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.
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 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.
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?
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?
Meaningful hockey in the merry month of May? At the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? Who’d have thought? Not many. So, while there were long faces when the Winnipeg Jets’ Stanley Cup crusade ground to a halt on Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, there was also a feel-good vibe among the rabble. My Two Hens in the Hockey House are here to discuss what went wrong in the Western Conference final vs. Vegas, what went right and what lies ahead for les Jets.
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: Well, what was on the breakfast menu for you this morning, girlfriend? Humble pie or bowl of crow?
Answer Lady: Neither. I just had two slices of toast.
Question Lady: Toast. How appropriate. The Jets are toast, too. Can’t say I’m surprised, but I know you are. As I recall, you picked them to take out the Golden Knights in six games, then win the Stanley Cup. You said something about the Jets being too fast, too quick, too deep, too tough, too every blah, blah, blah thing. Turns out it was just the opposite. Did you underestimate the Golden Knights or oversell the Jets?
Answer Lady: I don’t think I considered the fatigue factor. The Jets didn’t have the usual zippity-do-da in their stride at the end. They lost their lickety-split. Their oomph. At times they were skating with hunched shoulders against the wind. The Nashville Predators took more out of them in the second round than I thought. They were plum tuckered out.
Question Lady: Really? Fatigue did them in?
Answer Lady: It just seemed to me that their usual split-second sharpness deserted them, both physically and mentally. At this level, even a nanosecond of hesitation means your shot is redirected by a stick, or the puck is in the back of your net. Especially against the Golden Knights. Those boys are cobra quick. They pounce on mistakes faster than CNN can poke holes in a Donald Trump tweet.
Question Lady: Speaking of holes, a lot of the pundits are saying this series was decided in the blue paint. Marc-André Fleury did boffo work in goal for Vegas and Connor Hellebuyck was leaking oil at the other end of the rink. Agree?
Answer Lady: To a point. It’s not like Hellebuyck was Ondrej Pavelec bad, but he had too many iffy moments that were extremely damaging. At no time was he gobsmackingly good. Fleury was gobsmackingly good most of the time.
Question Lady: Hellebuyck kept talking about ‘luck’ as if there was nothing more to Fleury’s game than rabbit’s feet, horse shoes and four-leaf clovers. A bit of a sore loser, wouldn’t you say?
Answer Lady: He sounded like a teenage punk who’d light up a smoke at the dinner table. The kind of nogoodnik that no parent wants their daughter dating. Totally disrespectful. Anyone who knows a puck from petunias will tell you Fleury was the superior ‘tender. If Hellebuyck doesn’t want to throw himself under the bus, fine. But sometimes you just have to accept that the other guy was better. Given enough time for sober second thought, Hellebuyck might agree. Probably not, though. He’ll continue to be a doorknob about it.
Question Lady: Kind of harsh, don’t you think?
Answer Lady: Not really. Just kind of the truth. Hey, I like it when athletes speak out of turn, but Hellebuyck is delusional and his disrespect is most objectionable.
Question Lady: Do we agree that the Jets have a legitimate No. 1 goaltender?
Answer Lady: Based on Hellebuyck’s entire body of work this season, for sure. But it would help if they had a backup ‘tender who can go more than two minutes without visiting the repair shop. Steve Mason is as fragile as a sports writer’s ego. Who made his body, Royal Doulton? He’s brittle like the burnt toast I ate this morning. They’re paying him what, $4 million to be an innocent bystander? Nice gig.
Question Lady: Why such emphasis on a capable caddy for Hellebuyck?
Answer Lady: Again, the fatigue factor. Hellebuyck played 67 games in the National Hockey League regular season and another 17 in the Stanley Cup tournament. That’s 84 games. He played 56 games total last year. He’s never carried this demanding a workload. By way of comparison, Fleury was in the blue paint for 46 and 15 games. That’s a whole lot less wear and tear. Which of the two looked the most spry and alert to you by the end of Game 5?
Question Lady: What are the Jets other pressing needs?
Answer Lady: I’ll parrot exactly what I said in April 2017—convincing Jacob Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. That ought to be priority uno. He and Josh Morrissey are cornerstone defencemen.
