It’s a club whose membership has been closed for 15 years, its ranks, like veterans from the world wars, dwindling.
A year ago it was Teppo Numminen dropping out.
This year, Keith Tkachuk scratched his name from the list.
Next year, perhaps the greatest of them all may follow, disappearing into the sunset, taking with him one more piece of history.
“I think about it all the time,” Teemu Selanne said. “Almost every day. I tell the stories to my younger teammates.”
Stories that must sound like fairy-tales to their fresh ears.
A rookie scoring 76 goals? Ridiculous.
Soon, no players will be around to tell these stories. Stories about a team on the Canadian prairie that would electrify its fans one night, drive them to despair the next — and break their hearts in the end.
Just four former Winnipeg Jets are still playing in the NHL, scattered across the continent like seeds in a southern Manitoba wind.
You’ll find them in Anaheim, where Selanne was traded during The Last Season; in Phoenix, where Shane Doan still toils with the same hard-luck franchise; in Edmonton, where goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin hangs on; and in Detroit, where Kris Draper continues to fight off Father Time.
“I was wondering who the fourth guy was,” Khabibulin said. “It’s amazing there are still four guys that are playing.”
Stationed miles apart, they share a common bond: it all started at an NHL outpost where the winters were bitter but the feelings for its team warm as the hearth in front of a crackling fire.
No, that old rink wasn’t sold out very often, despite what the revisionist historians say. But when it was, and when the games mattered, there might not have been a louder building in hockey.
“I’m so happy I started my career in a place where hockey was No. 1,” Selanne said. “You got a perspective of how important hockey can be for people in Canada. It’s minus-40 outside and there are people waiting a couple of hours to get autographs. It’s hard to explain to everybody. There’s so much passion.”
It seems the passion for that team remains, as Selanne continues to sign his name to Jets merchandise all the time.
“When I go on the road, at the hotel where hockey fans are, over half of what they ask me to sign is Winnipeg stuff,” he said. “The last couple of years, I started seeing more and more.”
Doan sees the same thing from Phoenix. The old Jets logo is as hot as ever.
“I’ve signed more Winnipeg things, jerseys and pictures and hats and T-shirts, than you can probably imagine,” the Coyotes captain said. “It’s big.”
Not long ago a member of the World Series finalist Texas Rangers, pitcher Derek Holland, told Doan he’d like to swap a Rangers jersey for an original Jets one.
“He’s a season-ticket holder in Phoenix and just wanted an original jersey of the team,” Doan explained. “He really liked the uniform. Everyone does.”
All four surviving Jets, three of whom have won Stanley Cups elsewhere, have hung onto at least some of their Winnipeg memorabilia, Selanne saying he has “almost everything.”
“It’s funny, my boys love that stuff,” the Finnish Flash said. “They’re at the age where they’re interested in my Winnipeg life.”
Same for Doan, who buys Jets gear for his kids.
Doan and Khabibulin say they still have original Jets workout shirts in their packages, unopened and perfectly preserved, like some museum relic.
“The old ‘Property of the Winnipeg Jets’ shirts,” Doan said. “I’m down to one or two of them left. They’re a big hit whenever people see them.”
Those old rags obviously still hold some meaning to these aging rink rats.
“I don’t know,” Khabibulin said. “Maybe in 20, 25 years they’ll be very cool to have, a real T-shirt from Winnipeg. They were laying around for 15 years. I don’t know if anybody will get to wear it now. It’s too precious, now.”