Top o’ the morning to you, Patrik Laine, or as I call you, Puck Finn.
So much for that gag order, eh kid?
I mean, the Winnipeg Jets wanted you to stuff a sock in it on Day One of their training exercises, but there you were on the witness stand on Monday, with news snoops poking and probing and expecting you to confess, like a shifty-eyed scofflaw crumbling under a withering Perry Mason cross-examination.
“Okay! Okay! I admit it! I admit it! I want out of this hellhole of a town!” they expected you to say.
Then, again, perhaps some of them were looking for the exact opposite.
“You’ve got it all wrong! You’ve got it all wrong! I love this city! I love the Jets! There’s no place I’d rather be! Don’t you remember what I said about Winnipeg in The Players’ Tribune?”
Either way, you didn’t crumble, did you, Patty?
Oh, there were moments when you had the look of a fidgety guy battling a fresh batch of hemorrhoids, rocking from one butt cheek to the other in considerable discomfort, but you gave them nothing more than a pocketful of hem and haw. Three times your interrogators demanded to know if you desire a new postal code, and three times you answered like a politician trying to justify a Christmas vacation on foreign soil during a pandemic.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” was your dismissive parry to their initial thrust.
You then went on to invoke the name Wayne Gretzky, reminding all assembled for the Zoom natter that even the Great One was not so great that he went the distance in one locale. And, hey, if the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers could learn to live without No. 99, surely the Winnipeg Jets would get along without you and your 30-plus goals, right Patty?
That’s not to say the Jets are anxious to peddle you to the highest bidder, but it sure sounds like you’re giving them no choice, just like Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba before you. It might not happen this year, but, as sure as Paul Maurice has a potty mouth, what’s left of your shelf life in the Manitoba capital appears to be shorter than Brian Pallister’s.
So never mind if you do or don’t want out of Dodge. Here’s the real question: Why, Patty, why?
All of us remember the cheery, lanky, freshly scrubbed kid from Finland who arrived in River City in 2016 and put goaltenders on notice with 36 snipes as a National Hockey League freshman. You followed that up with 44 and joined the Rocket Richard Trophy discussion, along with Auston Matthews and Ovi.
You were the darling of the rabble, Patty (give or take Big Buff), and they loved your gosh-darned innocence and quirky quips. Heck, the flock even forgave you your unfortunate bread-butter-and-eggman chin whiskers. The same could be said of news snoops. You were their gift from Sound Bites ‘R’ Us.
Yet something has soured you and, since you aren’t prone to full disclosure, we’re left to wonder what or whom has gotten so far up your nose that the jaws of life can’t pry it out.
Here’s my guess: Head coach Paul Maurice and captain Blake Wheeler, with perhaps a small side order of Rink Rat Scheifele.
I’m just spitballing here, Patty, but I’m thinking that you just might be thinking what I’m thinking about Coach PoMo and Wheeler: Their bromance is kind of creepy. As far as I can tell, albeit from a distance, it’s the only thing keeping you relegated to second-line duty, skating on greybeard Paul Stastny’s right flank rather than beside the in-his-prime Scheifele.
I’m no Toe Blake, but I’d want my potential 50-goal winger (that’s you, Patty) collaborating with my top centre-ice man (that’s the Rink Rat), and I wouldn’t be doing it just to keep you happy. I’d be doing it because I want to win hockey games.
I could be wrong, of course. Maybe everything’s cool between Coach PoMo, Wheeler and yourself, Patty.
I just shudder to think they might be chasing you out of town.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and someone told me that I really should quit while I’m ahead, but I’ve never been able to get ahead…
So, according to the pundits, the acquisition of Paul Stastny was supposed to accomplish two things for the Winnipeg Jets:
1. Fill the long-standing need for a second-line centre.
2. Put a happy face on Patrik Laine and put the skids on the galloping gossip that has hounded Puck Finn for more than a year.
Well, insofar as the first point of the equation, we can continue to debate the pros and cons of the Jets reeling in the aging Stastny—and I’m squarely on the con side of the discussion—but it’s probably best that we allow his play in Winnipeg HC’s next National Hockey League crusade to settle the argument.
As for point No. 2, good luck with that.
It took less than a week for one of TSN’s hockey “insiders” to fan the flames of L’Affaire Laine once again, and this time it isn’t a campfire. It’s a bonfire with possible gusts up to a five-alarm inferno.
Here’s what LeBrun told host James Duthie last Thursday:
“There’s been some scuttlebutt around the National Hockey League of late that Patrik Laine may not show up at camp if he’s not dealt by the Winnipeg Jets.
“I reached out to his representation agents, Andy Scott and Mike Liut, to get some clarity and they absolutely deny that. That Laine has not asked for a trade, he’s not threatening to not be at camp if he’s not dealt.
“Having said that, his agents also made clear that it’s fair to say that given that Laine knows his name has been in trade discussions as we’ve talked about here, and given that his usage in the lineup the last couple of years has been a constant topic of conversation, the fact that he doesn’t get consistent first-line minutes, his agents Mike Liut and Andy Scott do confirm that it probably would be mutually beneficial to both the player and to the team if Patrik Laine is traded and that there is clear communication between them and Kevin Cheveldayoff, the GM of the Winnipeg Jets, about this.
“Now I spoke to Kevin Cheveldayoff on this day. And he reiterated that he’s looking at all options when it comes to trade and that Patrik Laine remains a big part of the organization.
“What I would say, not Cheveldayoff, is that he’s not going to just trade Patrik Laine for the sake of it, that it’s going to have to be something that makes sense for the Winnipeg Jets. But I will say this, as Andy Scott, the agent for Patrik Laine, said to me, there is a clear understanding between both sides about where this is probably headed.”
Now, you can pooh-pooh LeBrun’s bona fides as an “insider” if you like, but one thing should be abundantly clear by now: Patrik Laine will remain the centrepiece of trade rumors until a) Chevy hands him a one-way ticket out of town or b) Puck Finn signs long term. Nothing else will dim the natter.
I’m just surprised that so many among the rabble and in mainstream media are surprised that it’s come to this.
I mean, I don’t have my feet on the ground in Good Ol’ Hometown, but this is how I read the room 16 months ago: “You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the (Jacob) Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade.”
So how has it played out to date? Laine signed a two-year bridge deal, he’s eligible for arbitration after next season, and already his two mouthpieces sound like they’re trying to force a trade.
Yet I keep hearing and reading that the Jets are in control of this game of chicken. To a point, that’s true. But they can only delay Puck Finn’s departure if that’s his intent. They can’t stop him. Just like they couldn’t stop Evander Kane and they couldn’t stop Trouba.
We don’t know who or what is up Laine’s nose. His beef could be with the captain, Blake Wheeler, or the head coach, Paul Maurice, or maybe he’s bought into the silly “Winnipeg has lousy WiFi” nonsense. If it’s Wheeler, it wouldn’t be the first time two teammates refused to exchange Christmas cards. If it’s Coach PoMo, it’s not like there’s never been conflict between a bench boss and a worker (for evidence see: Bowman, Scotty). If it’s the city, he isn’t the first guy who’s wanted out of Dodge.
Whomever or whatever, I repeat what I wrote in February 2019: “I doubt Puck Finn will finish his career in Jets linen.”
But, hey, what do I know? Like I said, I don’t have feet on the ground. Except I predicted in 2012 that Evander Kane would one day walk into Chevy’s office and demand a new postal code. He did that very thing—repeatedly—and Chevy obliged, in 2015. In September 2018, I peered into the tea leaves and predicted Trouba would be gone in less than two years. He left the building nine months later. So tell me I’m wrong about Laine.