Question Lady: I wonder if there’s still residue from the Trouba-Jets contract stare-down of two years ago. Remember, he wanted out of Dodge. On the surface, everything’s cool now, but that might be window dressing. What happens if there’s still a bit of bitterness bubbling beneath the surface?
Answer Lady: I guess we’ll find out shortly. Trouba’s a restricted free agent. Either he signs another one of those piddly, two-year deals, or he’s in it for the long haul, which is to say six or more years.
Question Lady: What’s it going to cost the Jets to re-sign him?
Answer Lady: Back up the Brinks truck, girlfriend. The Trouba camp might try to hardball the Jets. He’s been playing at a bargain-basement rate for the past two seasons, so they might be looking for payback. And he’s arbitration eligible. We’re not talking lunch money or the spare change David Thomson finds under the cushions on his sofa. Trouba won’t become the highest-paid Jet, but it’ll be obscene if he’s making a dime less than the $6 million Twig Ehlers is due. Actually, it’s an obscenity that Ehlers will be earning more coin than Blake Wheeler next season. That simply does not compute.
Question Lady: No kidding. Like, what exactly did Ehlers accomplish in these playoffs?
Answer Lady: Squat. He did diddly. He does diddly faster than most players, but it’s still diddly. I’m not really a fan anymore. His flash-and-dash game is built for the regular season. Or Ice Capades. Wheeler, on the other hand…complete pro, except when he’s barking and snarling at news snoops. Seriously, it’s criminal that he’ll be making less money than Twig next season. I think they ought to re-up Wheeler. Add a couple years to the one he has left.
Question Lady: A few of the lads are due raises, no?
Answer Lady: Yup, and Josh Morrissey is among them. He and Trouba became the Jets top defensive pairing, and there probably wasn’t a better blueline bargain in the NHL. Combined they earned less than $4 million. That total is going to more than double. And if the Jets want to lock them in long term, it’ll take some serious gymnastics by the bean counters to keep Trouba-Morrissey under $10 million.
Question Lady: Any chance Paul Stastny will stick around?
Answer Lady: Age tells me no if he’s looking long term, and who isn’t? Stastny’s 33 in December. The Jets already have Bryan Little tied up for six years. Unless you’re convinced you can win the Stanley Cup right now, you don’t want two 30something centres clogging up development down the middle for the next five/six years.
Question Lady: It’s going to be an interesting summer for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. Think he’ll have anything interesting to say at his exit presser?
Answer Lady: Oh, it’ll all be Chevy-speak, but this time it won’t come across as a phony bill of goods. The Jets were the real deal this season. It was a fun ride.
Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. Let’s stay home tonight. Maybe watch a replay of the royal wedding. Instead of cooking dinner, we can order in. Maybe a bucket of Kentucky Fried Crow for madame?
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
The boys are back in town, so let’s settle this Habs-Jets thing once and for all.
Let me begin by saying that I stand second to few people in admiration for the Winnipeg Jets, circa Hedberg-Nilsson-Sjoberg-Hull-et al. They played hybrid hockey. Canadian grit met Scandinavian swirl to form a swashbuckling brand of shinny not seen on this side of the great waters until the two cultures dovetailed in the mid-to-late 1970s.
If we are to believe Slats Sather, those Jets provided the blueprint for his rollicking Edmonton Oilers outfits that ruled the frozen ponds of the National Hockey League a decade later.
So, ya, the Jets were good. Good enough to give the mighty Soviet Union national side a 5-3 paddywhacking one January night in 1978.
But…were they Montreal Canadiens good? That is, how might the World Hockey Association’s signature team have measured up against the Habs juggernaut that featured a Hockey Hall of Fame head coach and nine HHOF players who produced Stanley Cup parades in four successive springs, 1976-79? Well, let’s ask three people who ought to know—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.
The three members of the legendary Hot Line were in Good, Ol’ Hometown this weekend for a gathering of the players who conspired to win the club’s second WHA title 40 years ago this month, and Kathy Kennedy summoned them to her CJOB studio for a gab session. Also sitting in for the 40-minute chin-wag were veteran broadcasters Peter Young and Sod Keilback, who steered the chatter in the direction of les Canadiens.
Keiback: “Would you have beaten the Montreal Canadiens?”
Hull: “No, but it would have been a great game.”
