Let’s talk about Pontytail Puck, bully tactics and White Knight Gary…a living wage…Grapes and his Bruins…Hall passes for Doc Holliday and Black Hat Barry Shenkarow….D’oh Canada…and more of Mad Mike’s Whodunit

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I had the winning horse in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, until it wasn’t the winning horse…

If 200 women stage a boycott and nobody notices that they’re gone, does it really happen?

Therein lies the conundrum for Ponytail Puck.

Dani Rylan

Few folks noticed the women when they were active on the frozen ponds of the globe (Olympic Games being the notable exception), so why should the rabble care now that a) the Canadian Women’s Hockey League has hit an iceberg and suffered the same fate as the Titanic, and b) 200 elite female players plan to take their pucks and go home (for the good of the game)?

It’s a ballsy gambit, sitting out an entire hockey season, yet that’s the declared intention of the ForTheGame200. They’ll find better things to do next autumn/winter/spring, then cross their fingers and hope this is how their universe unfolds:

  • Founder/commissioner Dani Rylan of the United States-based National Women’s Hockey League tears down everything she has built up over the past four years, thus leaving a barren landscape;

  • Gary Bettman, a white knight on a magnificent steed, rides to the rescue and creates a little sister operation for the National Hockey League—the WNHL, with franchises (on both sides of the border) that offer the girls all the bells and whistles that guys like Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby enjoy;

  • WNHL players earn salaries between $50,000 and $100,000, thereby allowing them to escape the life of a 9-to-5 working stiff;

  • Fans flock to female shinny palaces in robust numbers and everyone lives happily ever after.

Gary Bettman

Less utopian, however, is the picture as seen through the lens of reality, so let’s call out this women’s hockey boycott for what it is: A bully tactic.

Make no mistake, the ForTheGame200 group sit-down is designed to force Dani Rylan’s hand into clearing the deck for Bettman and an NHL takeover, although they’re careful not to use a cut-throat tone in delivering their message. They have the very best of intentions, don’t you know. They’re doing this for the greater good and for little girls.

“I want to set the table for them so that they have a league to aspire to, that they can dream to play this game professionally and not have to work a full-time job,” Team Canada and Calgary Inferno veteran Brianne Jenner told Ron MacLean of Sportsnet.

It’s an admirable, lovely sentiment and, no doubt, genuine. I certainly believe her (them). I applaud her (them), although I must confess that it is the clapping of one hand.

I mean, bullying is bullying is bullying and, to date, Rylan has given no indication that she’s prepared to let the schoolyard toughs steal her lunch money. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Scant moments after the ForTheGame200 declared their plan for a group sit-down, Rylan issued a heels-dug-in communiqué: It will be business as usual for the NWHL next autumn. How she plans to ice a product the rabble will want to support is a mystery, of course, but she’ll soldier on and what we now have is a game of chicken—Rylan vs. the Revolutionaries.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

And, to think, it was just three months ago when the women’s game had its ‘it’ moment, that being Kendall Coyne Schofield’s gobsmacking, 14-second skedaddle against the boys at the NHL all-star game in San Jose.

“Media was buzzing around it for about a week,” Inferno general manager Kristen Hagg recalled, “and then we went back to being Calgary’s best-kept secret.”

Today the Inferno is no more. The CWHL is no more. And 200 players would like the NWHL to be no more.

It’s a fine mess they’ve gotten themselves into. And the question is: Will anyone be there to give a damn by the time they’ve dug themselves out?

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

Cassie Campbell-Pascall participated in the chin-wag with MacLean and Jenner (Schofield also offered her voice), and she delivered this astonishing comment: “We can’t be satisfied anymore with leagues that survive on $50,000 to $100,000 sponsorships. Let’s face it, that should be players’ salaries in the future.” Full marks to Cassie for managing to say that with a straight face—and I didn’t even notice the rose-tinted glasses she was wearing—but it’s pure Pollyanna. The day women are paid 100 large to play in a WNHL, I expect to look out my eighth-floor apartment window and see Miss Piggy flying by.

Hey, I’m not here to piddle in their Corn Flakes. I’d prefer to be part of a world where the elite women earn a living wage, and I hope they get there. For now, though, the ForTheGame200 and their allies aren’t doing themselves any favors by making foolish comparisons between the pauperish wages in Ponytail Puck ($2,000-$10,000) and those of multi-millionaire NHL players. You don’t compare a trail horse to Secretariat, because it only invites rude laughter and ridicule. Like most any enterprise, you get what the market bears, and by no known business plan is $100,000 salaries workable when fewer than 1K people are sitting in the pews 16-28 nights a year.

If it’s comparison you want, let’s look at minimum salaries in the NHL feeder system:
American Hockey League—$47,500US.
ECHL—$14,100 (rookies); $15,300 (returning players).
Southern Professional Hockey League—$4,200 to $14,000/year.
So it seems women aren’t the only people playing pro shinny in North America who can’t afford to quit their day jobs.

Kristen Hagg

The aforementioned Kristen Hagg delivered this observation last week, on Calgary Inferno Day in Cowtown: “We live in a society where people do not value women’s sport. Most of us have been socialized to accept men’s sport as dominant and somehow automatically more interesting. The problem is that once society internalizes falsehood, it’s not easy to correct it.” I’d say the lady is spot-on.