Interesting read from Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun on the challenges Chevy faces in attempting to lure top-drawer free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown, and also navigate his way around no-trade clauses. “There’s no happy ending for this,” he writes. “It’s an ongoing problem for the Jets. What it does underscore is the need to ensure the team is a winner, by whatever means possible, and in spite of unfavorable geography. And it means the organization needs to be that much more creative when it comes to recruitment. Getting players in the door begins with a pitch that centres around winning the Cup. For most, that’s the dream. If you can show a pathway to that dream, you can probably get folks into the house. And that’s when perceptions die and new ones are made, and the word spreads. Winnipeg’s advertising comes via word of mouth. There just has to be something enticing other than frigid winters. And it may be as simple—and as difficult—as putting a winning product on the ice.”That’s fair analysis, but it’s worth remembering that the original Winnipeg Jets lineup was crafted 100 per cent on guys who chose to play in Good Ol’ Hometown, including the most significant free agent signing in pro hockey history—Bobby Hull, at the time the game’s glamour guy. Every player on that team came to River City without kicking and screaming. So can anyone tell me exactly when Winnipeg became the armpit of hockey? I’d really like to know.
When I hear the San Jose Sharks have signed Patrick Marleau, it tells me that they’ve already tapped out on next season.
And what is Kyle Dubas trying to prove in the Republic of Tranna? The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, so the kid GM thought it would be a swell idea to sign Marleau’s former running mate Jumbo Joe Thornton who, coincidentally, broke into the NHL that same year. Okay, okay. Jumbo hasn’t been around quite that long. But Dubas seems to be setting up a Fossil Factory in the ROT, with Jumbo Joe, 41, and Jason Spezza, 37, on board.
Scant seconds after becoming one of the newest Maple Leafs, Wayne Simmonds did the Zoom thing with news snoops and warned foes that “I can punch your head off if need be.” He calls what he does on a hockey rink “functional toughness.” Back it the day we called it “goon.”
I keep hearing about all the free agents still available in the NHL, but the top free agent in sports right now is Chelsea Carey, champion curler without a team to call her own. We don’t know how this season will shake down for our Pebble People, but it’s hard to imagine a two-time Scotties queen being stuck on the outside looking in with her nose pressed against the window.
On the subject of our fab provincial Pebble People, the deep thinkers at the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame want to know what you think. They’re looking to name the Most Notable Team in local lore, and that’s where you come in. The MCHF is accepting votes until Dec. 5 for its 25 Most Notable Teams and, really, this should be a no-brainer. I mean, it doesn’t get more “notable” than winning Olympic Games gold, so Jennifer Jones and her gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen have to be at the top of the heap. It doesn’t hurt that they were also Canadian and world champions, and they had longer sustained success than any foursome I can recall. Next in line would be the Digit, Don Duguid, and his gang from the Granite—Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—who went 17-0 to win back-to-back world titles in 1970 and ’71. Completing my top three would be Bronco Braunstein and his team of brother Ron, Moose Turnbull and Jack Van Hellemond. Still just school kids, the teenagers copped the Manitoba men’s title then fell one game shy of winning the 1958 Brier in Victoria, losing to Matt Baldwin of Alberta in a one-game showdown.
Fans of fist fighting were shocked to hear Mike Tyson on Good Morning Britain last week. In a natter with hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, the former heavyweight boxing champion was muttering unintelligibly and slurring his words badly. Hey, cut the guy some slack. It can’t be easy to talk with your mouth full of Evander Holyfield’s ear.
Sticking with boxing, I stayed up well past my bedtime Saturday to watch Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko chuck knuckles in a lightweight title bout. At the end of the night, Lopez had four belts. Hmmm. Four belts—sounds like the Rat Pack at closing time.
So, the Houston Astros have been drummed out of the Major League Baseball playoffs (karma, baby). Some teams run out of pitching, some teams run out of hitting. Some teams run out of time. I guess the Astros ran out of trash cans.
Is there a Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher with a worse post-season record than Clayton Kershaw of my Los Angeles Dodgers? Kershaw will be in Cooperstown one day, but it won’t be due to anything he’s done in the World Series or playoffs. The guy’s 175-75, .697, 2.43 ERA in the hum-drum of spring and summer ball, but a dismal 11-12, .478, 4.31 ERA when it matters most. And, to think, some people have compared him favorably to Sandy Koufax. Ya, like a box of Timbits is fine dining.
Some good reads in the past week: Paul Friesen’s series on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to the Grey Cup; Freezer’s running mate at the Winnipeg Sun, Ted Wyman, dishes on Hockey Hall of Famer Serge Savard; Luke Fox’s Q&A with Brian Burke on the Sportsnet website.
When the National Women’s Hockey League restructuredits business model and assigned founder and commissioner Dani Rylan Kearney to a lesser role last week, shouldn’t it have been a big deal in the media? No women would be drawing pay to play shinny if not for Dani, who gave the NWHL its jump start in 2015, but her removal from the big office was a blip at best in most newspapers, websites and on air. Seems to me the story, and Dani, warranted better play than that.
Speaking of not getting their due, it’s about Sue Bird: Not many hoopsters can boast of her bona fides. When Seattle Storm won the Women’s National Basketball Association title recently, it was her fourth. You know, the same number as LeBron James has won in his NBA career. Sue also has four Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cup titles, five EuroLeague titles, two NCAA titles, one national high school title, five Russian National League titles, two Europe Super Cup titles, she’s the all-time WNBA assists leader, she’s started the most games in WNBA history, she’s an 11-time WNBA all-star, a two-time EuroLeague all-star and a former Naismith college player of the year. She’s the High Priestess of the Hardwood, but somehow manages to fly under the radar of most mainstream media. Shame that.
And, finally, this is the 50th anniversary season for the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, and I’d say that calls for some sort of special feature piece in either or both of the Winnipeg dailies. So why hasn’t either the Sun or Drab Slab done something about it?
On the eve of the National Hockey League entry draft, and four days in advance of the free agency window opening, Kevin Cheveldayoff had a natter with news snoops and, as is his custom, the Winnipeg Jets general manager talked in Chevy-speak.
That is to say, he said a lot without really saying anything.
Not to worry. We have a code cracker. And she’s listened to the tape and decoded Chevy-speak, providing insight into his thoughts scant hours before he delivers the 10th shoutout at Tuesday’s auction of teenage talent.
Question: What are the organization’s thoughts on the 10th overall selection?
What Chevy said: “Well I think it’s an exciting time to look at the board and see a top-10 pick and know that…we feel there’s a real good player there. I think there’s a possibility it could have multiple different combinations ahead of us. I think there’s lot of different processes how it might unfold.”
What Chevy really meant: “Damn ping pong balls. Any luck at the lottery and we’d be picking that Lafreniere kid from Quebec instead of another Finn or American. No matter. Officially, whomever we pick on Tuesday, we’ll be gobsmacked that the Finnish or American kid was still available.”
Question: How would you describe the NHL market place right now?
What Chevy said: “Specifically, as far as our organization, there’s been no change in philosophy with respect to spending to the cap if the possibility of requiring the right people or players are there.”
What Chevy really meant: “Get serious. No one wants to come to Winnipeg. We all know that. We’ll be sifting through the dregs as usual.”
Question: Are you looking to bring back your own UFAs?
What Chevy said: “We would like to bring some, um, I guess ultimately you’d love to have the ability to bring everybody that you wanted in. Hopefully we’ve got an opportunity to bring some of them back.”
What Chevy really meant: “Oh, hell’s bells, nobody else wants ’em, so I guess we’re stuck with ’em.”
