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

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

Connor Hellebuyck

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

Rink Rat Scheifele

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

Josh Morrissey

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

Badger Bob Johnson

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

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

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

Take it away, ladies…

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

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

Question Lady: How so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Thorburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Cheveldayoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winnipeg Jets: Re-investing in a snake oil salesman and others who never fail to fail

I have a question for those of you in Jets Nation now heavily engaged in the annual spring ritual of teeth gnashing and gazing at navels: What did you expect?

Yes, of course, I understand that you’re a frustrated, fed up and flat out PO’d lot because there shall be no meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie beginning next month. But seriously. Surely you knew in advance that the Winnipeg Jets’ 2016-17 crusade would be an angst-inducing exercise guaranteed to expose the local lads as lacking in the necessities and, thus, leaving them—yet again—with their noses pressed against the window as they view the Stanley Cup derby from the outside-in.

The Puck Pontiff

If you thought otherwise, you weren’t paying attention last autumn.

If you recall, the Jets entered this National Hockey League fray with a roster that included fledglings Brandon Tanev, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and, most notable, Connor Hellebuyck in the blue ice. Add to that collection of neophytes a pair of past-their-due-date greybeards in Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart, plus the aimlessly wandering Alexander Burmistrov, and ownership/management was telling you all you needed to know before the drop of the first puck: “This season is a writeoff.”

Naturally, the Puck Pontiff (that would be meddlesome co-bankroll Mark Chipman) and his ring-kissing College of Yes Men fronted by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the potty-mouthed head coach, Paul Maurice, didn’t say it in so many words. They didn’t have to. It was painfully obvious that they were in organizational tank mode from the get-go.

I submit this not in hindsight, by the way. This is what I wrote in October: “I think it can be said that the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men have conceded that this season won’t end well.”

It wasn’t the heavy infusion of peach-fuzzed faces that led me to that conclusion. I had no quarrel with it. After all, when your club’s ad nauseam mantra is draft-and-develop, youth must be served at some point, so you gird your loins knowing the forecast calls for pain. Trouble is, they didn’t go far enough.

Chris Thorburn should not have been on this team. Ditto Mark Stuart.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Again, I direct your attention to something I long ago posted on this blog: “I don’t know about you, but I tend to use Thorburn and (Anthony) Peluso as measuring sticks vis-a-vis the growth of the franchise, on-ice division. The way I have it figured, as long as either is wearing Jets linen, he is clogging the club’s developmental arteries.”

That was in June 2015. Thorburn is still to be found in Jets linen.

So think of it this way: Cheveldayoff and his scouts have participated in six NHL entry drafts and they have heard the hosannas rain down for their handiwork in the first round (hello Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Nikolaj Ehlers, Morrissey and Laine). Yet they have unearthed nary a grinder who is better at hockey than Chris Thorburn? The mind boggles.

That is not to slight Thorburn. He need not make apologies for being Chris Thorburn. But his ongoing presence in the Jets lineup is a harsh indictment on the Puck Pontiff, Cheveldayoff, his bird dogs and, perhaps most of all, Maurice.

Paul Maurice is a snake oil salesman. He is, as they say in cowboy country, all hat and no cattle.

Few talk a better game than coach Potty-Mo, who, for all his TV-smooth blah, blah, blah, delivers a phony bill of sale. At some point very early next season, he will become the losingest coach in NHL history and it isn’t difficult to see why. The Jets’ defensive deficiencies, the complete disregard for discipline, the dumpster fire that is the penalty killing, the logic-defying player deployment, the Thorburn fetish…that’s all down to coaching.

Paul Maurice: No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time loser list.

Here’s something else to consider: I’m convinced that coach Potty-Mo, much like his predecessor Claude Noel, is afraid of Dustin Byfuglien because he refuses to rein in his rogue rearguard.

Naturally, all of this means the Jets will re-up this coach who has been fired or missed the playoffs in 14 of his 19 seasons behind an NHL bench. Rewarding those who never fail to fail is the Jets way, you see. It’s the “plan.”

Our plan is very simple,” the Puck Pontiff revealed in September 2013, scant hours after he had happily delivered a contract extension to Cheveldayoff following the GM’s first two failed crusades. “It is about re-investment in our organization from top to bottom, from facilities to player personnel to key management.”

And that, Jets Nation, would explain Chris Thorburn’s lifetime contract, five of six seasons with their noses pressed against the window when the post-season commences, and zero playoff victories.

Let the teeth gnashing and navel gazing continue.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

My Hens in the Hockey House are talking about the Winnipeg Jets

Can’t let the puck drop yet, folks. Not until the Question Lady and the Answer Lady have had their say.

