About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.

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About filling a hole up front for the Winnipeg Jets…Scheifele’s salary the ceiling…oddsmakers like the Leafs, Preds, Jets and Lightning…a $77 million hometown discount…Canada’s best team…and an old folks home in L.A.

Quick takeaways from Day 1 of the National Hockey League’s annual grab bag of free agents

It’s true what the pundits are saying: Because the bean counters couldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul Stastny, the Winnipeg Jets aren’t as good today as they were on May 20, the night the Vegas Golden Knights ushered them out of the Stanley Cup spring runoff.

Fortunately for the rabble, they don’t have to be as good today.

Paul Stastny

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has until October to ferret out a reasonable facsimile of Stastny, an efficient and productive, albeit aging centre-ice man who has taken the money and skedaddled to Glitter Gulch, leaving les Jets with a significant vacancy in the middle of the rink.

Stastny, of course, was les Jets main person of interest when the National Hockey League opened its grab bag of free agents on Sunday, but keeping him in the fold was always an iffy proposition.

This was always going to be about salary cap, and it wasn’t enough that Cheveldayoff shipped hard-luck, backup goaltender Steve Mason and his burdensome $4.1-million sticker price to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to clear space. With a list of restricted free agents as long as a Winnipeg winter, the bean counters determined there simply wasn’t enough spare change in the piggy bank, otherwise Stastny would be returning to River City next autumn to help les Jets finish what was left undone in May.

It doesn’t really matter if the Golden Knights, at $6.5 million for each of the next three crusades, overpaid to lure the 32-year-old Stastny away from Portage and Main to the Vegas Strip. At issue is the hole he leaves down the middle.

Jack Roslovic

Jack Roslovic would be my choice to slide between Twig Ehlers and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine on the No. 2 forward unit, at least when the local lads gather for training exercises in September. He’s no Stastny—not yet—but Roslovic plays with tempo and imagination. I think he’d be a suitable fit in what could become les Jets version of the Kid Line.

If Roslovic doesn’t work out, Bryan Little come on down! Again, Little is no Stastny, but, hey, it’s not like he’s Milan Lucic bad.

The point is, Cheveldayoff and the bean counters have all summer and September to figure this out. If neither Roslovic or Little is the answer, they can do something at the trade deadline, same as last season when they brought Stastny on board.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Brian Burke was part of the all-gab gang on Sportsnet’s coverage of free agent day, and he mentioned something about Cheveldayoff doing “too good a job,” hence the GM’s challenge of fitting financial square pegs into round holes. There’s certainly some truth to that. But here’s the real sticking point for Chevy: Rink Rat Scheifele’s team-friendly, steal-of-a-deal contract. Les Jets could have matched the Vegas offer of $6.5 million annually to keep Stastny on board, but they can’t have their aging, No. 2 centre ahead of their young, productive No. 1 centre at the pay window. Scheifele’s annual take is $6.125 million. So that’s the ceiling for Jets forwards. They could not have offered Stastny a penny more.

That ceiling will, of course, rise when Chevy re-ups his captain and best player, Blake Wheeler, about to enter the final year of a contract that makes him the third-highest wage earner among forwards at $5.6 million. Only Scheifele and Twig Ehlers ($6M) earn more, which, given Wheeler’s performance and importance to the team, is ridiculous. He should be rewarded as the highest-paid player. The real mystery is what they do when it’s time for Chevy and the bean counters to re-up Puck Finn, who comes out of his entry level deal next summer.

The oddsmakers at BetOnline like what they see in les Jets, even sans Stastny. After the Tranna Maple Leafs (+600) and Nashville Predators (+900), the local lads and Tampa Bay Lightning were listed on Sunday at +1000 to win the Stanley Cup. It’s a bet I wouldn’t make today, not with the iffiness of the No. 2 centre slot, but I might want to make it next spring. (Surprisingly, the Detroit Red Wings were the longest shot on the BetOnline board, at +10000. Are they really that bad?)

The gab gang on Sportsnet suggested John Tavares left money on the table when he chose to abandon the New York Islanders and accept $77 million to join the Maple Leafs. In other words, it was a hometown discount because his childhood dream was to play in the Republic of Tranna. Well, excuse me, but in whose universe is $77 million a discount?

