Are you hearing echoes?
It was something that Connor Hellebuyck said during his season-closing natter with news snoops, scant hours after the Winnipeg Jets had been found wanting in another National Hockey League crusade gone wrong.
“I’m starting to run out of time and I can feel it,” Hellebuyck acknowledged. “Wheels (Blake Wheeler) talks about this all the time. It flashes by, and I’m starting to understand. You gotta make the most of your years. I’m gonna make the most of whatever my situation is and give my all and give everything I can to this spot or the team that I have.”
That, my friends, is a haunting echo from March 2017, only then it was a 29-year-old and healthy Bryan Little confirming he had begun to hear whispers from Father Time.
“It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back,” he said in the wake of the Jets failed bid to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. “Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now.”
One of the “youngest” in that 2017 Jets changing room was Hellebuyck, a fresh-scrubbed 23. Alas, there were 30 candles on his birthday cake two weeks ago, marking him among the most long-in-tooth lads in a greying group (eight guys 30 or older).
So what is Winnipeg HC to do with their tall drink of water in the blue paint?
Well, if we are to take Hellebuyck at his word (and why wouldn’t we?), his main aspiration is to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. That doesn’t make the Jets goaltender unique among the NHL’s 700-plus players, but it does make charting course an iffy bit of business for both himself and the club.
Hellebuyck and the Jets have arrived where the road forks, and what they do will tell us everything we need to know about the direction Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff plan to take their oft-dysfunctional outfit.
In the simplest of terms, they either keep their ‘keeper, or they move him out. No muss, no fuss.
Except there’s always a dab of muss and a smidgen of fuss when dealing with a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender who’s eligible for free agency 13 months hence and beginning to feel the urgency of time.
Keep Hellebuyck and the sticker price will be dear. What number will it take to make him happy and convince him to stay for the long haul? $9 million? $10 million? What term? Five years? Six years? Do that and they’re tying the team’s wagon to a 30something, just as they did with Blake Wheeler in September 2018, and we all know how well that’s worked out.
The Puck Pontiff and Chevy will have to ask themselves what their Hellebuyck-backed Jets have accomplished in the past two crusades to warrant a hefty increase in salary. And here’s their answer: Missed the playoffs and surrendered rather meekly in the first round of this spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, after crawling in as the last seed (and that was with Vezina-calibre puck-stopping).
Why, then, would the Jets entertain the notion of jacking up Hellebuyck’s annual $6.166 million pay to put him beside, or directly behind, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Sergei Bobrovsky at the pay window? The former has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup (twice) and Conn Smythe Trophy, the latter is in this spring’s final and a leading candidate to win the Smythe. Does a bit more of the Puck Pontiff’s spare change in Hellebuyk’s fat-cat wallet move the Jets closer to a championship parade?
Go ahead and argue that without Hellebuyck in goal the Jets, as presently constructed, would be a draft lottery outfit. No argument. On this team, he’s the scoop of ice cream in the cone. But padding fat-cat wallets doesn’t stop pucks, and the Jets won’t make a deeper dive into spring simply because they roll the Brinks truck up to the goaltender’s front door.
Hellebuyck has wedged the Puck Pontiff and Chevy between a rock, a hard place and a wrecking ball. He’s informed them he wants to win the Stanley Cup. Surely they know he can’t do it with the current supporting cast. And he’s “not interested” in a rebuild.
In short: Can’t win with him, can’t win without him, can’t surround him with neophytes.
It’s going to take the wisdom of Solomon for the Jets to sort this out, and we know they can’t cut the goaltender in half, even though half a Hellebuyck isn’t such a bad bet.
The echoes of 2017 remind them time’s a-wasting. Again.
Here’s another echo, this one from Hellebuyck in July 2018: “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.” It doesn’t sound like he’s still feeling the love.
Here’s another echo, this one a tweet from old friend Joe Pascucci in April 2019: “Another concern, of many, I have about the Jets and the changes sure to come this off-season is that they’ll become a team that is 2 years away from being 2 years away.” Yup.
Here’s one final echo, this one from my own self in October 2020: “It seems to me that Winnipeg HC has retreated to the wait-and-hope part of the ‘process’. The Puck Pontiff and Chevy are waiting and hoping on Sami Niku. They’re waiting and hoping on Dylan Samberg. They’re waiting and hoping on Ville Heinola. They’re waiting and hoping on David Gustafsson. Hell, they’re still waiting and hoping on Jack Roslovic, and they drafted him in 2015. And, apparently, they’ll wait and hope on Logan Stanley forever.” Samberg appears to be the only keeper in the bunch. Otherwise, it reminds me of the 1960s Kinks song Tired of Waiting for You: “So tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you…”
This tickled my funny bone: The Toronto Maple Leafs, when measured against the Jets, were a superior side in 2022-23. The evidence…
Leafs: 111 points, 2nd in division, 4th in conference, 4th in NHL, won playoff round.
Jets: 95 points, 4th in division, 8th in conference, 14th in NHL, lost in first playoff round.
Here’s the knee-slapper part: It’s the Jets faithful wearing rose-tinted goggles when they view their hockey heroes. We know this because of surveys conducted on the Jets by The Athletic and the Leafs by the Toronto Star. Consider:
61.1% of Leafs fans say the season was a failure.
78.4% of Jets fans say the season was a success.