They’re my go-to girls. Consulting with them always is my final order of business before the Winnipeg Jets strike out on a fresh National Hockey League crusade, because, unlike some of our mainstream media friends, they don’t feel obligated to play nice for fear of offending the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men in the inner sanctum at True North Sports & Entertainment.

question-lady-and-answer-lady2The Hens in the Hockey House are unplugged and unfiltered. Always. If they see a spade, they don’t just call it a shovel. They tell us what kind of muck is on the shovel and how it got there. I would say they’re two female Donald Trumps, except they don’t have orange skin or horrible hair and they don’t brag about grabbing the groins of unsuspecting females.

So here they are, always gossipy, always glib and always prepared to deliver the goods to Jets Nation. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Where to begin? With Jacob Trouba? With Ondrej Pavelec? With all those rookies? I guess Jacob Trouba is as good a place to start as any. Are the Jets going to miss his presence on the blueline?

Answer Lady: Like I miss ABBA. I loved ABBA. I don’t love the Jets D. I mean, look at the third defence pairing they’ll have Thursday night when the Carolina Hurricanes come calling at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie—Mark freaking Stuart and your choice of Paul Postma or Ben Chiarot. And they’ve got a greenhorn, Josh Morrissey, in the top pairing with Dustin Byfuglien. Will big Buff be babysitting or freelancing? Defence will be the Jets’ Waterloo, which, by the way, is a boffo ABBA tune.

Question Lady: A lot of people think the Jets should send Trouba a message by letting him rot, rather than cave to his trade demand. What do you think?

Answer Lady: If by “rot” people mean let him sit out the entire season or go play in Europe, how does that benefit the Jets? Everyone seems to think general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has the winning hand in this game of Winnipeg Hold ‘Em, but I don’t necessarily agree. If Trouba digs in his heels—really digs in—and Chevy refuses to lower his sticker price in trade discussions, he runs the risk of having wasted a first-round draft choice on Trouba. I don’t think he’s prepared to let that happen. Chevy wants Trouba playing, not rotting. Something has to get done.

Question Lady: A lot of the media say Trouba has been given bad advice by his agent, Kurt Overhardt. What do you think?

Answer Lady: The media would know this how? I doubt Trouba and Overhardt invite news snoops to join their intimate chin-wags. Unless they wiretap his phone, they have no way of knowing what’s been said and to whom. Yet they paint Overhardt as the bad guy or Trouba as a spoiled brat. This isn’t about bad guys and good guys. It’s about people doing business.

Question Lady: Okay, enough of Trouba. The Jets will be icing a lineup that includes rookies Patrik Laine, Brandon Tanev, Kyle Connor, Morrissey and goalie Connor Hellebuyck. And Nikolaj Ehlers is a sophomore at 20. Does this broad-stroke youth movement mean the Jets are in tank mode right from the get-go this season in the hopes of landing Nolan Patrick at next year’s draft?

Kevin Cheveldayoff
Kevin Cheveldayoff

Answer Lady: Let me answer that question with a question…would you rather lose with Kyle Connor and Connor Hellebuyck or Anthony Peluso and Ondrej Pavelec? This is the natural order of things. I think it can be said that the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men have conceded that this season won’t end well, but the players won’t tank. Ever. Not even for Nolan Patrick.

Question Lady: One writer, Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, suggests that this is the first year of Chevy’s second five-year plan. Does than mean another five years of losing?

Answer Lady: There never was a first five-year plan, so this cannot be the second five-year plan. Chevy will never put himself on the clock. Only the Puck Pontiff can do that. As I’ve said before, the plan is a plan of no beginning and no end. It’s all very zen. We will see the results when we see the results, grasshopper.

Question Lady: But won’t owner Mark Chipman eventually run out of patience with Chevy if the team keeps missing the playoffs?

Answer Lady: The Puck Pontiff’s patience will expire if the Jets are losing and no one is there to see it happen.

Question Lady: Is coach Paul Maurice’s job safe, too?

Answer Lady: What do you think? They’ve saddled the guy with a bunch of kids who were asking Drew Doughty for his autograph six months ago. Now they’re expected to beat him one-on-one. Do the math.

Question Lady: I don’t know about that. Seems to me the Jets have a nice blend of youth and experience, no?

Answer Lady: You mean like Chris friggin’ Thorburn and Mark freaking Stuart? Good luck with that.

Question Lady: No, I mean like Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Bryan Little, Matty Perreault and Blake Wheeler. I think Wheeler is a great leader and will make a great captain, don’t you?

Answer Lady: I suppose Wheeler was the right choice as captain. For now. He won’t be here in another three years, though, so they should have given the C to Mark Scheiffele. He’s a Jets lifer.

Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine

Question Lady: What do you expect out of Patrik Laine in his rookie season?

