What ails the Winnipeg Jets? It’s between the ears

The boys are back in town, perhaps somewhat discombobulated from their junket to Laineland, and now it’s time for the real Winnipeg Jets to declare themselves. Have they underachieved so far this National Hockey League season, or is what we’ve seen what we can expect the remainder of the way? Here to sort it all out are the two Hens in the Hockey House. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, how are you on this fine morning in November, girlfriend?

Answer Lady: Must admit that I’m a bit wonky. Maybe a little grumpy, too. I forgot to turn my clock back on the weekend. I still don’t understand why we do that. It messes me up. Spring forward, fall back…what’s that all about? The sodbusters in Saskatchewan have got it right. They leave their clocks alone. There’s no turning back for them.

Question Lady: I’ll bet Brendan Lemieux wishes he could turn the clock back. His cheap shot on Vincent Trocheck of the Florida Panthers last week has earned him an audience with the player safety police. Any chance he won’t be suspended?

Answer Lady: Meet Mr. Slim & Mr. None.

Question Lady: How many games do you think he’ll get?

Answer Lady: Two. I’d give him an extra game and make it three for being as dumb as a fence post, but you can’t penalize a guy for bad genes.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: It occurs to me that many among the rabble are less than thrilled with our hockey heroes 14 games into the current crusade. The Jets are 8-5-1, but that isn’t good enough. Apparently, they aren’t operating “on all cylinders.” Apparently, there’s “something missing.”

Answer Lady: Ya, there’s something missing. His name is Paul Stastny. After Stastny joined the Jets in February, they went 15-4-1, then won two playoff series before running out of petrol. His smarts and contributions on the scoresheet were substantial. Sans Stastny this outfit isn’t as good as the group that advanced to the Western Conference final in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. Some of us knew that going in. We had concerns about depth at centre ice. Still do.

Question Lady: That’s it? Paul Stastny is the difference?

Rink Rat Scheifele

Answer Lady: Do the math, girlfriend. Aside from Rink Rat Scheifele’s 13 points, look at the production down the middle: Bryan Little and Adam Lowry…five points apiece. Andrew Copp, two. A dozen points total. Three backliners—Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey—have more than double that. Before they dropped the puck in October, you asked me about weaknesses with this team. I mentioned two things: Depth down the middle and Twig Ehlers’ vanishing acts. Spot on. Move me to the front of the class, teacher.

Question Lady: Where does Jack Roslovic figure in all of this? Wasn’t he supposed to soften the blow of losing Stastny to the Vegas Golden Knights?

Paul Maurice

Answer Lady: Ya, except Paul Maurice is confused. Coach Potty Mouth hasn’t decided if Roslovic belongs at centre, on the wing, with the Manitoba Moose, or eating popcorn in the press box. And if Coach PoMo is confused, we can only imagine how the kid feels.

Question Lady: Maybe last week’s trip to Finland will turn things around for the Jets. There’s nothing like some good, old-fashioned team bonding, no?

Answer Lady: Bonding shmonding! Finland shminland! This is basically the same group—minus Stastny and Toby Enstrom—that got them to the Western Conference final. And you’re telling me they needed a pilgrimage to Finland to bond? As if. I call it the Finland Farce. All that junket to Finland did was give news snoops on the trip an opportunity to fatten up on reindeer stew, or whatever it is they eat over there in the dark. In terms of the team, it was nothing more than an exercise in putting the players’ body clocks out of whack for no reason other than Gary Bettman’s global goodwill.

Puck Finn

Question Lady: How can you say that? Patrik Laine snapped out of his scoring slump with four snipes. Are you telling me that means nothing?

Answer Lady: It was showtime for Puck Finn in front of family, friends and a fawning faithful. The kid was boffo. Now, if only the Jets could somehow manage to transport all those people to North America for the next 68 games. Might keep him motivated.

Question Lady: You’re down on Laine?

Answer Lady: Not really. Puck Finn’s special. But let’s face it, he’s great at one thing—scoring goals. The rest of his game, meh. With gusts up to atrocious.

Question Lady: Some people are a bit down on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. They talk like his game has taken a step or two in reverse. What’s your take?

Connor Hellebuyck

Answer Lady: Meh again. Look, here’s the deal with Hellebuyck and the rest of the Jets: They look, to me, like a team that’s bored with regular-season skirmishes. It’s as if the every-day hum-drum of the regular season is an inconvenience. I could be wrong, of course, because I don’t have access to the inner sanctum, but I see a team that thinks it’s too big for its britches. They know they’re good and believe they’ll qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament by default. Their play strongly suggests that’s their mindset.