Question: Would it be the blueline or down the middle that tops the list of needs right now?
What Chevy said: “Well, again, we have two situations, or we had two organizational situations that had a big impact. Obviously, you know, Dustin Byfuglien on the eve of training camp…um, we had a two-year deal and all our planning and prognostications were, you know, having him for this coming season as well. So obviously that created a hole that until you get into this period of time you truly try to address. So that’s an area that we’re trying to address. Then obviously waiting to get a better understanding where things are with Bryan (Little). So certainly the centre position is equally important.”
What Chevy really meant: “Buff screwed us. Screwed us royally. Oh, I know the fans love the big lug, and I’d feel the same way if he hadn’t left us standing at the altar, so to speak, last year. I swear, if Buff signs with the Minnesota Wild, I’ll break both his ankles. Well, okay, I won’t do it personally, but I know people who know people with tire irons.”
Question: Is a virtual draft different than an in-person draft?
What Chevy said: “It has changed how we’ve had to do things. From a draft, scouting perspective, there was a tournament that was cancelled that I think everybody really banks on to, you know, get the final exam so to speak for the prospects and that didn’t occur. So there was less viewing opportunities.”
What Chevy really meant: “If you thought the entry draft was a crap shoot before, this is like playing pin the tail on the donkey without a donkey. Someone’s gonna end up looking like an ass, and I just hope it isn’t me.”
Question: Is there a guy at No. 10 that’s pretty close to stepping into the lineup?
What Chevy said: “Um, you know, it’s hard to say who’s gonna be there at 10. I’m not sitting here right now planning that, you know, the player we get at 10 is gonna be pegged to step in the lineup right away.”
What Chevy really meant: “Get a grip, dude. The Finnish or American kid we pick at No. 10 has as much chance of making the final roster as Clint Eastwood joining the Radio City Rockettes.”
Question: Is there an opportunity in the next 10 days to alter the look and feel of the club?
What Chevy said: “There’s desires to be active in the free agent market and there’s desires to potentially be active in the trade market if something’s there that makes sense that makes our organization better. But, again, the lure of just simply relying on free agency, again, you know, lots of money, lots of term gets thrown around at those times, there’s an impact that lasts well beyond October ninth that you have to truly understand.”
What Chevy really meant: “Are you hard of hearing, dude? I’ve already said no one wants to come to Winnipeg. Never mind October the neuf. Pick a month. Any month. January, June, August. December. Free agents would rather be stranded on an island with nothing but Yanni and Anne Murray tapes and plant-based burgers. As for the guys traded here, they squawk like a Thanksgiving turkey that knows the jig’s up.”
Question: Will you target a specific forward position in this draft?
What Chevy said: “I think, again, we’re gonna stick to our philosophy of certainly, you know, in the first round of drafting the best player available. If you don’t do that, I think you can really, you know, really make some mistakes.”
What Chevy really meant: “Does the name Logan Stanley mean anything to you?”
Question: Does an offer sheet interest a general manager in your position?”
What Chevy said: “I think, again, knowing…being on the other side where people were talking about potential offer sheets in the past, I think everybody has contingency plans. There’s ways to get around an offer sheet as well with respect to trading other players or creating the cap space. I think any general manager that feels vulnerable to that has contingency plans in place. I think that’s probably one of the reasons why you don’t see it as a pool that’s used very much because it’s not often successful.”
What Chevy really meant: “You saw what Carolina Hurricanes did last year when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to that wimpy offer sheet. I think Hurricanes GM Don Waddell peed himself laughing. Same thing would happen if a team targeted one of my guys, except I’ve got a stronger bladder than Don, so it wouldn’t be as messy.”
Question: Why would a player of Patrik Laine’s stature be in trade conversations?
What Chevy said: “I just think it’s the way the game is, with respect to looking at all your different options. I think that’s what, you know, you’re supposed to do when you’re looking at trying to improve a team. Again, there’s certain things that, your know, are behind closed doors that are between manager and manager that, again, I’m just not privy to give out those kind of conversations. It’s the nature of the industry that everyone gets talked about.”
What Chevy really meant: “Who are you? Lord of the Flies on the Wall? You wanna know what other GMs and I are saying about Patty? Hire Bob Woodward.”
I know, I know. You’ve probably had it up to your chin whiskers with chatter about Puck Finn, what with those pesky boys at TSN putting him near the top of their trade bait board, and every other pundit with a basement and a keyboard sending him to Philly or Carolina or Buffalo or Montreal or New Jersey or Minnyhaha or the Rocky Mountain foothills.
I swear, Dr. Richard Kimble didn’t move around this much on The Fugitive. The kid has been traded more often than a 1960s bubble gum card.
Except he hasn’t gone anywhere, has he Chevy? You brought him into the National Hockey League as a Winnipeg Jet, and he remains a Jet today.
Question is, will you be giving him a new postal code?
Just so you know, I don’t think pulling the trigger on a trade involving Puck Finn would be the biggest gaffe since the Edsel rolled off the assembly line, even if there’d be considerable hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing among the rabble. Hell, the “you can’t ever, ever, ever trade Laine” mob is already in full squawk, invoking the name of Teemu Selanne.
You remember Teemu, of course, Chevy. The Finnish Flash. Wowed ’em with 76 goals in his first NHL crusade. Record still stands. Probably forever.
I’m guessing you remember John Paddock too, Chevy. Very nice man. A real salt-of-the-earth product by way of Oak River, and they don’t come much more honest and sincere than folks from rural Manitoba. But John’s name will go down in infamy as the man who sent Teemu to Disneyland. Memories are long and easily stirred, Chevy. They don’t want you making the same mistake.
But it isn’t wrong to part with Laine and his 138 goals. It’s only wrong if you don’t do it right.
I shouldn’t have to remind you that the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup less than two years after sending Wayne Gretzky to Tinseltown. Yes, Chevy, I realize the Oil hasn’t done much of anything since, but their Stanley Cup drought isn’t due to the Gretzky deal. It’s because Slats Sather also parted company with Mark Messier and Jari Kurri and Kevin Lowe and Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. And that’s not to forget Paul Coffey, who skipped town before Gretzky. Unload that many Hockey Hall of Famers and it’s a long road back.
In your case, Chevy, it’s not like you have a boatload of can’t-miss hall of famers, even if your head coach, Paul Maurice, believes there’ll be a statue of Rink Rat Scheifele outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie some day, right next to a likeness of Ducky Hawerchuk.
Fact is, Chevy, Laine might be the closest thing you have to a hall of famer, which explains the angst among the rabble.
Since he’s still a sprig in hockey terms, we can assume that Puck Finn’s most productive and finest playing days are in front of him. What that means is uncertain. Will it be a steady diet of 35-goal seasons? I’m sure 31 other NHL GMs would settle for that. The fear, though, is that Laine will go all-Ovi and put together a string of 40-plus, or even 50-plus, crusades in another locale. There’s no one else on your roster with that potential, Chevy. Not Scheifele, not Twig Ehlers, not Kyle Connor. And certainly not the captain, Blake Wheeler.
Wheels is one of your mistakes, Chevy. You should have sent him packing instead of signing him to a ridiculous five-year contract extension, and now he’s dug in like a tick in an Alabama dog’s ear. He’s 34 with four more seasons and a no-movement clause in his deal and, because Coach PoMo insists on blessing him with first-line minutes, Laine’s been required to skate alongside a hodge-podge of plug-and-play centre-ice men.
That 2C dilemma might become your undoing as Jets GM, Chevy. You’ve had three years to solve it and the best you’ve done is a couple of rent-a-centres in Paul Stastny and Kevin Hayes. Now it’s strongly suggested that dealing Puck Finn might be your only solution.