Not spot-on is Donald S. Cherry. I really wish the Lord of Loud would cease using his Hockey Night In Canada bully pulpit to prop up his old Beantown Bruins as the shining example of shinny done the right way. Someone needs to remind Grapes that the Bruins never won a damn thing during his time behind the bench.

Just wondering: Does Justin Williams of the Carolina Hurricanes feel cheated when he’s participating in a Stanley Cup series that doesn’t go to a Game 7?

Bob Holliday

Congrats and a heartfelt tip of the bonnet to old friend, colleague and good guy Bob Holliday, known to friends as Doc or Mr. St. Vital. Robert is this year’s inductee to the media wing of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, and I’m glad they got around to saluting the old boy while he’s still with us. Doc went about his business in an understated way at the St. Vital Lance, Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun, and he always delivered the goods.

Barry Shenkarow

Also going into the MHHofF is former Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll Barry Shenkarow, who, to many among the rabble, wears a black hat (along with Bettman) to this day for allowing the franchise to slip, slide away to the Arizona desert. While it’s true that Barry presided over les Jets on the Day of the Long Faces in 1996, I remind you of a couple things: 1) He was part of the group that got Good Ol’ Hometown into the NHL in 1979; 2) as current Jets co-bankroll Mark Chipman once explained, “No one wanted to own the team in 1995. And for good reason. It didn’t work.” There were a myriad of reasons why the original NHL Jets toddled off to Phoenix and became the Coyotes, not the least of which was a 65-cent Canadian dollar and a fan base that refused to fill a decaying barn on Maroons Road. Frankly, Shenkarow and partners squeezed more life out of the franchise than it probably deserved. I’m pleased that he’s getting his due.

What I can’t believe is that the Winnipeg Sun was a day late and a dollar short on the Hall of Fame story. Like, how do you miss, or ignore, that? The Drab Slab devoted an entire page to the Class of 2019 on Friday, while the Sun tucked it onto a back page on Saturday. Shame, shame.

Lisa Simpson

Loved the burn The Simpsons writers laid on the Ottawa Senators in last week’s lampoon of all things hoser. Actually, the entire D’oh Canada episode was a hoot. Unless, of course, you happen to be a “Newfy” or a Trudeauite. In that case, I suppose it wasn’t all that funny. Since I’m neither of the above, I giggled.

What would a week be without more unbridled speculation from the Drab Slab’s resident conspiracy theorist, Mad Mike McIntyre? Seriously, I really don’t know if Mad Mike is writing sports or a Whodunit novel. You remember those “ruffled feathers” that Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice referenced last month? Here’s Mad Mike’s take on it: “While Maurice didn’t offer any specifics, it says here (Mark) Scheifele was one of the players the bench boss was referring to.” There you have it. Those “ruffled feathers” belong to Rink Rat Scheifele. Mad Mike says so. No specifics, naturally, but that’s his guess. That’s his hunch. Seems like everything in the past month has been a guess or a hunch from Mad Mike.

Mad Mike took to Twitter to answer questions from readers last week. One asked him about his Drab Slab-driven “rumour” of a rotten-to-the-core Jets changing room. “It’s not just a rumour,” he responded. “There were issues, divisions, etc. within the room.” Again, no specifics about the issues, divisions, etc. Just take his word for it and stay tuned for the next exciting chapter in Mad Mike’s Whodunit.

This is interesting: Jason Bell of the Drab Slab asked Matt Hendricks about a rift in the room and the veteran Jets forward had this to say: “The room was as strong as when I left (in 2018), without a doubt.” So Hendricks is blind, deaf or a liar. Take your pick.

And, finally, I think it’s terrific that so many folks have rallied around female hockey players, but where were those people when the CWHL was still in business? And I’m looking at you, mainstream media.

About Major Junior hockey and Benny’s pie in the sky…put that WHL name on Ice…Barnum & Bailey & Mayhem on Maroons Road…Jeff Hamilton racing a woman…Jake and les Leafs…open season on Puck Finn…and good reads from Teddy Wy and Mike M.

A midweek smorgas-bored…and it’s a good day for stepping into the Junior shinny Way Back Machine to a time when some hockey coaches wore fedoras…

Major Junior hockey. Winnipeg.

Some of us are old enough to recall the days when those two went together, like Johnny Carson and late-night laughter.

That’s right, kids, once upon a brief time Major Junior worked in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Bobby Clarke, Chris Worthy and Reggie Leach

Oh, they didn’t exactly sardine-can them into the old shinny barn on Maroons Road every night, but it wasn’t just family and friends who surfaced to watch the Winnipeg Jets. Especially when the Flin Flon Bombers of Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach rode into River City with a sneer and something to prove to the big-city boys.

Logically, the Brandon Wheat Kings, being just a hoot and a holler down the road, should have been cast in the role of the Jets’ antagonist in what was then known as the Western Canada Hockey League. But no. It was the bunch from the northern Manitoba mining town named after the fictional Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin who wore the black hat.

The dreaded Bombers were piloted by Paddy Ginnell, a rascalish head coach given to filling news snoops’ notebooks with goading, in-your-face candor.

Paddy Ginnell

In the spring of 1969, for example, the Jets evened a playoff joust with the Bombers at 2-2-1 (yes, there was a tie game), which meant the eight-point series was heading back to intimidating Whitney Forum in Flin Flon.