John Tavares

The Leafs get Tavares and his 84 points, the Islanders get Leo Komarov and his 19 points. Do the math. And will the last person to leave Long Island please turn out the lights?

It’s fine that the rabble in the Republic of Tranna are going ga-ga over Tavares, but here’s something they should keep in mind: He doesn’t make Jake Gardiner or Ron Hainsey better defencemen.

So, add Tavares to the Leafs roster and take Stastny from les Jets roster and who has the better team? Still the Jets, mainly because of the blueline and in goal.

Do the Los Angeles Kings have anyone under age 30 on their roster?

Winnipeg Jets movin’ on up to the second round of Stanley Cup tournament

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 5 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Friday night…

Pregame blah, blah, blah: At the outset, I wrote: “No way this series goes past five games if the Jets are going to pour 40 shots on goal every game. It might even be a sweep.” Well, I was wrong about the sweep, but here we are at Game 5 and there’s no Ryan Suter, no Zach Parise and no hope for the Wild…I note that good guy Scott Campbell is also writing off the Wild. “The Wild can make it interesting when they play their best game—when they’re not, you’re just counting down the time until the next Jets goal,” the former Jets defenceman scribbles in his Winnipeg Free Press column. “With their season on the line and a hurting Jets blue line, I expect we’ll see everything they’ve got Friday night. I just don’t think it’s enough.”…Jets, of course, enter the fray sans one defender who was in his work clothing when the best-of-seven skirmish commenced—the suspended Josh Morrissey. Also still unavailable are blueliners Toby Enstrom and Dmitry Kulikov. Tyler Myers returns, though, so it isn’t as bleak as it might have been. Good thing. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps les Jets would have to send out an SOS to Perry Miller. Last time I saw Percy, he was still in game shape. Mind you, that was in the 1990s and the game was mixed slo-pitch…Winnipeg and its indoor/outdoor Whiteouts continue to get considerable play from national media outlets. Wonder if anyone at the Free Press has noticed, or are they still whinging about River City being ignored beyond the borders of the Keystone province?…Breaking News: Twig Ehlers has been lost to les Jets due to a mystery owie. So who’ll skate in pretty circles? Certainly not Matt Hendricks, who replaces Twig in the locals’ lineup. He’s more of a north-south guy…We’ve got Stacey Nattrass to sing the anthems at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, so I’m wondering what country crooners they’ll trot out in Twang Town when the Jets and Nashville Predators hook up in the next round of this Stanley Cup tournament. Mike Fisher’s bride, Carrie Underwood, has her groove back, so perhaps we’ll hear her Star Spangled Bannering.

David Thomson

First Period: I really like seeing those vintage Jets jerseys in the stands. Classic. Wish they were still on the players’ backs, too…Jacob Trouba scores 31 seconds into the joust. Jets 1, Wild 0. Stop this senseless slaughter!…Now Bryan Little scores on a Dustin Byfuglien missile. Jets 2, Wild 0. This is going to be an embarrassment for the Wild…Hey, moneybags David Thomson is in the house. And why not? Without his bankroll, the Little Hockey House On The Prairie wouldn’t exist. Neither would les Jets…Geez, Louise, is it the Minnesota Wild or the Keystone Kops? The Minny players are tripping over each other and they’re almost scoring own goals. Total disarray…Now Brandon Tanev scores on a Minny turnover. Devan Dubnyk whiffed on it. Jets 3, Wild 0…And now Joel Armia gets in the way of a Big Buff shot and it goes past Dubnyk. Once again, the Evander Kane trade pays off for the home side. Jets 4, Wild 0…Head coach Bruce Boudreau is a compassionate man. He gives Dubie, Dubie Dubnyk the rest of the night off.

Second Period: What are the odds of les Jets keeping the pedal to the metal? Zero. It’s going to be a boring 20 minutes…Armia is gone with an upper back owie. No biggie…Yup, this is boring. Les Jets have decided to take the period off, except for the keeper, Connor Hellebuyck…Most exciting discovery is that A&W teenburgers are on sale for $3.50 until April 29. Those are my fave burgers, but only because there’s no Harvey’s in downtown Victoria…Actually, I could go for a Sals cheese nip right about now. Drat. We don’t have the Sals in Victoria either…When did the Wild last score a goal? Seems to me it was sometime in March. Still 4-zip Jets.