Either Leafs loyalists have become completely jaded, or the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown are easier to please than kids at a carnival.
If what we hear about the Maple Leafs is accurate, president Brendan Shanahan makes all the important hockey decisions. So why hire Brad Treliving as GM?
For a guy who just two weeks ago said he had no intention to pull up stakes and leave the Republic of Tranna, defrocked Leafs GM Kyle Dubas must have set a land-speed record for dashing from The ROT to Pittsburgh, where he’s now president of hockey ops for the Penguins. Cripes, man, the door didn’t even have time to hit him on the ass. I swear, we haven’t seen anyone get out of Dodge that fast since Butch and Sundance saw the posse coming.
Mike Babcock to coach the Columbus Blue Jackets? Oh dear. Thoughts and prayers to Johnny Gaudreau. Ditto Patrick Laine.
An unidentified man recently returned a book to St. Helena Public Library in California’s Napa Valley. Nothing unusual about that, except this particular book—A History of the United States, by Benson Lossing—had been checked out in 1927! Making it scandalously overdue. You know, kind of like NHL commish Gary Bettman is overdue to finally get it right with the Arizona Coyotes.
A woman was strolling on Rio Del Mar State Beach on the California coast recently when she found a tooth which, according to Wayne Thompson of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, came from a Pacific mastodon, an extinct, elephant-like creature that dates back to the Ice Age. Well, duh. Of course it’s from the Ice Age, and Philly Flyers legendary captain Bobby Clarke wants his tooth back.
Just wondering: Will the Winnipeg Goldeyes-City Hall spat ever end? Seriously, it seems like they’ve been hissing at each other since Sammy Katz and his Local Nine set up shop at the beautiful Ball Yard By The Forks, (aka Buck A Year Ball Park) in 1999. The Harry-Meghan split from King Chucky and the Royal Family hasn’t been this messy. The club’s original lease is set to expire on July 28, but glitches over grant money, parking stalls and end time for a new lease have popped up like a .200 hitter with runners in scoring position. Come on, people, let’s get along. I’ve never been a Sammy Katz fan, but I know spending an afternoon/evening watching the Local Nine is a delightful experience, and the American Association club adds value to Good Ol’ Hometown. Get ‘er done.
So, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have punted Marc Liegghio, including the embattled kicker among their final roster cuts in advance of the 2023 Canadian Football League season. Talk about a day late and a dollar short. That decision came one convert/one field goal attempt too late, and it cost them a third successive Grey Cup title.
Longtime followers of the Bombers might get a giggle out of the pic you see here, which landed in my inbox thanks to good friend Robert Temmerman. Winnipeg Tribune paper boy Chris Walby didn’t make the cut as an electrical engineer or receiver (and who knew 12-year-old Chris was into stamp collecting?), but he was more than passable as an O-lineman in a hall-of-fame football career.
Receiving that newspaper clipping from Robert gave me pause for ponder on the passage of time, and I came to realize I’ve never watched a game in The Little Hockey House On The Prairie or at The Football Field In Fort Garry. When I put Good Ol’ Hometown in the rear view mirror, Winnipeg Arena and Winnipeg Stadium were still standing, Jennifer Jones had never won a Scotties, Valour FC didn’t exist, the Winnipeg Sea Bears (dumb name) didn’t exist, the Jets didn’t exist, the Winnipeg Ice didn’t exist, Glen Murray was mayor, Gary Filmon was premier, and I could order a delicious turkey clubhouse for lunch at the Wagon Wheel restaurant.
Things that make me go hmmm, Vol. 2,156: Season tickets to watch the Toronto Blue Jays from a seat in the Home Plate Club at Rogers Centre next year will set you back $39,500 to $68,500. But, hey, you aren’t just buying baseball. You’re getting “unique entertainment features plus private members’ entrance and in-seat dining.” Hmmm. For $68,500, I’d expect Adele to entertain me with a few tunes and dinner with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.
This batting tip from broadcaster Keith Hernandez during Friday’s New York Mets-Jays game: “You want to always be erect when you make contact. Like a telephone pole!” There are no words.
So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Naomi Osaka declined a natter with news snoops at the 2021 French Open, citing “mental health” issues as the reason. For that, she was fined $15,000 and tournament officials bullied the young player, with menacing threats of scorching the earth around her if she didn’t talk. So Osaka quit. Meanwhile, last week at the French Open, Aryna Sabalenka declined a chin-wag with news snoops for “my own mental health and well-bring.” Her punishment? Nada. Threats? Bullying? Nada. There was zero talk of dire consequences, like banishment from all four tennis Grand Slam events, and she plays on. More to the point, officials gave Aryna the okie-dokie to duck out of the usual post-match gab. So what changed? Is Sabalenka’s mental health of greater value than Osaka’s, or did the French finally realize that they’re dealing with human beings, not robots with great top-spin?
The lowest. That’s where the Drab Slab sports section went with its local female coverage during May. Of its 31 editions, just four (4 of 31!) included articles/briefs exclusive to local female athletes/teams, and there was a 16-day stretch with zero (0!) content other than one pic/cutlines on high school futbol. Pathetic. Shameful. Not even close to being good enough.
These are the numbers through the first five months of the year:
And, finally, it’s Pride month. Let an LGBT(etc.) person know you’re on their side.