It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not at age 57.
Dale Hawerchuk should have been allowed to grow very old and grey and gather his grandchildren around the fireplace, where he could tell them tall but true tales about the good, ol’ days in the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.
Or how he helped gut the Russians in the 1987 Canada Cup final, winning a faceoff in the defensive zone then hooking one of the Ivans to the freeze, allowing Mario Lemieux an unopposed path to the decisive score in a 6-5 victory.
But Ducky won’t be doing that. He left his bride, Crystal, and their children—Eric, Ben and Alexis—and the rest of us on Tuesday, a victim of cancer, and if you feel the urge to give the year 2020 a good, swift kick to the groin be my guest.
While you’re at it, you can also wrap a black arm band around Good Ol’ Hometown, because Ducky’s death will produce long faces from South St. Vital to West St. Paul, from Transcona to Headingly. And, if you look closely enough, you’ll probably catch the glint of a teardrop in the Golden Boy’s eyes up there atop the Legislative Building.
Actually, I’m selling Ducky short. We need a much larger black arm band, something we can stretch around the entire province. From Churchill in the north to Emerson on the Manitoba-U.S. Border.
It’s not that Ducky was our first shinny superstar. Bobby Hull, Ulf, Anders and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, were there before him, albeit in a different league and, ironically, playing a brand of hockey that Slats Sather would copycat in Edmonton and use to torment Ducky and some very good Winnipeg Jets outfits in the 1980s.
But he might be our most enduring shinny superstar, in part because he was the leader of a gang that just couldn’t quite finish the job.
Once into the National Hockey League, you see, the Jets repeatedly were confounded by those damned whirling dervishes known as the Oilers. Six times the two Prairie sides met in the Stanley Cup tournament, and six times it was the Albertans grinning in the handshake line at the end of the night. Try as they might—and no one was more determined than Ducky—the Jets never managed to wipe the smug look off Edmonton coach/GM Sather’s face, a reality that still rankles to this day.
But nobody’s holding that against Ducky, the captain of those Winnipeg HC sides. Not today. Not ever.
Nor was/is there bitterness about his exit following the last of those half dozen spring disappointments. Ducky had served his time admirably and became an adopted son. He took Crystal, a country girl from Arborg, as a bride and they made their home on a spread outside the city. He toured the province during the off-season, playing in charity slo-pitch and golf events, always smiling, always glad-handing, always obliging in his aw-shucks, country boy manner. He and Crystal maintained a cottage in Gimli once they had moved on.
Few, if any, wanted Ducky to leave after watching and enjoying him in Jets linen from 1981 to ’90, but the winds of change forced his hand.
Out was the man who had brought him to Portage and Main as a freshly scrubbed teen of 18 years, general manager John Bowie Ferguson, and in was Mike Smith, a book-wormish oddball with a degree in Russian studies, a fondness for any hockey player with a Moscow postal code, and a very different way of doing things.
Suddenly, Ducky didn’t fit in. His ice time was cut back by head coach Mud Murdoch, and negativity at the rink and in the media wore him down (more than once he called my scribblings “crap” and I can’t say he was wrong).
“I’m tired about reading bull in the papers,” he said in 1989. “I’m tired of coming to the rink with a negative-type attitude here. Maybe it’s best for the hockey club to get a few players for me. That’s not saying I want to be traded.”
There was talk of a Ducky-Denis Savard swap with the Chicago Blackhawks, but that’s all it was, talk between coaches Murdoch and Mike Keenan that was meant to be hush-hush. The Philly Flyers were said to be interested. But it was the Buffalo Sabres who pitched the right kind of woo, and Smith dispatched Ducky to upstate New York at the 1990 NHL entry draft, accepting Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and a first-round pick, Keith Tkachuk, in barter.
The Ducky-less Jets were never quite right again. Murdoch was fired a year later. Comrade Mikhail Smith received his walking papers in 1994. And the franchise was playing in an Arizona desert by ’96. Talk about curses.
Ducky’s shadow has stretched across the path of every player who’s skated in Jets livery since his departure. It still does to this day, which explains the hosannas raining down since word of his death began to spread on Tuesday.