“How the hell are they going to win up there?” a cocksure Ginnell scoffed. “They’ve never won there. If I was Ben (Hatskin, Jets bankroll), I’d forfeit the series and save the money.”

Turns out Paddy was right.

The Jets couldn’t quite figure out a way to win in the Flin Flon Forum, which provided cozy comfort for the Bombers but served as a chamber of horrors for the Winnipegs in ’69 and the following spring.

Pistol Dorohoy

The thing is, whatever pre- and post-game hype Ginnell and his counterpart, Eddie (Pistol) Dorohoy, were selling to anyone with a notebook or microphone, the rabble was buying. The Jets topped out at a head count of 7,326 and totaled 20,516 for three home dates in ’69, and upped that in 1970 with a WCHL single-game record of 9,043 and 33,206 for their four home dates vs. Flin Flon.

Queen Liz looked down approvingly from the north end of the barn.

That all changed, however, when the aforementioned Ben Hatskin saw two bigger pies in the sky. One was called the World Hockey Association. The other was Robert Marvin Hull.

Five years after Benny and the WHA Jets reshaped the local shinny landscape in 1972, Major Junior hockey disappeared, despite the earnest intentions and heavy sledding of people like Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson, Gordie Pennell, George Dorman and so many others.

Ben Hatskin

My perch in the press box allowed me to witness the slow, steady decline of a franchise that morphed from the Jets to the Clubs to the Monarchs, and customers disguised as empty seats was not only a bad optic but a killer on the bottom line.

“I don’t understand why people won’t come out to watch us,” Brisson would lament the day after a home assignment would attract an audience numbering no more than 1,200 diehards.

It didn’t help, of course, that Brisson did some goofy things, like replacing his head coach with the team trainer in the middle of a game and later demoting the same head coach to assistant coach, to scout, then firing him via Canada Post. Correct. He sent George Dorman a Dear John letter. And, in general, Brisson iced outfits that could scarcely lick their lips.

Bottom line, though, was the WHA and the Jets. That was the nut nobody could crack.

I’m guessing that Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell are aware of this unfortunate history (not to mention the aborted re-entry of the WHL in the early 1980s), yet they’re still planning to pitch their tent in the boonies (RM of Macdonald) and swim upstream next autumn. Their Kootenay Ice will become the Winnipeg Ice, and Fettes/Cockell seem convinced they can make a go of it in a hockey pool that includes the NHL Jets and American Hockey League Manitoba Moose. You can take them for fools if you like, but, hey, it’s their coin.

Someone please tell me that Fettes and Cockell plan to rename their franchise. Ice doesn’t work for me, nor does an angry Sasquatch as a team logo. We haven’t seen anything resembling a Sasquatch in Good Ol’ Hometown since Jimmy Mann was dragging his knuckles around the freeze.

Wild Bill Hunter

Among the selling points of the old WCHL were the owners/operators. Guys like Brisson, MacPherson, Ginnell, Pistol Dorohoy, Punch McLean, Scotty Munro and Wild Bill Hunter were Sideshow Bobs, equal parts Barnum, Bailey and Ringling Bros. Some, notably McLean and Ginnell, were maestros of mayhem. It wasn’t uncommon for all hell to break loose on any given night, and the lads really frothed at the mouth with Flin Flon in town. Then it was Mayhem on Maroons Road, and much of it seemed orchestrated. Neither Fettes or Cockell strikes me as a carnival barker, and I somehow doubt their head coach, homeboy James Patrick, is inclined to hurl garbage cans onto the ice when his universe isn’t unfolding as it should. Oh, the good, old days.

Here’s how popular the Junior Jets of Ben Hatskin, Pistol Dorohoy and coach Nick Mickoski were: Some fans actually purchased passage on the team charter to attend playoff skirmishes in Flin Flon.

Jeff Hamilton

Young Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab writes this about the Ice’s entry into the River City shinny glut: “A WHL franchise in Winnipeg, together with the unprecedented investment in hockey development, would create a unique sports marketplace and position Winnipeg as the hockey capital of North America, home to teams in the NHL, AHL and the Canadian Hockey League.” Whoa there, young fella. There’s this little burg I call the Republic of Tranna that trumps Good Ol’ Hometown. The ROT has the Maple Leafs, the Marlies, the Mississauga Steelheads, plus the Furies and the Thunder. Unless young Jeff is one of the many men who pooh-pooh the distaff side of the game, The ROT’s two Canadian Women’s Hockey League franchises give it the edge. If young Jeff isn’t convinced, let’s see him beat Kendall Coyne Schofield in a foot race and then we’ll talk.

Leafs GM Harry Potter

Something tells me the Maple Leafs made a trade this week. And I think it involved Jake Muzzin. I could be wrong, though. I mean, maybe I was just dreaming when I saw those 12 headlines about Muzzin on the front page of the Leafs blog known as the Sportsnet website on Wednesday. They usually reserve that kind of over-the-top coverage for Auston Matthews’ grooming habits (film of toenail clipping at 11). So I guess I’m mistaken and Muzzin is still working the Los Angeles Kings blueline.

