A look at the Winnipeg Jets’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: Winnipeg Jets (1980-81 to 1989-90)
311-383-106, .455 WIN PCT, 3,038 GF vs. 3,369 GA, -331 Diff, 8/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Winnipeg was an incredibly up-and-down team during the 1980s. They were BRUTAL in ’80-81, winning just nine games. They improved once they added Dale Hawerchuk, spending three seasons around the .500 mark. They then became bi-polar for the remainder of the decade: their points totals were 96, 59, 88, 77, 64 and 85. They changed by at least 10 points (and by as much as 37) year over year. From 1985 to 1987, they dropped 37 points and then rebounded by gaining 29 the next year. Mind-boggling. They had some bad seasons (three seasons with 26 or fewer wins), but they also had some strong ones (two 40+ win seasons). They made the playoffs every year from 1982 to 1988, but couldn’t make it past the second round because they were almost always facing either Edmonton or Calgary during the height of their respective powers. Winnipeg’s 45.5% win percentage ranked them 14th overall during the decade. They were quit strong offensively, scoring an average of 3.80 goals per game (ranking them 10th offensively). But they were brutal defensively, ranking 17th out of 21 teams by allowing 4.21 goals against per game. This left them with a -331 goals differential, ranked 15th in the league during the decade. Jets fans must have felt like they were riding a roller coaster each year, never quite knowing what to expect. But at least they had Hawerchuk to keep things interesting.
Left Wing: Doug Smail (676 GP, 188-206-394, +18, 456, 31 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Eugene Lukowich
I actually originally had Eugene Lukowich in this slot right up until I spell-checked this list, but changed my mind at the last minute and went with Doug Smail. Lukowich is a name that I didn’t even recognize, but he was a very solid offensive player for the Jets in the early 1980s. He had a 33-goal, 67-point season in ’80-81, and then exploded for 43 goals and 92 points in ’81-82. But his production slumped after that, and he was brutal defensively (-74 in five seasons). Smail was not as talented offensively; he hit a high-water mark of 66 points in ’84-85, but otherwise never scored more than 49. But he was durable (playing 70+ games eight times for the Jets in 10 seasons), and responsible defensively (his +/- was only negative four times in 10 seasons on a team with a -331 goal differential during the decade). Smail hit the 20-goal mark four times, including a high of 31 in ’85-86. And while not an offensive juggernaut, he did manage to score 40+ points five times. He didn’t play much on the powerplay, but he did get a lot of time on the penalty kill; he scored 25 shorthanded goals in 10 seasons, which accounted for 13% of his goal total. And he also notched 31 game-winners, scoring between 4-6 GWG in five different seasons. Smail was a disciplined, defensively-responsible player who spent a decade in Winnipeg. That earns him the nod over one-hit-wonder Lukowich.
Centre: Dale Hawerchuk (713 GP, 379-550-929, -87, 478 PIM, 29 GWG)
Dale Hawerchuk is the greatest player in the history of the Winnipeg Jets (and the Phoenix Coyotes for that matter). Full stop. While he was unable to elevate the Jets into full contender’s status, he did everything humanly possible to try and get them there. In nine seasons with the Jets during the 80s, he scored nearly 1,000 points. He cleared the 100-poitn mark six times, including a high of 130 in ’84-85. He had seven seasons of 40+ goals, with a high-water mark of 53 in ’84-85. And he had at least 51 assists in each of his nine seasons, including twice recording 77 assists in a single season. His +/- wasn’t great though; he was only positive twice, and hit lows of -27 (’85-86) and -30 (’88-89). But he ran their powerplay like a machine, with eight straight seasons of 10+ PPG (including a high of 20 in ’87-88). He also fired 250 shots on net for seven straight seasons, with four seasons above the 292 mark. But he only had 29 game-winning goals, about 8% of his total. Which suggests that he was either weak in the clutch (possible, but unlikely) or heavily targeted during the closing moments of games (more likely) due to the lack of a strong supporting cast. I believe the latter, as Mario Lemieux’s GWG total in the 80s was also just 8% of his overall goal total, and he played on some brutal Penguins teams. Hawerchuk was one of the greatest centres of the decade, and by far the best player on the Winnipeg Jets.