It’s a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, Chevy.
I realize we’re suppose to wash our hands a lot these days, but I must say it’s discomforting to think you might feel obliged to wash your hands of a 22-year-old right winger with 40/50-goal potential, simply because you and the coach harbor the misguided belief that an aging, sloth-like Wheeler is a better bet at right wing. Now and down the road.
But, again, trading Laine is only the wrong thing to do if it isn’t done right.
We await your next move with anticipation, Chevy. Have a nice day.
Whether the rogue rearguard was rag-dolling foes, or simply having a rollicking good time playing unharnessed pond hockey rather than the rigid north-south style preferred by coaches who frowned on freelancing, Big Buff was the whole nine yards.
Many years from now, folks will gather around the campfire and talk about him as some mythical creature, if they aren’t already.
They’ll speak in hushed tones, describing a man-beast on blades, untamed and as tall as a grain silo, as wide as the Canadian Prairies, hairy and swift and capable of Paul Bunyanesque feats of strength. And they’ll talk about his habitat, how he roamed from one fishing hole to the next, catching muskellunge and walleye and trout while the smaller and less adventurous of his hockey species grazed on golf courses or took root in front of their PlayStations.
“I was there the night Big Buff rag-dolled those two Vegas Golden Knights,” someone will whisper with due reverence. “Took one of ’em in each of his big paws and yanked ’em right out of a scrum. Shook ’em and dragged ’em around like they were pom-poms.”
“Same thing one night against Nashville,” another will say, nodding. “Took two Predators by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and shook ’em like salt-and-pepper shakers.”
The folklore will include tales of derring-do, rink-length dashes by this hulking figure of few words, a force the likes of which had never been seen on a National Hockey League freeze. There’ll be mention of an ice tub and Evander Kane’s clothing, and the sonic boom of a slapshot that served the Winnipeg Jets so well for eight winters.
And it’ll all be true, even if delivered with a side order of embellishment.
Big Buff truly was unique. He didn’t have a pregame meal like the rest of the Jets. They simply tossed him a salt lick. That’s what you do when a guy is 6-feet-8 (on skates) and 260 pounds, give or take a late-night snack.
I always thought the whole Big Buff shtick would have made for a great sitcom. He could have played himself, except he’d have had to speak, and we all know Big Buff has less to say than a street mime with a mouth full of cotton. It’s kind of tough to do a talkie when the leading man won’t talk. Still, he’s got that impish grin and his peculiar ways, which certainly became more peculiar in the past eight months.
Big Buff’s divorce from the Jets, official on Friday, is the part of the legend that didn’t produce any yuks.
More to the point, Byfuglien was robustly villainized by many among the rabble and some news snoops when he took a powder on the eve of training camp last September. The Jets wanted and expected Big Buff to play hockey, but his druthers were to gaze at his navel while squatting in an ice-fishing hut. His adios left Winnipeg HC in a penny pinch, in that his $7.6 million cap hit was still on the books, and he put them in an on-ice pickle, with a hole the size of his appetite on the right side of the defence. For that he was branded “selfish” and an ingrate.
Well guess what? Life happens. Flames flicker out.
If we are to believe the way Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells the tale, Big Buff’s passion for banging heads, quarterbacking the powerplay and goofing around with the guys had run its course. To paraphrase a Yogi Berraism: Buff came to a fork in the road and he took it. Family and fishing won out over Winnipeg HC and shinny.
Was the most popular of the Jets guilty of bad timing? I don’t think Buff was guilty of anything. His life, his timetable. But, sure, from the club and fan perspective he could have picked a better time to bug out. No doubt there would have been a different twist to Chevy’s off-season tactics had he known about Buff’s Tour de Navel before September, except the universe doesn’t always unfold as an NHL GM would like it to.
I don’t know if Buff plans to confirm or deny Chevy’s version of events now that the divorce is a fait accompli, but I’m guessing the big defender will let us inside his head about the same time Lake Winnipeg runs dry.
And, really, he doesn’t owe us the skinny on everything that went down since September. Nor is there any obligation for him to convince us that he isn’t a complete numbskull for walking away when there was a sizable chunk of change ($14 million) still on the table for his taking.
He leaves on his own terms (some of us can relate to that) at age 35, and we should just let it be part of the folklore.
I don’t really like to say I told you so, but sometimes I can’t resist the urge. So, I’ll remind you that this is what I wrote on Oct. 9 last year: “Retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC.” So there, I told you so.
Byfuglien has been called a riddle. An enigma. A puzzle. But is he really that hard to figure out? Okay, he’s a hockey hybrid. He has ox-like strength and no one his size has any business looking so light on his feet while skating on two blades barely wider than a butter knife. But that made him unique, not complicated. He also did a lot of freelancing, which led to crippling brain farts that resulted in pucks in the wrong net. But that made him a defensive liability, and there’s an abundance of those players in the NHL. So what is it about Big Buff that’s so confounding? Well, he seemed to play the game with a wink and a nod and, often, with a kid-like glee. He shunned news snoops like they’d give him cooties, but he was aw shucks and warm and fuzzy with a fawning faithful. It’s been oft written and said that he marched to the beat of his own drum, and hockey players aren’t programmed to go their own way. But the only truly unusual thing he’s done is turn his back on $14 million. That doesn’t make him an enigma. It makes him real.
Quick question: Will the rabble think differently about Big Buff if he takes his eroding talents to another NHL outfit? Seems to me they might. The storyline will go from “he didn’t want to play hockey anymore” to “he still wanted to play hockey, just not for the Jets.” Which means some might add another descriptive to the big man: Phony. But I don’t see him playing again.
Over at the Drab Slab, there seems to be some confusion about Big Buff’s legacy, at least that’s the way I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the matter. Here’s what he’s written:
Feb. 3: “A re-charged and rehabilitated Byfuglien was expected to be a pillar on the back end. Instead, his selfish actions created nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Byfuglien, the entire soap opera has tarnished the legacy of one of the most unique athletes we’ve ever seen in the city.”
April 17: “Forgive me if I have a hard time painting anyone who willingly walks away from US $14 million as selfish,” and “In my eyes, no legacy has been tarnished here, nor should it be.”
So he’s selfish, but he isn’t selfish. He’s tarnished, but he isn’t tarnished. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.
Frankly, I doubt Big Buff gives a damn what jock journos think or write about him. Just like they don’t give a damn what he thinks about them or their scribblings. It’s a mutual Don’t Give A Damn Society.
Hey, check it out. My man young Eddie Tait has a book out, For the W, the story of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gallop to the Grey Cup last year. If young Eddie’s doing the scribbling, you know it’s a top-drawer product, and I’m told he has a boffo editor in Rheanne Marcoux. Winnipeg FC radio voice Knuckles Irving of CJOB says the book is “sensational,” and that’s good enough for me. It sells for $54.99 and you can grab a copy at the Canadian Football League club’s shop or online.
This week in jock journalism…
I make an early-morning tour of newspapers and sports websites hither and yon, always searching for something fresh and different, and I found it in a Rob Tychkowski column. Rob’s with Postmedia E-Town, and he did a parody on the recent conference call between Donald Trump and various pro sports leaders. It’s laugh-out-loud funny…I never know what to expect when I call up the Winnipeg Sun, but some issues are more disappointing than others. Today, for example, there are eight pages of sports. Total number of local stories: 0. Total number of local bylines: 0. Total number of bylines from the Republic of Tranna: 4…No, I don’t think sports is important while COVID-19 has us in lockdown, but if you insist on doing it, do it right for gawd’s sake…Not sure what the dumbest story of the week was, but here are the candidates, all from the Drab Slab: 1) Andrew Berkshire’s graphs and numbers-crunching on the Jets’ odd-man rushes and counter-attack plays last season; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s top-10 goals in Jets 2.0 history; 3) Mad Mike’s suggestion that the entire NHL (all 31 teams) gather in Good Ol’ Hometown to complete the 2019-20 season sometime this summer. My vote goes to article No. 3. It’s just stupid.