Let’s be clear about something: Les Jets do not have to make a significant move just because les Leafs snared Muzzin. This isn’t tit-for-tat. The Muzzin transaction has no impact on Winnipeg HC unless they’re the last two National Hockey League clubs standing in the Stanley Cup runoff. If that’s how it shakes down, it won’t be because general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was prodded into action by Leafs GM Harry Potter.

Puck Finn

Tough week thus far for Patrik Laine. The young Jets winger still can’t score, he spent most of Tuesday night in Beantown glued to the pine, and the natterbugs in print and on air went off on the kid. According to my scorecard, Ted Wyman, Jason Bell, Tim & Sid, Noodles McLennon and Jeff O’Dog all had a go at Puck Finn and, to sum up their deep, penetrating analysis, Laine “isn’t moving his feet.” Tough to move your feet when you’re sitting on the bench.

I’m not saying coach Paul Maurice was wrong to plop Puck Finn on the plank vs. the Bruins, but there’s more at play here than the moving of feet. I say Laine’s issues are at the opposite end of his lanky body—between the ears.

If you’re looking for a good read, check out Mike McIntyre’s piece on former U.S. Navy SEAL James Hatch in the Drab Slab. Hatch is in town as part of a dumb bet he made against les Jets last year, and Mike M. hits it out of the park with his yarn. Also worth a look is Ted Wyman’s feature on former Jets forward and all-round good guy Randy Gilhen in the Winnipeg Sun. Good stuff.

And, finally, I have personal links to two of the main players in the old WCHL. Pistol Dorohoy is the only coach who ever cut me, and I played for Gerry Brisson. So, ya, I feel the warm and fuzzies for Junior shinny and I hope it works for Fettes and Cockell.

About scary, creepy things in sports that make me want to scream…bravo to Joe Daley, Jeff Stoughton and Jim Kyte…second-guessing in the Drab Slab…CFL power rankings…and a WHL franchise for River City?

In a salute to the spookiest day of the year, I present a dozen things/people in sports that I find scary, creepy or make me want to scream…

1. Connor McDavid: He’s scary good.

2. Mike O’Shea: Be afraid, kids. Be very afraid. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers enter the Canadian Football League playoffs in another 11 days, so you just know that Mad Scientist Mike is already concocting potions and notions that include smoke, mirrors and much hocus-pocus, all designed to disable his foes. Trouble is, Coach Mikey’s sorcery has turned his own team into a toad the past two Grey Cup runoffs.

3. Don Cherry on Coachless Corner: Still? Really?

4. TSN’s Cult of Johnny: On the creepy scale, TSN’s infatuation with Johnny Manziel is right up there with your grandmother French kissing you. The gushing groupies in the TSN Tower of Babble On make any Montreal Alouettes game either must-mute or must-avoid TV.

5. The Republic of Tranna media infatuation with Drake: He’s cast a spell on them. They become blithering idiots the moment he arrives at a Raptors game. He gets more ink than Dennis Rodman’s upper body. And for what? Acting like an ass-clown at a basketball game?

6. Conor McGregor: I feel an urgent need for someone to hose me down every time he opens the sewer that passes for his mouth. Easily the creepiest, most repugnant man in sports.

7. Serena Williams: When Mommy Fiercest became unhinged during the U.S. Open women’s singles final, I ran for cover. I feared she was about to crash through my flatscreen and shove an effing tennis ball down my effing throat.

8. Tiger worship: Similar to TSN and its Cult of Johnny, American TV networks fawn over Tiger Woods like he’s Gandhi in Nikes. The difference, of course, is that Tiger has actually accomplished something on the golf course, whereas Johnny Rotten has done squat in the CFL. Still, when Woods is 15 swings off the lead, you’d think gab guys like the totally insufferable, swooning Gary McCord would find something better to talk about than Woods’ latest gaffe.

9. The rabble shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets games: This is also must-mute TV. I mean, I get it. The locals are grateful that the National Hockey League returned to Good Ol’ Hometown. But turning part of O Canada into a corporate rallying cry is totally creepy.

10. Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet: You know that wet-dog smell? Ya, Cox is that pungent. He is fingernails on the chalk board. He is smarmy. And those eyebrows…positively ghoulish.

11. Jock journos in mainstream media who look down their snobbish noses at bloggers and podcasters: Hey, we have something to say and we have the right to say it. Some of the most honest, critical commentary I read or hear is on blogs and podcasts. Some of the worst and weakest is in MSM.

12. Fancy stats geeks who think the numbers tell the entire story: Sure there’s value in the number-crunchers. No argument there. But I still trust my eyes more than their charts and graphs. They make my eyes bleed.

Big tips of the bonnet to Joe Daley and Jeff Stoughton, both among the class of 2018 to be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. Joe, the one time Holy Goalie, is a Jets original, and if you want to know anything about the three World Hockey Association titles the local lads brought home to River City, he’s the guy to ask. Joe was there for all three of them, and he has the championship rings to prove it. Stoughton, meanwhile, is only the best curler ever produced on the pebbled ice in the Keystone province, and that’s saying something. Like Daley, Jeff was a quote fountain for news snoops. I know he filled my notebook more than once. Both terrific guys, both well-deserved honors.