Question Lady: So you’re saying the problem is between the ears?

The rabble

Answer Lady: Exactly. That and the loss of Stastny. But I have to make something quite clear: I don’t share the angst of the rabble. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Jets that a slight attitude adjustment won’t fix. Once they remind themselves that there are no freebe nights in the NHL, they’ll be fine.

Question Lady: At what point should we become concerned?

Answer Lady: If the Jets aren’t in a playoff position when Americans carve their Thanksgiving Day turkeys, fear the worst. Until then, chill.

Question Lady: Any plans for the rest of the day?

Answer Lady: Ya, I’m gonna write my local MP and demand that we neither spring forward or fall back in the future. Then I’m gonna take a nap. Trouble is, I don’t know if I’m trying to catch up on an hour’s sleep lost or if I’m going to bed too early.

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About hocus-pocus with Mike O’Shea…is it west or east for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?…are the B.C. Lions for real?…the McDavid-Matthews debate is over…fancy stats on Twig Ehlers are bogus…Puck Finn is no Finnish Flash…Josh Mo is the Winnipeg Jets main man on D…let’s play ball…and other things on my mind

If it’s Sunday, it must be time for another sports smorgas-bored…all opinions are mine except those that the devil made me write…

Top o’ the morning to you, Mike O’Shea.

Has the fog lifted? Can you see clearly now? Do you recognize what’s in front of you? Ya, that’s right. A playoff spot. It’s there for the taking, like a nerdy school kid’s lunch money. Just beat the suddenly very beatable Calgary Stampeders on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry and your Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in.

Mike O’Shea

So here are your instructions, Mikey: Now is not the time for one of your dumb-ass brain farts.

You know what I’m talking about. But just so we don’t have a failure to communicate, I’ll spell it out for you: Do not attempt a field goal from 61 yards out unless Hurricane Helen is at Justin Medlock’s back; do not fake a punt when a) scrimmaging deep inside your end of the field, and b) when holding a lead.

In other words, Mikey, stay the hell out of your own way.

Now, I realize that you’re fond of hocus-pocus football, but here’s the deal: You’re a football coach, not Penn & Teller. Darcy Oake isn’t your special teams coordinator. Still, I’m guessing you’ll feel the urge to attempt some trickery and gimmickry vs. the Stampeders. Well, fight it off like Chris Walby pushing away from the dinner table when there’s still chicken and dumplings on his plate. If you can’t, just use your smoke and mirrors at the right time and place.

Aside from that, Mikey, you’re on your own.

Darcy Oake

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t trust the Winnipeg FC head coach to steer clear of his own mad scientist impulses. During O’Shea’s five-year run as sideline steward in River City, he’s made a habit of allowing his kooky notions to interfere with logic. In both the 2016 and ’17 West Division semifinals, for example, he self-destructed with flim-flammery. Canadian Football League champions are seldom born of magic acts. Unless, of course, your quarterback is named Doug Flutie. Thus, O’Shea would be wise to get the ball into Andrew Harris’ hands early and often and leave the illusions to Penn, Teller and Oake.

So, pick your poison. Would you rather have Winnipeg FC try their playoff luck on the Prairies or take the scenic route in the east? Finish third and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Stampeders are in front of them on the road to the Grey Cup game. Cross over into Ontario and the Bytown RedBlacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats lie in ambush. My advice: Go west, young men.

Travis Lulay

Okay, I confess, I had the B.C. Lions written off halfway through this CFL crusade, yet the Leos qualified for the Grey Cup runoff with a thoroughly convincing victory over the Edmonton Eskimos on Friday night. So why is it that I’m still not convinced they’re legit? Perhaps it’s because the starting QB, the very capable Travis Lulay, is as brittle as a piece of burnt toast.

Having said that, I think the Grey Cup would be a lovely parting gift for Leos head coach Wally Buono.

The discussion has begun about the Bombers nominee for most outstanding player. If I had a vote, which I do not, it would go to beastly linebacker Adam Bighill. I’m confident that the boys and girls on the Winnipeg FC beat will get it right.

Connor McDavid

On the subject of outstanding jocks, it’s about the Connor McDavid-Auston Matthews who’s-the-best debate: Both Sidney Crosby and Rink Rat Scheifele have entered the fray and say McDavid is the National Hockey League’s leading man.

