By defeating the Colorado Rockies the final night of the season, the Winnipeg Jets avoided the stigma of finishing 21st in a 21-team National Hockey League. They also lost the first selection in Wednesday's draft.
Colorado did not benefit either way. The Rockies long ago agreed to swap first-round picks with Montreal, a stipulation of a 1976 Sam Pollock special that sent Colorado Sean Shanahan and Ron Andruff.
The Canadians, not satisfied with first pick -- they'll take a potential Wayne Gretzky clone in super center Doug Wickenheiser -- also are shopping for a first-round pick a bit lower down the ladder. It seems they want to be sure they obtain hometown center Denis Savard, too.
The important draft Wednesday has overtones of past NHL editions, with the rich getting richer and the poor shaking heads over past follies.
Chicago, seventh in the final standings, has five picks in the first two rounds. Montreal, finally unseated as Stanley Cup champion after a four-year reign, has five choices in the first three rounds. Quebec, which finished 19th, owns only one pick in three rounds, with its No. 1 having gone to Chicago to overlook Real Cloutier in last summer's expansion draft.
Assuminmg Montreal chooses Wickenheiser despite the Montreal media's clamor for Savard, Winnipeg probably will pick Portland defenseman Wayne Babych next. Chicago's wishes are closely guarded, but the man rated No. 3 is Peterborough defenseman Larry Murphy.
Los Angeles will choose fourth in Detroit's place as part of the revised Rogie Vachon settlement, and the Kings are believed to be going after a forward. Next up will be Washington, largely thinking defense, and on down the line in reverse order of finish. Toronto, like Quebec, has no pick in the first round, still paying the price for Dan Maloney to Detroit.
The draft will proceed for five rounds in the Montreal Forum, an hour break will be taken for lunch and media comment, then the final five rounds will be run off. Anyone not chosen is eligible to sign a contract as a free agent.
Last year only six rounds were staged and some "rich" teams, notably Buffalo and Philadelphia, were prominent in the free-agent market, landing several players who might have gone high this time.
Any player who reaches his 18th birthday before Sept. 15 is elligible, which covers just about every college and junior player except Cornwall's fine center, Dale Hawerchuk, who figures to be the Wickenheiser of 1981.