There is perhaps no greater mythology in Jets history than the circumstances surrounding their encounters with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. According to legend, all the Jets' ills of that era can somehow be traced to having to face the Oilers.
Following their move from the Norris to the Smythe Division in 1982, the Jets met their new division rivals in the playoffs five of the next six years. The Oilers took every series and of the 19 postseason games played between the two teams throughout the decade, the Jets won only once.
John Ferguson, the Jets' excuse-wielding general manager, claimed his teams were contenders in the same class as Edmonton. A budding dynasty that might very well have seen as many championship banners hanging from the rafters of the since-razed Winnipeg Arena as there were in the Northlands Coliseum.
If only they hadn't been in the same division, boasted Ferguson. If only they hadn't kept meeting the Oilers every year.
But let us examine the persistent urban legend in greater detail.
The Jets indeed had some good teams. Ferguson wasn't entirely full of hot air. However, they only posted a winning record in two of Ferguson's nine full seasons on the job after the Jets joined the NHL.
That's hardly the resume of a champion-in-waiting.
The Jets had trouble enough separating themselves from the dregs of the league. Challenging Edmonton was out of the question.
The fact that it was Edmonton that knocked the Jets out of the playoffs so often cannot be denied, but simply by virtue of losing to the eventual champions did not make the Jets a victim of circumstance. In almost every case, the Jets would have been hard-pressed to advance any further in the playoffs if they had been facing the clutch-and-grab Canucks, the ever-pathetic Kings or any another equally woeful club.
The Jets were just not that good. It is a reality that Ferguson had trouble accepting right up to his dying day.
Furthermore, as anyone who witnessed those Jets-Oilers playoff games can attest, they were not exactly hard-fought, knock-down-drag-out battles. Some were close, yes. Too many were not. Too many had the feel of an exaggerated pillow fight. If the meek are indeed poised to inherit the Earth, Dale Hawerchuk and his ex-teammates are well-positioned for a mighty big payday.
For many Jets fans, John Ferguson's dismissal remains one of the most the happiest moments in franchise history. Yet since that fateful day in which he was finally sent packing, the urban legend he seeded continues to grow like a Chia Pet.
The Jets' path to greatness was not blocked by the Oilers.
It was blocked by the Jets.