Here’s Crosby: “I think McDavid has set himself apart just based on the awards and the accolades he’s gotten and the consistency he’s had. I think it’s fair to say it’s an easy pick just because of that. It’s hard to argue (against McDavid). He’s been really consistent, he’s won scoring titles, MVPs. So, ya, that’s an easy one to pick.”

Here’s the Rink Rat: “Matthews is a star in this league and he’s going to get better. But he’s not at McDavid’s level just yet.”

That’s good enough for me. Case closed.

Question about the Winnipeg Jets: Is Bryan Little dragging down Twig Ehlers and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine, or are they dragging him down? Please discuss among yourselves.

Twig Ehlers

Out of curiosity, I read one of Andrew Berkshire’s offerings in the Winnipeg Free Press last week and, not surprisingly, it included a whack of numbers and a couple of charts to interfere with all the words. Basically, those numbers and charts were designed to assure the rabble that all is well with Twig Ehlers. “He’s doing all the right things to create goals,” Berkshire wrote. He added that Twig is “One of the most dangerous players (in the NHL) once the puck crosses the blue line.” Well, sure…if your idea of “dangerous” is zero goals and three points in eight games. That translates into a 30-point season. I have no quarrel with the crunching of fancy numbers in hockey, but Ehlers is paid $6 million a year to provide offence, and no amount of fancy stats can sugar-coat the reality that Twig isn’t delivering. Zero goals is zero goals. Those are the only numbers that matter. No charts required.

Puck Finn

Still can’t get over the play of Ehlers and Puck Finn on the goal that gave the Edmonton McDavids a 5-4 extra-time win over les Jets last Tuesday. It was shocking. I mean, it’s one thing to make an ill-advised pass (Ehlers) that turns the puck over to Darnell Nurse in the Edmonton end of the freeze. Hey, brain cramps happen. But the effort by both Jets forwards once Nurse arrived at the home side’s blueline was pathetic. Puck Finn made a feeble, ultra-lazy, one-handed wave of the stick, as if trying to tickle Nurse, then coasted. Ehlers performed an Ice Capades routine inside the zone, making a quick side step and a dainty wave with his stick. Unacceptable effort. Yo! Boys! That isn’t PlayStation hockey. It’s the NHL. Hard work isn’t an option. It’s mandatory.

Am I wrong to suggest Laine is a great goal-scorer but an average player? That’s my reading on him this month. At times he’s looked lazy, at times he’s looked very slow, at times he’s looked clumsy, at times he’s looked out of shape, at times he’s looked like he doesn’t have a clue. And, to think, many were calling him Finnish Flash II when he arrived in River City. That was an insult to Teemu Selanne then and it is today.

Weed became legal in Canada on Wednesday. The striped shirts handling the Vancouver Canucks-Jets joust the following night celebrated by stinking out the joint.

Josh Morrissey

If I’m the people in Seattle and I’m allowed to take any of les Jets defenceman to start my expansion club, it’s Josh Morrissey. Kid’s got game. When I look at the tea leaves, I see numerous 50/60-point seasons ahead for the young rearguard. With gusts up to 70-75 points.

On a whim, I visited the Winnipeg HC website to see what, if any, tickets were available for the Saturday afternoon set-to vs. the Arizona Coyotes. Turns out there were plenty. Lowest single-ticket price $59.90; top price $235. If you wanted to take a date, though, you were looking at a $206-$470 hit (for two tickets). My reaction: What kind of a loser has $470 to spend and takes a date to see the Coyotes?

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Suitable that the turning point in the Boston Red Sox-Houston Astros series was the grand slam surrendered to Jackie Bradley Jr. by Roberto Osuna in Game 3. Houston ownership/management, which trumpets a zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence, believed they needed Osuna’s right arm to successfully defend their Major League Baseball title. They found out differently. So the question now is this: How long before the hypocritical Astros unload their woman-beating relief pitcher like he’s yesterday’s potato peelings?

And, finally, we have a throwback World Series, featuring the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the favored team of my youth. For me, this is like comfort food. Two traditional outfits, wearing the same classic unis as they did in the 1960s, and frolicking in two of the three oldest ballparks in MLB. Buy me some peanuts and crack me a beer. Let’s play ball! (And go Dodgers!)

Two Hens in the Hockey House: All about Sir Paul, the Rink Rat, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and how much the Winnipeg Jets will miss Paul Stastny

Let the games begin!

The Winnipeg Jets open their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade tonight against the Blues in St. Louis, and they have a tough act to follow. After advancing to the Western Conference final last spring, it has to be Stanley Cup final or bust for the locals.

