Later that day, Paddock announces another trade, this time sending Mike Stapleton and the Jets' 6th round choice in the 1997 Entry Draft to the San Jose Sharks for defenseman Doug Bodger. The Jets respond with an energetic effort in Calgary, as they edge the Flames 4-3.
February 27, 1997 A fight-filled affair in Vancouver ends with a dramatic 6-5 overtime win, as Teemu Selanne's shot is tipped by Todd Bertuzzi with three seconds remaining in the extra period. The Jets record now stands at 28-28-6, the first time the Jets have been at the .500 mark since the beginning of the season.
March 2, 1997 The Hockey News announces that the Jets will be featured on the cover of their next edition. The turnaround of the Jets is the talk of the NHL. A sellout crowd greets the Jets as they return home and the team responds with a 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The Jets office sends out playoff invoices to season ticket holders, something that was inconceivable months earlier.
March 3, 1997 After a lengthy trial, Court of Queen's Bench rules in favor of the MEC and Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club in their action against the Winnipeg Free Press and Scott Taylor for libel and slander. The plaintiffs are awarded $5 million in general damages and $10 million in punitive damages. The Free Press immediately appeals the judgment, calling the decision a "gross miscarriage of justice".
March 10, 1997 The Jets host the Quebec Senateurs before another crowd in excess of 15,000. The Jets win 3-0 over the Senateurs and announce that only scattered single seats remain for each of their last seven regular season home games. The Jets are the talk of the town, as they move three games above the .500 mark at 32-29-6, a season high.
March 27, 1997 After a brief two game losing streak, the Jets sweep a home and home series with the Toronto Maple Leafs to pull four games over .500 and remain in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
March 29, 1997 The Jets beat the Edmonton Oilers at the ShenkArena by a score of 5-3. The game is again a sellout and the Jets announce that with all the remaining regular season home games sold out, that they will set a franchise record for attendance in a single season.
April 7, 1997 The Jets battle the Dallas Stars to a 2-2 tie at the ShenkArena in the last regular season home game. The Jets set a single season team record for attendance, averaging 13,801 fans per game, beating the prior high of 13,694 set in the 1985-1986 season.
April 11, 1997 With only a single win needed to clinch home ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Jets end the regular season with losses in Vancouver and Edmonton to finish with a 38-35-9 record. The Jets will play the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and are the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
April 12, 1997 The Jets sell out all three potential home games of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
April 16, 1997 The Jets visit the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim to start their first round series against the Mighty Ducks. Despite yielding two goals to Paul Kariya, the Jets come through with a 4-2 win.
April 18, 1997 The Jets play Game 2 of their first round series against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The Ducks and the officials are not as kind to the Jets, as the Ducks win 5-1. Paul MacLean launches various verbal tirades at referee Kerry Fraser, who is too busy looking at himself in the mirror. MacLean screams loudly about how Teemu Selanne is being mugged by the Ducks, but his tirades go unnoticed until the next day, when he is fined $5,000 by the NHL for "abuse of officials".
April 20, 1997 The Jets return home for Game 3, with the series tied 1-1. A raucous crowd at the ShenkArena, most of whom clad in white, roars with a volume never heard before. Trailing 2-1 midway through the third period, Niklas Sundstrom steals the puck at the blue line from Oleg Tverdovsky and walks in alone on Ducks goaltender Guy Hebert. Sundstrom finds the five hole on Hebert to tie the game, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Hopes are dashed later, however, as Paul Kariya finds Steve Rucchin alone in front of Nikolai Khabibulin, who makes no mistake as time winds down in the second overtime period.
April 22, 1997 A determined group of Jets come out strong for Game 4, but overexuberance costs them early on, as Paul Kariya sets up Jari "King of the Empty Net" Kurri and Brian Bellows to give the Ducks a 2-0 lead at the first intermission. The Jets pick away at the lead, and go ahead in the third on a Teppo Numminen shot from the point that eluded Guy Hebert. The victory is sealed with an empty net goal by Shawn Burr, with an assist to Nikolai Khabibulin.
April 24, 1997 The Jets return to the Arrowhead Pond for Game 5, but spend most of the night in their own end, under siege by Paul Kariya and the Ducks. Being outshot 31-12 early in the third period, Head Coach Paul MacLean calls a time out to give Nikolai Khabibulin a rest during a Ducks power play. Less than a minute later, after the Jets kill the penalty, Teemu Selanne takes a pass from Mike Eastwood and beats Guy Hebert with a wicked slapshot. That would be the game's only goal as Khabibulin is named the game's first star.
April 27, 1997 Faced with the opportunity to win their first playoff series since 1987, the Jets do not disappoint the sellout crowd, as they punish the Mighty Ducks 7-2 in a game that features as many fisticuffs as goals. Five game misconducts and over 150 penalty minutes were assessed, leaving only a handful of players left at game's end to shake hands. The series win was the Jets first ever NHL playoff series win against a team other than the Calgary Flames.
April 28, 1997 A half hour after Select-A-Seat opens, tickets sell out for all three potential home games in the next round. Many fans camp out in front of the ShenkArena to ensure their spot in line.
May 2, 1997 The Jets open their second round playoff series at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit against the Red Wings. Hopes are high but fade gradually, as the Red Wings control most of the game and take Game 1 by a 3-1 margin. Chris Osgood's shutout is broken with just under two minutes to play in the third period as Ed Olczyk scores his first goal of the playoffs.
May 4, 1997 The Jets go down 2-0 in the series to the Red Wings in a mirror image of Game 1. The Jets only muster 14 shots on goal and go down meekly 3-0 to the Red Wings. Jim McKenzie slugs it out with Darren McCarty in the only event that gets the Jets players standing up at the bench. The dressing room door is closed to the media for more than a half hour after the game, after which few players were left to speak to reporters.
May 6, 1997 The Jets two losses in Detroit do not dampen the spirits of the ShenkArena crowd, nor the spirits of the Jets themselves as they take the ice for Game 3. Surprise starter Mike Vernon is blitzed early and often by the Jets and is pulled before the first intermission as the Jets cruise to a 6-1 win. Teemu Selanne leads the Jets with two goals and an assist.
May 8, 1997 The Jets are faced with a much more determined Red Wings team for Game 4, but are held in the game by Nikolai Khabibulin. Captain Kris King scores early in the third to break a 2-2 tie and it holds up as the Jets even the series.
May 10, 1997 The Jets respond with a much better effort in Detroit than in Games 1 and 2, but still find themselves trailing 2-1 in the third period. Chris Osgood stones Teemu Selanne on a breakaway, then the Red Wings come back on a two on one, where Steve Yzerman beats Nikolai Khabibulin to put the game away.
May 12, 1997 Facing elimination in Game 6, the Jets throw everything but the kitchen sink at Chris Osgood, but he and the Red Wings defense hold the Jets at bay. The 2-2 tie at the end of the first intermission holds until the 10:49 mark of the first overtime period when Brendan Shanahan shoots through a screen and beats Nikolai Khabibulin to end the Jets season. The goal is vigorously protested by the Jets, as they argue that Martin Lapointe was interfering with Khabibulin. Referee Stephen Walkom dismisses the Jets allegations and leaves the rink under heavy police protection. The Jets season ends under a cloud of anger and frustration.
July, 1997 A finalist for the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year, Jets Head Coach Paul MacLean finishes a close second to Ted Nolan of the Buffalo Sabres. Dale Hawerchuk announces his retirement and subsequently the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club announces that they will retire #10 in Hawerchuk's honor at a home game next season.