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie

Third Period: Rink Rat Scheifele scores on the powerplay, just to rub salt into the wound, I guess. Jets 5, Wild done like dinner…Like I said, no more than five games. Good call…My memory isn’t shot, but there are some significant gaps and, try as I might, I can’t recall the 1987 series when les Jets took out the Calgary Flames. Don’t remember a thing, but the boys in the booth and between the benches assure me that it was the last time les Jets won a playoff series…Here’s the good news for the home side (aside from advancing to the second round): A bunch of guys named Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Fuhr, Anderson et al aren’t laying in wait…Garry Galley asks, “Do these fans deserve this?” Yup, they do. Have to be happy for Good Ol’ Hometown. When I make my once-a-week visit to my favorite watering hole Saturday, people will talk about les Jets instead of “Winterpeg.” Nice.

The Hellebuyck stops here: Winnipeg Jets are a win away from moving on

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 4 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Tuesday night…

Connor Hellebuyck

Pregame blah, blah, blah: Okay, took an afternoon nap. Should be good to go and actually make it through three periods of shinny without nodding off. Of course, that depends on the Jets and Wild. Their third period in Game 3 put me to sleep, literally, and I have a feeling this game might feature plodding, cautious hockey, given what’s at stake…Wonder if Twig Ehlers will do more than skate in pretty circles tonight. I like the kid. A lot. So much speed. But I like him a whole lot better when he makes red lights flash…Ben Chiarot predicts the Jets “will come out hot” in Game 4. Wonder if by that he means: “I won’t take any stupid penalties and bitch about it all night.”…No Tyler Myers for les Jets, but Wild have been without Ryan Suter the entire series, and now Zach Parise is in the repair shop for the duration, so I’d rather not hear any whinging from Jets Nation about owies…I suppose Marcus Foligno has become Public Enemy No. 1 in Winnipeg for taking out Myers, but, hey, every good story needs a bad guy. So why not a big, rambunctious, effective forward as the villain?…Got a kick out of some of the Jets rabble suggesting Foligno wouldn’t have been racing around the rink uncontested in Game 3 had Anthony Peluso still been in the Winnipeg lineup. Spare me. If Peluso still wore Jets linen, they’d be on a golf course in a warm-weather locale today. Except Dustin Byfuglien. Big Buff would be ice fishing somewhere…After all these years, I still don’t understand why Byfuglien is pronounced Buff-lin instead of By-foo-glee-en…Connor Hellebuyk didn’t like some of the questions tossed his way after he’d surrendered six goals in two periods on Sunday night. That makes us even: I didn’t like his goaltending…Hellebuyck’s one of the finalists for the Vezina Trophy. Nice rags-to-riches story…

Rink Rat Scheifele

First Period: You know it’s playoff hockey when the finesse players are tossing their frames around, and Eric Staal drills Blake Wheeler to hopefully set a tone for the Wild…Badger Bob Johnson used to talk about “jump” whenever his Calgary Flames were on top of their game, and the Jets definitely have “jump” tonight. I guess I was wrong about plodding, cautious hockey. This is lickety-split hockey…Twig Ehlers is skating in pretty circles and not much else. He reminds me of an up-tempo Alexander Burmistrov…Could be more bad news for the Wild. Matt Dumba leaves the ice and heads down the tunnel toward the repair shop…Not to worry, he’s back…Hellebuyck is stone-cold brilliant against Staal, keeping it zip-zip. Best chance by either team so far…Josh Morrissey gets away with a vicious cross-check to Staal’s neck during a Wild powerplay. Should have been a major penalty, no question. Wild have every right to feel totally ripped off. They should have a two-man advantage…Sportsnet gab guy Paul Romanuk says, “The referees get most of them right. They’re the best in the world.” Oh, shut the front door. The zebras were too involved in Game 3, and if the Jets score now after gagging on the Morrissey cross-check it’s a game-changer…Sure enough, Rink Rat Scheifele gives the Jets a 1-zip lead with less than a minute to play. Heady play by Scheifele, Wheeler and Kyle Connor to keep the play onside…If the zebras watch a replay of the Morrissey cross-check during intermission and realize they blew it, they might want to punish the Jets with a makeup call. I wouldn’t rule it out.