Answer Lady: Good quotes.

Question Lady: No, I’m talking about production.

Answer Lady: So am I.

Question Lady: Be serious. Can Laine duplicate what that other fab Finn did for the Jets?

Answer Lady: If you mean Teemu Selanne, of course not. If you mean Hannu Jarvenpaa, let’s bloody well hope not. I mean, Hannu was a great guy, but he scored the grand sum of 11 goals for the Jets. I suspect Laine will have that many by the time Jacob Trouba comes crawling back, is traded or he starts playing in Europe.

Question Lady: What’s an acceptable number for Laine?

Answer Lady: First of all, let’s stop all foolishness. Laine is not the second coming of the Finnish Flash. Don’t call him Finnish Flash 2.0 or Finnish Flash the Sequel. If he develops into the Flashy Finn, fine. But I’d say a good over/under for him as a rookie is 20 goals. If he scores 20 or more, I’m sure the Jets will be delighted. Anything less, not so much.

Question Lady: Speaking of the Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne is coming in for the Heritage Classic when the old Jets play the old Edmonton Oilers. He’s only been retired for one year. He’s probably still in game shape. What if he upstages Wayne Gretzky?

Answer Lady: Dave Semenko will beat him up.

Question Lady: Last question…do the Jets have any chance of making the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Well, two years ago, I said they wouldn’t and they did. Last year at this time, I said they would and they didn’t. This year, I say they have as much chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup tournament as I have of filling in for Frida or Agnetha at an ABBA reunion concert. Enjoy the season.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/sports/hockey/jets/jets-hoping-this-season-is-a-young-mans-game-396706101.html

About the return of the Prodigal Pun…keeping Patrick Kane out of trouble…draft day busts…Sin City…and stocking an expansion team

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

George Stromboy
George Stromboy

So, tight and shiny, ill-fitting suits are no longer in vogue on Hockey Night in Canada, and horrible, cringe-inducing cornballism is back. The hip host is out and the old, greybeard is in.

Well, okay, Rogers Media hasn’t made it official yet, but all indicators point to the ouster of George Stroumboloupouloupouloupoulous as host of HNIC and the return of the Prodigal Pun, Ron MacLean. Which is sort of like replacing Drake with Bing Crosby.

No doubt this development shall be received with a rousing chorus of rah-rahs from the rabble on Planet Puckhead who care about such matters, but I’m not so sure Stromboy is/was the problem.

You want culprits for HNIC’s nosedive in ratings? Start with the game itself. Most National Hockey League regular-season skirmishes are exciting like Don Cherry is bashful. And it doesn’t help that the majority of matches Rogers delivers to our living rooms feature bottom-feeding outfits from our home and native land. Really, who beyond the borders of British Columbia would want to watch the Vancouver Canucks? Does anyone outside of the nation’s capital know the Ottawa Senators exist?

Then there’s Stromboy’s supporting cast. Seriously, P.J. Stock? A career minor-leaguer, he suited up for a grand total of eight NHL playoff games and does commercials for adult diapers. Ya, that’s real star power. Nick Kypreos? He owns a Stanley Cup ring, but was a spare part who played just three of 23 games in the New York Rangers’ 1994 title run. Glenn Healy? The most annoying man on TV since the original Canadian Tire Guy. A career backup goaltender. Notable for playing the bagpipes. Insider Damien Cox? Oy vey.

fox
The Fox NFL Sunday gang.

By way of comparison, consider the lineup that Fox NFL Sunday trots out: Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Fame quarterback and multiple Super Bowl champion; Howie Long, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Michael Strahan, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Jimmy Johnson, two-time Super Bowl champion coach and College Hall of Fame coach. The insider is Jay Glazer, who actually appears to have a personality, unlike Cox, who stares creepily into the camera and no doubt sends little children scurrying to the cover of their bedrooms.

I can’t say that I’m a fan of Stromboy’s—and I have little doubt he shall find another TV studio with red chairs to call home—but if he’s the fall guy he should be only the first domino to tumble.

Will Arnett, I am informed, is an accomplished actor, nominated for several Emmy Awards. Okay, I’ll take your word for it. He’s a good actor. What he isn’t, is a good comedian. I’m sorry if you’re a fan, but he was a very unfunny host of the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night. His Mr. Genius skit with Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan was as wince-inducing as Ron MacLean’s puns.

How will Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate his MVP-winning season, by punching out a cab driver or molesting a woman? Apparently, the Blackhawks have asked Kane to stay in the Toddlin’ Town this summer rather than have him return to his favorite haunts in Buffalo. Ya, as if that’s going to keep him out of trouble. I mean, I have it on good authority that there are plenty of cab drivers and women in Chicago.

