Leave a comment

About Blake Wheeler and the media…the Fiddle-Farters Three…time’s a-wasting for Bryan Little…the Republic of Tranna still talking about Wayne Gretzky’s high stick…and remembering Vic Peters

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

blake-wheeler2

Blake Wheeler

Oh woe is Blake Wheeler.

Those pesky news scavengers keep squirting in his Corn Flakes, causing the frowning, scowling il capitano no end of grief at the south end of yet another National Hockey League crusade that has found his Winnipeg Jets wanting.

There he stood in the Jets boudoir Thursday night, scant moments after the local lads had aroused the rabble at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie with a stirring, come-from-behind, 4-3 extra-time victory over the Disney Ducks. One seeker of sound bites had the bad manners (at least to Wheeler’s way of thinking) to wonder aloud how the Jets might “bottle up” their late-game magic and use it going forward in what remains of garbage time.

Well…um…you know, it’s probably hard for you to understand how difficult it is to go through this again at a time like this,” began Wheeler, who now has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby in five of his six seasons in River City. “You know, the fact we’re winning hockey games this time of year with nothing to play for says a lot about the group that we have, the guys that we have…um…you know, how we bottle that up…you know, we’ve won three in a row and six of our last eight with nothing to play for, so it’s a little frustrating you ask a question like that, to be honest with you. I’m proud of our group, to play a team like that who’s trying to win a Stanley Cup, to be down 3-1 with nothing to play for, come back and win 4-3, you know, I’d expect a little more positive line of questioning next time.”

He glared hard at his interrogator.

Maybe you weren’t being too negative,” Wheeler continued, softening but still combative. “It’s just…you know, it’s just a little bit…I don’t know, a little bit undertone there, dude. Do you not agree?”

No,” came the reply from Kevin Olszewski of CTV sports. “I wasn’t trying to be negative at all.”

You asked me how do we bottle that up more consistently, which insinuates we don’t do that consistently. Am I making that up?”

No, you’re not making that up. I think it might be miscommunication, though.”

That’s fine. That’s fine. I want the message from tonight to be positive. I think our group deserves that.”

That’s the way you guys need to play. That’s what you can do. That’s what I’m saying, you can prove that you can do that to those teams, right? So how do you guys, as a group, manufacture that night in, night out on a consistence basis where you can be where teams like the Ducks are?”

Well, I think that was great. That was perfect. That was a perfect way to ask that question.”

Well, thank you Blake Wheeler for that crash course in Creative Communications 101. Perhaps you can land a teaching gig at Red River College while the rest of your teammates tee it up in another week or so.

Chris Thorburn

Here’s what Wheeler fails to grasp: Few fans or media appear to have any quarrel with the team captain and his accomplices wearing Jets linen (the notable exceptions being whipping boys Chris Thorburn, Mark Stuart and anyone who has stood in the blue ice). Their beef is with the Fiddle-Farters Three—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice, whose glacier-like pace in piecing together a playoff-worthy outfit has the rabble in a fit of pique. The faithful see outfits in Edmonton and Toronto rebuilt in two years while, in Winnipeg, the Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff have been trying to get this thing right for six years, without success. That’s the rub.

Here’s something else Wheeler would be wise to bear in mind: This is garbage time for the girls and boys on the beat, too. They’re expected to make these meaningless games—and the days between—sound interesting and significant, which these games most assuredly are not. News snoops aren’t paid to wave pom-poms and report at the same time, but most of what I’ve read—about the players—in the past few weeks of a lost season has been ultra-positive. Wheeler ought to find another tree to bark up.

Let me make something perfectly clear: I’m a Blake Wheeler fan. He’s very good at hockey. Love his intensity and determination. And, hey, any 30-year-old who can name all four of the Beatles is okay in my book. I just wish he would back off on the angry-young-man shtick. It’s an ugly look.

Veteran centre Bryan Little delivered a most-telling statement once the Jets had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now.” I wonder if the Fiddle-Farters Three are listening.

Dustin Byfuglien

What’s the over/under on Dustin Byfuglien’s fat-cat contract becoming an anchor to the Jets? One year? Two? If the Jets are in the same position next season, they have to unload him. If, that is, someone is willing to pick up the $7.6-million tab for a rogue rearguard with little to no regard for structure.

Will the long-suffering wretches in the Republic of Tranna ever get over the Missed Call? Apparently not. TSN this week ran a nine-minute, 15-second feature on Wayne Gretzky high sticking Doug Gilmour in Game 6 of the 1993 Campbell Conference final between the Los Angeles Kings and Maple Leafs, with former player Jeff O’Neill interviewing the culprit, the victim and the guy who missed it all, referee Kerry Fraser. According to TSN, O Dog O’Neill “solved the mystery of what really happened the night of May 27, 1993.” Excuse me, but there was no mystery to solve. Fraser copped a plea to blowing the call in an article he wrote for the Players Tribune last summer. Time to move on, Tranna.