Josh Morrissey

Second Period: As the late, great play-by-play voice Danny Gallivan (best ever) used to say, “an enormous save” by Hellebuyck on Dumba on a Wild 3-on-1 rush. Astonishing. Got the glove hand on it. He should win the Vezina just for that save alone. Color commentator Garry Galley calls it a “good save.” Geez, tough crowd. I mean, that’s like saying Meryl Streep is a “good” actor…Josh Morrissey, his nasty cross-check aside, is the best player on the ice, either side…Is it just me or does anyone else think Rink Rat Scheifele takes too much crap during after-whistle scrums? I understand discipline. Don’t want to take stupid penalties. But I wonder if he’s going to snap at some point…Watching that commercial featuring Connor McDavid, I can’t help but think he’d best not quit his day job…Hellebuyck takes a penalty, then stones Jonas Brodin. Brilliant bounce-back game from the Jets keeper…Big Buff fills in Jordan Greenway to close the period….Still 1-zip Jets…Terrific game. Do I hear overtime?

Badger Bob Johnson

Third Period: Something tells me that if Jets get their second goal, it’ll be on a counter attack, because at some point the Wild will have to open up…You think they could use Parise right now?…Blake Wheeler is a beast. He’s tossing people around…What in the name of Claude Noel are Puck Finn Laine and Jacob Trouba doing? They’re delivering “free pizzas” across the middle of the ice! Brings to mind Johnny Oduya.Yo! Boys! You’ve got a 1-zip lead. Everything to the outside. Everything to the outside in the defensive and neutral zones…Kyle Connor needs to eat some meat and potatoes. Maybe some dumplings with gravy, too…Garry Galley has upgraded Hellebuyck’s larcenous second-period save on Dumba from “good” to “brilliant.”…Scheifele finds iron from the slot, then Devan Dubnyk dumbfounds Brandon Tanev and Puck Finn (with a classic Johnny Bower poke check) to keep it 1-zip Jets. Elite goaltending at both ends…Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau beckons Dubnyk, but Wild just don’t have the firepower to square the score, even with the extra attacker…Scheifele slides the puck into the empty net. Jets 2, Wild 0…This one is down to Hellebuyck (first playoff shutout in franchise history), who definitely was in Vezina form and submitted that the guys in front of him had “extra jump.” Just like Badger Bob would have said…Have to wonder what Boudreau has to say about the missed cross-check on Staal. Wait. Here he is to talk about it. “Cost us the game,” he says. Not surprised to hear that. He should be bitter. It was a major gaffe by the men in the armbands…Jets lead this best-of-seven skirmish 3-1 and can send the Wild on vacation Friday night at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. Thirteen wins away from a Stanley Cup parade.

Winnipeg Jets get a stinker out of their system

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 3 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on the Sabbath…

Coachless Corner with Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Pregame blah, blah, blah: After Game 2, I suggested divine intervention was one of only two things that could prevent les Jets from taking out the Wild. So does a major spring blizzard in Minneapolis/St. Paul count as divine intervention?…Ma Nature dumped 30-40 centimetres of the white stuff on Minny/St. P. How much is that in English? Sorry, I’m old school when it comes to measurements…Can’t see the snow storm having a negative impact on les Jets. It’s not like they’re playing outdoors. I realize, of course, that the white stuff meant a return to Winnipeg on Saturday after two hours on a tarmac in Duluth, but the weather is simply something for news snoops to blah, blah, blah about and nothing more..Donald S. Cherry was in his bully pulpit on Saturday night, doing his yadda, yadda, yadda thing, and the way Grapes has it figured les Jets did themselves no favors by engaging the Wild in extra-curricular activity (read: fistic exchanges, pulling, tugging and face palming) in the final seconds of Game 2. “They’re so used to losing they get a little giddy because they won the game,” Cherry said on his Coachless Corner segment of Hockey Night in Canada. “(Minnesota) was all set to go to sleep, fold the tents up just silently…I’ll tell ya one thing, they got the team stirred up. I said before the game, before the series started, they’re gonna win. They’ll still win, but they just made it hard on them.” Okay, duly noted: The Jets will win, but it won’t be easy because they got too frisky. Like, when did frisky become a bad thing?…All these years on Hockey Night In Canada and not once has Ron MacLean closed the show by tossing a pen or a pencil…Can’t start any game in the U.S. and A. without a salute to the military.

