The River City Renegade


Leave a comment

About a 1980s redux for the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers…a Little good news from Bryan…pollywaddle from the Republic of Tranna…odds of bringing Stanley Cup home…playoffs or bust in Pegtown…and the Sedins love letter

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

Rink Rat Scheifele

So here’s what I’m thinking as the Winnipeg Jets embark on their seventh crusade: This might be a 1980s redux. You know, deja vu all over again.

The Jets, you see, have some nice pieces in place. Very nice pieces, actually. Hard to go wrong with Rink Rat Scheifele, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and a few others. Even a carnival barker like potty-mouth head coach Paul Maurice ought to be able to coax a playoff-worthy campaign out of that group, and the fact they were found wanting last season says more about him than them.

But let’s suppose the Jets’ universe unfolds as it should in 2017-18. Let’s say Steve Mason is the answer in goal—even though Coach Potty-Mo refuses to commit to him as No. 1 in the blue ice as the local lads open training camp—and Scheifele is top-five in scoring, Wheeler is top-10, Patrik Laine leads the National Hockey League in snipes, Jacob Trouba is in the Norris Trophy conversation, Kyle Connor is the top freshman, and Maurice learns that there’s life after Chris Thorburn. Then what? A playoff date with the Edmonton McDavids? Oh joy. It’s the ghosts of playoffs past—Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Anderson, Kurri et al revisited.

There are grown men who still wake up in the middle of the night—yowling like banshees—at the nightmarish horrors that the Edmonton Oilers imposed on the Jets during the 1980s. Seven times the locals qualified for the Stanley Cup derby. Five times, the Oilers put them out of their misery. They did it again in the spring of 1990. Sadists.

Jets fans saw too much of this in the 1980s.

And now, 27 years later, it appears that, once again, the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force, even as ownership squabbles with politicos and beats the drums about relocation should the city refuse to pony up substantial coin for a new shinny palace.

The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian prairies.

I have a suspicion the Winnipegs soon shall be able to handle the Flames. But the McDavids? Different deal. I mean, Scheifele is a delight. He’s got that boy-next-door thing going, the kind of guy you want your daughter bringing home for dinner. And he’s very good at hockey. But let’s face it, the Rink Rat is to Connor McDavid what Dale Hawerchuk was to Wayne Gretzky.

So it could be curses, foiled again.

Bryan Little isn’t going anywhere. Nice. The Jets have locked up their No. 2 centre and, although I’m surprised at the length of term (six-year extension), it’s a very good move because the 29-year-old Edmonton native is a very good player. Little was on board when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, and I don’t think he’s ever disappointed. Solid guy who operates under the radar.

Ignore the pure pollywaddle drifting from the Republic of Tranna, where the hockey club’s bandwagon is overbooked with keyboard blowhards who insist on using the words “Stanley Cup” and “Maple Leafs” in the same sentence, something that hasn’t been done since 1967. If a Canadian outfit is going to bring the Stanley Cup home for the first time in a quarter century, it will be the Edmonton McDavids. I’d even be inclined to suggest the Jets will win the NHL title before the Tranna Maple Leafs. Does that mean I’m now drinking the True North Sports & Entertainment Kool-Aid? That I’ve bought into the Secret Society’s propaganda? Negative. Not prepared to go there. But I do believe general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled better young talent than the Leafs, who have the benefit of playing in a soft division.

Today’s list: Odds on each Canadian team ending the Great White North Stanley Cup drought…
1. Edmonton McDavids: 3-1
2. Winnipeg Jets: 5-1
3. Calgary Flames: 5-1
4. Tranna Maple Leafs: 10-1
5. Montreal Canadiens: 20-1
6. Ottawa Senators: Fuhgeddaboudit.
7. Vancouver Canucks: You’re kidding, right?

I’ll say this for the Leafs, they have a couple of pains in the ass who can also play. Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov are gooey chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your shoes. The Jets need to add some of that to their makeup.

Interesting how the two Pauls—Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press—interpreted the party line delivered by Jets ownership/management last week.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

Friesen wrote: “For really the first time since buying the moribund Atlanta Thrashers and moving them lock, stock and Evander Kane to this Canadian prairie burg six years ago, the people in charge aren’t ducking expectation. Instead, they’re almost embracing it. From the new slogan inscribed on the team’s interview backdrop—Rise Together—to the words of the team captain, the GM and even the man who shelled out a good portion of the $180-million franchise price tag, it’s playoffs or bust.”

