Oh, dear. Whatever will the Winnipeg Jets do with Patrik Laine?
He has confidence like Don Cherry has bad suits, with gusts up to galloping cockiness.
He’d rather listen to Eminem than rock on to Winnipeg’s own Guess Who, Neil Young or Randy Bachman and BTO.
He gets a kick out of his chin-wags with the media and doesn’t deliver yawn-inducing quotes. If he’s in the mood, he’ll conduct an interview while lying in bed.
He isn’t fond of signing autographs for greasy men twice his age who’ll turn his signature into a profit on eBay.
Oh, and did I mention that if you have difficulty with any of the above, you can kiss his 18-year-old Finnish butt, only he puts it a little more delicately?
“People can think what they want to think,” he says. “I don’t care.”
Talk about a track suit waiting to get wet.
That’s what happened to the last player who rubbed some of the squeaky-clean off the Jets brand. Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who does not suffer fools lightly, took brattish Evander Kane’s track suit and dipped it into a tub of ice water, his punishment for not arriving at a team gathering adorned in appropriate attire. Message sent. Message received. Kane was banished to Buffalo.
Hey, I’m not saying Patrik Laine is the second coming of Evander Kane. I’m sure he’ll pay all his bar tabs and parking tickets. And, whereas Kane had a chip on his shoulder the size of Big Buff’s dinner plate, Laine, based on media buzz, is an absolute delight. He’s as fast with his lips as he is getting off a one-timer. He’s been filling notebooks, at both the recent National Hockey League draft combine and in San Jose, where he and other notables from this year’s crop of teenage talent gathered to observe and absorb the goings-on at the Stanley Cup skirmish featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and homestanding Sharks.
But that’s the rub, isn’t it?
The Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment doesn’t want its workers filling notebooks. TSNE has a Cold War, Kremlin-like paranoia about controlling the message.
Kane, if nothing else, had personality. Although they repeatedly issued sound bites to the contrary, his act rubbed Jets ownership and management the wrong way. Laine has personality. I can’t imagine that will prevent them from claiming the flashy Finnish forward with the No. 2 call at this month’s NHL entry draft in Buffalo. But they might already be sizing him for a muzzle.
What we have here, you see, is a culture clash.
The Jets are buttoned-down. They prefer their players to be as the three wise monkeys Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru—hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Chin-wags with news scavengers are put on a stopwatch. Questions are limited in number. A PR flack is forever lurking, lest an unsuitable query be advanced or, horrors, a player delivers a bon mot that does not dovetail with team dogma.
Laine, on the other hand, is buttoned-down like Donald Trump is shy. Every bit of evidence presented to date supports the notion that he is a free spirit with loose lips and a keen sense of showmanship. He is the Flamboyant Finn.
Let’s put it this way: Laine has yet to play his first game at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie, but I already know more about him than I do Mark Scheifele or Jacob Trouba, who’ve been under the Jets’ spell for five and four years, respectively.
So, is Laine a fit for the Jets?
All of this, of course, becomes moot should the Toronto Maple Leafs lose their minds between now and the June 24 draft and use the No. 1 call overall to secure Laine, thus dropping Auston Matthews in the Jets’ lap. It is not, however, an eventuality on which Jets Nation should set store. The rule of thumb in hockey is that, given a choice between a big, strong, all-purpose centre-ice man and a winger with an itchy trigger finger, you take the centre every time. Unless the winger’s name is Guy Lafleur (see: 1971 draft) or Alex Ovechkin (see: 2004 draft).
Thus, the Leafs will pluck Matthews from the pool of freshly scrubbed teenage boys, leaving Laine and his loose lips to the Jets.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, start your notebooks. I hope.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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 in 2015.