Before my two Hens in the Hockey House put the bird in the oven for Christmas dinner, they’re talking turkey about the Winnipeg Jets. Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: Finally, a chance to take a deep breath and chill. No hockey until Tuesday. Do you need the break as much as I do?
Answer Lady: Actually, there is hockey. The World Junior Championship starts on Boxing Day.
Answer Lady: People care. Maybe not overseas, but we care in Canada. At least I think we do. I guess we’ll know by television ratings.
Question Lady: It’s hard to believe that Patrik Laine could be playing for Finland in that tournament. If defencemen and goaltenders in the National Hockey League can’t stop him, how much damage would he do playing against a bunch of kids?
Answer Lady: Puck Finn would be scary good. But so would all the other age-eligible players who are in the NHL. Connor McDavid and Mitch Marner could be playing for Canada. Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Zach Werenski and Matthew Tkachuk could be wearing the Stars and Stripes. Jesse Puljujarvi is another eligible Finn. There’s a lot of missing star power. It’ll be terrific hockey, but it’s watered down at the top end.
Question Lady: You surprised at how well Laine is doing in his rookie season with the Jets?
Answer Lady: Yes and no. I thought the over/under for Puck Finn was 20 goals. I just didn’t think he’d get there so soon. I thought he’d have an electric start, then go into a bit of a swoon. Hasn’t happened. Nineteen goals in 36 assignments is heady stuff. Everything about his game is lights-out impressive. Even his own goal—his selfie—was impressive. And I like his cockiness.
Question Lady: I think the Jets lead the league in selfies. Nikolaj Ehlers scored one, too.
Answer Lady: That was a goaltending gaffe. Michael Hutchinson went all Rip Van Winkle on the boys. Overtime is never a good time for a goalie to take a nap.
Question Lady: Who do you like more, Laine or Ehlers?
Answer Lady: That’s like asking me if I’d rather listen to Sinatra or Tony Bennett. They’re both brilliant. I kind of like Ehlers, though. I call him Twig because that’s how he’s built. He was snake-bit around the net for the longest time, but he discovered his goal-scoring mojo just before the break. Twig is a quick-strike kind of guy. He’s now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t fast. It wouldn’t surprise me if he finished the season with more points than his linemates, Puck Finn and Rink Rat Scheifele. Remember that. You heard it here first.
Question Lady: The question is, how long will head coach Paul Maurice keep those three together?
Answer Lady: Sometimes I think Maurice is a bit of a basket case. He keeps trying to fix what isn’t broken. The Lickety-Split Line should stay together until the end of time, but I’m sure Maurice will go into his street busker routine shortly after the Christmas break and start juggling his forwards with no rhyme or reason.
Question Lady: Could that explain why Maurice is a career .500 coach?
Answer Lady: Player deployment is probably one of the reasons.
Question Lady: There’s been plenty of speculation about Maurice’s future with the Jets. Do you think he should be fired?
Answer Lady: No. Not now. This season is Maurice’s mulligan. But going forward into next season, I agree with what TSN analyst Craig Button said about coach PoMo the other day—“(He) is going to have to do a much better job.” Maurice needs to up his game. But can a career .500 coach who’s made the playoffs only five times in 18 seasons do that? I have my doubts. Any lump on a bar stool can tell you that the Lickety-Split Line should never be torn apart, but, as sure as Don Cherry likes good Canadian beer, Maurice will be fiddle farting around with those three lads inside a fortnight.
Question Lady: Fiddle farting isn’t a very lady-like term, my dear.
Answer Lady: Sorry, but that’s what Maurice does. He fiddle farts.
Question Lady: What’s the biggest disappointment with the Jets to date?
Answer Lady: Mathieu Perreault. I mean, two goals and seven points? That’s what $4.5 million buys you these days? I realize he isn’t pulling in that much coin right now, but that’s his sticker price next season and $4 mill per annum after that. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff clearly had a moment of madness when he agreed to that deal. Either that or Perreault has incriminating photos. Chevy gave the guy a four-year extension at that inflated wage for what? Perreault has never had a 20-goal season. He only scored nine goals in 2015-16. He’s brittle…he’s never played a full, 82-game season. Perreault is probably the most overpaid worker in the NHL. I’m guessing Chevy would probably like a do-over on that contract. Or maybe he’s hoping the Las Vegas expansion franchise will take that fat-cat contract off the Jets’ books next summer.
Question Lady: What’s your take on Dustin Byfuglien?
Answer Lady: What can I say that hasn’t already been said? One minute he’s a jaw-dropping delight, the next he’s back to his d’oh boy ways. Buff is Buff. An asset and a liability. I don’t drink the True North Kool-Aid, so I can take him or leave him.
Question Lady: You don’t buy into the Jets’ heavy schedule as an excuse, do you?
Answer Lady: Seven NHL teams have played 36 games. Six of them are in a playoff position at the Christmas break. The only team below the line is Winnipeg. Conclusion: The schedule as an excuse is lame. You know why the Jets are on the outside looking in right now? Coaching, inconsistent play, dumb penalties and goaltending.
Question Lady: You include goaltending among the flaws?
Answer Lady: It’s been moderate. Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck need to be better. We already knew that Hutchinson wasn’t a No. 1 ‘tender, so Hellebuyck was the mystery. He’s had his moments. I suppose the jury is still out, but I don’t see him as a No. 1. It’s one of those things I’d like to be wrong about, but I don’t believe the Jets braintrust recognizes talent in the blue paint.
Question Lady: What do you expect during the back half of the season?
Answer Lady: Much of the same. It’s a toilet-seat season—up and down, up and down. This Jets outfit is very much like big Buff’s game. Bad and brilliant.
Question Lady: Still think they’ll miss the playoffs?
Answer Lady: Yup. But I’ll enjoy watching Puck Finn, Twig and Rink Rat do their thing. If, that is, Maurice lets them.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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.