When the Winnipeg Jets came to be once again this summer when True North Sports and Entertainment bought the Atlanta Thrashers, one of the tricky things they had to find a way to deal with was the history of the old Jets. After all, those Jets belong to the Phoenix Coyotes and these new Jets have the history of the Thrashers.
True North found a good way to handle the history of the old Jets by saying they’d treat past numbers of Jets history the way the Maple Leafs do and honor those that wore them rather than retire the numbers once again for players who never had a lick of history with the Thrashers. In spite of doing things that way, it’s not going to keep current Jets forward Bryan Little from doing what he calls, “the right thing.”
Little wore number 10 for the Thrashers, a number that Dale Hawerchuk made famous while playing for the original Jets in the 1980s. The Coyotes retired Hawerchuk’s number in 2007 to honor the former franchise great and even though Hawerchuk never played a game for the Coyotes, the team honored his legacy by hanging his number in the rafters. With that recognition made, Little says that’s enough to keep him from donning the number again in Winnipeg.
Little has asked the team to switch his number from 10 to 18 and so at least to start their stay in Winnipeg, it appears the Jets will have nobody wearing former superstar Dale Hawerchuk’s vaunted No. 10.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot since the name came out, that the team was going to be the Jets again,” Little told the Free Press recently. “And even though the team told me what they were thinking and said publicly they wouldn’t retire old numbers, well, I just think this is the right thing to do.”
The new franchise here isn’t forcing decisions on anyone.
It’s a respectful move by Little but one that helps bring more of the focus on the decision on the owners to call the team the Jets. With the awkward intermingling of the team name being the same but the histories being different, these sorts of things have come up. Evander Kane is going to keep his number 9 even though that belonged to Bobby Hull during his Winnipeg days.
As for Little, he understands that the situations with the current Jets and the former Jets are different.
“Me, I think it would be weird wearing 10 and playing for the Winnipeg Jets,” Little said. “Even though we’re not that organization today (the relocated Jets of 1979-1996 are in Phoenix), I think it still would have felt weird.
“And I have seen already how much the fans there have cherished Jets history. So I’m going to be switching to 18.”
You can respect Little’s take on things here and things with the Jets right off the bat like this are going to be a little bit awkward. Besides, it’s nice to see a young guy in the NHL with enough sense of history to want to go out of his way to honor and respect it. When you hear stories in other leagues about how players look into approaching past greats to wear their number again (think of Barry Bonds wanting to ask Willie Mays to wear 24 with the San Francisco Giants and ultimately opting not to) it makes you appreciate what Little is doing… But it really isn’t necessary in this case.
These are different teams with different histories and should be treated as such by everyone, especially the fans. We know that showing up to games in Winnipeg with a retro Jets sweater on is going to happen, but comparing the new Jets to the old ones is foolish for more than a few reasons. At least these Jets should try to do something the old Jets never had good luck with: Winning.