And, hey, let’s hear it for old friend Jim Kyte, recently inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. The former Jets defenceman is the only legally deaf person to play in the NHL, and he entered the CDHF with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Jeff Hamilton

Found this interesting in the aftermath of the Blue Bombers’ recent victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

In an objective analysis of the skirmish, young Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote that Mike O’Shea was a goof (my word, not his) for gambling on third down deep in his own section of the football field, the Bombers in front by 11 with 4:36 remaining. For that, Jeff gets BBQ’d by readers.

“Man do I hate the second guessing of this column,” wrote one. “Come on…the Bombers should always get a yard on any down. If it had worked Jeff, you wouldn’t say a thing. Easy to criticize after it fails and, hey lets (sic) trot out every gamble that hasn’t worked in O’Shea’s tenure. Disgusting Jeff and I expect better than that from you.”

Another reader gave that comment “1,000 thumbs up!!!!”

Yet when former Bombers D-lineman Doug Brown writes basically the same thing as Hamilton, scolding O’Shea for his ill-advised risk, it’s “Well said Doug” and “I can’t really disagree with either the decision or your argument.”

Here’s the deal: Unlike Brown, Hamilton never played three-down football at the highest level. I don’t know if the Drab Slab scribe even collected football cards. But that doesn’t disqualify him from second-guessing the Bombers head coach. More to the point, it’s part of his job. His takeaway of O’Shea’s unharnessed impulse for reckless, risky business was not only appropriate but spot on.

Randy Ambrosie

Why were so many pundits and fans outraged that CFL game officials and concussion spotters were out to lunch when Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions rocked Zach Collaros’ world with a violent, illegal wallop to the head last weekend? This, after all, is the same league that trumpets its policy on domestic violence yet welcomes the woman-beating quarterback Johnny Manziel with open arms. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s apology after the Willis-Collaros hit was nothing more than weak PR posturing.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

Winnipeg (10-7): On a roll, baby.
Saskatchewan (12-6): QB health the big question.
Calgary (12-5): Stumble, stumble, stumble.
B.C. (9-8): Go east, young men.
Ottawa (10-7): On cruise control.
Hamilton (8-9): No Speedy B, no hope?
Edmonton (8-9): Disastrous season.
Toronto (4-13): Whatever.
Montreal (4-13): Ditto.

And, finally, I have fond memories of riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs/Monarchs in the 1970s, so the prospect of the Western Hockey League returning to Good Ol’ Hometown is intriguing.

I’m skeptical about it working, though.

If you missed it, Mike Sawatzky reported in the Winnipeg Free Press that the Kootenay Ice are having a rough go of it in Cranbrook, B.C. Average attendance is 2,307, lowest in the WHL, and the town’s mayor, Lee Pratt, told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman this: “With the fan support they are getting right now it’s not a viable operation.”

The Green Bay Committee held a town hall meeting in support of the Ice last Thursday, and they’ll gather again tomorrow night in the hope they can corral 500-600 new season-ticket subscribers to save the franchise. Failing that, team owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell might be inclined to pull up stakes and head east.

That begs questions, though. To wit:

Would they be better off in River City?
Would a WHL franchise operating out of the University of Manitoba attract 2,000 or more customers?
If an average head count of 2,307 can’t work in Cranbrook, how can it possibly work in Winnipeg?
Would the arrival of a WHL outfit strike the death knell for Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League?

Remove the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and I’d say Fettes and Cockell might have a chance in Good Ol’ Hometown. As it is, I don’t see it happening. But I hope I’m wrong.

Who will teach these young Winnipeg Jets how to win?

There is expectation and there is hope. It is only when expectation trumps hope that culture shifts.

And so it is with the Winnipeg Jets.

chevy
Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

Last spring’s fleeting fling with playoff hockey notwithstanding, the culture of losing is the albatross that followed the Atlanta caravan as it rolled into River City in 2011, whereupon the Thrashers morphed into the Jets. She’s still there, hanging from the neck of this woebegone National Hockey League franchise.

How do you get rid of her?

Well, you change parts, of course, but you must change the right parts. In a little more than a year, the tallest foreheads in Jets Nation have permitted one Stanley Cup champion, Michael Frolik, to skate away sans compensation, then they dispatched a two-time Stanley Cup champion, captain Andrew Ladd, to a division foe in barter for a fistful of hope.

Meanwhile, the tandem of co-bankroll Mark Chipman and his valet, Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff, have added a few parts from another losing culture, the Buffalo Sabres, they welcomed prodigal son Alexander Burmistrov back from his two-year hissy fit in Mother Russia, and they keep regrettable Thrasher holdovers Chris Thorburn, Mark Stuart and Ondrej Pavelec on payroll.

Dismissing proven winners and clinging to proven losers is not a recipe for success or a seismic cultural shift.

What about all the youth Chipman and Cheveldayoff have brought on board, you ask? Well, yes, the Jets now ice a lineup that is greener than St. Patty’s Day. But youth equals hope, not expectation. And these neophytes are being integrated into a culture of losing, on both the big club and the farm in the American Hockey League.

Mark Chipman
Mark Chipman

Who is going to teach Mark Sheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Jacob Trouba what is required to win at the NHL loft? Dustin Byfuglien has a Stanley Cup ring, but after that…nada.

