Throwback Thursday: Lame Ducks

In their final season in Winnipeg, the Jets and their fans were dealt another huge blow with the trade of Teemu Selanne.

The financial troubles the original Winnipeg Jets accumulated over the years dated all the way back to 1990 when rumors of relocation began to surface as then Jets' president, Barry Shenkarow quietly looked for a buyer for the team. Often taking phone calls from potential buyers, Shenkarow refused any offers that would see the team leave it's frigid homeland. Stepping up as a last attempt to keep the franchise in Winnipeg, a group called the Spirit of Manitoba hoped to raise enough funds before the deadline that Shenkarow and his group, Jets Hockey Ventures had set to buy the team. After failing to meet the deadline, Shenkarow announced that the upcoming '95-'96 season would be the last in Winnipeg as he would begin to listen to out-bound offers for the club.

A group led by businessmen Richard Burke of Minneapolis and Steven Gluckstern of New York placed an offer that would see the franchise move to Minnesota. This seemed a fitting destination with the city having lost the North Stars a few years earlier when that club headed south to become the Dallas Stars. When the proposed arena deal fell through in Minnesota, Arizona sports mogul Jerry Colangelo made a phone call to Burke about the possibility of bringing the NHL to the Valley full time. The NHL had previously experimented with hockey teams playing exhibition and regular season games in the desert. Seeing the potential in the market, the NHL gave the green light for a move to Phoenix.

As the parties began to get the Valley ready for its NHL debut, Winnipeg residents were still comprehending the loss of their beloved Jets. Having had the team's 23rd season cut short due to a lockout, fans looked forward to a fully scheduled season with a strong push by the Jets. During the team's final season in Winnipeg, the Jets would finish 5th in the Central Division and a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team would light the lamp 275 times during the regular season. Former captain, Keith Tkachuk led the team in goals (50) and points (98) and tied with teammate Teemu Selanne for assists (48). The team's success was bittersweet as it was the Jets' final season, but the biggest blow was yet to be dealt to the fan base.

Having taken over the club during the offseason, Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern began the cleaning process in Winnipeg. In a phone call to team All-star, Teemu Selanne, Burke told the Finnish player that he would not be dealt as he was a major piece to making the team marketable in the desert. Going as far as having him appear in a commercial that aired in Arizona, Burke had Selanne introduce himself to the Phoenix market, describing his style of play. Jerry Colangelo even held a Selanne jersey as he, Burke and Gluckstern held a press conference in Phoenix. All signs pointed to the Finnish Flash departing with his team for the Sonoran desert, but all was not as it seemed.

In a move that many feel set the tone for the future of the Phoenix Coyotes, Burke dealt Selanne along with Marc Chouinard and a 4th round draft pick on February 7, 1996. The trade with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim saw a return of two 19-year old, top 4 draft picks, defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky and forward Chad Kilger. Combined, the two players had only 132 games under their belt. The trade seemed to make a lame duck season even lamer, with many questioning how the team could trade a marquee name like Selanne who was loved by all Winnipeg fans. Teemu saw the continuation of his success in Anaheim, forming one of the highest point producing trios with linemates, Paul Kariya and Steve Rucchin. Tverdosky would go on to have a very solid first campaign in Phoenix with the Coyotes, recording 55 points from the blue line at age 20, but his tenure in Phoenix would be brief and he would actually return to Anaheim for the '99-'00 season. Kilger never had even a single truly successful season (as measured by his 4th overall selection status) and would see the ice only 63 times for the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise.

Finishing 4th in the Pacific, Selanne and the Mighty Ducks failed to make the playoffs after the trade. While in Winnipeg, the Jets looked to beat the Detroit Red Wings in the Quarter-finals. Winning only Game 1 and Game 5, the Jets would be defeated by the Red Wings. In a final decision of 4-1, the Jets said goodbye to Winnipeg and their fans as they skated off the ice one last time.

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