The Winnipeg Jets can begin printing playoff tickets. Today.
Let there be no more angst. No more gnashing of the teeth. You can make book that meaningful matches shall be staged at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie post-April 11, which means an awful lot of us were wrong. If not about the Winnipeg Jets, we were certainly wrong about Kevin Cheveldayoff.
I know I was.
I mean, before they dropped the puck on this National Hockey League crusade, you couldn’t find five people willing to wager their lunch money on the Jets participating in this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. Not if Cheveldayoff and his head coach, Paul Maurice, insisted that Ondrej Pavelec was their starting goaltender. Not if the same core that rolled into River City from Atlanta in 2011 continued to rule the roost in the players’ changing room. Not if Cheveldayoff’s modus operandi continued to be management-by-paralysis.
I don’t think that pre-season prognosis was inaccurate. If it was going to be same-old, same-old, which it surely appeared to be back in early October, the end result would also be same-old, same-old.
So how is it that the Jets have a firm grip on a playoff position this morning? What happened?
Well, a buy-in happened. The players bought the Kool-Aid coach PoMo was pouring. Michael Hutchinson happened and Pavelec, who, it must be emphasized, has not been horrible, has taken a seat. Dustin Byfuglien happened. Evander Kane’s track suit happened. Most significant, the general manager happened.
Cheveldayoff spent his first 3 1/2 years as GM of the Jets in the fetal position. No NHL player-for-player trades. No bold strokes. No dash and no daring. Just some dabbling with the waiver wire and the odd toe-dip into the free agency pool. Basically, he was Dudley Do Nothing. But just look at him now. He’s into binge trading. First it was Jay Harrison. Then Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford. Then Jiri Tlusty. Now Lee Stempniak comes on board. All but Harrison in less than a month. And the price he has paid? Exactly one player from his active roster—Zach Bogosian (remember, Kane was already gone for the season when dealt to the Buffalo McDavids).
It didn’t matter that Cheveldayoff shifted into idle on trade deadline day, because his work was done. And it ought to be enough.
Surely, the Jets will finish no worse than fifth in the Central Division. That will qualify them for the tournament, because it would take too much smoke and too many mirrors for either the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks to overhaul good, ol’ Home Team for a Western Conference wild-card spot.
The Flames, of course, have been a feel-good story this season, but it’s been hockey hocus pocus. An illusion. Reality is about to bite. The Sharks, meanwhile…they’re chronic underachievers.
The Jets are in. Trust me.
TV TAKEAWAYS: Since I have a life (sort of), I wasn’t glued to my TV for the entirety of TSN’s exhaustive trade deadline coverage, but I confess to spending the early-morning hours with James Duthie and his cast of thousands while they awaited breaking news that never really broke. It was, for the most part, grim. I mean, Gino Reda herding llamas in a parking lot? Llamas in-studio? What next? The Dalai Lama as a guest panelist? I’m all for off-the-wall humor, but this was just plain dumb…Duthie, who is terrific, assured us that musician Lester McLean was “not a gimmick.” Oh yes he was. A bad gimmick. McLean’s tunes all sounded the same—lame…Who decided that Cabbie is funny? He isn’t. His updates on social media activity were weak attempts at jocularity. Does he actually get paid for his schtick?…On the plus side, two big thumbs up to former Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson and ex-goaltender Marty Biron. Their bits with Darren Dutchyshen were terrific for their humor, their candor, their anecdotal insight and Wilson’s curmudgeonly carriage. I doubt Wilson has a future in hockey after confessing that a former NHL general manger once directed him to tank the season in order to secure first pick in the entry draft, but he surely has one in broadcasting…Also on the plus side was Dennis Wideman, who punk’d TSN Trade Centre with a faux phone call that led one an all to believe a trade for the Calgary Flames defenceman was imminent…Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press got some face time on TSN and he gave Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff an ‘A’ grade for his pre-deadline dealings. Ditto Craig Button. Can’t disagree with that…Never switched the channel to Sportsnet. Not once. Can’t handle Glenn Healy or Nick Kypreos on an empty stomach. Or a full stomach, for that matter.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.