As much as I greatly admire the play of Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler (they can play on my team any time), their body of work in the NHL does not include a great deal of team success. Certainly they can show the whippersnappers how to prepare and what it takes to be a professional, but winning is another matter. For the most part, all they’ve done in the NHL is lose, as has the head coach, Paul Maurice, and chronic losing can consume an entire organization and become as much a part of its brand as the team logo.

How, for example, are the Chicago Cubs viewed if not as losers? Lovable losers, to be sure, but losers just the same. That happens when a team goes more than a century without winning Major League Baseball’s World Series. The Toronto Maple Leafs have a rich, winning tradition that includes numerous Stanley Cup conquests, yet when we see the logo of the NHL’s most-ballyhooed franchise we think laughable loser due to the Leafs’ failure to win hockey’s top bauble since spring 1967.

Once upon a time, of course, there existed a healthy culture of winning in the Winnipeg Jets boudoir and front office. You didn’t join the Jets during the World Hockey Association years just to play hockey. You were expected to win. There was no option. And win they did. In the final four WHA seasons, the Jets participated in 10 playoff series. They won nine of them, including three championship frolics. Their post-season record during that stretch was 39-11. Overall, they appeared in five finals in the WHA’s seven-year run.

paul maurice2
Paul Maurice

That culture of winning gave way to a culture of losing, initially because the championship roster was ransacked by the NHL when it absorbed the four WHA survivors—the Jets, Edmonton Oilers, New England Whalers and Quebec Nordiques. In 17 seasons, the original Jets NHL franchise won just two playoff rounds and, now housed in the Arizona desert, it remains the only WHA outfit that has failed to secure the Stanley Cup.

Which brings us back to Jets 2.0 and the culture of losing that began in Atlanta and continues in River City, where the local hockey heroes have failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament for the fourth time in five crusades.

Apparently, Chipman and Cheveldayoff plan to change the culture by going all-in on a youth movement. Fine. Except one need look no further than Edmonton to discover what a massive infusion of greenhorns might deliver. The Oilers have an array of glittery, young talent, most notably up front, but all Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins et al have learned is how to lose. Even with Connor McDavid inserted into the lineup, the Oilers stand 30th in a 30-team league. They don’t know how to win and there’s nobody who can show them how to win.

That’s not to say the kiddie-corps route cannot work for the Jets. But, again, when you change parts you must change the right parts. Who’s going to teach them how to win?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

About the Bombers’ binge…Huf huffing and puffing…a menage-a-goaltender…spoiled brats…and media groupies obsessed with a Raptors groupie

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

Many people were surprised to learn that Winnipeg has been ranked among the top seven most intelligent communities in the world. We’re not talking about one of the brightest burgs just in Manitoba, Canada or North America, understand. This is the whole world. The. Entire. Planet.

Ya, well, if there are so many Einsteins in Pegtown, why can’t one of them show the Winnipeg Blue Bombers how to win the Grey Cup?

John Hufnagel
John Hufnagel

I’m not sure what caused more raised eyebrows last week, the Bombers signing seven players scant seconds after the opening bell rang for the Canadian Football League’s annual livestock auction of untethered talent, or John Hufnagel’s reaction to the Big Blue’s free-agent binge. “I’d say that’s a little surprising,” the Calgary Stampeders grand poobah huffed and puffed. “How many years are they going to do it? You answer me that. They didn’t sign any of their guys, and they sign other people’s guys. I prefer to sign my own guys. That’s just me.” One day later, “just me” signed two “other people’s guys,” Bakari Grant and Taylor Reed of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, then added a third, James Green, late of the Ottawa RedBlacks. Pot, meet kettle.

You’ll have to excuse me if I hesitate to join the hallelujah chorus in touting the Bombers as new, improved and bound for glory. No doubt general manager Kyle Walters has added some top-end talent in running back Andrew Harris, size-smurf receivers Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith, and place-kicker Justin Medlock, but it’s still about the offensive line, the starting quarterback, Drew Willy, and, perhaps most important, the sideline maestro and film fanatic, head coach Mike O’Shea. Does Walters’ handiwork make O’Shea any smarter today than he was at the close of business in 2015? I think the GM said it best when asked how much better a product he’ll field in the ’16 CFL crusade: “Well, we’ll see.” So color me curious but not convinced.

Connor Hellebuyck
Connor Hellebuyck

Speaking of curious, I viewed the three’s-a-crowd demotion of Connor Hellebuyck to the farm as a bit of a head-scratcher. Not surprising, though, because the Winnipeg Jets have long been goaltender blind. Hellebuyck did enough good things during his time in the blue paint to convince me that he’s a National Hockey League-calibre goaltender and might be the Jets’ starter-in-waiting, so Michael Hutchinson should have been the fall guy and dispatched to the American Hockey League Manitoba Moose once Ondrej Pavelec returned from sick bay. Yes, I realize Hutchinson would have been exposed to the waiver wire were he the odd man out in the Jets’ menage-a-goaltender, but so what. I doubt another outfit would have claimed him. If so, no loss. I just cannot see where he fits into the club’s future.