Zach Parise

First Period: Something tells me that Jets goaler Connor Hellebuyck will be required to take a shower after this game, unlike the two in Winnipeg…The crowd at the Something Or Other Center (really dislike corporate names on hockey barns) is ramped up and the boys are fractious in the early skirmishing, so it’s evident that the Wild have decided to get engaged. Apparently there’ll be wearing skates tonight instead of showshoes…Chintzy, chintzy call on Matt Cullen of the Wild. It was a love tap. Zebras have discovered their whistles, which probably won’t be a good thing…Blake Wheeler scores what Paul Romanuk describes as a “greasy dog of a goal” from a horrible angle on the powerplay. Jets 1-zip…Guaranteed the Jets will be flagged for the next infraction, after two weak calls against the Wild. Guaranteed…Yup, there goes Ben Chiarot to the bin, followed immediately by Adam Lowry, giving Minny a 5-on-3 PP. Jets survive the 5-on-3, but Mikael Granlund levels the score before the second penalty expires…Chiarot takes another penalty…Zach Parise scores on the PP. Wild 2-1…Guaranteed the Wild will be shorthanded before the end of the period. Yup, there goes Matt Dumba to the hoosegow. Refs are too involved for my liking.

Eric Staal

Second Period: If Wild have any plans to get back into this series, they’ll have to get ‘er done now, because Jets own the third period…There’s Matt Dumba putting Minny up by two on a shot from the point. Not sure Hellebuyck saw it, but he has to shut the door now. He has to be perfect the rest of the way…Tyler Myers scores for the second game in a row, beating Devan Dubnyk to the far side again. Innocent looking play. Dubnyk looks off his game. Two suspect goals…Wild 3-2…Jets seem to be finding their skating legs (about time), but Dubnyk no longer looks off his game. He stone-cold stuffs both Twig Ehlers and Bryan Little from his doorstep…Sloppy giveaway by Dustin Byfuglien ends up behind Hellebuyk, Eric Staal pulling the trigger. This game is over. No way the Jets rally…Now rookie Jordan Greenway makes it 5-2 Wild. Only question is whether Jets coach Paul Maurice gives Hellebuyck the rest of the night off now or waits until the end of the period. I’d wait…Foligno scores and Maurice sticks with Hellebuyck…Ouch. Myers goes down for the count. He heads for the repair shop and it doesn’t look good…Only noticed Paul Stastny once through 40 minutes, and Mark Scheifele could have stayed home in Winnipeg for all the good he’s done. Jets didn’t have any passengers in Games 1 and 2, tonight they’ve got half a dozen. Maybe more…Wild 6, Jets 2.

Marcus Foligno

Third Period: During the intermission, Twig Ehlers tells Scott Oake the Jets are “playing the right way.” Sorry, kid. You’re never playing the right way when it’s 6-2 after two periods…Steve Mason (remember him?) takes over in the blue paint for the Jets. Not saying this was Hellebuyck’s fault, but he had to be flawless after it was 3-2. Instead, Dubnyk was the perfect goaltender from that point on…Myers is done for the night, but what about the rest of the series?…This is quite boring…Oh my, I actually nodded off. Just woke up to see and hear Maurice talking about this stinker. Don’t think he’s going to enlighten me. If he tells us that Marcus Foligno was the best player on the freeze, either side, I would agree. All credit to Foligno and the Wild for a 6-2 win…How many Foligno boys play in this league? Can’t keep track…Well, okay, Jets are allowed one stinker. But only one. They still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 and remain 14 wins away from a Stanley Cup parade…Don’t think they have to go back to the drawing board. They just have to remember to drive the net and use the body in Game 4 on Tuesday. And keep their feet moving. And someone better give Stastny a wakeup call.