Do they have it in them to take that next step? The Two Hens in the Hockey House have the answer. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, the quest is about to begin and I haven’t been this jacked up about anything since Paul McCartney stepped back on stage for a rousing encore the other night at the local hockey palace. How about you?

Answer Lady: You went to see Sir Paul in concert?

Question Lady: You bet your Beatles bubble gum cards I did. He’s been my main man since the lads first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. The guy’s a rock ‘n’ roll legend and can still get after it at 76 years of age. You don’t like Macca?

Answer Lady: Meh. His best post-Beatles work was Band On the Run. That was released in 1973. He’s been in a slump ever since. You know, kind of like the Jets since the World Hockey Association days.

WHA champion Jets, circa 1978-79.

Question Lady: Will you old farts ever let go of that Jets/WHA nonsense?

Answer Lady: Nonsense? You call it nonsense? Wash your mouth out with granny’s lye soap, girlfriend! Those were the glory days—three championships, five trips to the final in seven seasons, kicked the Russian Bear’s butt, best forward line in all of hockey…neither version of the NHL Jets has accomplished anything to compare. It’ll be 40 years next spring since the last victory parade rolled down Portage Avenue, and we haven’t had a whiff of glory since.

Question Lady: Which brings us to the current edition of the Jets. Plenty of buzz about these boys. They’re among the morning-line favorites to win le Coupe Stanley. Do you think the hype is warranted?

Answer Lady: Absolutely. All the ingredients seem to be in place. I believe they’ll romp through the regular season, maybe even win the President’s Trophy, and then, hopefully, they’ll borrow on the experience gained and lessons learned from last spring and get the job done next April, May and June.

Question Lady: Any chance of the Jets doing a face plant like the Edmonton McDavids performed last season?

Answer Lady: Sir Paul will be back in town with Ringo, John and George in tow before that happens, and since two of the Fab Four are pushing up daisies it ain’t gonna happen. There’s too much depth, too much talent. There aren’t any Looch’s in the Jets’ lineup to drag everybody else down. There’s no one like that anchor Milan Lucic in E-Town.

Question Lady: So this season will be a cake walk?

Answer Lady: Not at all. It’s not like the other outfits on this side of the continent have been twiddling their thumbs. The St. Louis Blues ought to be better. Ditto the Dallas Stars. San Jose Sharks upped their game with Erik Karlsson. The Nashville Predators are still nasty. But, ya, the Jets are the best of the bunch.

Bryan Little

Question Lady: Any weaknesses?

Answer Lady: Yup. Down the middle. Maybe. Rink Rat Scheifele is a legit No. 1 centre, but it’s iffy after that. I’ve long been a Bryan Little fan and I believe he’ll suitably fill the second slot. But what if his best-before date has already passed? Is Jack Roslovic a ready-for-prime-time centre? We don’t know. We can only guess. It could be a repeat of last season when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff felt obliged to seek help from beyond. We might be looking at another Paul Stastny scenario.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: What you’re saying is that this Jets team isn’t as good as the one that reached the Western Conference final last May?

Answer Lady: Do the math. Stastny gave the Jets 13 points in 19 regular-season games and, more significant, 15 points in the Stanley Cup tournament. Can either Little or Roslovic deliver that kind of production? From October through March? Sure. April-May-June I’m not convinced. And remember, it isn’t about the regular season for the Jets anymore. It’s about what goes down in the tournament. The playoffs, that’s their measuring stick. Everything else is window dressing.

Twig Ehlers

Question Lady: Any other misgivings?

Answer Lady: Twig Ehlers. The guy’s dynamic, but he’s a 35/40-goal scorer dressed up as a 25/29-goal scorer. His retreats into the twilight zone are mysterious and frustrating. Maybe it’s that whole PlayStation thing. Maybe the Vancouver Canucks are on to something by banning PlayStation and Fortnite on road trips.

Question Lady: Are you serious? You think Ehlers’ trips to la la land are linked to an obsession with video games? That’s crazy talk, girlfriend. Patrik Laine is one of those PlayStation goomers and he scored 44 goals last season.

Answer Lady: I’m just spitballing, girlfriend. If Puck Finn scores 44 goals every winter they’ll let him play Fortnite until his thumbs fall off. But there must be a reason why Twig vamooses for chunks of time. I mean, four goals after March? Zero in 15 playoff games? And people thought Howard Hughes disappeared. Maybe that’s what I should call Ehlers instead of Twig—Howard.