Wiecek, meanwhile, tells us that Jets ownership/management remains wishy-washy in terms of expectations. They’re sending a message “that says that the 2017-18 Jets ‘can be’ a playoff team, but hey, these things take time and it’s still not a deal breaker if they don’t,” he writes.

Me? I’m with Friesen. I thought Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman made his thoughts absolutely clear the day he announced the re-upping of both his GM and head coach, saying, “Our expectation this year is to take a step forward in a meaningful way.” I don’t know how you can take that to mean anything other than he expects a playoff berth. There can be no other interpretation. Furthermore, in a conversation with John Shannon of Sportsnet at the draft lottery in May, Cheveldayoff stated flatly that “I’m not coming back” next year. Meaning, he doesn’t expect the Jets to be a lottery team in 2018.

The Sedin twins

That was so sweet of the Sedin twins to express their fondness and unwavering devotion to Vancouver in a love letter to The Players’ Tribune, but I just don’t see how warm and fuzzies advance the Canucks so-called youth movement. Say what you will about two players who’d rather stay in Vancity and loiter with the NHL also-rans rather than pursue the Stanley Cup elsewhere (for the record, I admire their stick-to-itness), but should Henrik and Daniel still be driving the bus? Some very dark and rainy days (years?) ahead on the West Coast.

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

Advertisements


Leave a comment

About the Winnipeg Jets’ love-in…the Puck Pontiff tripping…no clear No. 1 in goal…a 100-year contract for Coach Potty-Mo…pitching woo…and peace, baby

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

Woodstock love and fashion.

That was quite the 1960s-style love-in the Winnipeg Jets held on Thursday.

It was hockey does Woodstock. Made me want to dig my hippy clothes out of the tickle trunk and put a flower in my hair. Maybe write a protest song like Neil Young or Stephen Stills. I swear, love was all around and the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, was definitely tripping on something.

You think I’m kidding? Check it out.

I think, frankly, getting in is harder than winning it,” he said.

He was talking about the Stanley Cup tournament. Perhaps believing the rabble to be easily swayed or totally whacked out of their minds, the Jets co-bankroll actually stood before news scavengers and proposed that qualifying for the National Hockey League post-season was a more daunting task than taking ownership of the great silver goblet. And he didn’t have his tongue in his cheek.

That’s some serious, mind-blowing blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. What next? He’s going to tell us training camp is moving to Max Yasgur’s farm upstate from New York City?

Chipman’s belief doesn’t merely disagree with basic math, it totally suspends reality. It’s newspaper taxis, tangerine trees, marmalade skies and rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies. Ya, that’s right, it’s Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Fantasy. Each spring, 16 outfits (more than half the league) earn the right to compete for the Stanley Cup. Since 2010, all 30 NHL clubs have qualified for the playoffs at least once, yet only four have won the big prize. What part of that equation does the Puck Pontiff think we’re too stupid to understand? Only someone trying to excuse five failing seasons in six would insult his fan base by making such a patently absurd statement.

The good news is that Chipman, once he stopped hallucinating, stepped outside his safe zone and made at least one rather significant comment. To wit: “Our expectation is to take a step forward this year in a meaningful way.” That means playoffs, baby. Finally, meaningful matches at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in April and perhaps May. Or not.

Peace, baby.

This is worrisome. The Jets potty-mouthed head coach, Paul Maurice, did the chin-wag thing with Bob McCown and John Shannon on Prime Time Sports in the Republic of Tranna, and he was asked if he could name his No. 1 goaltender. “No,” Coach Potty-Mo admitted. “The honest answer is it isn’t hard stamped. We think…we know that Steve Mason can put together blocks of high-end, high-end hockey. And we also firmly believe that Connor Hellebuyck will be (a starter). Where that leaves them both in terms of number of games this year, in complete honesty, I don’t have a hard number on that. We firmly believe that either one of them can establish themselves very early as the No. 1 guy and that’s the way it stayed the whole year, but we’re also aware that they’ll probably give it back and forth to each other. As long as we get average to above average goaltending we’re gonna be a very good hockey team. We think we have a talent level now that we haven’t had in the past.” Excuse me, but Hellebuyck was part of the problem last season. How is he now part of the solution? Sounds like someone else was tripping.

