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Winnipeg Can Learn From Detroit, Green Bay

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WINNIPEG JETS
CP

Game one is done. The beer was flying, you can bet, while Main and Portage was rocking like Granville Street during the 2010 Olympic gold medal game. For one day, Winnipeg was the center of the universe, a bigger deal than it was at any moment during the existence of Louis Riel or Israel Asper.

The portrait of the Queen was back, while a portrait of Maverick was brought into the MTS Centre (yes, it's spelled "re" here). The Jets were back, and that Eddie Olczyk declaration, "It's coming back to Winnipeg!" was no longer a rallying call. It was old news.

The last time the Jets played a home game, Winnipeg's players were Alexei Zhamnov, Shane Doan, Teppo Numminen, Oleg Tverdovsky, Nikolai Khabibulin, and the ever-polarizing Keith Tkachuk. Only two of those dudes are still playing, and only one of those two wasn't arrested for a DUI last year.

Their last game was a home game against the (then) best team in the league, the Detroit Red Wings, who had entered the playoffs after a 62-win regular season (it's still a record), with a roster that included a Hart Trophy winner (and deserving future Hall of Famer) in Sergei Fedorov, a Hall of Famer and one of the best captains of all-time in Steve Yzerman, arguably the best left wing of all-time in Brendan Shanahan, one of the most underrated goalies of all-time in Chris Osgood (who deserved the Vezina Trophy in 1996 instead of actual winner Jim Carey), three all-time great defencemen in Paul Coffey, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Slava Fetisov, two additional Hall of Famers in Dino Ciccarelli and Igor Larionov, and a slew of men who revolutionized the role player position with Keith Primeau, Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper -- the man who began his career as a Winnipeg Jet, but was signed by Detroit for $1 (just a slightly better deal than what the Dutch bought Manhattan for, in my opinion).

For the Jets, it was the only way they could have gone... it was inevitable, and they had traded away their best player in Teemu Selanne to Anaheim, but at least they could say they gave it six games against what may be the greatest regular season of all-time.

It was typical Winnipeg.

Done in by someone better than them... because, as the outside world had always viewed them, Winnipeg was better than nobody. It has always been a punching bag, a proverbial joke for Canadians in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal who say, "At least I don't live in Winnipeg!" It's never been a place where someone goes for culture, even though it's the geographical centre of a country and the site of Canada's two greatest revolutions -- Canada's true crossroads, shoved aside by a nation that abandoned it during its time of need so it could be more American.

(NOTE: I'm from Winnipeg.)

The only way to go was to lose to another embattled city, especially one that was American and a hockey juggernaut -- still a hockey juggernaut, that is, four Stanley Cups later.

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But, now, game one is done.

The honeymoon is over... as over as the Canucks' hangover. Pride and prejudice are not that different, after all.

So, now, the Jets should again turn to Detroit... to ask them, "How, how, how, how, HOW have you built a team on such a dump of a town? How can you build a dynasty that has lasted 20 years, even if your downtown looks like Tripoli? How do you attract the best hockey players in the world to a place where even plumbers wouldn't venture?

"Furthermore, how do you get them to give you that loyalty? Why is that players never leave Detroit? What do you tell them? What's the trance you have them under? Did you hire Harry Potter to keep them under some spell? What wand do you have? Broom?

"Furthermore, how have you been drafting these guys? Is that your secret? Then again, if that is your secret, I still don't get it... How do you decide which guys to keep and which to let go? How did you convince Niklas Kronwall, Brian Rafalski, Todd Bertuzzi, Brad Stuart, and Dominik Hasek to come to this living embodiment of America's crumbling future in the middle of their careers?"

The fact is, you have to win, and the Red Wings have been very, very good at that.

The Canucks have built their team -- under Mike Gillis -- on the same strategy that Kenny Holland built the Red Wings. Build through your draft, and find the value that others don't see in castaways like Bertuzzi and Stuart, not to mention One Dollar Draper. Then, use your record of winning to keep a solid core of drafted superstars like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom around. THEN, use that winning record to attract more stars, like Kronwall, Rafalski, Hasek, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Chris Chelios... and the list goes on.

Ask the Green Bay Packers.

Vince Lombardi made a culture of the Packers when it was early enough to do it, but even he had a daunting task in front of him when he came from New York, which was the biggest city in the world at that time. Green Bay was an unorganized collection of cow pastures... still is. And, yet, they just won another Super Bowl -- their fourth -- and are the winningest team in American professional football history. (Sorry, but the Eskimos and Blue Bombers have won a lot of Grey Cups.)

Lombardi built his team around a core group of people that could be used to lure others. He didn't burn his bridges, even if he busted their balls.

Then again, the Red Wings don't always get everyone they want. They didn't get Christian Ehrhoff this year, even when it became more and more obvious that he or Kevin Bieksa would leave Vancouver for the Motor City (not so obvious, it turns out, because Bieksa stayed in Van City and Ehrhoff went to the only North American city more depressing than Detroit -- Buffalo).

So, the Jets have some work to do.

They have to win. They have to make money in the NHL's smallest arena. They have to win, also.

But, hey, at least they're in Canada again.

(*Originally posted on White Cover Magazine.)