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Lighting The Lamp: Tkachuk This Out

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured every home game day.

Winnipeg Jets jersey circa 1994 signed by Keith Tkachuk
Rick Ackerman

Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman

The Winnipeg hockey club jets into town to take on the St. Louis Blues tonight in another game involving divisional rivals. This will be the tenth game (of 25) this season for the Blues against other Central Division foes. The Note has done quite well, sporting a 6-2-1 record, with victories over Chicago, Colorado, Nashville, Dallas and two against Minnesota. The losses were to Dallas, Chicago (in overtime) and Nashville.

It is difficult for many hockey fans today to understand the history of the Winnipeg Jets since two different franchises have had that exact same name.

The original Winnipeg Jets entered the NHL as refugees from the World Hockey Association in 1979. The WHA was founded in 1971 by American promoters Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson, ably aided by Canadian Bill Hunter, president of the defunct Western Canada Hockey League. The WHA sought to expand hockey to major American and Canadian cities before the NHL expanded to those cities (following the NHL Expansion of 1967 and the addition of Buffalo and Vancouver in 1970). By successfully challenging the NHL’s reserve clause, the new WHA teams were able to attract players by offering them more money.

In 1972 the Cleveland Crusaders, New England Whalers, New York Raiders, Ottawa Nationals, Philadelphia Blazers, Quebec Nordiques, Alberta Oilers, Chicago Cougars, Houston Aeros, Los Angeles Sharks, Minnesota Fighting Saints and Winnipeg Jets all began play in the new league. Fast forward to the 1978-79 season when the WHA was down to seven teams after many, many relocations, additions and subtractions. The Whalers, Nordiques, Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Birmingham Bulls, Cincinnati Stingers and Indianapolis Ice all struggled through that last season. The WHA disbanded that summer, and Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec and Winnipeg joined the NHL as expansion teams, beginning play in October 1979.

So, the highly successful WHA Jets became the highly unsuccessful NHL Jets and were forced to relocate in 1996 to Phoenix, Arizona, as the Coyotes.

In 1997 the NHL granted expansion franchises to Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus and St. Paul, Minnesota. The birth of a new franchise in Atlanta marked the return of NHL hockey to the city General Sherman burned during the Civil War. The Atlanta Flames, granted an expansion franchise in 1972, moved to Calgary in 1980 due to poor attendance, rising costs and terrible management. Named for Georgia’s state bird, the Thrashers began NHL play in October 1999, losing to the New Jersey Devils, 4-1. During 12 seasons, Atlanta only qualified for the playoffs once (swept by the Rangers in 2007) and due to continuing poor attendance, financial losses and ownership problems, the franchise was relocated to Winnipeg as the Jets in 2011.

The Blues have never met either the Thrashers or the new Jets in postseason play. St. Louis did play the old Jets (now Coyotes) once, winning the first-round series in 1982, three games to one.

Nor have the Blues ever made a trade with the Jets. However, they did deal with the Thrashers, starting with dispatching Lubos Bartecko to Atlanta for a fourth-round draft pick in 2001. The Note wasted that choice on Russian winger Igor Valeev, who never played in St. Louis. He did score 22 goals for Worcester/Peoria over five minor league seasons before returning to Russia.

In March 2002 the Blues acquired veteran center Ray Ferraro from Atlanta for a fourth-round draft choice. Ferraro, a 19-year NHL veteran, scored six goals and ten points in 15 regular season games for St. Louis before retiring. “Chicken Parm” also scored three assists in ten playoff games for the Blues in 2002. After working for ESPN, NBC and EA Sports, Ferraro is currently a broadcaster/analyst on TSN Hockey in Toronto and Ottawa.

Anxious to bolster their roster for the playoffs, Atlanta acquired Keith Tkachuk from St. Louis, then out of playoff contention, on February 25, 2007. The Blues received center Glen Metropolit, a 2007 first-round draft choice (which turned out to be Ian Cole, later traded to Pittsburgh for Robert Bortuzzo), two second-round picks (centers Phil McRae and Brett Sonne), and a 2008 conditional first-round draft choice if Tkachuk re-signed with Atlanta, which was not exercised. That turned out quite well since it meant the Blues could draft Alex Pietrangelo with the fourth overall pick.

After the Thrashers were eliminated in four games, Tkachuk and a conditional fourth-round pick went back to St. Louis on June 26, 2007. GM Larry Pleau then signed Big Walt to a new two-year contract with the Blues for $8 million, and Atlanta received the conditional fourth-round draft choice in 2008. Metropolit played 20 lackluster games (two goals, five points) before moving on to Boston. McRae suited up for 15 games with the Blues (one goal, three points) and is now on the roster of the Hartford Wolf Pack after signing a contract in August with the New York Rangers’ farm team. Sonne never wore the Bluenote and after four seasons in Peoria and one in Texas (Fort Worth) went to Austria, Sweden, Slovakia, Italy and Denmark, where he is currently playing for the Herlev Eagles, eight miles northwest of Copenhagen.

A win is a win, yet the Blues have been rather sloppy sweeping all three games so far on this five-game home stand; one in regulation, one in overtime and one in a shootout. All three victories were by only one goal. In both bonus-time games, the Note gave up a goal in the final minute of regulation play. And it almost happened in Thursday’s contest with Tampa Bay, but Jake Allen saved the day.

Will the Blues ground the Jets tonight with a satisfying victory by more than one goal? (Please!)