So, how long will Maurice and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff be sticking around after accepting contract extensions? Anyone care to let us in on the secret? Nope. “We have confidence in these people on a multi-year basis and that’s sufficient,” said the Puck Pontiff. Coach Potty-Mo, meanwhile, advised McCown and Shannon that the deal he signed a few weeks ago was for “a hundred years, a hundred million.” Cheeky boy.

Here’s the Puck Pontiff on his head coach: “I don’t think he’s been mediocre at all. It doesn’t really matter what I think or what Kev thinks. I think the most important criteria in bringing Paul back is what our players think. The level of respect that our captain has for him, and it is unanimous across our team how much he’s admired as a leader. When you get that you want to embrace it, you want to hang onto it as long as you can.” Well, for as long as you can or 100 years, whichever comes first.

Here’s the Puck Pontiff on his GM: “He’s exactly what we thought we were hiring six years ago. He has that rare combination of very high degree of competence and a very high degree of character. We landed that in Kevin on day one and he hasn’t disappointed.” I can think of at least one group of people who might disagree. They’re called fans.

Actually, I get the vibe that more among the rabble are quarreling with the re-upping of Maurice than Chevy. I can’t say that I disagree with them. The GM didn’t take his normal summer-long nap this year and Coach Potty-Mo…well, apparently the players love him. Note of caution: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers loved coach Jeff Reinebold and that didn’t work out so well, did it.

Here’s how Cheveldayoff described pitching woo to free agents Steve Mason and Dmitry Kulikov: “Those conversations were fun, they were exciting, they were exhilarating. We didn’t have to sell as much as what people might think, because the outside sold itself. It’s interesting, in both of the conversations, and other conversations that we had, one of the things that always comes up is how exciting it is to play in our building. How intimidating it can be. When the fans are on their game and they’re at the top-fever pitch, it’s a tough building to play in because, again, it’s the smallest building in the league and that means you’re right on top of everyone. Those are some of the things that they had intimated would be great to be on the other side of it. But, ultimately when it comes to free agency, the players want to know that they have a chance to win, they want to go to a place where they feel that not only can they make a difference but that they’re going to make a difference in a positive type environment.” Translation: Both Mason and Kulikov had run out of options.

In the spirit of the Jets’ love-in, my five favorite protests songs from the turbulent 1960s-70s…
1. For What It’s Worth: Buffalo Springfield
2. Ohio: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
3. Eve of Destruction: Barry McGuire
4. Blowin’ In the Wind: Bob Dylan
5. Revolution 1: The Beatles

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


Leave a comment

About the Winnipeg Jets secrecy in re-upping two guys without a playoff win…the Pope is on board…hockey discipline vs. tennis discipline…the ladies rock at the U.S. Open…the Vancouver Canucks odd youth movement…insults are Steve…and so long Steely Dan

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

Well, Darren Dreger and Elliotte Friedman were correct and both Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice have been rewarded for chronic nonachievement, which begs this question: Why the secrecy?

I mean, Dreger tells us that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman gave the only general manager the Winnipeg Jets have known a hearty pat on the back in the form of a contract extension “months ago.” Perhaps the deal was done scant days after the locals failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby for the fifth time in six whirls under Chevy’s watch. Or maybe it was in May, June or July.

Whatever the case, the Secret Society known as True North Sports & Entertainment chose to keep that morsel of information on the QT until this very morning.

Same with Maurice, the potty-mouthed head coach destined to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history sometime during the 2017-18 crusade. Apparently, his endorsement of a job not well done arrived more recently, which could mean June, July or August, but, again, the Secret Society chose not to share that tidbit with the very people who fill the Little Hockey House On The Prairie 41 days/nights each year and purchase all that merchandise with the Royal Canadian Air Force logo.

In other words, screw the rabble.

Try as I might, I cannot scare up a single reason why the Secret Society adopted a mum’s-the-word posture vis-a-vis extensions for the GM and head coach, except that the Puck Pontiff likely didn’t fancy the bother of detailing the rationale behind re-upping two men accustomed to standing on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the real fun begins in April. They’re a pair of oh-fers: 0-for-the playoffs. Zero wins. In six seasons for Chevy and 3.5 for Coach Potty-Mo. Tough to justify a reward for never failing to fail.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

But, hey, maybe this is a Winnipeg thing. After all, the Blue Bombers handed their GM, Kyle Walters, and sideline steward, Mike O’Shea, a fresh set of downs even though they’d never won a Canadian Football League post-season match. Received three-year add-ons, they did.