It was a year ago this week (March 27) that we lost one of the all-time great people, curler Vic Peters. I still think of Vic whenever I watch curling. He truly was a lovely man.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Winnipeg Jets: Through the years in their own words

As another barren hockey season on the bald prairie runs its final course, you are allowed to ask when is when. You might even expect (demand?) change.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Just don’t count on it.

If nothing else, the three men at the top of the Winnipeg Jets totem pole—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, head coach Paul Maurice—have been rigid in their refusal to share any thoughts as to when the rabble might see a return on their emotional investment in a National Hockey League outfit that has been long on promise and patience and short on delivery.

They talk about process. About draft-and-develop. About the long haul. About patience. But, they’re always shy on specifics. They are masters of saying nothing while saying a lot.

Just to refresh you memories, here is a small sampling of True North-speak through the years (expect more of the same at year-end chin-wags with news snoops)…

  • Patience in this day and age is lost in a lot of places. We want right now. But now doesn’t always occur. There’s no magic cure. Hopefully for (fans) they’re rest assured that whenever there’s an opportunity in front of us that we feel can help us, we’re going to do it.” —Kevin Cheveldayoff, May 2013

(Yo! Chevy! The “opportunity” to make Chris Thorburn go away has been right “in front” of you for six years. If you can’t make him disappear, hire David Copperfield.)

  • Our plan is very simple. It is about re-investment in our organization from top to bottom, from facilities to player personnel to key management.” —Mark Chipman, September 2013

(Yes, by all means, Mark, reward those who never fail to fail. It’s a terrific blueprint for success—not!)

(I don’t know what choo-choo you’re riding, Mark, but your train just chugged past Playoff Town for the fifth time in six years. You might want to tell the conductor to switch tracks. Oh, wait. You’re the conductor, aren’t you?)

  • Obviously (playoffs) is our expectation. It absolutely, 100 per cent is our expectation. And nobody feels more strongly about that than myself and Kevin. But we’re in this for the long haul. We will have success, I’m convinced of that. I wish I could give you a date and a definition of what that is exactly, but we’re moving in the right direction.” —Mark Chipman, September 2013

(If you can’t provide the ‘when’ of the plan, Mark, who can?)

  • Chevy and I talk pretty much daily. It would depend on the extent of the term or the quantum of the contract you’re talking about (that) would, to a certain degree, determine the level of my involvement that he would require me. The lengthier the deal or the more impactful the deal, the more I would be involved.” —Mark Chipman, December 2015

(Butt out, you buttinski.)

  • We’re a group that’s going to continue to go down the path that we set out: Drafting and developing young players around players that are part of this organization. And we’re clearly going to continue to build around Dustin (Byfuglien).” —Kevin Cheveldayoff, February 2016

(That’s just terrific, Chevy. Give a five-year contract to Big Buff, a 30-year-old, undisciplined defenceman who wheezes his way through numerous games. And let’s surround him with impressionable youth. The kids can learn the art of being serial brain-farters and how to ignore structure from him. And make sure to tell your coach that there’s one set of rules for Buff and another set of rules for everyone else.)

  • It’s our job to be right. It’s our job to take that strong belief and conviction of the direction we’re going—and Kevin has that, Mark has that and I certainly believe in the group that’s coming in and the group that’s here now, that it is the right direction. We need a strong core developed. And we have players to do that.” —Paul Maurice, March 2016

(In case you hadn’t noticed, Paul, that group you believe in missed the playoffs the past two seasons. But, hey, let’s blame it on the schedule, injuries, corrupt officiating and Donald Trump. Anything but coaching.)

  • I believe the path we’re on is the correct one. It’s difficult but I’m more than happy to be patient.” —Mark Chipman, April 2016

(Patience? That’s easy for you to say, Mark. The Little Hockey House on the Prairie is sold out 41 nights of the year, so you feel no urgency to improve the product. But try preaching patience to guys like Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Toby Enstrom, Byfuglien and, more important, fans who fill your downtown cash box and merchandise shops. Patience wears thin. So does disposable income.)

  • I would like to see the best players make our team. And if they’re all young guys, they’re all young guys. If that means, in the Central Division, that you’ve got to take a knock or two, I think that is the best thing for the organization.” —Paul Maurice, April 2016

(So let me see if I’ve got this straight, Paul: You’re telling us that Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart are still among the best 24 players in this organization?)

