Keith Tkachuk retired in 2010 with 538 career NHL goals -- one of only four U.S.-born players to eclipse 500 goals. He spent his first five seasons in Winnipeg with the Jets before that franchise moved to Phoenix. He also played part of one season in Atlanta, a franchise now headed back to Winnipeg per an announcement last week. With that in mind, Tkachuk took time to speak recently with the Star Tribune's Michael Rand.
Q You're someone who can really speak to the culture of hockey in Winnipeg. Can you touch on what you think it will be like to have a team back there?
A It was good. I loved it there, and I am so happy they are getting a team. I think it's going to be huge. A lot of people don't know Winnipeg. I'm from Boston, and I really, really enjoyed playing there. I was there when they lost the team, and I'm really happy for the fans after what they went through, to get a team back. With the Canadian dollar where it is today, along with the salary cap, I'm not worried about the commitment they'll get at all.
Q What do you remember from that time of transition when Winnipeg lost the franchise?
A We were in limbo for a couple of years, and we thought we were going to Minnesota. Then all of the sudden Phoenix comes out of nowhere. We had just been knocked out of the playoffs, and we were concerned about losing to Detroit. And then you're at center ice, waving goodbye to the fans. It was difficult and a lot went into it.
Q From your perspective, is there anything about Winnipeg in particular that sticks out to you as a hockey market or is it just a carryover of the across-the-board passion they have for the game in Canada?
A I really enjoyed the people up there. I mean, I married a girl from Winnipeg. The people are really good. They love good hockey players. It's a hockey market, and everyone lives and breathes hockey. After being part of the playoffs up there, it was an incredible experience. I was a 19-year-old kid then, and I'll never forget it.
Q You played for a few months in Atlanta as well. What was that experience like?
A I was there for the good times. We had a good team. We won our division, and the crowd was there. ... And now a lot of good people are going to lose their jobs. Those are the people you really feel for. The fans and the people who have jobs. It's difficult because a lot of people have to suffer.
Q From our perspective here in Minneapolis, do you think there can be any connection that could develop between here and Winnipeg?
A I think so. When I played, it was the old Met Center and we always played [against the North Stars] on Dec. 26 either in Minnesota or Winnipeg. Hopefully a rivalry will get going. That's the great thing about hockey. It's a short trip.
Q If you were in charge of realignment for the 2012-13 season, what would you do?
A Hopefully they'll move [Minnesota] to the Central. If Detroit moves, why not put Minnesota in the Central? I don't know what's going to happen, but it's going to be a mess and there are going to be unhappy people.
Q Stanley Cup: Vancouver or Boston?
A Well, I'm a Boston guy. I want the Bruins to win because I think it would be incredible for the city. But Vancouver is tough to beat right now. And that was a killer loss in Game 1. Vancouver looks pretty darn strong, but I'm rooting for Boston.