Which leads me to believe that contract extensions are like skeeters in Pegtown: You’re gonna get ’em whether you deserve ’em or not.

Did the work of either Chevy or Maurice warrant renewals? Well, it’s a results-driven business, and booking tee times at St. Charles or Glendale while those about you are still playing hockey isn’t anyone’s idea of getting the job done.

Clearly, something is broken.

If, as has been suggested by numerous pundits, Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled an array of blue-chip talent, why no playoffs? Must be the coach. If it’s the coach, why the extension? And if not the coach, who? The players? Can’t be, because we’re told they’re blue-chippers. Unless they aren’t blue-chippers, in which case Chevy’s at fault.

Would I have gone all-in on either Chevy or Maurice? Or both? I’m iffy on the former, because it’s uncertain how much interference he receives from on high, but I’m definitely not sold on the latter.

Paul Maurice

I’d have allowed Coach Potty-Mo to enter the 2017-18 fray on his existing deal, which had a shelf life of 82 more games. This is a show-me season for Maurice. Show us you can coach without Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart getting in the way. Qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament and you won’t have to change your postal code. Miss and we have some swell parting gifts for you.

Aha, you say. That would make him a lame-duck coach. Well, yes, it would. And your point is?

Delivering a contract extension to Maurice doesn’t make him a better coach. It doesn’t turn Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck into Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. It doesn’t improve the penalty kill. It doesn’t even buy Coach Potty-Mo more time. It’s on him either way. If the Jets aren’t part of the post-season fun next April, the Puck Pontiff will be paying Maurice not to coach.

I just hope they don’t keep it a secret when and if they let the guy go.

It’s about the Declaration of Principles that several hockey organizations, including the NHL, signed off on this week, with the endorsement of the real Puck Pontiff, Pope Francis of Vatican fame: I’ll believe in the vow of inclusiveness when NHL players (hello, Andrew Shaw and Ryan Getzlaf) cease using gay slurs as their go-to insults, and when I see women on NHL coaching, management and scouting staffs and openly gay men on NHL rosters. Women’s hockey at the highest level is inclusive, men’s hockey at the highest level not so much.

You want inclusiveness? Try big-time tennis. At the U.S. Open in Gotham, we’ve seen women sitting in the umpire’s chair during men’s matches. Sadly, one of those women, Louise Engzell of Switzerland, was called a “whore” and a “cocksucker” by Italian No. 1 Fabio Fognini. Although slow to respond to the verbal assault, tennis officialdom slapped Fognini with $24,000 in fines and instructed him to vacate the premises, even though he had advanced to the third round of doubles play. Soon, the other shoe shall drop. It’s possible that Fognini will be banned from future Grand Slam tournaments and fined upwards of $250,000. By way of comparison, when Disney Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf barked out the same C-slur during an NHL playoff game last spring, he was docked pocket change of $10,000 and permitted to play on.

Fognini’s mea culpa was priceless. “I have nothing against women,” he insisted. “I have been called sexist, which I am not. I am a family man, I have a wife, a mother, a sister. I have always loved women, I have always respected them.” Reminds me of the homophobes who defend their actions and use of anti-gay slurs by saying, “I have gay friends.”

Sloane Stephens

Three thoughts on the U.S. Open this morning: 1) The women’s draw has been much more compelling than the men’s, especially with the prospects and hopes of a Rafa Nadal-Roger Federer skirmish dashed by Juan Martin Del Petro. 2) I think it’s terrific that four American women have advanced to the semifinals of their national tournament. 3) Some of the women can really whack a tennis ball and get around the court (love Sloane Stephens), but how does Serena Williams ever lose?

This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad: Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden says his club’s “focus is on youth.” Right. Two-thirds of the Canucks’ No. 1 forward unit, the Sedin twins, are 37 years old. They just reeled in Thomas Vanek. He’s 33. The other two featured off-season recruits, Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto, are 28 and 27, respectively. Their big catch a year ago was Loui Eriksson, 32. If that’s putting the focus on youth, then Don Cherry is a spring chicken.

The question must be asked: Does Donovan Bennett of Sportsnet actually watch Canadian Football League games? I mean, the guy does weekly power rankings and he’s somehow determined that the Edmonton Eskimos are the No. 2 outfit. That would be the same Edmonton group that has been totally dismantled by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders in consecutive weeks. Bennett had the Eskimos ranked No. 3 a week ago, then they were blitzed by the Stampeders and he moved them into the No. 2 slot. I don’t know if Bennett is embarrassed, but he ought to be.