Keilback: “I want to ask this to Ulf, because Friar Nicolson told me the most honest man he ever met in his life—the guy couldn’t lie—was Ulf Nilsson. Ulf, would you have been able to win the Stanley Cup with the WHA Jets?”
Nilsson: “No, I don’t think so. I agree with both Bobby and Anders. We were short maybe a few defencemen. Goaltending was good, though, and I think we had enough good forwards, but defence, we could have used one or two more.”
Hedberg: “We could have reached the final, no question.”
So, there you have it. While hundreds (thousands?) of locals to this day remain convinced the Jets could have given the Habs a wedgie, three of the WHA club’s four most influential players (defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg was the fourth) insist it’s a notion built on fantasy.
It would have been a boffo series, though.
Former Jets general manager John Ferguson has been bones in the ground since 2007, but Hull won’t let his feud with Fergy go to the grave. Proudly talking about the open-door policy the Jets had with fans during the WHA days, Hull said this during the ‘OB gabfest: “They wanted me to take over the team, and they brought in a guy by the name of Ferguson and Tommy McVie, and that was all the goodwill we’d built up in all those years from 1972 to 1979 or ’80, or whenever it was that they joined with the NHL, went out the window. Doors were closed, there was rippin’ and cursin’ and kickin’ buckets and throwin’ oranges.” When host Kathy Kennedy relayed a story about an angry Fergy once kicking a hole through the Jets’ dressing room door, Hull said, “He not only had the foot in the door lots of times, he had that size 13 in his mouth.”
As the present-day Jets continue their Stanley Cup crusade vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, give a thought to the WHA Jets, because they’re the reason what’s happening today is happening today. Had original owner Ben Hatskin folded his tent, the NHL wouldn’t have given River City a second glance. Edmonton and Ottawa probably wouldn’t have franchises either.
Interesting take from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun on the Jets-Golden Knights skirmish for bragging rights in the NHL Western Conference. “I get that Vegas being good is beneficial for the league, but it still doesn’t seem fair that an expansion team can come in and contend for a Stanley Cup right away.” Fair? You tell me what’s fair. I mean, the Golden Knights entered the fray last October with a roster of rejects. Nobody thought it was unfair back then. So now that same roster of rejects is eight wins from hoisting the holy grail in Glitter Gulch and it isn’t fair? As if.
It occurs to me that it isn’t just the clubscompeting in the NHL’s annual spring runoff. It’s also the daily rags. And, two series and one game deep into the playoffs, I’d say the Sun has opened a big, ol’ can of whupass on the Winnipeg Free Press. The tabloid troika of Wyman, Paul Friesen and Ken Wiebe have been cranking out the good stuff daily since the puck dropped on the Jets-Minnesota Wild series. Over at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky are doing boffo business, but it doesn’t help that the Freep’s Sunday edition is an after-thought and the sports columnist seems to be MIA every second day.
I turned on the TV the other day to watch the coronation of Kyle Dubas as GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs and they introduced Harry Potter instead. Seriously. If Dubas isn’t Harry Potter, he’s Harry’s big brother. The question now is this: Can he do anything about the boggarts on the Leafs blueline?
Nick Kypreos has come clean about running off at the mouth. Sort of. If you’ll recall, our man Kipper implied that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his star player, Auston Matthews, have been giving each other the ol’ stink eye. “Babcock lost Matthews. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews,” he said after les Leafs had bowed out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Kipper offered zero evidence to support his suggestion of a spat. And now? “It is based purely on my instincts following a 12-year professional career,” the Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada gab guy tells us. “It is nothing more, nothing less. To my knowledge, there is no major rift between Babcock and Matthews. There is no conspiracy, but trust me, it isn’t fake news either. I have no idea how Matthews feels about his coach.” I think that last sentence sums it up: Kypreos has no idea.
Loved the chatter between Daren Millard and “smarmy” Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon last Wednesday, when they engaged in a to-and-fro about ice time for elite NHL performers.
Cox: “Good teams don’t give their best players 23 minutes. Or, if they do it’s very rare. Or they’re coached by John Tortorella.”
Millard: “Barkov plays…Sasha Barkov plays 23 minutes.”
Cox: “Oh, Connor McDavid plays more than 22 minutes and they’re horrible. So, that’s what you want? The idea is to have a well-balanced team. Now…”
Millard: “You’re so smarmy sometimes.”