Alexandre Daigle
Alexandre Daigle

Interesting headline in the Winnipeg Sun this morning: “Jets can’t go wrong in Friday’s draft.” Really? Can you say Alexandre Daigle, kids? Can you say Patrik Stefan? Or Rick DiPietro? There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NHL entry draft until they become a sure thing. The Winnipeg Jets will pluck Finnish forward Patrik Laine from the pool of freshly scrubbed teenagers on Friday night, then hope they haven’t gone wrong.

If you were Lou Lamoriello, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, would you trade the first overall pick in the NHL entry draft for the negotiation rights to Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin and Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round choice, which falls at No. 27? I would. Then open the vault for homeboy Stamkos.

What an interesting country we live in. I mean, upon his death, hockey great Gordie Howe was glorified and deified for six decades of using his elbows to bust jaws and send people to the dentist. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau throws one errant elbow and he’s crucified. Go figure.

vegasDon’t count me among the skeptics suggesting an NHL franchise in Las Vegas won’t work. It will work because Gary Bettman, the pointy-nosed and bobble-head commish, will make it work come hell or high odds. If he hasn’t bailed on Arizona by now, he’ll never bail on Sin City.

Got a kick out of a Paul Wiecek piece in the Winnipeg Free Press re next year’s expansion draft to stock the Las Vegas Rat Pack roster. The Jets, like all 30 current NHL outfits, will lose one player, a reality that “some think is going to hit the Jets as hard—or even harder—than any team in the league.” The way Wiecek has it reasoned, one of the following will have to get out of Dodge: Chris Thorburn, Anthony Peluso, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia, Marko Dano, Alexander Burmistrov. Oh, how will the Jets possibly survive?

I went to the Winnipeg Sun website last Sunday morning and the Calgary Sun popped up. Seriously, five stories on the Calgary Flames on the sports front and zero on the Winnipeg Jets. This is what happens when one media giant owns 99 per cent of the newspapers in Canada.

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 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.

 

Kevin Cheveldayoff: Translating the Winnipeg Jets GM’s Chevy-speak

That was quite the deliverance from Kevin Cheveldayoff earlier this week. Say this for the man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets, he does not cut to the chase.

Kevin Cheveldayoff
Kevin Cheveldayoff

Fear not, though, kids. I have a PhD in Applied Linguistics and, during my 30 years in mainstream jock journalism, I developed a fool-proof method of translating shinny dialect into plain, ordinary, everyman’s English. Chevy-speak is a tough nut to crack, but I’ve managed to reduce his 28-minute chin-wag with news scavengers down to approximately 1,000 words.

Here, then, is what Chevy said and what he really said

Have you finalized your pecking order for next Friday’s National Hockey League entry draft?

What Chevy said: “The list is getting pretty much in ink. Unless something really dramatically makes a shift that you just don’t see, our minds are very set.”

What Chevy really said: “Listen people, there’s an ink eraser on my ball point pen, so—whoo boy!—if the Toronto Maple Leafs pull a page from the Edmonton Oilers’ draft manual and royally screw up (hello, Nail Yakupov!), we’ll be all over Auston Matthews like chin whiskers on Joe Thornton. But I suspect we’ll be selecting Patrik Laine with the No. 2 pick.”

Are you actively trying to trade young defenceman Jacob Trouba?

What Chevy said: “This is an interesting time of year. I’ve seen lots of different scenarios out there of teams that are pushing hard that I haven’t even heard from and I’ve talked to different teams that have asked different questions that I’ve certainly asked myself. I’m not trying to trade anybody. I think in this game there’s a distinct possibility that anybody can get traded. And again we’ve got some good young players here. We’ve got two of them that are up for contracts in Trouba and (Mark) Scheifele and we’re going to do our best to get those contracts done and in the books. So trying to trade him? No.”

What Chevy really said: “If Trouba thinks he’s going to get $7 million a year out of me, I’ll ship his ass out of here faster than you can say ‘Have fun in Edmonton.’ ”

rae and jerry'sWill your first pick in the entry draft, No. 2 overall, be able to step directly into the Jets’ lineup next season?

What Chevy said: “I think there was a lot of reference as to having…there’s the three players mentioned in the same breath all the time…those players each and every year differ, sometimes a player can step right into your lineup, sometimes they can’t. I think the players at the top end of the draft this year look like they’re ready to step in. How much they contribute, what type of role they play, all those kinds of things are really left for them to determine. That’s what training camp’s about. We’ll see how it goes.”

What Chevy really said: “Well, duh! If Patrik Laine doesn’t take a job away from Chris Thorburn or Anthony Peluso, I’ll personally buy all my friends in the media a steak dinner at Rae and Jerry’s.”

Have negotiations with Jacob Trouba and his agent been difficult?