Todd Bertuzzi

Speaking of totally losing the plot, Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver announced it will feature Todd Bertuzzi, he of Steve Moore infamy, on its air every Tuesday on The Starting Lineup, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia used the occasion to totally trash West Coast media with a completely unfounded statement of non-fact. You know, much like his piece about Phil Kessel and hot dogs. “One of the truly dumb things about Vancouver,” he tweeted. “It never took the Steve Moore incident seriously. Never covered it. Never shouted about it.” He later referenced “Vancouver Twitter idiots.” Apparently ignoring facts and name-calling is what passes for a national sports columnist these days. The great Trent Frayne and Jim Coleman must be spinning in their graves.

Can’t even guess the number of hours I’ve spent listening to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan. Brilliant stuff. Becker died last weekend and we’re left with the music. These are my five favorite Steely Dan tunes…
1. Bodhisattva
2. Deacon Blues
3. Peg
4. Hey Nineteen
5. Do It Again

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


1 Comment

My Two Hens in the Hockey House deliver the goods on the Winnipeg Jets and Kevin Cheveldayoff’s addition by subtraction

Well, look who’s dropped in for an unexpected chit-chat about all things Winnipeg Jets. That’s right, it’s the Two Hens in the Hockey House, who, when last seen, were breaking away to enjoy summer. Turns out they delayed their good, ol’ summertime frolic to discuss the most recent goings-on with their fave National Hockey League outfit and its general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: What gives, girlfriend? I thought we were going to give our jaws a rest until October. What happened to a summer sans chit-chat about the Jets?

Answer Lady: Kevin Cheveldayoff happened, that’s what.

Question Lady: How so?

Answer Lady: Well, once they put the NHL entry draft to bed, I was convinced he’d become Rip Van Chevy and snooze the summer away, like he always does. Remember? Way back in April, I predicted this would be Chevy’s seventh annual Summer of Nothing. So what does the guy do? Instead of heading to the cottage to dip his fishing line into the lake, he dips his toes into the free-agent pool. He goes all GM on us. Go figure.

Question Lady: So, what are you telling me, that you were wrong?

Answer Lady: Yes, I was wro…I was wro…geez, I’m like the Fonz on Happy Days. I can’t say the word wro…oh, pooh. I was mistaken about Chevy. This time. Every other time I was unmistaken.

Question Lady: Actually, you weren’t wrong, girlfriend. You predicted that Chevy would be active once the free-agent bell rang. You said he’d sign at least one player. Remember which player?

Answer Lady: Oh, ya, Chris Thorburn. D’oh! Can you believe the St. Louis Blues actually reeled that sluggo in for two years, at 900K per? Were they not paying attention? Thorbs is a five-minutes-a-night forward with zero upside.

Question Lady: Aren’t they buying his bare knuckles? You know, to replace Ryan Reaves? One goon for another?

Answer Lady: Oh, ya, like that’s going to fly with the faithful in St. Loo. Thorbs is a fighter like I’m Jennifer Aniston’s stand-in. He drops his gloves and holds on like barnacles clinging to the hull of a rusty, old ship. He had what, 13 scraps last season? And threw maybe four punches. By the way, they don’t call players like Reaves and Thorbs goons anymore. They’re energy enforcers, don’t you know.

Chris Thorburn

Question Lady: I’ll try to keep that in mind. Meanwhile, won’t Thorbs be missed?

Answer Lady: Ya, like a yeast infection. Thorbs and Anthony Peluso have long been my measuring sticks for the Jets’ progress. I said in June 2015 that the presence of either in the lineup served as a retardant to the development of the young players, and only when Thorbs and Joe Palooka were told to vamoose would we see actual progress. They’re both gone—hallelujah!—so I guess it’s game on.

Question Lady: Is Steve Mason going to be the answer in goal next season?

Answer Lady: I’d feel a whole lot better about Mason if he wasn’t coming over from Philadelphia. I mean, the Flyers know goaltending like Gary Bettman knows the North End of Winnipeg. They haven’t had anyone who could stop a sniffle since Ron Hextall was acting like a one-man SWAT team in the 1980s. Talk about a guy off his nut. And now Ronnie Axe-tall is the Flyers GM. Who’d have thunk that?