Cox: “Why is that smarmy?”
Millard: “You just…you are. You’re just…”
Cox: “I was giving you an example.”
Millard: “It’s the way you say it. ‘No, they’re terrible. Is that what you want?‘”
Cox: “That is not smarmy. You can say it’s overcritical, but it’s not smarmy.”
Well, let’s see. Smarmy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Of low sleazy taste or quality; revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.” The urban dictionary describes smarmy as: “A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person.” It’s settled then: Millard is correct—Cox is smarmy.
Old friend Evander Kane, soon eligible for free agency, has revealed his needs-and-wants list for re-signing with the San Jose Sharks or moving to another NHL club: “Common sense tells you there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.” In Kane’s case, considerations of lifestyle would have to include proximity to Las Vegas, a private jet and, of course, comfy jail cells. Okay, okay. That was a cheap shop. I mean, it’s been at least a year since cops have had to slap the handcuffs on Kane in public. Shame on me.
Quote of the week comes from the Boston Licker, Brad Marchand, whose filthy habit of licking opposition players commandeered much of the chatter during Round 2 of Stanley Cup skirmishing:“I have to cut that shit out,” he said. Ya think? What was your first clue, Inspector Clouseau?
I’d like to feel sorry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today. I really would. I mean, they got stiffed. That dirty, no-good, rotten scoundrel and noted green guy Darian Durant took their money and ran. Paid him $70,000 and he flat out quit. Didn’t even have the good manners to bid a polite adieu. And now the Canadian Football League club is left without its security blanket for starting quarterback Matt Nichols, a week before the large lads in pads gather to grab grass and growl at their 2018 training sessions. Well, here’s a thought: Stop relying on other outfits to do your dirty work. That is, find and develop your own damn QBs instead of this decades-long dependency on others’ retreads. I think Dieter Brock was the last in-house starter of note, and the Bombers haven’t groomed a backup who could toss a spiral since Hal Ledyard rode shotgun for Kenny Ploen.
Having said that, Durant’s departure was totally lame. Really bad form. You want to quit, fine, quit. That’s cool. Get on with your life. But, good gawd, have the gonads to tell the people who invested $70,000 in you. Pick up a phone and call them. Don’t let them find out on social media.
Meet Phil Mickelson, fashionista. Who knew? If you missed it, the normally frumpy and flabby Phil has taken to wearing button-up dress shirts on the golf course, complete with starched collars and cuffs. What, no cufflinks, Lefty? No ascot? Not sure if Lefty is caught in a middle-age crisis, but this is a good look like Hair In A Can was a good idea. It’s Giorgio Armani bogies the back nine.
The good news is, Drake has been eliminated from the National Basketball Association playoffs. The bad news is, jock journos in the Republic of Tranna will have to scramble to find another groupie to fawn over. Are there any rapper/hip-hop stars who like the Blue Jays? If not, I’m sure they’ll settle for a B-list celeb like Dave Foley or Steven Page.
Boxing is on the menu in The ROT next Saturday, with champion Adonis Stevenson defending his WBC light-heavyweight title against Badou Jack. It’s quite the seedy main event: Stevenson has spent time behind bars for pimping out women; Jack is known as The Ripper, an obvious reference to Jack the Ripper, serial killer of prostitutes; and the challenger is among the stable of boxers promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr., himself a convicted woman-beater. That’s not a sports event, it’s a jail break. And yet people will part with their money to watch. Go figure.
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “The greatest Toronto athletes in my time: Donovan Bailey, Ben Johnson. @De6rasse has a chance to surpass both.” Can you say hypocrite, kids? I mean, Simmons sits on a horse named Morality and refuses to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting because they flunked his smell test. That is, they stuck needles in their butts. They cheated. Yet he lists this country’s most-disgraced cheater, druggie Ben Johnson, as one of the two greatest Tranna athletes during his 61 years drawing oxygen. A freaking cheat! Can you say zero credibility, kids? Zero!
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “The Leafs can’t beat Boston three straight. Probably no team in hockey can.” Tell that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just beat the Bruins four straight.
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “It’s entirely possible that all four conference finalists in the NHL will be teams that have never won the Stanley Cup before.” No, it was not possible. Tampa and Boston, who met in the eastern semifinal, have both won the Stanley Cup. Simmons explained his gaffe by saying he was soooooo “tired,” then deleted the tweet.