What Chevy said: “The rumors and stuff that everyone hears, it’s interesting, because they don’t come from inside the negotiation room. They come from imaginations and different scenarios that this time of the year just naturally brings. In this game here, you just don’t know. In the National Hockey League there’s things that happen very quickly, there’s things that take time, there are scenarios that present themselves that maybe you do look at a trade, there are scenarios that present themselves that you look at signing a guy long term or short term. So, sitting here, standing here today there’s nothing that’s not on the table, but it’s good to have options to try and move forward with.”

What Chevy really said: “I repeat: If Trouba thinks he’s going to get $7 million a year out of me, I’ll ship his ass out of here faster than you can say ‘Have fun in Edmonton.’ ”

Patrik Laine sounds like a cocky kid, claiming he should be the No. 1 overall pick ahead of Auston Matthews. Any concerns about Laine shooting from the lip?

What Chevy said: “I think anybody that goes out there and plays and goes into the forum and into the ice surface and competes at the highest level has that level of confidence in themselves, and well they should. They’re all very good hockey players and, again, you get a short period of time at the combines to get a glimpse of it and…again, that’s why you do a lot of due diligence behind the scenes and other opportunities to talk to friends, school teachers…”

What Chevy really said: “We all know what happened to the last player who thought his stuff didn’t stink. I think Evander’s track suit was still wet by the time he arrived in Buffalo. Don’t worry about Laine. Give us a week and we’ll have him spewing the same old boring cliches as the rest of the guys.”

Often the NHL is a copycat league, so is there any urge to follow the lead of the Pittsburgh Penguins?

What Chevy said: “I think everyone looks at what’s going on, but I think you have to look from within. It’s kind of like, you don’t just change direction of a semi or a tanker or anything like that. You can’t just say we’re going in this direction. I think it has to be a philosophy that works for your organization. You have to look at what you have, what you have coming, what you have available to yourself, and every team is not going to have the same type of mix. So I think it’s a real dangerous, dangerous thing to sit here and say, ‘Well, just because Pittsburgh or just because Chicago or just because L.A. won the Stanley Cup that this is the direction. I think that the greater you can forge your own identity and grow that organically I think is what’s majorly important. And, again, I think it takes understanding what you have and not trying to shoehorn things into the wrong positions, and that’s what a good coach and coaching staff does.

What Chevy really said: “Give me Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and I’ll copy cat the Pittsburgh Penguins; give me Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith and I’ll copy cat the Chicago Blackhawks; give me Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick and I’ll copy cat the Los Angeles Kings.”

How will an expansion team in Las Vegas affect your plans?

What Chevy said: “Again, the reports are the reports. It’s presumptuous on anyone’s part to talk about facts until they become facts, or if they become facts. The Board of Governors is coming up and certainly that will be when anything definitive will come out. I’ll just go back to our last general managers’ meeting when we were given a brief overview that if expansion did happen what the parameters might look at. The good thing is, we were told that if there is expansion it would not come until next season, so there’s a planning element that could be involved if the vote does happen.”

What Chevy really said: “Please, please, please, let there be an expansion team and let the Las Vegas Snake Eyes or One-Eyed Jacks or Royal Flush draft Ondrej Pavelec.”

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 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.

Fishing with Big Buff…$8 million will buy a lot of Slurpees…Bombers put best foot forward…going ga-ga over Lady Gaga

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

Big Buff the fisher.
Big Buff the fisher.

Ice fishing as a selling point. Who knew?

Not many National Hockey League free agents would think of a one-day, winter getaway to Matlock as a little slice of heaven, but spending a few hours in a small shack on a frozen Lake Winnipeg in sub-zero temperatures is Dustin Byfuglien’s idea of a swell time.

So he’s staying. In good, ol’ Hometown. For the next five winters. Thus, all those pike, perch and walleye are on notice: Big Buff is coming for you.

The Winnipeg Jets big blueliner didn’t cite ice fishing as one of the reasons he chose to forego untethered free agency and remain in River City, but it’s common knowledge that angling is among Byfuglien’s deepest passions, and the availability of dropping a line into a hole in the ice when the Jets aren’t busy losing hockey games surely played a part in his decision.

Will his signing help lure other free agents to Pegtown? Doubtful. But it does confirm a message the Jets began sending three years ago with the signings of Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian—they are willing to spend the big bucks in order to keep their elite players in the fold. As much as bankrolls Mark Chipman and David Thomson operate on the cheap, they didn’t chintz out on Byfuglien. His sticker price of $7.6 million per annum is not pocket change.

I mean, 38 mill can buy a guy lot of live bait. Cripes, man, Buff can afford all of Lake Winnipeg now. And a few rivers to be named later.