Question Lady: Shouldn’t we be concerned that if Hextall has no use for Mason, Cheveldayoff could have done better than a recycled Philly Flyer?

Answer Lady: I’m going to cut Chevy some slack here. Yes, he’s goalie blind. As goalie blind as the Flyers. And it’s of his own doing that he found himself sifting through the dregs of the goaltenders who became available in the past 2½ months. But…at least he did something. Finally. Even a Philly Flyers reject has to be better than what Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson delivered last season.

Question Lady: You don’t think Hellebuyck is the real deal?

Answer Lady: Is Homer Simpson the poster boy for good parenting? Does the Pope skip mass? If Hellebuyck played in New Jersey or Columbus or San Jose, no one in Jets Nation would be talking about him. I mean, it’s not like everyone in the NHL is saying, “Geez, if we could pry that Hellebuyck guy out of Winnipeg we’d be a shoo-in to win the Stanley Cup.” I think Hellebuyck will be an upgrade on Hutchinson as a backup. That’s as half full as I can make that glass.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question Lady: What do you know about the defenceman Chevy reeled in, Dmitry Kulikov?

Answer Lady: I know he’s a Russian, he shoots left, he spent an awful lot of time in the repair shop last season, he’s buddies with Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele, he’s overpaid, and he could use one more vowel in his first name.

Question Lady: That’s it? That’s all you have to say about him?

Answer Lady: What else is there to say? The guy was a bust in Buffalo, but the Jets believe he’ll be boffo paired with Buff. Now stop me before I OD on alliteration.

Question Lady: So are you giving Chevy a passing grade for his off-season tinkering?

Answer Lady: Mostly, it’s been addition by subtraction. Gone are Thorbs, Peluso, Ondrej Pavelec, Mark Stuart, Paul Postma…that’s all good. Meanwhile, the Jets are better with a Mason-Hellebuyck combo than Hellebuyck-Hutchinson and, if buy-a-vowel Dmitry works out, the blueline is improved. But Chevy gagged at the expansion/entry drafts by dropping 11 slots in the first round just to protect fringe players on a non-playoff roster. And, he still hasn’t dealt with the elephant in the room—Jacob Trouba’s desire to get out of Dodge. Getting Trouba’s signature on a long-term contract ought to be priority No. 1. Overall, I’d give Chevy a passing grade C, for getting the goalie and for what he unloaded. He’s probably earned a week or two of down time at the cottage.

Question Lady: Before we go, what did you think of the TSN and Sportsnet coverage on free-agent day?

Answer Lady: I mostly watched TSN and their talking heads did boffo business, although I cringe every time I see Aaron Ward. Still can’t get past that domestic violence issue. As for Sportsnet, was it bad-hair day on the panel, or what? I mean, what’s up with the mops on Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos? Friedman looked like he had half a head and Kypreos looked like he had his hair cut at Coif du John Deere. I swear, he must have laid down on the lawn and let someone run over his head with a riding mower. And the glare from John Shannon’s coke-bottle glasses blinded me. I’m still seeing double. Other than that, it was all good. Both groups were on their games.

Question Lady: Okay, that’s it. Time to do summer. See you in October.

Answer Lady: Sounds like a plan. Have fun and don’t forget your sunscreen.

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.


Leave a comment

Winnipeg Jets: Teemu Selanne’s smile was the real Finnish flash

Back in the day, when I was cheeky and totally irreverent, I would refer to Mike Smith as Mikhail due to his fondness and fascination for Russian hockey players.

Actually, it was more of an obsession for comrade Mikhail.

Considered something of an egghead in National Hockey League circles because he held a doctorate in Russian studies and wrote books (as if that’s a bad thing), Smith collected two things: Native American art and comrades. Under his watch as the mad scientist general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, he turned the town into Little Moscow. It was here an Igor, there an Ivan, everywhere a Vladimir. Trouble was, he didn’t always recruit the best of Mother Russia (hello, Sergei Bautin).

Teemu Selanne

That didn’t prevent Smith from pumping their tires, though, and so it was one night in early October 1992 when the comrade and I were standing at the back of the Winnipeg Arena press box, in whispered conversation about two of the five rookies in his lineup.

Selanne is a good one,” I submitted. “You guys didn’t make a mistake with him.”