Well, the Winnipeg Jets have laid waste to the Nashville Predators, winning 5-1 in Game 7 of their National Hockey League playoff series, so it’s time to check in with my two Hens in the Hockey House, who’ve come out of hibernation to join the rabid rabble as the Jets continue on their Stanley Cup crusade.
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: Oh, happy day! I’m so giddy! It’s the merry month of May and the Jets are still playing hockey! Round 3 of the playoffs coming up! Can you believe it, girlfriend?
Answer Lady: Yes, I’m a believer. I also now officially believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, that Donald Trump really is president of the United States, and there are now skating rinks in hell. For sure, hell has frozen over.
Question Lady: Is that the best you can do? Sarcasm? Can’t you at least show some enthusiasm for the city and the Jets?
Answer Lady: Hey, I’m as happy as a cottage owner on the May long weekend. The Jets paddywhacking the Predators is the best thing to happen to Good, Ol’ Hometown since the Guess Who did that Pan-Am Games gig in 1999. Which reminds me: I still can’t believe those boys aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Question Lady: Oh, I know. Totally criminal. I mean, Bon Jovi…Journey…Isaac Hayes…those slugs are in the Rock Hall and it’s still on Randy, Burton, Jimmy and Garry’s bucket list? That’s like leaving the meat out of a Sals cheese nip. Do you think it’s true what Jets captain Blake Wheeler was saying last month: Everything flies under the radar when you play in Winnipeg?
Answer Lady: That’s total bunk if you’re talking about the Jets. But apparently it applies to rock bands.
Question Lady: Okay, enough of the Guess Who. We’re here to talk NHL playoffs. Who and what has impressed you during the Jets’ march to the third round of the NHL’s spring runoff?
Answer Lady: Start with Stacey Nattrass. Sorry to keep it on a music theme, but she kicked some high-priced country bumpkin butt as an anthem warbler during the Nashville-Winnipeg series. Can you believe Lady Antebellum gagging on the words to the American anthem down there in Twang Town last week? Talk about your Star-Spangled Bummers. Tells me all I need to know about today’s crop of country crooners. Brutal. But I digress. I’ll answer your question with a question: What’s not to like about the local hockey heroes?
Question Lady: Nice to finally hear you singing from a different page in the song book.
Answer Lady: What’s that supposed to mean?
Question Lady: Let me refresh your memory, girlfriend…one year ago, I made this bold prediction for the Jets—and I quote: “I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?” You rejected me like an overcooked steak at 529 Wellington. Your answer was—and, again, I quote: “One, coaching. Two, goaltending.” You wanted Paul Maurice canned. You called him Coach Potty-Mouth and a snake oil salesman. You also submitted that Connor Hellebuyck was a backup goalie at best. As I recall, you said Bucky was to goaltending what Homer Simpson is to quality parenting. You also wanted Dustin Byfuglien traded. What say you now? Other than “D’oh?”
Answer Lady: Just my luck. I’ve got a girlfriend with a memory like an elephant and she takes great glee in pointing out that I’m Dumbo the elephant. We’ll have to rethink our living arrangement. Anyway, I’ll tell you who made Maurice a better head coach—Pekka Rinne.
Question Lady: Are you off your nut? Did somebody spike your latté? I mean, how in the name of Georges Vezina did the Predators goaltender make Maurice a better bench boss?
Answer Lady: Were you not paying attention? Rinne sprung more leaks than Wiki. He got the hook not once, not twice, but three times. In seven starts vs. the Jets. That has to be a first. NHL general managers are going to have a four-egg omelette on their faces when he’s handed the Vezina Trophy next month in Las Vegas.
Question Lady: So you still aren’t sold on Maurice?
Answer Lady: I’ll give him this: He somehow convinced Byfuglien and the others to stop playing dumb-dumb hockey vis-a-vis undisciplined penalties. That’s huge. This Jets outfit plays with, as Brian Burke describes it, anger and hostility. They can be very belligerent. They’re tough. They’re defiant. They have a subtle arrogance that I really like. They swarm. They’re the go-go gang. They win the one-on-one skirmishes. Skill overrides all else, and they seldom come mentally unhinged. Very impressive. That, and Hellebuyck’s emergence as an elite goaler, are the reasons why there’ll be another meaningful match at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Saturday night.