  • We still have ample salary-cap room to do whatever needs to be done in the organization. For us, that’s by design to have that available and we’re prepared to use it. We just have to use it judiciously.” —Kevin Cheveldayoff, October 2016

(And in the ensuing six months, you’ve spent exactly $0 judiciously, Chevy.)

(What part of this past season were you not watching, Chevy?)

  • Working with Paul Maurice, it’s a pleasure each and every day. He’s in this for the long haul. I’m in this for the long haul. The organization is in this for the long haul” —Kevin Cheveldayoff, March 2017

(Fine, but would you care to share with the rabble any clues as to how long the long haul is, Chevy? Oh, that’s right. The Puck Pontiff doesn’t know. You don’t know. Coach Potty-Mouth doesn’t know. The fans don’t know. The Jets are just one big 18-wheeler rolling down a highway with no beginning and no ending.)

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.


11 Comments

Winnipeg Jets: Re-investing in a snake oil salesman and others who never fail to fail

I have a question for those of you in Jets Nation now heavily engaged in the annual spring ritual of teeth gnashing and gazing at navels: What did you expect?

Yes, of course, I understand that you’re a frustrated, fed up and flat out PO’d lot because there shall be no meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie beginning next month. But seriously. Surely you knew in advance that the Winnipeg Jets’ 2016-17 crusade would be an angst-inducing exercise guaranteed to expose the local lads as lacking in the necessities and, thus, leaving them—yet again—with their noses pressed against the window as they view the Stanley Cup derby from the outside-in.

The Puck Pontiff

If you thought otherwise, you weren’t paying attention last autumn.

If you recall, the Jets entered this National Hockey League fray with a roster that included fledglings Brandon Tanev, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and, most notable, Connor Hellebuyck in the blue ice. Add to that collection of neophytes a pair of past-their-due-date greybeards in Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart, plus the aimlessly wandering Alexander Burmistrov, and ownership/management was telling you all you needed to know before the drop of the first puck: “This season is a writeoff.”

Naturally, the Puck Pontiff (that would be meddlesome co-bankroll Mark Chipman) and his ring-kissing College of Yes Men fronted by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the potty-mouthed head coach, Paul Maurice, didn’t say it in so many words. They didn’t have to. It was painfully obvious that they were in organizational tank mode from the get-go.

I submit this not in hindsight, by the way. This is what I wrote in October: “I think it can be said that the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men have conceded that this season won’t end well.”

It wasn’t the heavy infusion of peach-fuzzed faces that led me to that conclusion. I had no quarrel with it. After all, when your club’s ad nauseam mantra is draft-and-develop, youth must be served at some point, so you gird your loins knowing the forecast calls for pain. Trouble is, they didn’t go far enough.

Chris Thorburn should not have been on this team. Ditto Mark Stuart.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Again, I direct your attention to something I long ago posted on this blog: “I don’t know about you, but I tend to use Thorburn and (Anthony) Peluso as measuring sticks vis-a-vis the growth of the franchise, on-ice division. The way I have it figured, as long as either is wearing Jets linen, he is clogging the club’s developmental arteries.”

That was in June 2015. Thorburn is still to be found in Jets linen.

So think of it this way: Cheveldayoff and his scouts have participated in six NHL entry drafts and they have heard the hosannas rain down for their handiwork in the first round (hello Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Nikolaj Ehlers, Morrissey and Laine). Yet they have unearthed nary a grinder who is better at hockey than Chris Thorburn? The mind boggles.

That is not to slight Thorburn. He need not make apologies for being Chris Thorburn. But his ongoing presence in the Jets lineup is a harsh indictment on the Puck Pontiff, Cheveldayoff, his bird dogs and, perhaps most of all, Maurice.

Paul Maurice is a snake oil salesman. He is, as they say in cowboy country, all hat and no cattle.

Few talk a better game than coach Potty-Mo, who, for all his TV-smooth blah, blah, blah, delivers a phony bill of sale. At some point very early next season, he will become the losingest coach in NHL history and it isn’t difficult to see why. The Jets’ defensive deficiencies, the complete disregard for discipline, the dumpster fire that is the penalty killing, the logic-defying player deployment, the Thorburn fetish…that’s all down to coaching.

Paul Maurice: No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time loser list.

Here’s something else to consider: I’m convinced that coach Potty-Mo, much like his predecessor Claude Noel, is afraid of Dustin Byfuglien because he refuses to rein in his rogue rearguard.

Naturally, all of this means the Jets will re-up this coach who has been fired or missed the playoffs in 14 of his 19 seasons behind an NHL bench. Rewarding those who never fail to fail is the Jets way, you see. It’s the “plan.”

Our plan is very simple,” the Puck Pontiff revealed in September 2013, scant hours after he had happily delivered a contract extension to Cheveldayoff following the GM’s first two failed crusades. “It is about re-investment in our organization from top to bottom, from facilities to player personnel to key management.”

