While the original Winnipeg Jets began play in the World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1972 — and transferred over to the NHL in the 1979 merger — that iteration of the Jets franchise is now playing out of Phoenix as the Arizona Coyotes. The modern iteration of the Jets, however, began play in 1997 in Georgia, as the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers struggled with poor attendance for their entire history, and with a growing movement to bring another team to Canada, and specifically bring a team back to Winnipeg (many even fighting for the financially struggling Coyotes to return), an ownership group headed by True North Sports & Entertainment bought and moved the team to Winnipeg, to play as the Jets beginning in the 2011-12 season.
Contributing to their lack of fan support and poor attendance numbers was the relative lack of success by the Thrashers in their time in Atlanta. The Thrashers made the playoffs only one time in their 12 year history (11 seasons due to lockout), and were swept by the New York Rangers in that lone appearance.
Since moving to Winnipeg, the Jets have experienced significantly more success, making the playoffs in four of their first nine seasons, and even losing in the conference finals in 2017-18 to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Despite being one of the younger franchises in NHL history, the Jets/Thrashers players have brought home several individual honors. In 2017-18 both goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and captain winger Blake Wheeler were named to the all-NHL second team, following Ilya Kovulchuk as the only players in franchise history to be named to all-NHL teams, while five Jets/Thrashers have been named to all-rookie teams.
In terms of major awards, however, the only two players to take home significant hardware in franchise history came before the franchise relocation. In 2001-02, Dany Heatley — who the Thrashers selected second overall in the 2000 NHL entry draft — won the Calder Memorial Trophy for the league’s best rookie. Heatley, after scoring 67 points, beat out teammate Kovulchuk and hall of fame Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk for the award. Two years later, Kovalchuk scored 41 goals and won the league’s Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the most goals in the regular season. Kovy tied for the award with Flames winger Jarome Iginla and Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash, and no other Thrasher scored more than 20 goals in 03-04.
In 2020, the Jets were led by one of the best young forward groups in the NHL. With a top line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and a mix of Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine (who all scored more than 63 points) the Jets posed one of the best scoring attacks in the league. Though the squad eventually fell to the Calgary Flames in the opening round of a COVID-19-delayed playoffs, the Jest were thought to be potential Stanley Cup contenders heading into the season.
While the Jets’ back line lost veterans Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers before the season, the defense stayed strong in 2020 with the emergence of Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. Winnipeg also flourished keeping the puck out of their own net due to another fabulous season from American goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck started 58 games for the Jets, winning 31 (10 more than he lost in regulation) while posting a .922 save percentage and 2.57 goals against average.
The future outlook for the Jets is bright, as potential salary concerns have been navigated with long term extensions to Nikolaj Ehlers, Morrissey, Connor and Laine all already signed.