The River City Renegade


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

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Poile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 


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About a “hockey play”…NHL conspiracy theories…good Canadian boys aren’t fakers…hosing the hosers…and long pee breaks for the ladies in Edmonton

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

The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Player Safety Committee. It needs a parole board.

Let’s face it, playoff hockey is street crime moved indoors. Muggings are as commonplace in springtime shinny as unruly chin whiskers. If there’s a rule book, it has all the bite of a butterfly. I mean, using Sidney Crosby’s head for a butcher’s block is a “hockey play” like a home invasion is a pajama party.

Barry Trotz knows that. Ditto Brian Burke.

Paul Bunyan

But because Crosby wasn’t their ox being gored when Alexander Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen went all Paul Bunyan on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain last Monday night, both Trotz and Burke quoted chapter and verse from every good, ol’ boy’s favorite reading material—the Conn Smythe Beat ‘Em In The Alley Hockey Bible.

I thought it was really a hockey play,” observed Trotz, head coach of the Washington Capitals.

I think it was a hockey play. This is what happens in our game,” echoed Burke, president in charge of truculence for the Calgary Flames.

Burke is correct. Stick happens. Ovechkin and Niskanen aren’t the first players in NHL history to use their shillelaghs to deliver violent blows to the head of a foe, nor will they be the last. It’s just that you’re supposed to be punished for such distasteful trespasses.

In this case, Ovechkin didn’t receive so much as a tsk-tsking for his Bunyanesque-like assault on Crosby in Game 3 of the Washington-Pitt playoff series. A two-hander to the arm, followed by a not-so-gentle whack to the back of the head? Nothing to see here, folks. Stick happens. Let’s move along. Except Ovechkin’s lumberjacking led directly to his accomplice moving in for sloppy seconds and cross-checking Crosby to the face.

Yes, I realize Niskanen was flagged and banished from the fray, but were additional punitive measures applied? Like a suspension? Hell no. This is the NHL postseason, don’t you know. Once the Stanley Cup tournament commences, the safety police hand out Get Out of Jail Free cards like condoms at a safe-sex convention. And it doesn’t matter if the unlawful battering renders a player like Crosby concussed and sends him to the repair shop. It’s a “hockey play.”

Well it isn’t. It’s a mugging. And the real crime is the NHL ignoring it.

I didn’t realize so many neurologists followed hockey. I mean, Crosby is concussed and suddenly everybody is an expert on brain trauma. Crosby should retire. No he shouldn’t. Yes he should. No he shouldn’t. Oh, just zip it. It’s his head, his career, his life. And for those who are astonished that he returned to the fray just four days after his mugging, be advised that concussions are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I ought to know: I’ve had my bell rung more often than Quasimodo.

Ryan Kesler

As a rule, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, the exceptions being the JFK assassination and anything involving Ryan Kesler, who is the NHL’s version of a human rights violation. But after witnessing the unraveling of the Edmonton McDavids against Kesler and the Disney Ducks on Friday night, I’m thinking there might be something to this ‘Gary Bettman/anti-Canada’ notion. Maybe it’s true what the conspiracists say about the NHL’s pointy-nosed, bobble-headed commissioner: He’ll go to extreme lengths to prevent the Stanley Cup from returning to the True North. Seriously. If what Kesler did to Edmonton’s Cam Talbot wasn’t goaltender interference, then I’m Patsy Cline and Bettman is Johnny Cash. Sure, the Ducks’ resident villain was shoved, rudely, onto the blue ice, but he wasn’t obliged to stay there and make like an octopus, wrapping his left tentacle around Talbot’s right pad. Not surprisingly, officials ignored damning video evidence that supported Kesler’s guilt and they allowed a Rickard Rakell goal to stand, thus sending Game 5 into extra time. If the Ducks’ 4-3 OT victory wasn’t part of a grand, anti-hoser conspiracy, it was enough to make me go “hmmmmmmm.”

For the record, I don’t have a dog in the Edmonton-Anaheim fight. I like Ducks coach Randy Carlyle because he’s one of the old Winnipeg Jets, and Connor McDavid is a joy to watch. Basically, I’m Switzerland on this one. Having said that, I think the McDavids have been hosed by the officials in the past two games.

I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s and, until this particular version of springtime shinny, I thought I had a good handle on things like icing and offside and goaltender interference and stick infractions. Now, all bets are off. I confess that I don’t know a foul from a fool. Well, okay, Don Cherry still plays the fool, but all the phantom fouls, faux fouls and no fouls leave me scratching my noggin. The officiating is tragically poor.

Don Cherry: We’re Canadian and this is how we dress.

Speaking of Grapes (sour or otherwise), Cherry was in ripe form after Nick Bonino of the Penguins hoodwinked a visually challenged referee into believing he had been clipped in the face by a careless T.J. Oshie, whose stick had actually glanced off Bonino’s left shoulder. “Kids, never, ever…we’re Canadians…we don’t do that, we don’t fake injuries,” the Lord of Loud barked from his Bully Pit on Coachless Corner. “We’re Canadians, we don’t do it. We wear shirts and ties.” So let that be your lesson, kids: Don’t be a Bonino, but if you have to fake an injury make sure you’re wearing a shirt and tie. Clean underwear is optional.

Bob Cole still has the great pipes, but, my goodness, the man has lost it when it comes to identifying players. His play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada is now done in general terms, and it’s kind of sad. His work reminds me of the great Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in his final days with the New York Mets.

Well, hello Dolly Parton.

Big beef about biffies at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the gender bending of the loo is a common practice and a ladies’ lament at Oilers matches. It seems that the ladies have been forced to surrender two of their washrooms to men during the Edmonton-Anaheim series, an inconvenience that has resulted in 30-minute waits for the girls. Geez, Louise, there are 320 public toilets and/or urinals on the main and upper concourses at Rogers Place. And the men need two of the women’s washrooms? How much beer are those boys drinking? Just remember to put the seats back down, boys. The girls will need them when Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks come to town.

Dumb headline of the week was delivered by the Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Raptors are losing and we’re all sad.” We are? Interesting. Where I live, I’m not sure anyone actually knows the Raptors exist.

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.