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: You’re being kind of hard on the kid, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: All I’m saying is he has 35-goal talent (or more) and his Invisible Man routine is beginning to wear thin. On the plus side, he’s young and can learn about the mental side of the game from a guy like captain Blake Wheeler.

Question Lady: Speaking of Wheeler, do you see another 91-point crusade out of him?

Answer Lady: I don’t see why not. Playing with Rink Rat Scheifele and Kyle Connor, he ought to get a point a game by accident. The guy’s a stud.

Question Lady: Any bold predictions?

Patrik Laine

Answer Lady: Yup. Puck Finn will win the Rocket Richard Trophy with 57 goals. The Rink Rat will reach the 100-point plateau and finish second to Connor McDavid in scoring. Connor Hellebuyck will win the Vezina Trophy. Paul Maurice will be a finalist for coach of the year.

Question Lady: What about the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Can’t say. Too much can change by then, and I expect it will. Chevy will do something at, or just before, the trade deadline. It’ll involve centres and defencemen.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. I’d say let’s do lunch, but I’m going home for a soak and to listen to the latest McCartney album. How about you?

Answer Lady: I think I’ll just watch old film of the Jets’ last WHA championship.

 

 

About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.

About filling a hole up front for the Winnipeg Jets…Scheifele’s salary the ceiling…oddsmakers like the Leafs, Preds, Jets and Lightning…a $77 million hometown discount…Canada’s best team…and an old folks home in L.A.

Quick takeaways from Day 1 of the National Hockey League’s annual grab bag of free agents

It’s true what the pundits are saying: Because the bean counters couldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul Stastny, the Winnipeg Jets aren’t as good today as they were on May 20, the night the Vegas Golden Knights ushered them out of the Stanley Cup spring runoff.

Fortunately for the rabble, they don’t have to be as good today.

Paul Stastny

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has until October to ferret out a reasonable facsimile of Stastny, an efficient and productive, albeit aging centre-ice man who has taken the money and skedaddled to Glitter Gulch, leaving les Jets with a significant vacancy in the middle of the rink.

Stastny, of course, was les Jets main person of interest when the National Hockey League opened its grab bag of free agents on Sunday, but keeping him in the fold was always an iffy proposition.

This was always going to be about salary cap, and it wasn’t enough that Cheveldayoff shipped hard-luck, backup goaltender Steve Mason and his burdensome $4.1-million sticker price to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to clear space. With a list of restricted free agents as long as a Winnipeg winter, the bean counters determined there simply wasn’t enough spare change in the piggy bank, otherwise Stastny would be returning to River City next autumn to help les Jets finish what was left undone in May.

It doesn’t really matter if the Golden Knights, at $6.5 million for each of the next three crusades, overpaid to lure the 32-year-old Stastny away from Portage and Main to the Vegas Strip. At issue is the hole he leaves down the middle.

Jack Roslovic

Jack Roslovic would be my choice to slide between Twig Ehlers and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine on the No. 2 forward unit, at least when the local lads gather for training exercises in September. He’s no Stastny—not yet—but Roslovic plays with tempo and imagination. I think he’d be a suitable fit in what could become les Jets version of the Kid Line.

If Roslovic doesn’t work out, Bryan Little come on down! Again, Little is no Stastny, but, hey, it’s not like he’s Milan Lucic bad.

The point is, Cheveldayoff and the bean counters have all summer and September to figure this out. If neither Roslovic or Little is the answer, they can do something at the trade deadline, same as last season when they brought Stastny on board.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Brian Burke was part of the all-gab gang on Sportsnet’s coverage of free agent day, and he mentioned something about Cheveldayoff doing “too good a job,” hence the GM’s challenge of fitting financial square pegs into round holes. There’s certainly some truth to that. But here’s the real sticking point for Chevy: Rink Rat Scheifele’s team-friendly, steal-of-a-deal contract. Les Jets could have matched the Vegas offer of $6.5 million annually to keep Stastny on board, but they can’t have their aging, No. 2 centre ahead of their young, productive No. 1 centre at the pay window. Scheifele’s annual take is $6.125 million. So that’s the ceiling for Jets forwards. They could not have offered Stastny a penny more.

That ceiling will, of course, rise when Chevy re-ups his captain and best player, Blake Wheeler, about to enter the final year of a contract that makes him the third-highest wage earner among forwards at $5.6 million. Only Scheifele and Twig Ehlers ($6M) earn more, which, given Wheeler’s performance and importance to the team, is ridiculous. He should be rewarded as the highest-paid player. The real mystery is what they do when it’s time for Chevy and the bean counters to re-up Puck Finn, who comes out of his entry level deal next summer.