There can be just one reason for the Winnipeg Free Press to have recruited Scott Campbell to pen a weekly column on the Winnipeg Jets: To provide a (former) player’s insight. His latest offering? Zero insight. I mean, telling us that Michael Hutchinson is having “a disappointing season” is lame. And implying that Andrew Copp has struggled as an NHL rookie because he’s been flanked by “a variety of nondescript players” is a copout (pun intended). From everything I’ve seen, Copp himself is a nondescript player. Gotta do better than that, Scott.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Cam Newton, the losing quarterback in the National Football League championship joust, walks out during a post-game chin-wag with news scavengers and he’s Darth QB. The Carolina Panthers’ main man is roasted and toasted as a sore loser, a spoiled brat and cited as an example of everything that is wrong with today’s pro jocks. Yet, two days later, Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville waves his arms in frustration and stomps out of a gab-session with the media and there isn’t a peep of protest. What am I missing here? Why is it unacceptable for an NFL quarterback to behave like a brat, but it’s permissble for an NHL coach?

Raptors groupie Drake
Raptors groupie Drake

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get this groupie-like love affair between scribes in the Republic of Tranna and the rapper Drake. I mean, I’ve read more headlines about Drake in the past few days than Stephen Curry, who, give or take a Lebron James, is the best basketball player on the planet. The National Basketball Association all-star weekend in Toronto has become a testimonial to Drake. There are feature pieces on him in both the Globe and Mail and National Post sports sections. And the headlines: Drake receives coaching tips from Michael Jordan; Drake starstruck by Michael Jordan; How Drake became the king of Toronto; Celebrate Valentine’s Day the Drake way; Drake gets key to the city; Drake to introduce all-stars.There were two pics of Drake on the front page of Toronto Sun website and three more on the sports front. And for what? Because he’s a Toronto Raptors groupie. And the media are groupies of the groupie.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

Bottom Feeders ‘R’ Us…hope in Edmonton…media whining about the zebras…and other things on my mind

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

chipman and chevy
Is this how it works with Mark Chipman and Kevin Cheveldayoff?

Winnipeg Jets, last place in the National Hockey League. Manitoba Moose, last place in the American Hockey League. So, how’s that draft-and-develop thing working out for you so far, Mark Chipman?

Look at it on the chipper side, though, Mark. This rare daily double of yours provides True North Sports & Entertainment with a catchy slogan for next season’s marketing campaign—Bottom Feeders ‘R’ Us. That ought to lure prime NHL free agent beef to River City come summertime.

Cheap shots aside, accusing fingers are being pointed in the direction of Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of the Jets (at least on paper) who’s bound to be the fall guy for an NHL crusade that has gone horribly wrong and has two principles, captain Andrew Ladd and backliner Dustin Byfuglien, skating in shinny limbo.

I cannot, however, let go of the notion that Chevy is merely playing Pinocchio to owner Chipman’s Geppetto.

Saint Mark already has advised a national television audience that he sticks his thin, pointy beak into Chevy’s business, which is to say the co-bankroll imposes his whims and wishes on trade and contract negotiations. To what degree, we are uncertain. So, what exactly do we have here? Humpty Harold Ballard without the bluster?

Chipman’s involvement/interference, to me, is the X factor in the Jets’ operation and, should we discover that he’s hamstrung his paper GM, then we must refrain from flinging poison arrows in Cheveldayoff’s direction and aim them toward meddling Mark.

connor mcdavid
In Edmonton, hope is named Connor McDavid.

Here’s the difference between the Jets and Edmonton Oilers: In Winnipeg, they’re hoping; in Edmonton, they have hope. Hope is named Connor McDavid and, if you bore witness to his return from sick bay against the Columbus Blue Jackets this week, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Oilers management, of course, have been the poster boys for faceplants since 2006, but it appears that a decade of pratfalls is finally about to pay dividends.

Here’s what should be unsettling, if not frightening, for the faithful in Jets Nation: The Winnipegs aren’t pretending to be this bad in order to land the next whiz kid, Auston Matthews, in the 2016 NHL entry draft. They are this bad.

This from Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press in his gamer on the Jets-Carolina Hurricanes joust Friday night at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie: “The Jets continue to have a hard time getting away from their reputation for taking penalties. In the first 40 minutes, the tally was Winnipeg, four infractions; Hurricanes, benefit of the doubt every time.” Oh, please. Would you like some cheese with that whine, Tim? It’s one thing for fans to infer the zebras are out to screw the Jets, but it’s lame when a member of the mainstream media does it. Campbell goes on to say, “The calls and non-calls had no bearing on the outcome (a 5-3 ‘Canes win).” So why even mention it?

newspapers2So this is how it works in the new world of Postmedia, which does not believe in competition between newspapers: Terry Jones of the Edmonton Joursun goes to Las Vegas to cover curling; Ed Willes of the Vancouver Provsun is dispatched to Charlotte, N.C., to file copy on the National Football Conference championship match; Toronto-based scribes Michael Traikos and Mike Zeisberger are sent to Nashville for the John Scott Testimonial, otherwise known as NHL all-star hijinks; Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sunprov and Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun are lodged in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50, and Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun is…well, he’s told to stay home and write an advancer for the men’s provincial curling event next week. I realize that Paul is a ginger-haired lad, but does Postmedia really have to treat him like the ginger-haired cousin who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the kids?