And, finally, Scott Billeck went from the toy department to newsside for the Winnipeg Sun when COVID-19 took grip, and his work has been boffo. Bruce Arthur has done the same thing for the Toronto Star. I’m not sure how many sports scribes could pull that off, but Scott and Bruce are getting it done.
Another National Hockey League trade deadline has come and gone, so what you see is what you get with the Winnipeg Jets. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, who better to sort out general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s handiwork than our all-knowing Two Hens In The Hockey House.
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: You sure you want to natter about the Jets this morning, girlfriend? Shouldn’t we be talking about Kerri Einarson and her gal pals instead?
Answer Lady: You might have a point. Kerri, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur did boffo business in Al Capone’s old hangout—that’s Moose Jaw, girlfriend—and you have to go a long, long way back to find a Manitoba skip not named Jennifer Jones or Connie Laliberte who won the Canadian women’s curling title.
Question Lady: Any idea how long ago it was?
Answer Lady: I’ll give you some hints: You and I were both in training bras. Papa Pierre Trudeau was PM. The Winnipeg Tribune was still publishing. The Bee Gees had the No. 1 hit, Stayin’ Alive. The event wasn’t called the Scotties Tournament of Hearts back then. It was the Macdonald Lassie and the sponsor was a tobacco company.
Question Lady: So who was the skip?
Answer Lady: Cathy Pidzarko. She and her twin sister Chris got together with Iris Armstrong and Patti Vandekerckhove to win the Lassie in The Soo. And here’s what’s noteworthy: Patti Vandekerckhove became Patti Vande, then became Patti Wuthrich and she was coach of the Einarson team in Moose Jaw last week. Talk about coming full circle. Oh, one more thing: The Pidzarko twins and I went to the same high school—good, ol’ Miles Mac Collegiate in East Kildonan.
Question Lady: Well, we’re just full of trivia this morning, aren’t we?
Answer Lady: Many people have told me that I’m full of something or other, and it was never meant as a compliment.
Question Lady: Fine. But can we talk about the Jets now?
Answer Lady: Fire away, girlfriend.
Question Lady: Are you giving GM Chevy thumbs up or thumbs down for his tinkering at the NHL trade deadline?
Answer Lady: It’s more like the sound of one hand clapping. I mean, it’s not like I expected Chevy to go out and trade one of his young, blue-chip forwards in exchange for a top-four defenceman and a Zamboni driver to be named later. He knew one more piece wasn’t going to make his club Stanley Cup worthy.
If we’re being honest, the Jets are playing with house money. They probably have no business being in the playoff discussion today, not when you consider the numerous nights during the first five months of the fray when head coach Paul Maurice’s blueline had the hand-me-down look and feel of an old hobo’s coat. It hasn’t been “next man up” for Coach PoMo, it’s been Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and “eeny, meeny, miney, moe.”
Mind you, it figured to be this way after the defections of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Dustin Byfuglien. But still. Does any combination of Anthony Bitteto, Nathan Beaulieu, Luca Sbisa, Dmitry Kulikov, Ville Heinola, Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman and Carl Dahlstrom scream out “playoff defence” to you? Didn’t think so.
Yet here they are this morning, just a chin whisker away from qualifying for Beard Season.
Question Lady: Can a guy like Dylan DeMelo be the difference between the playoffs and an early tee time?
Answer Lady: You mean Coach PoMo’s porn star? Actually, Dylan DeMelo is kind of a porn star-sounding name, isn’t it? It’s not quite Long John Holmes quality, but I think it has marquee value.
Question Lady: Can you believe that PoMo said watching DeMelo play hockey is coach’s porn?
Answer Lady: Makes you wonder what goes on at a coaches’ bachelor party, doesn’t it? What do they do, sit around watching old film of Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson breaking up two-on-one rushes? Or maybe they get their jollies by watching raunchy film of Nick Lidstrom poke check the puck off Brett Hull’s stick. They sound like a real fun bunch.
Question Lady: Ya, but as long as Coach PoMo keeps delivering those kind of quotes, the scribes and talking heads will continue to be completely hornswaggled. They love the guy, and they’ll be loving him for another three years. Was his contract extension warranted?
Answer Lady: Well, we both knew that Coach Sound Bite was safe this year, even if some of the meatheads in the media thought his seat was a bonfire. But just because a guy signs for three years, it doesn’t mean he gets to coach for three years. I doubt Coach PoMo makes it to the end of his freshly minted deal. I’d almost wager that we’ll be listening to his sound bites on TSN Trade Centre two years from now.
Question Lady: Which brings us back on topic. Chevy made two moves just before the deadline, bringing in DeMelo and Cody Eakin. Is that enough to guarantee there’ll be meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in April?
Answer Lady: I already had the Jets pegged for a wild card team, and they’re better with those two guys. So, ya, I don’t see Nashville, Minny or Chicago squeezing them out.
Question Lady: What about the Calgary Flames?
Answer Lady: Have you been paying attention this season, girlfriend? Those young millionaires look like they’re already on the first tee at the hoity-toity Calgary Golf & Country Club.
Question Lady: Question is, are the Jets good enough to make some noise in the Stanley Cup runoff, or will it earn Winnipeg HC nothing more than a third one-and-done participation pin?
Answer Lady: Ideally, this is how it would shake down for the Jets: They secure the first wild-card spot, which means they’d avoid either St. Loo or Colorado in the opening round of Beard Season and meet the Pacific Division winner. Is there anything to fear in the Vancouver Canucks? Nada. How about the Edmonton Oilers? Connor McDavid, Leon D. and a whole lot of McNothing. The Vegas Golden Knights would be problematic, but if either the Canucks or Oilers can hold up their end of the bargain, I can see the Jets getting through to the second round. That might sound crazy, but I believe it’s doable.
Question Lady: Gotta say, girlfriend, that does sound a bit nutso. You’re really convinced the Jets can beat the Canucks or Oilers in a seven-game series?
Answer Lady: As sure as Donald Trump likes Twitter.
Question Lady: If you say so. But I’d feel more comfortable if Chevy had landed a top-four defenceman at the deadline. And if that meant sacrificing one of his young, blue-chip studs, don’t you think he should have done it?
Answer Lady: Unlike many among the rabble, I don’t squirm at the thought of Chevy tossing Jack Roslovic or even Twig Ehlers into the pot, but this wasn’t the right time to do it. It wasn’t going to push them over the top.
Question Lady: So we’re supposed to be satisfied that it’s status quo?
Answer Lady: Hell no. You should be properly PO’d at Chevy and Mark Chipman, because it didn’t have to be this way. When the entire right side of your defence and a quality guy from the left side disappear in one foul swoop, that’s totally on the GM/owner. Just like they’ve known for more than two years that they don’t have a No. 2 centre, they’ve known since last July that they needed an upgrade on the blueline. Waiting until the trade deadline to acquire Coach PoMo’s porn star doesn’t quite cut it as proactive management. That dithering is the reason the Jets weren’t ever going to be anything better than a wild card outfit.
Question Lady: And what do they do with Dustin Byfuglien?
Answer Lady: That’s a discussion for another day, girlfriend. For now, let’s see how this season plays out, then we’ll talk about Big Buff.