About the difference between the Jets and Leafs…Sportsnet talking Stanley Cup in the Republic of Tranna…rapping with Rink Rat Scheifele…two gasbags in Pegtown…a five-year plan…and a thank-you to the media

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

I don’t know about you, but while observing the recently concluded skirmish between the pesky, upstart Toronto Maple Leafs and the accomplished Washington Capitals, I kept asking myself the same question: Why not the Winnipeg Jets?

I mean, shouldn’t the Jets be part of the Stanley Cup derby? What do the Leafs have that the local hockey heroes don’t?

Brendan Shanahan

Well, okay, the Leafs have a team president, Brendan Shanahan, who actually performed in the National Hockey League and won the Stanley Cup (make that plural). The Jets have an executive chairman, Mark Chipman, who once sold cars and whose sole claim to fame as a jock was participating in one Canadian Football League exhibition game before being cut by legendary coach Cal Murphy.

So there’s that.

What else? Well, the Leafs have a general manager, Lou Lamoriello, who has won the Stanley Cup (make that plural). And they have a head coach, Mike Babcock, whose name is also etched on hockey’s holy grail and whose resume includes Olympic Games gold medals (yes, plural). The Jets, meanwhile, have Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice, winners of zero Stanley Cups as GM and head coach, respectively.

So there’s that, too.

Anything else? Well, there’s goaltending. The Leafs have it in Frederik Andersen. The Jets don’t.

Oh, one more thing: The Leafs have one pain in the ass (see: Kadri, Nazem) who can also score 30 goals, and another pain in the ass (see: Komarov, Uncle Leo) who’s basically a nasty rash on every opponent’s skin. The Jets most definitely do not have a pain in the ass, never mind two.

What about Auston Matthews you say? The Leafs have him. The Jets don’t. Fine. Except when I looked at the NHL scoring leaders at the close of regular-season business, only six players were ahead of Mark Scheifele and none of them was named Auston Matthews. (The separation between Matthews and Scheifele—today, not 10 years from now—is as thin as the sparse playoff whiskers on the Toronto rookie’s chinny-chin-chin.)

Lou Lamoriello

As for the rest of the on-ice personnel…if you say Jake Gardiner, I say Jacob Trouba. If you say Morgan Rielly, I say Dustin Byfuglien. If you say Nikita Zaitsev, I say Josh Morrissey. If you say Mitch Marner, I say Patrik Laine. If you say William Nylander, I say Nikolaj Ehlers. If you say Tyler Bozak, I say Bryan Little. If you say James van Riemsdyk, I say Blake Wheeler. Etcetera, etcetera.

Clearly, the Jets are more than a talent match, the exceptions being one goaltender and two pains in the ass. So, again, why were they not part of the playoff hijinks this spring like the Leafs?

I’ll let you discuss that among yourselves, but I suggest you start at the top of the totem pole by asking how involved Puck Pontiff Chipman is in the day-to-day operation of the Jets, then work your way down to ice level, specifically behind the bench.

You’ll probably find your answers there.

Only in the Republic of Tranna: The Leafs qualify for the postseason party for the second time in 12 years and Sportsnet, which often reads like a Maple Leafs blog, is already talking about a Stanley Cup in The 416. “Maple Leafs need to strike while in unique Stanley Cup window” is the headline on a piece by Chris Johnson, who advises us that the Leafs “are currently much closer to behaving like a Stanley Cup contender than they’re comfortable admitting publicly.” I believe the last time I heard Maple Leafs and Stanley Cup used in the same sentence, Punch Imlach was still coaching, Humpty Harold Ballard had yet to be caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and Trudeau the First was still playing second fiddle to Lester Pearson.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Speaking of Sportsnet, they actually managed to squeeze a piece featuring somebody other than one of the Maple Leafs onto their website. True story. Luke Fox had a lengthy and insightful tete-a-tete with Rink Rat Scheifele and, by all accounts, it was a pain-free exercise for the young centre. Imagine that. One of the Jets doing the chin-wag thing without a team PR flack lurking in the background.