Byfuglien will make more money ($8 million) next season than the entire Winnipeg Blue Bombers roster and the combined salaries of every member of the Manitoba Legislature. With a bit more than $2 million left over.

A Jumbo Jet Dog
A Jumbo Jet Dog

Here’s what $8 million can buy Big Buff:

  • 4,000,000 large Slurpees.
  • 727,272 Mr. Big Nip Platters at The Sals.
  • 727,272 10-piece orders of chicken wings at Hooters.
  • 640,000 Jumbo Jet dogs with extra toppings at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie.
  • 1,230,769 corned beef sandwiches at Oscar’s Deli.
  • 533,333 visits to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
  • 405,063 visits to the Assiniboine Park Zoo.
  • 10,000 Nanook thermal two-man ice-fishing flip tents from The Fishin’ Hole.
  • 347,826 Berkley Gulp Alive floating crawlers.
  • Every shack on Wellington Crescent (except for that $11-million job).

Did I hear Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff correctly during his chin-wag with news scavengers after the Byfuglien signing became official? I swear the Jets general manager said his outfit’s current place in the Central Division pecking order is “a little bit of a blip.” Is that what we’re calling last place these days? A bit of a blip? Good grief, Chevy. Talk about losing the plot.

Now that the Jets’ Raging Dane, flyweight Nikolaj Ehlers, has added fighting to his repertoire, can we expect Anthony Peluso to start scoring goals? Naw. Life never works that way, does it.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters vowed to put his best foot forward once the Canadian Football League’s annual free-agent livestock auction commenced, and he did exactly that in hiring Justin Medlock’s lower left limb. Medlock, late of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, is only the most accurate kicker of footballs in the annals of the three-down game, and he replaces Sergio Castillo, who believes his field goal attempts are pre-determined by God. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a guaranteed three points over a prayer every time.

Okay, it’s agreed. Cam Newton is a sore loser. He’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of Manhattan Island. So what. Sure, it would have been wonderful had the Carolina Panthers quarterback been less pout and more polish during his meet-the-press gab session scant seconds after he and the Carolina Panthers had been beaten by the Denver Broncos in their Super Bowl 50 skirmish on Sunday, but, last time I looked, providing scintillating sound bites is not part of the gig for a National Football League QB. A guy like Peyton Manning can pull it off, win or lose. Ditto Tom Brady. Newton can’t, but it’s no biggie. It just means it’s unlikely he’ll be hosting Saturday Night Live any time soon.

lady gaga3How can you tell a friend of yours is gay? When he comes up to you the morning after Super Bowl 50 and insists on talking about Beyonce “walking it” during the halftime show and Lady Gaga’s rendering of the American national anthem rather than the Denver Broncos mauling of Newton. I must confess that I missed Beyonce, but I caught Lady Gaga’s act and was wowed by her outfit. Still can’t get over the sparkling red eye shadow (Note to self: Must, must, must get some of that stuff!), the blue polish on the nails, the blue shoe on his left foot and the red-and-white striped shoe on her right. Oh, ya, her singing was boffo, too. Love the Lady. My gay friend Markus prefers Beyonce.

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.

The Drab Slab recruits Scott Campbell…nothing new at the Sun…still a hate-on for Shane Doan…and why not Anthony Peluso in the NHL all-star game?

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

So, how does one improve upon the toy department of a daily newspaper? Why, you recruit a non-writer to write, don’t you know? That, at least, is the thinking of the madcap minds at the Winnipeg Free Press, which now has more sports scribes than Donald Trump has critics.

Scott Campbell
Scott Campbell

Latest to join the Drab Slab’s stable of thousands is old friend Scott Campbell, who, when last seen, was helping the Winnipeg Jets wrestle the final World Hockey Association championship away from the Edmonton Gretzkys, then, sadly, he fought a losing battle with asthma that ended his National Hockey League career at the tender age of 25.

Scotty was one of the good guys, one of my all-time fave Jets. A raw-boned rearguard, he was friendly, witty and quick with a laugh. He took his game seriously but not himself.

And what will he bring to the Freep sports pages commencing Friday? Honesty. Bluntness. I hope.

I say that based on Scotty’s scribblings at Mitch Kasprick’s pride and joy, Winnipeg Hockey Talk. He doesn’t write with the smoothest pen (copy editors, please take note: punctuation is not Scotty’s strength), but he offers unvarnished critique, fair analysis and the voice of someone who has been there, done that.

My main concern is this: Given that the Freep is in bed with the Jets (official newspaper and all that rot), will Scotty be writing in a harness or given free rein? If he’s expected to be a True North Toady, it shall become a wasted exercise. If allowed to ruffle feathers, it’s game on.

Go get ’em, Scotty. I’m root, root, rooting for you.