Question Lady: Fair enough. What’s up next for you?
Answer Lady: More curling. The Brier’s on deck. If either Mike McEwen or Jason Gunnlaugson can get the job done next week in Kingston, that means Manitoba runs the table this season—world mixed, two world Junior, Scotties and Brier champions. It doesn’t get better than that.
The National Hockey League is in recess, save for the glitterati assembled in St. Loo for the annual all-star festival, so it’s an appropriate time to take inventory of our local hockey heroes. And who better to discuss all things Winnipeg Jets than our two all-seeing, all-knowing Hens in the Hockey House?
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: As broadcasting legend Peter Warren used to say, let’s get right down to business. Should Paul Maurice be fired?
Answer Lady: Wow. No small talk, girlfriend? We’re going straight to the short strokes? I thought we’d at least gasbag about Harry and Meghan before getting down to the nitty gritty of the Jets morphing into a team that only a mother could love.
Question Lady: Is that your cutesy way of saying we should talk about the moms’ recent getaway with their boys?
Answer Lady: Now that you mention it, why not? That was a nice touch, having the moms tag along with their lads for whistlestops in the Toddlin’ Town, Raleigh and Columbus. And it truly was the mother of all trips, with the lads going oh-fer and holding a players-only, closed-door meeting. A couple of those sons of mothers were so PO’d with all the losing that they were dropping F-bombs within ear shot of news snoops. I don’t know if anyone had his mouth washed out with soap, but that was always my mom’s go-to threat whenever a four-letter word escaped my lips, even if none of them started with an F.
Question Lady: I believe one of those F-bombs belonged to head coach Maurice, which brings me back to the original question: Should he be fired?
Answer Lady: Well, girlfriend, I thought they should have replaced Coach Potty Mouth in 2017. I seem to recall saying something about him spending too much time selling snake oil and being all hat and no cattle. Nothing since then has changed my way of thinking. He’s the losingest coach in NHL history for a reason. Trouble is, he’s got Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff bamboozled into thinking he’s a Scotty Bowman clone behind the bench. They’ve said more than once that they’re all in it for the long haul, including Coach PoMo.
Question Lady: So how long is the long haul?
Answer Lady: You going zen on me, girlfriend? That’s like asking me what air tastes like. I don’t think any bench jockey since Al Arbour has been with one team for “the long haul,” and he had four Stanley Cup rings by the time he found something better to do than coach the New York Islanders. As far as I know, Coach PoMo has a wedding ring and maybe ring around the collar, and that’s it. Coaches are as disposable as dirty diapers, especially this year, and I’m guessing that topic has been discussed in the ivory tower at True North. But I don’t see anything happening to Maurice in-season.
Question Lady: Is the Jets tailspin really his fault? All he can do is play the cards he’s been dealt, and the defencemen he sends over the boards aren’t exactly Robinson, Savard, Lapointe and Langway. They’re more like Larry, Curly, Moe and Shemp, only with better haircuts. Maurice is trying to win the Indy 500 with a kid’s pedal car and four flat tires. Isn’t that Chevy’s doing?
Answer Lady: Your point is well taken, girlfriend, but here’s the thing with Coach PoMo: He doesn’t have the answers. He’s admitted that. And if your coach doesn’t have a clue, you have to find someone who does. Here’s another thing to ponder: He has a Vezina Trophy candidate in the blue ice, but the Jets are below the playoff line. When was the last time a goaltender with an also-ran was anointed best in the biz? Try once this century (Sergei Bobrovsky) and once last century (Shrimp Worters). Which means if Connor Hellebuyck wins the Vezina trinket later this year, it puts Coach PoMo in the rarefied company of Eddie Gerard and Todd Richards as the only bench jockeys to be blessed with the best ‘keeper in the game and fail to qualify for Beard Season. So if there aren’t any meaningful games being played at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in April, I say “the long haul” be damned. Get his butt out of Dodge. But the Puck Pontiff won’t do it.
Question Lady: What about Chevy?
Answer Lady: This is definitely his mess. Him and his bean counters. They’ve handled the salary cap like they all skipped math class during high school and hung out at the pool hall instead. I realize they were blindsided when Dustin Byfuglien decided he’d rather go fishing than freelance his way through another winter, but they’re paying Blake Wheeler $10 million this season. At age 33. And they’ll be paying him $10 mill when he’s 35. Come on, man, that’s just not right. Mathieu Perreault’s cap hit for six goals is over $4 million, this year and next. And if Dmtry Kulikov is $4.3 million worth of defenceman, then I’m Hayley Wickenheiser. They put themselves in cap hell and had to watch good contributors skate away because of it. Money aside, some of the term Chevy’s gifted these guys with is mind numbing. Wheeler’s at the front end of a five-year deal. Ditto Bryan Little. He’s 32 and already spent. Big Buff will be 35 in two months, and he’s still got a year to go if they can drag him away from his favorite fishing hole. Crazy stuff. But keep in mind that Chevy doesn’t make a major move without the okie-dokie from the Puck Pontiff. Chipman signs off on everything. So he’s wearing this, big time. But we can’t fire the owner, can we?”
Question Lady: Do you think we’ll see Buff back this season?
Answer Lady: I can’t think of any reason why they’d go there. They should have moved on from Buff last summer. He’s got a modified no-trade clause in his contract, something like 14 teams, so I say unload him if Chevy can convince some sucker to take on damaged goods. Warts and all, he might fetch a decent return.
Question Lady: What did you make of the players’ recent closed-door meeting?
Answer Lady: Meh. Nothing to see there. Besides, the lads have swanned off to warm, sunny beaches and golf courses hither and yon, so I imagine what was said will be long forgotten by the time they return to the fray at the end of the month. Frankly, these private chin-wags are only noteworthy because those pesky news snoops get their knickers in a knot whenever they’re put on ignore. It gives them something to write and yak about, as if we’re supposed to care about their inconveniences. Let’s both give them all a quarter and let them call someone who cares.
Question Lady: Do you consider this season a writeoff? Should the Jets tank for better odds at the draft lottery?
Answer Lady: Hey now. What kind of talk is that? Wash your mouth out with soap, girlfriend. Hockey players don’t tank. Ownership and management might, but not the working stiffs. You can’t convince me that the Arizona Desert Dogs are better than the Jets. At the start of this crusade I called for our hockey heroes to wiggle their way into a wild card playoff spot, and it’s totally doable. Still. It’ll just take a whole lot of smoke, mirrors and Hellebuyck, that’s all.
Question Lady: Any plans while the Jets are away doing whatever it is that young millionaires do on their down time?
Answer Lady: Not sure, girlfriend. Harry, Meghan and Archie live in my neighborhood now, so maybe I’ll play snoopy neighbor. On second thought, no. I’m not a royal watcher. Actually, I’m not a royal anything, except perhaps a royal pain in the ass to the six people who actually read this blog. I’ll probably just chill and visit Jack the Bartender once or twice.
Question Lady: Jack the Bartender a Jets fan?
Answer Lady: Nope. He’s a Canucklehead. But I’ve never held that against him because he pours ’em full and he pours ’em cold. You’d like him. Anyway, must toddle off. Let’s talk again at the trade deadline. You know, when Chevy gives away another first-round draft pick.
You know, the one about Bill Peters losing his job as head coach of the Calgary Flames because he was a bully who used racist language. And Marc Crawford being suspended for bullying. And Mike Babcock being shamed for bullying. And Sportsnet pulling the plug on Don Cherry for going off on immigrants. And NBC Sports making Jeremy Roenick stand in a corner for sharing his sexual fantasies on a podcast.
Somehow, all that escaped Sawyer’s notice.