The oddsmakers at BetOnline like what they see in les Jets, even sans Stastny. After the Tranna Maple Leafs (+600) and Nashville Predators (+900), the local lads and Tampa Bay Lightning were listed on Sunday at +1000 to win the Stanley Cup. It’s a bet I wouldn’t make today, not with the iffiness of the No. 2 centre slot, but I might want to make it next spring. (Surprisingly, the Detroit Red Wings were the longest shot on the BetOnline board, at +10000. Are they really that bad?)

The gab gang on Sportsnet suggested John Tavares left money on the table when he chose to abandon the New York Islanders and accept $77 million to join the Maple Leafs. In other words, it was a hometown discount because his childhood dream was to play in the Republic of Tranna. Well, excuse me, but in whose universe is $77 million a discount?

John Tavares

The Leafs get Tavares and his 84 points, the Islanders get Leo Komarov and his 19 points. Do the math. And will the last person to leave Long Island please turn out the lights?

It’s fine that the rabble in the Republic of Tranna are going ga-ga over Tavares, but here’s something they should keep in mind: He doesn’t make Jake Gardiner or Ron Hainsey better defencemen.

So, add Tavares to the Leafs roster and take Stastny from les Jets roster and who has the better team? Still the Jets, mainly because of the blueline and in goal.

Do the Los Angeles Kings have anyone under age 30 on their roster?

Two Hens in the Hockey House: It’s about humble pie…the plum tuckered out Winnipeg Jets…Connor Hellebuyck’s delusional take on goaltending…backing up the Brinks truck for Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey…re-upping Blake Wheeler…and dining on Kentucky Fried Crow

Meaningful hockey in the merry month of May? At the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? Who’d have thought? Not many. So, while there were long faces when the Winnipeg Jets’ Stanley Cup crusade ground to a halt on Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, there was also a feel-good vibe among the rabble. My Two Hens in the Hockey House are here to discuss what went wrong in the Western Conference final vs. Vegas, what went right and what lies ahead for les Jets.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, what was on the breakfast menu for you this morning, girlfriend? Humble pie or bowl of crow?

Answer Lady: Neither. I just had two slices of toast.

Question Lady: Toast. How appropriate. The Jets are toast, too. Can’t say I’m surprised, but I know you are. As I recall, you picked them to take out the Golden Knights in six games, then win the Stanley Cup. You said something about the Jets being too fast, too quick, too deep, too tough, too every blah, blah, blah thing. Turns out it was just the opposite. Did you underestimate the Golden Knights or oversell the Jets?

Answer Lady: I don’t think I considered the fatigue factor. The Jets didn’t have the usual zippity-do-da in their stride at the end. They lost their lickety-split. Their oomph. At times they were skating with hunched shoulders against the wind. The Nashville Predators took more out of them in the second round than I thought. They were plum tuckered out.

Question Lady: Really? Fatigue did them in?

Answer Lady: It just seemed to me that their usual split-second sharpness deserted them, both physically and mentally. At this level, even a nanosecond of hesitation means your shot is redirected by a stick, or the puck is in the back of your net. Especially against the Golden Knights. Those boys are cobra quick. They pounce on mistakes faster than CNN can poke holes in a Donald Trump tweet.

Connor Hellebuyck

Question Lady: Speaking of holes, a lot of the pundits are saying this series was decided in the blue paint. Marc-André Fleury did boffo work in goal for Vegas and Connor Hellebuyck was leaking oil at the other end of the rink. Agree?

Answer Lady: To a point. It’s not like Hellebuyck was Ondrej Pavelec bad, but he had too many iffy moments that were extremely damaging. At no time was he gobsmackingly good. Fleury was gobsmackingly good most of the time.

Question Lady: Hellebuyck kept talking about ‘luck’ as if there was nothing more to Fleury’s game than rabbit’s feet, horse shoes and four-leaf clovers. A bit of a sore loser, wouldn’t you say?

Answer Lady: He sounded like a teenage punk who’d light up a smoke at the dinner table. The kind of nogoodnik that no parent wants their daughter dating. Totally disrespectful. Anyone who knows a puck from petunias will tell you Fleury was the superior ‘tender. If Hellebuyck doesn’t want to throw himself under the bus, fine. But sometimes you just have to accept that the other guy was better. Given enough time for sober second thought, Hellebuyck might agree. Probably not, though. He’ll continue to be a doorknob about it.