If you think Teemu is good,” Smith responded, “wait until you see what Alexei can do. He’s better than Teemu. He’ll win the scoring championship in this league one day.”

Oops.

There’s no argument that Alexei Zhamnov was among the most skilled players to ever pull Jets linen over his head and shoulders. He was an artist and a wizard, a sometimes breath-taking magician of the Kent Nilsson ilk. But better than Teemu Selanne? Not so much.

The numbers tell the tale of the two players. Longevity tells the tale. One Stanley Cup ring tells the tale. Induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame tells the tale.

But it isn’t the goals, the dashing and daring, the trinkets that are what I remember most about Teemu Selanne. It’s the joy—unbridled, pure and wide-eyed—that he took from the ice to the people.

Selanne was seldom the biggest player in the room, but he was always the biggest kid in the room. Any room. That’s why we still hear stories about how he’d step outside and join the neighborhood kids in Winnipeg for a rousing game of road hockey. Imagine that. An NHL all-star goofing around on snowy streets and shouting “Car!” whenever they’d catch sight of a Buick, Chevy or Ford rumbling down the road toward goal posts made of the white stuff.

That was Teemu.

We called him the Finnish Flash because of the lickety-split in his stride and the electricity he brought to NHL rinks, especially the Jets’ old barn on Maroons Road, but we should have been talking about his smile. That was the real Finnish flash.

Selanne arrived in River City in 1992, 22 years old and with an innocence that I don’t think he ever lost. He took Jets Nation on a magic carpet ride that winter, scoring a mind-popping 76 goals to remove Mike Bossy’s name from the record book, a freshman achievement that has not been challenged, nor is it likely to be. His rookie points total, 132, is second to only one other first-year player. That guy’s name is Gretzky, Wayne. But, in the eyes of the NHL, No. 99 was an unrookie because he had spent one season getting his feet wet in the World Hockey Association. Thus, the frosh records belong to Selanne.

Now that he has earned entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’ll be mentioned that the Finnish Flash was but a passing comet in Winnipeg. Here for a good time, not a long time. And, yes, hockey fans down Disneyland way have every right to claim Selanne as their own, because he spent 15 of his 21 NHL crusades with the Anaheim Ducks compared to parts of four in Jets colors. They even had a special night in his honour, raising his No. 8 to the rafters during a 90-minute salute at the Honda Center.

But we know different. He was loaner. Teemu is ours.

That’s just how it is when a guy lights up all those cold, dreary nights on the frozen tundra with Herculean performances, and when he steps outside to play road hockey with a bunch of urchins who have posters of him taped to their bedroom walls. All the while flashing that smile.

Just like he did on Monday when he took a phone and received the glad tidings from Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald.

I owe you big time beers, boys,” a beaming Selanne told McDonald.

Yup, that’s our guy Teemu. An absolute joy.

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


Leave a comment

About the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Model…the Blue Bombers and soccer…the Puck Pontiff going into hiding…and what the women on the tennis tour think of our Genie

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

When the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, purchased his new play thing in 2011, he turned his eyes due south, directly toward Twang Town U.S.A., and found himself a role model for his team to be named later.

The Nashville Predators,” he mused. “I wanna be just like those pesky Predators.”

Now, it’s quite unlikely that the Puck Pontiff spilled those exact words, but he did confirm that the plan for the outfit he later named Winnipeg Jets was (still is?) to follow the blueprint laid out by Nashville, now in its 18th National Hockey League season and still winners of exactly nothing.

That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg,” he supposed.

Yup. Strange like hiring Justin Bieber as a life coach strange. Strange like wanting to dress like Don Cherry strange. I mean, Nashville is like that Dwight Yoakam song—guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With a whole lot of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry tossed into the mix. But hockey? Come on, man.

They’ve done it methodically,” the Puck Pontiff advised news snoops in springtime 2012, “they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”

That team” he spoke of so fondly failed to qualify for the next two Stanley Cup tournaments, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a misguided notion.

The point is, the Puck Pontiff likes to think of his fiefdom as Nashville North sans Dolly, Carrie and Little Big Town, so, with the Predators awaiting a dance partner in the Western Conference final for the first time in club history, let’s take a look at them to see if they tell us anything about the Jets.