So now the Drab Slab has one ex-jock, Campbell, scribbling hockey, and another former play-for-pay guy, Doug Brown, prattling on about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and all things Canadian Football League. How do they compare as writers? Scotty is meat-and-potatoes. Brown is…well, let’s just say the former defensive lineman is from a school that preaches, “Why use just three words when three dozen are so much better?” Basically, just one thing separates the two—a thesaurus.

In advising readers that the Freep toy department is “upping its game” by bringing a novice on board, sports editor Steve Lyons also invited feedback. Or input, if you will. “How are we doing?” he asks. “Is there something you would like to see more regularly? Is there something you would prefer to not see at all?” Well, now that you ask, Steve…is it too much to expect from your scribes (also copy editors) that they adhere to the basics of writing? You know, the who, what, when, where and why of a story. It’s disgraceful and shameful that Freep writers repeatedly fail to mention the league or sport they’re writing about. It’s an every-day occurrence. This is a pet peeve of mine and I’m not going to let it go until I see them spell it out—every day, in every article.

I keep waiting for the Winnipeg Sun to add a fresh voice to its sports pages, but it remains same old, same old—Paul Friesen, Kirk Penton, Ken Wiebe and cameo appearances by Ted Wyman. Those boys do boffo work, but even following the Freep’s lead and finding someone to do a once-a-week gig would give the Sun a bit of a jolt. As it is, they continue to trot out the weekly Toronto-centric, three-dot ramblings of Steve Simmons each Sunday. Do people in River City really care about the goings-on in the Republic of Tranna? I think not. I enjoy reading quick-hit journalism, but I’d rather it be about good, ol’ Hometown rather than big, bloated Hogtown.

Shane Doan as a rookie with the Winnipeg Jets.
Shane Doan as a rookie with the Winnipeg Jets.

It occurs to me that there remains a pocket of people in Pegtown still harboring a fierce hate-on for Shane Doan. Why is that? I mean, it wasn’t his fault that a bunch of carpetbaggers took Winnipeg Jets 1.0 and hightailed it south to the Arizona desert in 1996. Doan went along for the ride, simply because he had no choice, and the fact the Arizona Coyotes’ captain broke Dale Hawerchuk’s franchise goal-scoring record last week ought to be saluted, not scorned. I mean, are we really still bitter about the NHL allowing the Jets to skulk out of town and morph into the Desert Dogs? Are the Jets 2.0 not a suitable consolation prize? Get over it, people.

I can think of a few things that would put my nose out of joint, but John Scott appearing in the NHL all-star game isn’t among them. Sure it’s farcical that the Arizona Coyotes’ resident rottweiler will be part of the glittersome gathering in Twang Town, Tennessee, at the end of the month, but what is the NHL all-star skirmish if not farce? Seriously. A hockey game with a football score is not a purist’s idea of quality shinny, which is why it’s no longer a single farce but a series of little farces. So why not let the goons in on the fun? What the hey, had Jets loyalists been on the ball, they would have stuffed the ballot box and sent Anthony Peluso to Nashville, whereupon both he and Scott could lay a hurtin’ song on the real hockey players.

Unless there is a dramatic change in fortune, we soon shall hear much talk of tanking in Jets Nation. For the record, I don’t believe that team co-bankroll Mark Chipman will instruct grand master Kevin Cheveldayoff to deliberately tank in order to better position the Jets to win the right to bark out the name Auston Matthews at the 2016 NHL entry draft. If the Jets get first shout at the June garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, they’ll do it the old-fashioned way—bad management.

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.

 

Goal or coal: Sports Santa has stocking stuffers for jocks and Jills

Okay, Sports Santa, time to do your thing. You know the drill. Make your list, check it twice, tell us who’s been nice, naughty and flat-out nasty this year.

What will it be, goodies or a lump of coal or two in those Christmas stockings?

naughty santaCOAL: Kyle Walters, because he lied. The man who generally mismanages the Winnipeg Blue Bombers insisted that the signing of University of Manitoba Bisons grad Jordan Yantz to a tryout contract was not—repeat, NOT— a publicity stunt.

“He’s a legitimate quarterback prospect,” Walters told news scavengers. “Jordan is going to come in and compete for a spot on our roster at quarterback. We feel he has shown all the tools needed to play this position at the professional level, and we look forward to watching him compete in camp. This isn’t a charity case.”

Liar, liar. His pants were a three-alarm fire.

Yantz had about as much chance of earning employment with the Canadian Football League club as Walters has of being appointed GM of the Dallas Cowboys. He was given less than a handful of reps at practice and, although dressing for one preseason exercise, head coach Mike O’Shea refused to send him into the fray to take a snap.