Right Wing: Paul MacLean (527 GP, 248-270-518, -43, 726 PIM, 24 GWG)
Paul MacLean was the closest thing Hawerchuk had to an equal during his time in Winnipeg. He was a solid offensive winger who spent seven seasons with the Jets. He scored at least 27 goals in each season. He had six seasons of 30+ goals, including three seasons of 40-41 goals. His best seasons saw him record 101 points in ’84-85, and he had four other seasons in the 71-79 point range. He was tough too, with four seasons of at least 100 PIM, and he was strong on the powerplay with six seasons of at least 10 PPG (including a high of 22 in ’87-88). And his 24 game-winning goals were a healthy 10% of his total.
Defense: Fredrik Olausson (262 GP, 36-132-168, +5, 108 PIM, 5 GWG)
Fredrik Olausson was a solid two-way defender for Winnipeg; his offensive totals exploded, while he was able to maintain his +/-. No small task on weaker Winnipeg teams. In his first two seasons, he had 51 points in 110 games with an even +/- rating. His next two seasons saw him record 62 points and 55 points respectively, with a +5 rating between them. He wasn’t a physical player, but he was highly skilled and helped feed the puck to Winnipeg forward (as evidenced by his 93 assists between ’88-89 and ’89-90).
Defense: Randy Carlyle (424 GP, 69-197-266, -22, 624 PIM, 11 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Dave Babych and Dave Ellett
Randy Carlyle was brought in from the Penguins, and quickly helped to solidify a weak Winnipeg blueline with strong two-way play. While his +/- was up-and-down, he still managed a decent -22 rating in 6+ seasons. He had five seasons of 40+ points, including two in the 50’s. He had four seasons in the 13-16 goal range, and four seasons of 30+ assists (including a high of 44 in ’87-88). He chipped in a few powerplay goals as well, 29 of his goals (38% of his total) coming with the man advantage. And his leadership abilities should not be underestimated. That balanced play gave him the nod over some other, more offensively talented defensemen. Dave Babych had three seasons in the 62-74 point range, and four seasons with goal totals in the 13-19 range. But his +/- was brutal; he was -61 in his rookie season, and -130 overall (never posting better than a -10 rating in any of his five full seasons). Dave Ellett scored 40+ points five times (including two in the 56-58 range) and managed to score a high of 22 goals in ’88-89, but his +/- was also weak; he was negative in four of his six seasons, and -60 overall. So Carlyle gets the nod.
Goalie: Daniel Berthiaume (120 GP, 50-45-13, 4 SO, 3.63 GAA, 0.876 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Brian Hayward
While the talent pool was somewhat deeper than the awful situations in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, the Winnipeg Jets don’t exactly have a wealth of goaltending talent to choose from. Bryan Hayward spent four seasons in Winnipeg, two of them as the #1 goalie. But his stats were erratic at best. He was decent in ’84-85 (33-17-7, 3.84, .879), but awful in his final year in ’85-86 (13-28-5, 4.79, .842). Overall, Hayward had a nearly-.500 record, but his line (4.27 GAA, .866 PCT) cost him the nod here. So I went with Dan Berthiaume. Berthiaume was backup to Pokey Reddick in ’86-87, but his strong play (18-7-3, 3.17 GAA and .885 PCT) earned him the starting job the following season. He followed up on that success by going 22-18-7 with a 3.52 GAA and a .882 PCT. I’m not sure if he suffered an injury or a meltdown, but he collapsed in ’88-89, going 0-8-0 in 9 games with a 5.96 GAA and .826 PCT, spending a great deal of time in the minors. He rebounded in ’89-90 to play 24 games with decent numbers, but lost the starting job to up-and-comer Bob Essensa (who would be Winnipeg’s #1 goalie for the next four seasons). Berthiaume was traded to the Minnesota North Stars in January 1990, and he was essentially a minor-leaguer by the ’93-94 season. But he had strong numbers overall, and had the best performance of any Winnipeg netminder during the 1980s.