Question Lady: That’s it? Discipline and goaltending?
Answer Lady: No, major tip of the bonnet to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. And his bird dogs—especially his bird dogs. Chevy has talked, ad nauseum, about the draft-and-develop blueprint, and his amateur scouts have done boffo business from the day they told him to select Rink Rat Scheifele with their first shoutout at the entry draft in 2011. But it’s Chevy’s bartering that has rounded off this roster. Look who scored in the 5-1 win over Nashville in Game 7 on Thursday night: Tyler Myers, reeled in as a major piece in the Evander Kane trade; Paul Stastny, two goals, brought in on deadline day. Chevy worked at a glacial pace, which was frustrating, but when he was motivated to make bold strokes they were the right strokes.
Question Lady: What do you see for the Jets going forward?
Answer Lady: A Stanley Cup parade.
Question Lady: Really? You’re saying the Jets will win the Stanley Cup?
Answer Lady: Oh ya, baby. As sure as Puck Finn has a really, really bad beard, it’s a done deal. Like Eddie Olczyk said about Stanley on the Day of the Long Faces in 1996—“It’s coming back to Winnipeg!” Nashville was the big nut to crack. Now the Jets have home-fans advantage the rest of the way. The Little Hockey House On The Prairie will be a graveyard for the Vegas Golden Knights and the Eastern Conference survivor.
Question Lady: You’re not convinced that Vegas is the real deal?
Answer Lady: Sure they are. They’re jitter-bugs on ice. But the local lads will overwhelm them. The Jets are too fast on the puck, too hard on the puck, they bring too much back pressure, they’re too hostile, they’re too much of everything. And they’ll have a better anthem singer.
Question Lady: I’m not so sure about that. Apparently country crooner Carrie Underwood has offered to sing the anthems at one of the games in Las Vegas. Can’t beat that, can you?
Answer Lady: Ha! Fat lot of good she was for the Predators. The Golden Knights can have her. We’ll stick with Stacey…or maybe drag Burton Cummings and the Guess Who out of mothballs. Maybe Neil Young. Maybe Bif Naked. Maybe Chantal Kreviazuk. Maybe Jennifer Hanson in her little red dress!
Question Lady: So how many games will it take the Jets to give Vegas a paddywhacking in the Western Conference final?
Answer Lady: Six. Jets in six. Then you and I will party at Portage and Main.
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.
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.
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.
Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 2 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Friday the 13th…
Pregame blah, blah, blah: Is it true that Queen Liz has been observed loitering outside The Pint pub on Garry Street? If so, let’s have a toast to Her Royal Pintness…Locals are Doing the Donald on Whiteout Way outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie again, only this time city officials have added a stretch of pavement and a park to accommodate more revelers to the downtown block party. Should be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 of the rabble milling about on Whiteout Way (otherwise known as Donald Street) during the joust. I swear, we haven’t seen that many Winnipeggers left out in the cold since—well, since the NHL gave the city the cold shoulder in 1996…Cold is the operative word, because winter refuses to surrender to spring in Good Ol’ Hometown. Minus-18 windchill at 7:30 this morning, minus-15 overnight. Even the Golden Boy is still wearing his longjohns…Apparently, it’s costing the Secret Society Known As True North Sports & Entertainment $20,000 per night for the Whiteout Way bash, which is roughly what Puck Finn Laine and Twig Ehlers were paid (combined) to tie their skate laces each night during the past season. That 20 large might not be pocket change for Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, but it is for David Thomson…No Matty Perreault for les Jets tonight, but Jack Roslovic is in. The Evander Kane trade three years ago is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Official attendance for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series was 15,321, but veteran scribe Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail reports that there were actually 16,345 in the barn. Where were those extra 1,024 folks when Roy did his head count? Stuck in the beer line?