And that, Jets Nation, would explain Chris Thorburn’s lifetime contract, five of six seasons with their noses pressed against the window when the post-season commences, and zero playoff victories.

Let the teeth gnashing and navel gazing continue.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


5 Comments

Say What?! Ed Tait is a ‘hack and flack’ and not a reporter?

There are times when I wonder if I’ve actually read what I’ve just read.

A case in point would be the most-recent installment of Say What?!, a rambling, all-directions grump-off featuring the two resident curmudgeons in the Winnipeg Free Press sports department, editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek.

Now, I realize that their frivolous to-and-fro (it appears seemingly at random) is not meant to be taken any more seriously than Beetle Bailey’s misadventures or whatever it is that’s getting Dagwood Bumstead’s goat these days, but when these Waldorf and Statler wannabes stoop to calling Ed Tait and George (Shakey) Johnson “hacks” it tends to grab my attention.

If you missed it (and it’s my guess that most of you did), this was part of their thrust-and-parry last week:

Lyons: “Merriam-Webster defines a reporter as a person employed by a newspaper, magazine, or television company to gather and report news. Listen, I bear no animosity or hard feelings towards the folks who have left the mainstream media to take jobs working for professional sports teams or leagues but I’m not sure those folks should be called reporters. You went to journalism school at Carleton University—what ya think?”

Wiecek: “I’m old school on this reporter thing: Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks.”

I’m not certain what was more astonishing, a) Lyons’ reliance on a dog-eared definition that ignores the reality of websites, b) Wiecek’s galloping arrogance, or c) Wiecek branding highly skilled and respected reporters like Tait and Johnson, among others, as “hacks and flacks.”

Once upon a time, of course, Tait was to Canadian Football League newspaper coverage what Johnny Carson was to late-night TV. The best. Today, you will find the former Winnipeg Sun and Freep sports scribe’s fine prose on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers website, where he “reports” on the goings-on of the CFL outfit.

Johnson, meanwhile, was the finest wordsmith among sports columnists in Canada until the day some misguided suit at Postmedia experienced a moment of madness and told Shakey to leave the building. His delightful turn-of-phrase and dry wit moved from the Calgary Herald to the Calgary Flames website, where he “reports” on the goings-on of the National Hockey League club.

Does that make Tait and Johnson flacks? By definition, yes. They’re paid to spread the gospel according to their respective organizations. The same can be said for Tim Campbell and Dave Stubbs, two other veteran mainstream sports scribes who fled the near-death experience of the rag trade for nhl.com.

That, however, does not dismiss them as reporters. I’ve read Tait’s stuff on bluebombers.com and Johnson’s work at nhl.com/flames. To say they aren’t reporters is to say Don Cherry isn’t loud.

What part of that, I wonder, does Steve Lyons not understand?

More to the point, what part of the word “hack” does Paul Wiecek not understand? According to Lyons’ go-to dictionary, Merriam-Webster, a hack is: “A person who does work that is not good or original and especially a writer who is not very good.”

You want other definitions of “hack?” Try these…

Macmillan: “A journalist, artist or writer who does boring work or work that is not very good.”

Cambridge: “A journalist whose work is low in quality or does not have much imagination.”

I’m uncertain what world Wiecek lives in, but in no world that I know of does the word “hack” apply to either Tait or Johnson.

But, hey, “Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks.”

Arrogance, thy name is Paul.

Wiecek, who, by the way, is one of my favorite scribes, prattled on about team/league websites producing nothing but pap that caters to the converted, and to a degree he’s correct. They’re devoid of harsh, critical analysis. But what, you expect the Bombers to pay Tait to cut head coach Mike O’Shea a new one because he has a brain fart and attempts an impossible 61-yard field goal? Not going to happen.

The thing is, pap isn’t strictly the province of team/league websites. You’ll find plenty of it in the Freep.

A headline last week referred to Tom Sestito as a “dirty Penguin” and a “Pittsburgh goon.” That’s the kind of blatant homerism you won’t even find on the Winnipeg Jets website. In the midst of the Jets’ current four-game skid, the Freep ran an article full of siss-boom-bah and advised us that the local hockey heroes “refuse to wave the white flag.” Bravo for them! And if it’s pure pablum you’re looking for, check out the front page of the sports section this past Thursday. You’ll be greeted by this headline: “Jets fans have reason to be happy.” Below it is a Paul Wiecek column that reads like something delivered directly from the True North Sports & Entertainment propaganda department.

Say what?! Yup, apparently those “who can” don’t just “do,” some days they also write just like hacks and flacks. Imagine that.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.