Question Lady: Kind of harsh, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: Not really. Just kind of the truth. Hey, I like it when athletes speak out of turn, but Hellebuyck is delusional and his disrespect is most objectionable.

Question Lady: Do we agree that the Jets have a legitimate No. 1 goaltender?

Answer Lady: Based on Hellebuyck’s entire body of work this season, for sure. But it would help if they had a backup ‘tender who can go more than two minutes without visiting the repair shop. Steve Mason is as fragile as a sports writer’s ego. Who made his body, Royal Doulton? He’s brittle like the burnt toast I ate this morning. They’re paying him what, $4 million to be an innocent bystander? Nice gig.

Question Lady: Why such emphasis on a capable caddy for Hellebuyck?

Answer Lady: Again, the fatigue factor. Hellebuyck played 67 games in the National Hockey League regular season and another 17 in the Stanley Cup tournament. That’s 84 games. He played 56 games total last year. He’s never carried this demanding a workload. By way of comparison, Fleury was in the blue paint for 46 and 15 games. That’s a whole lot less wear and tear. Which of the two looked the most spry and alert to you by the end of Game 5?

Jacob Trouba

Question Lady: What are the Jets other pressing needs?

Answer Lady: I’ll parrot exactly what I said in April 2017—convincing Jacob Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. That ought to be priority uno. He and Josh Morrissey are cornerstone defencemen.

Question Lady: I wonder if there’s still residue from the Trouba-Jets contract stare-down of two years ago. Remember, he wanted out of Dodge. On the surface, everything’s cool now, but that might be window dressing. What happens if there’s still a bit of bitterness bubbling beneath the surface?

Answer Lady: I guess we’ll find out shortly. Trouba’s a restricted free agent. Either he signs another one of those piddly, two-year deals, or he’s in it for the long haul, which is to say six or more years.

Question Lady: What’s it going to cost the Jets to re-sign him?

Twig Ehlers

Answer Lady: Back up the Brinks truck, girlfriend. The Trouba camp might try to hardball the Jets. He’s been playing at a bargain-basement rate for the past two seasons, so they might be looking for payback. And he’s arbitration eligible. We’re not talking lunch money or the spare change David Thomson finds under the cushions on his sofa. Trouba won’t become the highest-paid Jet, but it’ll be obscene if he’s making a dime less than the $6 million Twig Ehlers is due. Actually, it’s an obscenity that Ehlers will be earning more coin than Blake Wheeler next season. That simply does not compute.

Question Lady: No kidding. Like, what exactly did Ehlers accomplish in these playoffs?

Blake Wheeler

Answer Lady: Squat. He did diddly. He does diddly faster than most players, but it’s still diddly. I’m not really a fan anymore. His flash-and-dash game is built for the regular season. Or Ice Capades. Wheeler, on the other hand…complete pro, except when he’s barking and snarling at news snoops. Seriously, it’s criminal that he’ll be making less money than Twig next season. I think they ought to re-up Wheeler. Add a couple years to the one he has left.

Josh Morrissey

Question Lady: A few of the lads are due raises, no?

Answer Lady: Yup, and Josh Morrissey is among them. He and Trouba became the Jets top defensive pairing, and there probably wasn’t a better blueline bargain in the NHL. Combined they earned less than $4 million. That total is going to more than double. And if the Jets want to lock them in long term, it’ll take some serious gymnastics by the bean counters to keep Trouba-Morrissey under $10 million.

Question Lady: Any chance Paul Stastny will stick around?

Paul Stastny

Answer Lady: Age tells me no if he’s looking long term, and who isn’t? Stastny’s 33 in December. The Jets already have Bryan Little tied up for six years. Unless you’re convinced you can win the Stanley Cup right now, you don’t want two 30something centres clogging up development down the middle for the next five/six years.

Question Lady: It’s going to be an interesting summer for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. Think he’ll have anything interesting to say at his exit presser?

Answer Lady: Oh, it’ll all be Chevy-speak, but this time it won’t come across as a phony bill of goods. The Jets were the real deal this season. It was a fun ride.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. Let’s stay home tonight. Maybe watch a replay of the royal wedding. Instead of cooking dinner, we can order in. Maybe a bucket of Kentucky Fried Crow for madame?

Answer Lady: Funny girl.

