Just thirteen different men have worn the ‘C’ as captain of the Winnipeg Jets. The first was World Hockey Association holdover Lars-Erik Sjoberg, and the last was Blake Wheeler. With the recent news of Wheeler being stripped of the captaincy and no replacement in sight, let’s look at who the greatest were.
Sjoberg was the last captain of the Jets and thus the first captain of the team as they entered the NHL in 1979. His strong defensive play and leadership had him labeled the Little General. Ten more would lead the team through the next 16 seasons before relocation to Phoenix in the summer of 1996. Longevity was nonexistent, considering one player was captain for six of those years. Pretty much on par with the amount of coaches over that period (which was ten). I have said it before. It was a common pattern. Good season, bad season. Fire coach, hire a new coach. The new coach appoints a new captain.
So, who was the best and most loved? It’s my list, obviously, and open to debate. Prove me wrong!
5. Kris King 1995-96
The last captain of the Jets 1.0 era. Wasn’t much not to like about this guy. He made a big impression when he rolled into town with tag-team buddy Tie Domi in 1992. He was not a big scorer, but he made room for others that could. He averaged 120 penalty minutes a year for the four seasons he was in Winnipeg. Obviously had leadership ability as he continues to work in the NHL head offices to this day as the Senior Vice President of hockey operations.
4. Thomas Steen 1989-91
Maybe not the biggest rah-rah guy, but he was a Winnipeg Jet through and through. Spent his entire career in Winnipeg and amassed 817 points in 950 games. Often an alternate captain, he wore the ‘C’ for two years, along with Randy Carlyle and Dale Hawerchuk as co-captains. Though usually overshadowed by Hawerchuk and later Teemu Selanne and Keith Tkachuk, he came to play every night and was a solid number two NHL center.
3. Blake Wheeler 2016-2022
I know. Recency bias. It’s a thing for sure. But consider this. Only three Jet captains have worn the ‘C’ for six seasons. Andrew Ladd, Hawerchuk, and Wheeler. Did the team do well under Wheeler? Yes. They made the playoffs in four out of the six seasons. Did he piss players off? Yep. I will argue that you need to ruffle feathers to be a good leader, and the best of the best can do it and still maintain relationships. Maybe that is where Wheeler struggled. Who knows, as only the players themselves are privy to what goes on behind closed doors. The eye test alone tells me that Blake Wheeler would skate through a wall for this team. And the guy put up two 91-point seasons after turning 30.
2. Randy Carlyle 1989-91
This guy was a leader on the Jets long before he wore the ‘C.’ A Norris Trophy winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1981, he would go on to play ten seasons for the Winnipeg Jets. Leadership ability? Check. After playing for the Jets, he became their assistant coach and eventual head coach of the Manitoba Moose while they were still in the International Hockey League. He would also become a head coach for the Anaheim Ducks and the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007.
1. Dale Hawerchuk 1984-90
Does your captain have to be the best player on the team? Maybe not, but when Dale Hawerchuk wore the ‘C,’ not only was he the best on the Jets, but he was also one of the best in the league, not counting two guys that wore numbers 66 and 99. Remember the 1987 Canada Cup? Who centered Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux on the line for the winning goal? Yep. The Duckster. Were the Jets good under his command? Hell yes. Made the playoffs in five of those six seasons. Unfortunately, due to an archaic playoff format, we met the best team in the league in the first or second round every time. In four of those years, the Edmonton Oilers won the cup, and to add insult to injury, of the two years the Oilers didn’t advance, the Calgary Flames went to the final and won once. Hawerchuk led by example on the ice and on the scoresheet. There is a reason there will be a statue unveiled shortly for number 10. Hell, the guy even had a band named after him!
Andrew Ladd, Lucien Deblois, and of course, Lars-Erik Sjoberg.
Chronological List of All Winnipeg Jet Captains