I know, hard to believe.
I mean, there are different levels of dumb. Like, there’s Homer Simpson d’oh boy dumb. There’s Adam Sandler movie dumb. And there’s doorknob dumb, which is where Kevin Sawyer fits in.
Sawyer, for those who haven’t been introduced, is a former hockey goon and coach who now wears rose-tinted glasses and prattles on endlessly about the do-no-wrong Winnipeg Jets on TSN3, and he attained unparalleled standards in stupidity by sharing his “favorite” Jared Spurgeon story on Saturday.
“He was a 15-year-old, two months into the season we Saran wrapped him to a pillar in the arena, about six feet up in the air. He was tiny. He looked like he was 12. So smart,” Sawyer informed viewers.
Seriously. Sawyer engaged in the boys-will-be-boys hazing of a 15-year-old kid while an assistant coach with the Spokane Chiefs and now, in today’s climate of zero tolerance and retro-punishment for bullying, he’s bragging about it on TV?
What part of “you have the right to remain silent” does he not understand?
I can think of just two circumstances whereby you admit to something like that: 1) Under a withering cross-examination from Perry Mason; 2) when sitting in a bar and you’re surrounded by a bunch of boozed-up, frat-boy lunkheads who still think swirlies and wedgies are a right of passage for every kid who knows how to use a slide rule.
Otherwise, you just shut the hell up and hope no one uncovers your dirty, little secret.
But not Sawyer, whose days as a fists-for-hire thug ended early this century. He believes his “favorite” memory of hazing a 15-year-old kid is good for some yuks. A real knee-slapper. So he goes all blah, blah, blah about it during the Jets-Minnesota Wild skirmish, and we’re left to wonder what TSN, True North Sports & Entertainment, and/or the National Hockey League will do about it.
If not outright dismissal, surely a suspension is in his future.
I have to think Sawyer’s sound bites are particularly galling to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, the Jets seldom-heard-from co-bankroll who, I’m guessing, frowns on hazing and doesn’t appreciate one of TSN’s talking heads scrubbing some of the squeaky-clean off True North’s saintly image. Mind you, Chipman has looked past head coach Paul Maurice’s forever potty mouth and his captain, Blake Wheeler, telling a news snoop to F-off, so maybe this is nothing more than a meh moment to him.
I doubt it, though.
There’s been a whole lot of yadda, yadda, yadda lately about a shift in culture—in the NHL and all other levels of the game—and, if they’re serious about it, there can’t be any room for a broadcaster who takes glee in the hazing of teenage boys.
I might also point out that Sawyer was 31 years old at the time and an assistant to the aforementioned Peters. So, given recent revelations about the now unemployable coach, there’s reason to suspect this wasn’t a one-off, and we can only guess how often Sawyer took out his roll of Saran Wrap and used it to bind other 15-year-old kids to a pillar, “six feet up in the air.” Twice? Ten times?
It’s obvious that Sawyer, to this day, doesn’t regret Saran wrapping Spurgeon to that arena pillar in Spokane 14 years ago, but I’m thinking he’s about to regret bragging about it on live TV.
After a long summer apart, the two Hens in the Hockey House are back together to discuss all matters Winnipeg Jets and their fresh National Hockey League crusade, which commences this very night at Madison Square Garden in Gotham v. old friend Jacob Trouba and the New York Rangers. Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: “Well, girlfriend, time to write your How I Spent My Summer Vacation essay. What have you been up to?”
Answer Lady: “What is this? Grade 5? You become a school marm when I wasn’t looking?”
Question Lady: “Of course not. It’s just that we haven’t talked to each other since the Jets took a powder last April. Sooooo…I’m curious what you’ve been up to. Care to talk the talk?”
Answer Lady: “Do people still talk to each other? What an antiquated concept. I thought they just tweeted, sent text messages or posted on Instagram.”
Question Lady: “I think it’s kind of like a newspaper. Nobody under the age of 50 actually picks up a newspaper, and no one under the age of 50 actually has conversations. It’s the All Thumbs Generation. Whenever they have something to say, they pull a smart phone out of their pocket or purse and let their thumbs do the talking. Anyway, what’s been shaking besides the leaves on the trees and the Jets defence, girlfriend?”
Answer Lady: “I spent a lot of quality time at The Forks, just sipping cocktails, schmoozing and watching the world go by.”
Question Lady: “Did you see Dustin Byfuglien there?”
Answer Lady: “No. Apparently, Big Buff was doing his navel gazing at other pubs. Still is.”
Question Lady: “Think he’ll be back on the Jets blueline, or is he going to retire?”
Answer Lady: “Hard to say. Chevy tells us it’s status quo, but if I were a betting girl I’d say Big Buff is done. Even if he were to come back, I can’t imagine his heart would be in it. We’d be getting Buff Lite. That would be a great name for a beer, but it would probably be as watered down as the Jets blueline.”
Question Lady: “You don’t think another $8 million in the bank account won’t whet Buff’s appetite for more?”
Answer Lady: “The guy’s made north of $50 million in his career, girlfriend. I’m sure he’s got enough bait and tackle to last a lifetime of fishing ponds, frozen or otherwise. So, unless he has as many holes in his pockets as there is on the Jets defence, he needs another paycheque like Don Cherry needs another bad suit.”
Question Lady: “You’ve mentioned the Jets blueline brigade twice already. You don’t like it?”
Answer Lady: “Does Donald Trump like Democrats?”
Question Lady: “Well, it’s true that they’ve had more defections than a Cuban baseball team. Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Buff…all gone. But isn’t there some hope for the newbies GM Kevin Cheveldayoff brought in to replace them?”
Answer Lady: “Hope sometimes goes missing, but it is never lost.”
Question Lady: “Wow. That’s heavy, girlfriend. They have a zen garden at The Forks?”
Answer Lady: “Not sure, grasshopper, but after coach Paul Maurice went all Zen Master PoMo on us during training camp, I visited the Bodhisattva Guanyin and she spoke of the many pundits who look at the Jets defence and see darkness and no light.”
Question Lady: “And what did the lama lady have to say?”
Answer Lady: “She said, ‘Even the optimist accepts that the glass must become half empty when her lips are parched; even the pessimist accepts the glass as half full when her lips are parched.’”
Question Lady: “What in the name of Siddhartha Gautama does that mean?”
Answer Lady: “Either way you look at it, the Jets defence is half of what it once was, but perhaps not half as bad.”
Question Lady: “This new kid, Ville Heinola, isn’t he something special based on his play in the exhibition games?”
Answer Lady: “Do you measure the climber by his first two steps at the bottom of the mountain, or his last two steps at the summit?”
Question Lady: “Am I supposed to answer that?”
Answer Lady: “No. I am the Answer Lady.”
Question Lady: “Good. I thought for a minute we were doing some kind of role reversal thing and, lord knows, I don’t have the answers. I just make it up as I go along, kind of like some of the reporters in River City. Speaking of which, what do you make of those ruffled feathers we kept hearing about all summer and during training camp? Any substance to all that blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda? Were the Jets a house divided?”
Answer Lady: “Show me the smoking gun.”
Question Lady: “I heard some wild and wacky rumors about what went on last spring. Really crazy stuff about fights in the parking lot and girlfriends. None of that true?”
Answer Lady: “Look, I heard and read so much rumor during the summer that I thought Hearsay was some guy they got in the Trouba trade. Again, show me the smoking gun. If you can’t, you can probably get a job at the Free Press.”
Question Lady: “Well, Patrik Laine said some things that weren’t so flattering. He didn’t name names, but it sure sounded like he was taking pot shots at Maurice, Bryan Little and other teammates. They all shrugged it off as a meh issue, but why did Coach PoMo go all the way to Finland to chat with Laine if it was no big deal?”