Among the interesting nuggets in the Fox-Scheifele to-and-fro was this: “You never sewer a teammate,” said the Jets assistant captain. He might want to mention that to Mathieu Perreault, who doesn’t hesitate to toss his comrades, most notably the goaltenders, under a convenient bus. For his part, the Rink Rat had this to say about the much-maligned men tasked with the duty of stopping pucks for the Jets—Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson: “There’s always something that happens before a goal, and the goalies are just the last line. They take the brunt of the blame because they’re goalies and that’s what they signed up for and they’re crazy like that. But you can’t point the blame at our goaltenders. They both worked hard and never gave up on us. We all have to take blame for our weakness.”

I’m not sure what to make of this, but Kevin Chevldayoff and Paul Maurice are hot-aired gasbags compared to their counterparts with the Maple Leafs. Here’s the scorecard from their season-over chin-wags with news snoops:

Cheveldayoff: 47 minutes, 37 seconds.
Maurice: 26:45.
Lou Lamoriello: 10:36.
Babcock: 8:49.
Combined totals:
Cheveldayoff/Maurice—1 hour, 14 minutes, 22 seconds.
Lamoriello/Babcock—19 minutes, 25 seconds.

I guess the Jets brass had more explaining to do. Either that or they just had a whole lot more smoke to blow up the media’s butt.

Mike Babcock

I find it interesting that Shanahan, Lamoriello and Babcock don’t hesitate to put themselves on the clock. That is to say, Lamoriello went on record as saying the Leafs are operating on “a five-year plan.” In other words, Leafs Nation can expect to see a perennial playoff participant by then (they’re now two years into the plan). Puck Pontiff Chipman and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, have never dared to offer Jets devotees a similar time frame on their “process.” What are they afraid of?

Here’s another interesting comparison between the outlooks of the two teams: Asked about the Leafs roster next season compared to that which was eliminated in six games by the Capitals, Babcock said, “There’ll be changes.” Maurice answered a similar question by saying next season’s Jets are “gonna look an awful lot like this team but five months older.” Pushing forward in TO, same old-same old in Pegtown.

Got a kick out of Lamoriello’s parting words to the assembled news snoops in the Republic of Tranna: “Thank you for making it an enjoyable year.” I think he was serious. Who in professional sports does that?

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.

 

Postmedia’s top-100 NHL players: If you never saw them play, how can you rate them?

I recall lying on our living room floor, watching a playoff game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in the late 1950s.

The red light behind the Leafs goal was flashing (in black and white, of course) and, not surprisingly, Doug Harvey, who breathed the rarefied air that only the National Hockey League elite enjoyed, had been the mastermind behind the Habs’ successful venture.

doug-harvey2I hate Doug Harvey,” I muttered to my dad scant seconds after les Glorieux had secured a victory, which was the rule rather than the exception in Stanley Cup skirmishing back then.

Why do you hate Doug Harvey?” he wondered.

Because he always has the puck.”

Like most Canadian kids in the ’50s, my eyes would be glued to a black-and-white TV screen every Saturday night during the winter, and every second night during the Stanley Cup tournament, which did not drone on into June. In the case of this particular Habs-Leafs joust, I would have been seven or eight years old at the time. I root, root, rooted for the Leafs. Disliked les Canadiens with an irrational intensity.

At that age, my hockey knowledge was limited mostly to the players’ names and sweater numbers. In terms of grading the skill level of those players, the eye test was far from fully developed. How could it be at such a young age? Oh, I knew Doug Harvey was supreme because, as I lamented, he was loath to share the puck with the other team. Every time he hopped over the boards, the game unfolded at Harvey’s whim and tempo. He was the maestro. He was doing the Savardian spinorama when Serge Savard was still in middle school.

There were others whose skills I recognized and admired. I delighted in the daring of Habs goaltender Jacques Plante, who didn’t glue himself to the goal crease, and the Leafs’ young Big M, Frank Mahovlich, was something to behold, his skating stride longer than a Winnipeg winter. Gordie Howe always seemed to have his way with everyone, even the tough hombres, and I remember Maurice Richard as a dashing sort, but he was in his hockey dotage and always seemed grumpy. So I didn’t like him.

The point is, I can say I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s, but as much as I witnessed the great Rocket Richard, I didn’t witness his greatness. His signature 50-goal season was in the rear-view mirror when Hockey Night in Canada became a ritual for me on what many kids also knew as bath night. Thus, I cannot possibly rate him as a player. I was too young and he was too old.