Winnipeg Jets movin’ on up to the second round of Stanley Cup tournament

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 5 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Friday night…

Pregame blah, blah, blah: At the outset, I wrote: “No way this series goes past five games if the Jets are going to pour 40 shots on goal every game. It might even be a sweep.” Well, I was wrong about the sweep, but here we are at Game 5 and there’s no Ryan Suter, no Zach Parise and no hope for the Wild…I note that good guy Scott Campbell is also writing off the Wild. “The Wild can make it interesting when they play their best game—when they’re not, you’re just counting down the time until the next Jets goal,” the former Jets defenceman scribbles in his Winnipeg Free Press column. “With their season on the line and a hurting Jets blue line, I expect we’ll see everything they’ve got Friday night. I just don’t think it’s enough.”…Jets, of course, enter the fray sans one defender who was in his work clothing when the best-of-seven skirmish commenced—the suspended Josh Morrissey. Also still unavailable are blueliners Toby Enstrom and Dmitry Kulikov. Tyler Myers returns, though, so it isn’t as bleak as it might have been. Good thing. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps les Jets would have to send out an SOS to Perry Miller. Last time I saw Percy, he was still in game shape. Mind you, that was in the 1990s and the game was mixed slo-pitch…Winnipeg and its indoor/outdoor Whiteouts continue to get considerable play from national media outlets. Wonder if anyone at the Free Press has noticed, or are they still whinging about River City being ignored beyond the borders of the Keystone province?…Breaking News: Twig Ehlers has been lost to les Jets due to a mystery owie. So who’ll skate in pretty circles? Certainly not Matt Hendricks, who replaces Twig in the locals’ lineup. He’s more of a north-south guy…We’ve got Stacey Nattrass to sing the anthems at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, so I’m wondering what country crooners they’ll trot out in Twang Town when the Jets and Nashville Predators hook up in the next round of this Stanley Cup tournament. Mike Fisher’s bride, Carrie Underwood, has her groove back, so perhaps we’ll hear her Star Spangled Bannering.

David Thomson

First Period: I really like seeing those vintage Jets jerseys in the stands. Classic. Wish they were still on the players’ backs, too…Jacob Trouba scores 31 seconds into the joust. Jets 1, Wild 0. Stop this senseless slaughter!…Now Bryan Little scores on a Dustin Byfuglien missile. Jets 2, Wild 0. This is going to be an embarrassment for the Wild…Hey, moneybags David Thomson is in the house. And why not? Without his bankroll, the Little Hockey House On The Prairie wouldn’t exist. Neither would les Jets…Geez, Louise, is it the Minnesota Wild or the Keystone Kops? The Minny players are tripping over each other and they’re almost scoring own goals. Total disarray…Now Brandon Tanev scores on a Minny turnover. Devan Dubnyk whiffed on it. Jets 3, Wild 0…And now Joel Armia gets in the way of a Big Buff shot and it goes past Dubnyk. Once again, the Evander Kane trade pays off for the home side. Jets 4, Wild 0…Head coach Bruce Boudreau is a compassionate man. He gives Dubie, Dubie Dubnyk the rest of the night off.

Second Period: What are the odds of les Jets keeping the pedal to the metal? Zero. It’s going to be a boring 20 minutes…Armia is gone with an upper back owie. No biggie…Yup, this is boring. Les Jets have decided to take the period off, except for the keeper, Connor Hellebuyck…Most exciting discovery is that A&W teenburgers are on sale for $3.50 until April 29. Those are my fave burgers, but only because there’s no Harvey’s in downtown Victoria…Actually, I could go for a Sals cheese nip right about now. Drat. We don’t have the Sals in Victoria either…When did the Wild last score a goal? Seems to me it was sometime in March. Still 4-zip Jets.

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie

Third Period: Rink Rat Scheifele scores on the powerplay, just to rub salt into the wound, I guess. Jets 5, Wild done like dinner…Like I said, no more than five games. Good call…My memory isn’t shot, but there are some significant gaps and, try as I might, I can’t recall the 1987 series when les Jets took out the Calgary Flames. Don’t remember a thing, but the boys in the booth and between the benches assure me that it was the last time les Jets won a playoff series…Here’s the good news for the home side (aside from advancing to the second round): A bunch of guys named Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Fuhr, Anderson et al aren’t laying in wait…Garry Galley asks, “Do these fans deserve this?” Yup, they do. Have to be happy for Good Ol’ Hometown. When I make my once-a-week visit to my favorite watering hole Saturday, people will talk about les Jets instead of “Winterpeg.” Nice.