COAL: That’ll be three lumps of the black stuff for O’Shea. Actually, make it an entire coal bin. First for gagging his assistant coaches, who are not allowed to speak to news scavengers; second for refusing to deliver an honest evaluation of his players and/or their performance without first having an opportunity to “watch the film;” and third for his role in the Jordan Yantz sham.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen.
Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen, champions of all the land’s lady curlers. The Buffalo Girls won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, no small feat, and how they were overlooked as a team-of-the-year finalist in balloting by the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association is a mystery. Apparently, their continued success in Canadian and Olympic curling has become ho-hum. Shame, that.

GOAL: The Montreal Alouettes, for having the junk to sign Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay man to perform in the CFL.

COAL: Michael Sam. What a wasted opportunity. Rather than make a strong statement for LGBT athletes, he bugged out on the Alouettes not once, but twice. He played one game at rush end, recorded zero sacks and zero tackles, was made to look the fool on one play, then skipped town and, once back in the U.S., he prattled on about the CFL being beneath his talent level.

COAL: Steve Simmons, scant days after the debut of Sam, an openly gay man playing for the Alouettes, the Toronto Sun scribe, whose work oft appears in the Winnipeg Sun, wrote: “In reality, pro football still awaits its first openly gay player.” Apparently, Little Stevie Blunder is much like that tree falling in the forest…it doesn’t happen unless he’s there to see and hear it.

GOAL: Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Winnipeg Jets general manager who proved he actually has a pulse by arranging for Evander Kane’s ticket out of River City. Unloading the underachieving, injury-prone problem child was a master stroke, especially given that Kane was done for the season. We don’t see a whole lot of big trades in the National Hockey League, and many of us didn’t think Chevy had it in him. We were wrong. Unfortunately, he went back into hibernation and hasn’t been seen nor heard from since. Sort of like that tree falling in the forest.

COAL: Cheveldayoff for allowing the very useful Michael Frolik to skate off to Calgary. For zip. Nada. If he does the same with Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, say goodnight, Chevy.

COAL: To every professional athlete who hit a woman this year.

Chris Thorburn
Chris Thorburn

GOAL: Chris Thorburn, the much-maligned man who continues to do everything asked of him by the Jets and is now the franchise leader in games played. Too often he is a fourth-liner dressed up as a third-line forward (with gusts up to the first line when head coach Paul Maurice loses his mind) and his very existence on the roster speaks to a disturbing lack of depth, but I admire his stick-to-itness.

GOAL: Bryan Little of the Jets for his understated excellence. No, he wouldn’t be the No. 1 centre on every NHL outfit, but he can play on my team anytime.

COAL: Gary (La La) Lawless, late of the Winnipeg Free Press and now a talking head with TSN. Give him the entire coal bin. While still the loudest voice at the Freep, he sucked up to Blue Bombers management by repeatedly telling readers that it takes more than 1 1/2 or two years to rebuild a broken-down CFL franchise. Hello? Can you say Edmonton Eskimos and Ottawa RedBlacks, Gary? La La also asked the dumbest question of the year, when he wondered aloud if Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was going to “give up,” even though his club was a mere two points removed from a playoff spot with six games yet to be played.

GOAL: Jonathan Toews, a Winnipeg product and class act who captained the Chicago Blackhawks to another Stanley Cup championship.

COAL: Wade Miller, CEO of the Blue Bombers. Because he’s Wade Miller, CEO of the Blue Bombers.

GOAL: Mo Glimcher, grand poobah of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Mo, one of the truly good guys, will be sacking his bats after 40 years with the MHSAA, giving giving the executive director plenty of spare time to attend Bandy tournaments across the globe.

GOAL: Dan Halldorson passed away in November and the Brandon/Shilo golfer was remembered for his vital role in keeping the pro tour in Canada alive and well.

GOAL: Take a bow Joe Pascucci of Global and Knuckles Irving of CJOB. Joe was inducted into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, while Knuckles was awarded the CFL’s Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award.

Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.
Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.

COAL: Dustin Byfuglien dissed the NHL’s 3-on-3 overtime format, saying, “It ain’t hockey. It’s stupid.” Yo! Buff! If you weren’t huffing and puffing so badly after three periods, you’d probably enjoy a little pond hockey.

COAL: The Reporters with Dave Hodge on TSN moved from Sunday mornings to Monday afternoon. I can do Sunday mornings, but I don’t do Monday afternoons. Move it back.

GOAL: Old friend Teemu Selanne had his Disney Ducks jersey No. 8 raised to the rafters at the Honda Center in Anaheim early in the year and, during a lengthy speech, the Finnish Flash actually thanked the small people—the cleaning lady and the Zamboni driver. Class act to the end.

COAL: Paul Maurice, head coach of the Jets. See Peluso, Anthony. That’s why.

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.