First Period: TheWild are looking to be “a little more assertive” in Game 2 according to centre Eric Staal. They are more assertive in the early skirmishing…Can’t believe the Wild aren’t leaning heavy on Twig Ehlers, like they did Matty Perreault in the opener. Ehlers is more difficult to track down because he bounces around the rink like a pinball on uppers, but he’ll burn them if they don’t slow him down…Hey, what happened to Cassie Campbell-Pascall’s whiteout outfit? Guess she finally got the memo that she’s supposed to be impartial. So she’s wearing a black jacket over a top with every color of the rainbow. Hideous…Dustin Byfuglien makes me nervous. He hasn’t done anything boneheaded. Yet. But he makes me nervous…Breaking news (speaking of boneheads): Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs is gone for three games. Good. Kadri is the kind of pain in the ass every team can use, but he’s a stupid pain in the ass. He’s also a dangerous loose cannon who clearly attempted to hurt Tommy Wingels of the Bruins in Game 1 of the Tranna-Boston series…Paul Romanuk really is an excitable little guy, isn’t he?…Less than three minutes to go and it seems to me that the Jets have stopped “moving their feet.” (One bad cliché allowed per period.)…Best period of the series for Minny. Zip-Zip.
Second Period: Donald S. Cherry is given the night off. Maybe that’s why Cassie Campbell-Pascall is wearing her wacky outfit…Wow, the Jets are definitely “moving their feet” this period. Somebody throw another puck on the ice so the Wild have something to play with. Guaranteed Minny takes a penalty if the Jets keep moving at this pace…There you go. Jonas Brodin yanks down Mark Scheifele and Jets go on the powerplay…Oh. My. Goodness. If Big Buff makes me nervous, how does Mikko Koivu feel about the big man? I mean, Byfuglien totally stapled him to the end boards. How do these guys get back on their feet after something like that? Totally nasty…Bound to happen—Jets score. Tyler Myers makes like a very tall, gangly Bobby Orr and sifts through the Wild defenders, beating Devan Dubnyk to the far side. Jets 1, Wild nil. And look who assisted on the goal. Yup, it was Myers from Roslovic. Did I mention that the Evander Kane trade is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Yikes. Puck Finn misses the net from 10 feet. Should be 2-zip…Complete domination by the home side. They’re absolutely pounding the wild. Order the full-body ice packs.
Third Period: Jets are too fast, too big, too skilled. This is a rout dressed up as a 1-0 game…Not for long. Paul Stastny scores to make it 2-zip…So Joe Morrow gets the winner in Game 1 and now Stastny lights the lamp. Take a bow, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for those two trade deadline deals…Roslovic sets up an Andrew Copp goal for two assists in his baptism in the NHL’s beard season, and Garry Galley is absolutely correct: The Wild are running on empty. They are spent. The Jets are beating the hell out of them…Dubnyk makes a magnificent glove save on a Byfuglien howitzer. “Holy snappin’ eyeballs!” Romanuk squawks. Love it…Have you ever wondered what it would be like if one team wore skates and the other team wore snowshoes? Now you know. It’s 4-zip thanks to Puck Finn, and Myers gets a helper. So, if you’re keeping score at home, Roslovic has two assists and Myers a goal and an assist. One more time: The Evander Kane trade is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Observation from Galley: The Wild can’t get anything going and “I think the Jets are the reason.” Ya think? What was your first clue, Serpico?…Zach Parise spoils the shutout. Whatever. It took the Wild 15 minutes to get their first shot…Hey, there’s a fight. I thought that only happened in baseball. And now another fight. Stupid…Jets have outshot Minny 83-37 through 120 minutes of ice-tilted shinny, goaltender Devan Dubnyk has been the Wild’s best player in both games—and they’re 0-2…Jets 4, Wild 1. Off to Minny Ha Ha for Game 3 in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.
Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 1 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Wednesday night…
Pregame blah, blah, blah: Love living on the West Coast. Game time is 4 o’clock, meaning it should be over at about 7 chimes, which is bedtime for moi. Don’t know what I’ll do if it goes to OT…Just for the record, yes, I have a rooting interest in this series—rah, rah, rah for Good Ol’ Hometown—but, no, I am not wearing white…That’s quite the scene in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and outside on Donald Street in downtown Pegtown. I haven’t seen that much white since Donald Trump released the official White House staff photo…The Winnipeg whiteout tradition has always struck me as kind of Halloweenish, kind of creepy. But whatever works, I guess. Oh, wait. I forgot. The whiteout has never worked for the Jets, this version or the original NHL version…As I recall, there was no need or desire for this whiteout gimmickry at the Old Barn on Maroons Road during the 1970s. You know, when the Jets actually won playoff series and championships…I note reseller tickets for this Wild-Jets opener were being offered on StubHub for as much as $1,026 U.S. Geez, for $1,026 U.S. you can book a seven-day Las Vegas vacation and wear whatever color clothing you want…Am I supposed to be disappointed that Sportsnet has put Paul Romanuk, rather than Bob Cole, behind the play-by-play microphone? Well, I’m not. Romey doesn’t have Cole’s pipes, but I’ve always liked his call. The guy’s got energy. He’s got game. He’s also got Garry Galley with him in the chat room, which is probably a good thing. I mean, say what you will about Galley as a color commentator, but he’s got at least one thing in his favor—he’s not Greg Millen…Ron MacLean delivers sad news: The lovely young Dayna Brons, trainer for the Humboldt Broncos, succumbed to injuries suffered in last week’s fatal team bus accident. That raises the death toll to 16. Damn…Nice job on the anthems by Stacey Nattrass, who, of course, is rockin’ the white. You’d never know Stacey’s been awake since 5:30 in the morning. I’ve often wondered if anthem singers hang around to watch the game or leave for another gig…Time to drop the biscuit.
First Period: Why is Cassie Campbell-Pascall wearing a white top? A really fashion-challenged white top? She’s working the game for Sportsnet, a national network. She’s supposed to be impartial. Yo! Cassie! You don’t see Scott Oake in white, do you? You aren’t a member of the Jets organization. Knock it off…Garry Galley says the underdog role is a “new look” for Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau. I don’t know about that. He’s still short, still wide and still has a very red face…It’s 15 minutes into the match and I’m not seeing a lot of nasty out there. There’s definitely big-boy bodychecking, but no nasty…Mathieu Perreault crashes the Minny blue paint and Devan Dubnyk dumps him on his britches. Good for Dubnyk. Goaltenders shouldn’t take any crap…Refs are keeping the whistles tucked away. Wonder how long that’ll last…Are the Wild playing for a tie? I mean, four shots?…Zip-zip after 20 minutes, but I’m already convinced that Minny has one chance to win this best-of-seven series. His name is Devan Dubnyk.
Second Period: If I had a hockey stick, I’d leave it outside on the porch tonight…Ka-runch! Dustin Byfuglien snot bubbles Joel Eriksson Ek and Mikko Koivu returns the favor with a broadside on Perreault. Maybe that’ll turn on the nasty switch…Perreault is a gamer, but I’m not convinced his body is made for NHL playoff hockey. If he survives the night, he won’t survive the series…Loved Romanuk’s call on a Bryan Little dash toward the Minny goal: “A dazzling, buccaneering play from Little.”…Rink Rat Scheifele scores on the powerplay to put the Jets up 1-zip. Wild are paying so much attention to Puck Finn (Patrik Laine) that they’re ignoring Scheifele in the high slot. Something to keep in mind as the series moves on…Is Paul Stastny even playing? Or has Jets bench boss Paul Maurice decided to give him the night off? And here I thought they brought the guy over from St. Louis specifically for the playoff push.
Third Period: No surprise. Perreault is in the repair shop and done for the night. Poor guy took a fearsome pounding…What’s this? The Wild put two pucks past Connor Hellebuyck, first Matt Cullen then Zach Parise. There is no joy in Mudville, only silence and a 2-1 Minny lead…Not to worry, Puck Finn pulls the locals even “like the predator he is,” as Romanuk put it. And, hey, look who fed him the puck with a nifty drop pass—Stastny. Nice to see Maurice recognizes that Stastny has a pulse…Adam Lowry definitely is built for playoff hockey. He arrives at the rink with flared nostrils and in a bad mood, and he plays with a take-no-prisoners mentality…Who had Joe Morrow in the game-winning goal pool? Anybody see that coming? Jets up 3-2 and I’d say they’re home and cooled…Boudreau gives Dubnyk the night off two minutes and 30 ticks from time. Kind of early to yank your goalie, but the Jets use that 2:30 to ice the puck six times. Or was it seven? They need to work on their empty-net skills and not much else…Don’t know who chose the three stars at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, but Dubnyk, not Lowry, was the best player on the ice…Final score: Jets 3, Wild 2. 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…Okay, it’s past my bedtime. See you Friday for Game 2.