I give ponder to such matters this morning because Steve Simmons of Postmedia has compiled a top-100 list in recognition of the NHL’s centennial, which arrives in 2017.

Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr

While an admirable undertaking, his is a fool’s errand.

The most obvious and greatest flaw in someone picking the top 100 players in NHL history is not in choosing Bobby Orr over Wayne Gretzky, or vice versa, atop the list. Or anointing Dominik Hasek the greatest goaltender of all time. Or including only three Russians among the fab 100. The flaw, as I see it, is in the person doing the ranking. Precious few are qualified to do it. Simmons does not walk among those precious few. Age disqualifies him.

Simmons was born in 1957. He’s seven years my junior. As little as I can recall from the 1950s NHL, he cannot possibly have any first-hand knowledge of hockey from that era. Zero. Bupkus. Unless he was some sort of child hockey savant, which I doubt, his ability to grade players with any acceptable level of expertise wouldn’t have kicked in until the latter part of the 1960s, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt there.

Yet, by his own accounting, he has listed two dozen players from the 1950s and beyond. He never saw 25 per cent of his personal top 100 play hockey. Forty of his players are pre-1967, when he was 10 years or younger. Or not yet drawing oxygen.

I’m not prepared to pan Simmons for any of his choices. That’s a mug’s play. I’ll leave it to the Twitter trolls to pummel him (many have; others not so much). I do, however, submit that he doesn’t have the chops to compile such a list, based on his age. Indeed, his comment on Maple Leafs legend Syl Apps, whom he slid into the No. 36 slot, underscores his lack of expertise: “My dad told me he was the greatest Leaf he ever saw.”

Well, my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles told me stories, too. Look, I need not have seen Babe Ruth swing a Louisville Slugger to know that he was among the greatest hitters of a baseball. But, for me, it’s all about the eye test when it comes to hockey rankings. It isn’t what I read about a player in the record book, or what I see on grainy, black-and-white film on YouTube that has three or four different speeds, or what mom and pop told me. It’s what I’ve seen.

My point of reference is 1957—the year Simmons was born. I didn’t realize you could watch hockey from the womb. Apparently, that’s what he did.

As I said, admirable undertaking, fool’s errand.

***

I find it interesting that, on his Twitter page, Simmons gets snooty about age vis-a-vis his overall top pick, advising dissenting followers that “If you’re not 45-50, you never saw (Bobby) Orr play. If you’re not over 50, you didn’t see him at his most dominant.” In other words, how dare the younger generations question his judgement about Orr being No. 1? He’s seen both Orr and Gretzky, don’t you know? You young whippersnappers haven’t. So no one under 50 can make an educated, first-hand comparison between Orr and Wayne Gretzky.

rocketFine. But by that reasoning, if you’re not over 65 you didn’t see Doug Harvey at his most dominant. If Simmons saw Harvey play, he was a 44/45-year-old, dog-eared defenceman whom the expansion St. Louis Blues had dug out of moth balls when Simmons was in Grade 6.

Yet that didn’t prevent a 59-year-old Simmons from ranking Harvey No. 8 on his all-time list, second among defencemen behind only Orr. How can he possibly compare Harvey to Orr or, say, Nicklas Lidstrom? Meanwhile, he ranked the Rocket at No. 6. Never once saw him play. So how can he compare him to Guy Lafleur or Teemu Selanne?

***

My grandfather would tell us Rocket Richard was the greatest player ever. My dad would say Gordie Howe. I’d say Bobby Orr. My eldest son would likely say Wayne Gretzky. His kids are apt to say Sidney Crosby. It’s a generational thing that we should acknowledge and respect, not pooh-pooh or dismiss with a pompous grunt.

***

Simmons writes this of Joe Sakic: “Top five wrist shot in history.” He would know this how? Bernie Geoffrion popularized the slap shot in the 1950s. Prior to Boom Boom, most everyone used the wrister. Since Simmons never saw hockey in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, how can he compare Sakic’s wrist shot to all those old-time players? He can’t rate what he’s never seen. But he does and condemns others for doing that very thing. Go figure.

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.