First Jets rookie Nikolaj Ehlers is $2,000 out of pocket for flopping all over the ice, and now the NHL has dipped into prodigal son Alexander Burmistrov’s pay envelope to the tune of $2,000, also for bad acting. The Jets aren’t very good at hockey, but they’re assembling a crack synchronized diving outfit for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

I note that Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters plans to be an active participant in this year’s livestock auction of Canadian Football League free agents. “Overall, organizationally, we just need better players,” he says. “Simple as that.” Geez, what was your first clue, Sherlock? Last season’s 5-13 record or a quarter of a century without a Grey Cup championship? And shouldn’t you have recognized that two years ago?

If there is a worse website than that which the Winnipeg Free Press delivers, it is that which the NHL offers. What a tire fire. Someone in the NHL has turned a silk purse into a sow’s ear.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

Winnipeg Jets: Someone has some explaining to do

What is it that I don’t understand about last place? About a bottom-feeder? About doing the Auston Matthews jig?

I mean, when last seen, the Winnipeg Jets were rolling in the deep, wearing 50 shades of gawd awful in pursuit of a repeat of their one and only, albeit brief, entry into the Stanley Cup tournament last spring. They’re feeding from the bottom of the National Hockey League’s most treacherous waters, the Central Division, and only the unexpected free fall of the Disney Ducks and the usual buffoonery from the Edmonton McDavids has prevented the Jets from claiming sole squatter’s rights to the Western Conference cellar.

But, hey, everything is cool. That sub-.500 record? Not an accurate measurement of their true mettle. Just ask them.

Paul Maurice
Paul Maurice

“I think we’re in a lot better shape than the standings look,” insists Paul Maurice, the head coach and president of the Anthony Peluso fan club. “I like the way our game is being played. We’ve been in some games and have had some tough defeats lately, but we’ve played right and played hard.”

What say you, Bryan Little?

“I feel like we are better than a .500 team and you haven’t seen the best of us yet,” says the veteran centre. “I think we have a better team in this room than our record shows.”

Earth to Jets! Earth to Jets! Put away the rose-tinted glasses. You are what your record says you are, a last-place club with apparent designs on first call in next June’s NHL entry draft, whereupon the name Auston Matthews shall be shouted out and one lucky outfit lands a potential game-changer.

Trouble is, that fortunate outfit is supposed to be named something other than Jets.

I think.

I mean, I don’t believe there was intent to tank from the get-go of the 2015-16 crusade, but now that we’ve arrived at the Christmas break and the Jets are a mere two points clear of last place in the Western Conference and eight removed from the playoff line, what’s the plan? Unload Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd for youth and make an unveiled bid to better the chances of winning the draft lottery? Hope kids like Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry, Connor Hellebuyk, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba grow up fast? Like, real fast?  ‘Fess up to the fawning faithful, advising them to prepare for the pain and frustration that accompanies the flaws and foibles of freshly scrubbed greenhorns?

The Jets won’t say, of course, because they don’t have to say anything. Their Little Hockey House on the Prairie is sold out every game and their merchandise shops are doing boffo business, so, at best, they’ll continue to drone on about their draft-and-develop strategy and hope that their prospects are superior to the other guys’.

Someone, however, should be answering for what has transpired this season. For example:

  • Chris Thorburn has more goals than Mathieu Perreault. How is it that a player with fourth-line skill has lit the lamp more often than a second-line forward who enjoys time on the powerplay? Explain, please.
  • Is this what the Jets expected of rookie Ehlers? One goal in 25 games? No doubt the Dane has NHL speed and skills, but does he have an NHL game? Explain, please.
  • The Jets summoned Joel Armia from the farm in November, then sat him in the press box for three weeks before reassigning him back to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. What was up with that? Someone—anyone—explain, please.
  • Much was made of the Jets moving the Moose from Newfy Land to across the hall at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie, because it made for swifter and more economic movement of players from the farm to the big club. But what is the point of having the Moose so close at hand if Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff is going to stock his AHL roster with players who, when called up to the Jets, can fill a uniform but not a void? Explain, please.
  • Anthony Peluso. Explain, please, Paul Maurice.
  • We all know that Alexander Burmistrov is no Michael Frolik, but he isn’t even a reasonable facsimile of the departed all-purpose forward. Actually, the second coming of Burmistrov has been a failed experiment. Explain, please, GM Chevy.
  • Jacob Trouba once was thought to be “all that” on defence. Now we’re wondering what “all that” is. Explain, please.
  • Captain Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien remain unsigned, untraded and headed for unrestricted free agency. Explain, please.
  • The Jets have long been goalie blind. That is, they’ve been convinced that Ondrej Pavelec was a legitimate No. 1 NHL goaltender, even though the rest of the hockey world knew otherwise. Since Pavelec went on the shelf with an owie last month, neither Michael Hutchinson nor Connor Hellebuyck has done much to convince me they’ve got what it takes to be numero uno. Explain, please.
  • Five years in, we’re still wondering why the Jets are so thin in the bottom six up front. Explain, please.
  • Last season, the Jets were fast, hard on the puck and heavy on their foes. This year I see Mark Scheifele make a one-handed wave of his stick while the smurf-like Johnny Gaudreau out-hustles and out-finesses him to a puck that finds its way to the back of the Jets goal. Explain, please.
  • The Jets are bankrolled, in part, by the wealthiest man in Canada, David Thomson, but they spend like Scrooge, with the lowest payroll in the NHL. Explain, please.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.