  • The Predators were built from scratch, as a 1998 expansion team. They missed the playoffs their first five crusades.
  • The Jets were a pre-fab outfit built in Atlanta, but the Puck Pontiff operated it like an expansion franchise, gutting the management side down to the studs. They’ve missed the playoffs in five of their six seasons.
  • The Predators have known just one general manager, David Poile, who learned at the knee of Cliff Fletcher in Calgary then earned his chops as GM of the Washington Capitals for 15 years.
  • The Jets have known just one (official) general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who apprenticed under Stan Bowman in Chicago and has done the Puck Pontiff’s bidding for six years.
  • The Predators have had two head coaches, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. Poile didn’t ask Trotz to leave the building until 15 years had passed.
  • The Jets have had two head coaches, Claude Noel and Paul Maurice. It only took about 15 months before Noel was asked to leave the building, but it’s apparent that the Puck Pontiff is prepared to stay the course with Coach Potty-Mouth for 15 years.
  • The Predators, under Poile’s direction, preached the draft-and-develop mantra from the outset.
  • The Jets talk about nothing but draft-and-develop.
  • The Predators can be found in the lower third of the pay scale.
  • The Jets can be found in the lower third of the pay scale (if not at the bottom).

So there are your commonalities: Methodical, consistent, patient, steady-as-she-goes, loyal (to a fault for the Jets) and frugal.

Where do the Predators and Jets part company? In the GM’s office.

David Poile

Poile is unafraid to deliver bold strokes. He dared to send a first-round draft pick, defenceman Seth Jones, packing in barter for Ryan Johansen, the top-level centre he required. He shipped his captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for flamboyant P.K. Subban. He somehow pried Filip Forsberg out of Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. His captain, Mr. Carrie Underwood, and James Neal came via trade. Yannick Weber is a free-agent signing.

By contrast, Cheveldayoff is only allowed to make significant troop movements when backed into a corner (see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew).

So what do the Predators teach us about the Jets? Well, if the locals follow the Nashville Model to the letter, we can expect to see meaningful springtime shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie as early as next season. As for arriving in the Western Conference final, put in a wakeup call for 2030.

In rooting through archives, I stumbled upon a most interesting discovery: Once upon a time, the Puck Pontiff spoke to his loyal subjects. Honest. Chipman actually stood at a podium and did the season-over, chin-wag thing with news snoops in April 2012, at which time the city was still in swoon and the rabble didn’t much care that there’d be no playoffs. He has since become Howard Hughes, hiding himself in a room somewhere, no doubt eating nothing but chocolate bars and drinking milk. I found one remark he made at the 2012 presser to be rather troubling: “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, ’cause I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.” I wish I could believe that he allows the hockey people to make the important hockey decisions, but I can’t.

I note the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking to branch out into another sport and secure a franchise in a proposed Canadian pro soccer league. Ya, that’s just what Winnipeg needs—more dives.

Carolina Hurricanes have had goaltending issues. Ditto the Dallas Stars. Double ditto the Jets. So ‘Canes GM Ron Francis uses a third-round draft choice to acquire the rights to Scott Darling, then signs him to a four-year contract. Stars GM Jim Nill uses a fourth-round pick to secure the rights to Ben Bishop, then lock him in for six years. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, do nothing. Don’t you just hate the sound of crickets?

I look at the Ottawa Senators, who ousted the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup derby on Tuesday night, and I mostly see smoke and mirrors. Yes, they have Erik Karlsson, the premier player on the planet at the moment, and Craig Anderson often provides the Sens with stud goaltending. But beyond that, it’s largely a ho-hum roster. Where is the stud centre? You don’t win championships without a stud centre. At least not since the New Jersey Devils. My guess is that the Senators’ fun is soon to end.

Here’s one way of looking at this year’s Stanley Cup tournament:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genie Bouchard proved nothing with her win over Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open this week, except that she can beat a player who had been away from elite tennis for almost a year and a half. And that she can’t win gracefully. I don’t like rooting against Canadian athletes, but our Genie has become increasingly difficult to embrace. Branding Sharapova a “cheater” and suggesting she ought to be banned for life due to a drug violation is good copy, but surviving a second-round match and acting like you’ve just won Wimbledon because you have a hate-on for your opponent is bad form.

Bouchard claims that a number of players on the Women’s Tennis Association tour approached her on the QT prior to her match with Sharapova, wishing her bonne chance. Simona Halep of Romania was not among those women. “I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually,” Halep advised news snoops. “She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.” Ouch.

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.

 


Leave a comment

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.