Answer Lady: “Oh, good grief. The way the boys and girls on the beat have been telling it, you’d think it was Moses coming down from the mountain with a pair of stone tablets clutched in his arms. According to Chevy, Laine was just one of numerous players the coach made a social visit to. Call it Le Tour de Ruffled Feathers. OR NOT! C’mon, girlfriend, show me a player who doesn’t lust for more ice time and I’ll show you a player who doesn’t give a damn. Show me a team that doesn’t bicker and have closed-door meetings and I’ll show you a team that doesn’t give a damn. Show me someone who’s never bitched about their boss and I’ll show you someone whose pants are on fire. It’s no biggie.”
Question Lady: “Do you think Coach PoMo is sitting on a hot seat?”
Answer Lady: “Ya, it’s hot like Portage and Main in January. Mark Chipman and Chevy will part ways with Maurice when the Dalai Lama punches out the Pope.”
Question Lady: “Saaaaay. That would be an interesting fight. One guy would be hitting with Buddhist beads and the other guy would be hitting with a Rosary. Who do you think would win?”
Answer Lady: “I’d bet on Dalai, but those Catholic guys fight dirty and Pope Francis would likely crack the Lama lad on the noggin with a crucifix. Or poke him in the eye with his pointy hat. But let’s get serious, there’s no fighting in the NHL anymore and those guys are too old to be scrapping.”
Question Lady: “On the subject of age, does Blake Wheeler have another 91-point season in him at 33?”
Answer Lady: “I don’t see it happening. We all slow down, so Wheeler’s wheels won’t be churning any faster. I think we’ll see a dip in production from both him and Mark Scheifele.”
Question Lady: “What about Laine?”
Answer Lady: “Forty goals exactly.”
Question Lady: “Connor and Ehlers?”
Answer Lady: “Thirty-one and 29.”
Question Lady: “Is this a playoff team?”
Answer Lady: “On the bubble. It’ll take 40 regulation/overtime wins to get the job done, and I’m not convinced the Jets have that in them. But the Colorado Avalanche got in last spring with just 36, so there’s that. We’re probably looking at a wild card spot, because I really don’t see Chicago, Arizona or Minny squeezing them out.”
Question Lady: “Do you see Chevy making a deadline deal for either a playoff push or to get into the Stanley Cup tournament?”
Answer Lady: “If he does, it bloody well better not be for a first-round pick.”
Question Lady: “What are the odds of a Stanley Cup parade in River City next June?”
Answer Lady: “About the same as Justin Trudeau showing up at his next campaign stop in black face.”
Question Lady: “I guess that covers it, girlfriend. What are your plans for the rest of the day?”
Answer Lady: “I’m off to The Forks. Maybe I’ll look for a zen garden and do some raking.”
Question Lady: “Sounds peaceful. If you see Buff, say hi.”
Answer Lady: “Will do. Good talk. Enjoy the season. Ommmmm.”
Okay, it’s official. Patrik Laine has put more noses out of joint than Mike Tyson in his prime.
Everyone from the Golden Boy to Dancing Gabe is PO’d at the gum-flapping Finn, and it’s only a question of exactly how much tar and feathers it will take to coat his 6-feet-5 frame.
But let’s take a deep breath and a step back, shall we?
Puck Finn isn’t going anywhere just because he shot off his gob—again—and some egos might have been bruised during a 24-hour news cycle.
Oh, sure, it might sound like he wants out, and the blah, blah, blah he’s spewed this summer indicates he wouldn’t kick, scream and hold his breath if Kevin Cheveldayoff were to send a text to Switzerland today, informing the fed-up Finn that he’s got a new postal/zip code.
But do you really think the Winnipeg Jets didn’t see this coming?
The local shinny side knew exactly what it was getting when it marked its territory and claimed Laine with the second shoutout at the 2016 grab bag of teen talent known as the National Hockey League entry draft. By then Puck Finn was already filling notebooks and delivering the kind of sound bites that had news snoops fairly swooning at the prospect of jotting down his bon mots for the next 15 years or so.
June 2016, talking about Auston Matthews: “I think we’re quite even and he’s better than me in some stuff and I’m better than him in some of the things. I wouldn’t say that one of us is better than the other. I think we’re quite even right now.”
September 2016: “I know how good I am. I can say that. It’s not a problem for me. If it’s a problem for somebody else, it’s not my problem. I don’t care what people think. I know I’m a good player. I’m going to stick with that.”
Back then, that meant he had swagger. Confidence. A cocksure strut. The gift that keeps giving.
When Puck Finn backed up the bravado with a 36-goal snot-nose season, followed by 44 snipes as a super soph, he could have scaled the Legislative building on Broadway Avenue and piddled on the Golden Boy and none among the rabble would have batted an eye. Except to say “Betcha Auston Matthews can’t do that.”
Yet here we are today and the faithful want Laine’s mom to wash his mouth out with soap or, at the least, get out the needle and thread and stitch her son’s loose lips together. Even some news snoops want him to zip it.
But why? What has Laine said that’s a get-out-of-Dodge offence?
True, when Chris Johnston of Sportsnet traveled to Lahti for a chin-wag with Puck Finn in mid-August, Mrs. Laine’s boy provided some sound bites that were less than rah, rah, rah for the home side.
“You never know. It’s still a business, you’ve got to be prepared for anything,” he told Johnston. “But, ya, you never know where you’re going to play next year, so I’m just prepared for anything. I’ve got nothing bad to say about Winnipeg, you know? It’s been good so far.”
That ignited a bit of a brush fire and now, almost a month later to the day, he’s skipping more stones across the ocean and an inferno rages.
Puck Finn thinks head coach Paul Maurice is a bit of a tool. The guys he’s forced to skate alongside are beer-league slugs. If only he had someone special to feed him the biscuit, instead of being saddled with Bryan Little, he’d pot 50 goals for sure.
And he’s supposed to say what? I don’t want more ice time? I don’t want to skate with the best guys?
First of all, Puck Finn remains an unsigned restricted free agent. An offer sheet from a predatory outfit is a possibility. What if Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman choose not to match (highly, highly unlikely)? So Laine is “prepared for anything.” Makes sense to me.
Is Laine insulting Little and others by saying he’d prefer different playmates? Well, maybe we should let Chevy answer that. After all, the GM has insulted Little the last two springs by surrendering first-round draft picks to bring in rent-a-centres for the playoff push. Apparently Chevy doesn’t believe Little is up to the task, either.
Is Laine insulting Maurice? Hardly. Who among us hasn’t done some serious head scratching over Coach Potty Mouth’s deployment of personnel? The guy juggles more than a street busker. He’s blind to his favorites (hello Chris Thorburn, Mark Stuart) and he allows young talent to rot on the vine (hello Nic Petan).
But that’s for us to say and not Laine, right? As if.
Let me remind you of something else Puck Finn said last November: “You always have to think about what you’re going to say, but you have to be yourself. That’s the most important thing; just be yourself, and say what you think.”
So Laine is saying what he thinks and that’s no longer cool because he had the bad manners to score only 30 goals last winter?
Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. In early June 2016, I wrote this: “Is the Flamboyant Finn and his loose lips a fit for the Winnipeg Jets or will he give them fits?”
Looks like Puck Finn’s gift of the gab might actually be the Curse of the Gob, but I’m guessing that 110 snipes in three NHL seasons means the Jets will learn to live with it.
As for news snoops who want Laine to zip it? As tennis great John McEnroe once said to a chair umpire: “You CANNOT be serious!”