He left Good Ol’ Hometown many years ago, but he’s never been gone. Not really.
And, the way current team co-bankroll Mark Chipman tells it, there’ll eventually be a permanent reminder of Ducky, a statue outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in downtown Winnipeg.
Anyone have a problem with that? I didn’t think so.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I’m feeling kind of cranky this morning…
As news snoops and the rabble crank up the QB controversy machine louder than a 1960s Who concert, it’s worth noting something Mike O’Shea muttered not so long ago.
“Dance with the one you brung,” he said.
Based on those half dozen words, we should expect to see Chris Streveler behind centre when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers assemble for the next step in their crusade to exorcise 29 years worth of evil spirits, except we long ago learned that Coach Grunge is all over the map when it comes to the most important position on any football field.
I mean, first he said there was no need for a QB who’d been there, done that.
“That’s not gonna happen,” the Bombers sideline steward told Knuckles Irving on the CJOB Coach’s Show just as the first frost began to settle on the pumpkin. “I like our guys. Very confident in our guys. Dance with the one you brung.”
Those guys that he “brung” were Streveler, still operating with training wheels, and Sean McGuire, who’s greener than Kermit the Frog.
Why was there no urgency to recruit a quarterback with age in his eyes and a track record in the Canadian Football League?
“Even if you trade for a veteran presence, unless he knows your guys, it’s really hard for even a veteran guy to come in late in a season and lead,” O’Shea reasoned. “I really just don’t think those scenarios work or can be applied to football this late in the season. Especially (a quarterback).”
But wait. Along comes Zach Collaros and O’Shea gives the other side of his mouth a workout.
“We said right from the get-go about bringing in a veteran guy,” he maintains, even though he’d actually said the exact opposite. “Now we got a seasoned veteran who comes in and, you know, will have a role and it’ll definitely be a good guy to have in the building. Knowing Zach, he’s a smart guy, a competitive guy, he’s going to pick things up very quickly.”
Collaros, indeed, proved to be a quick study.
The oft-wounded QB delivered the Bombers’ 11th win of this crusade on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and he had few missteps in an optimism-inducing 29-28 decision over the Calgary Stampeders. More to the point, he looked like a guy who’s been there all along, not an 11th-hour Hail Mary recruit, and Collaros was positively Flutie-esque on one dazzler that came right out of the Barnum & Bailey playbook.
Naturally, that begged this question: Who’s O’Shea’s man on Nov. 10, when Winnipeg FC enters the annual Grey Cup playoff frolic—the veteran he said he didn’t want but then said he really did want, or the neophyte who “brung” him?
“Those questions will be answered,” Coach Grunge said. “We’ll see how everybody is after this one. We got lots of time.”
Well, what did you expect? A definitive answer? As if.
The thing is, I don’t believe O’Shea was being wishy-washy. He probably doesn’t know.
Collaros certainly has given him pause for ponder. Consider a fourth-quarter touchdown toss to Darvin Adams, for example. The ball was scrimmaged at the Calgary eight-yard stripe, but a fierce pass rush forced Collaros to flee like a man escaping a burning building. He eventually launched the ball from the 24 and it landed in Adams’ arms 17 yards deep in the end zone. So the play traveled 16 yards south, about 10 yards east/west, then 41 yards north. That’s 67 yards for, officially, an eight-yard TD toss.
It’s a play that Streveler can’t make. Except perhaps with a video game console in his hands.
So O’Shea must weigh that against what Streveler has brought, and can bring, to the table.
My guess? Well, it seems to me that O’Shea values loyalty to his players above all, sometimes to the point of being mule stubborn, and that tells me Streveler will be behind centre when sudden-death football commences next month, even though he was hobbling like a peg-legged pirate with a sawed-off peg when last seen in combat gear.
Would that be the right call? Ask me on Nov. 10.
In the meantime, amp up the dialogue and let the debate rage.
Streveler or Collaros, I stand by what I wrote in early October: The West Division of the CFL remains a crap shoot, and I don’t care how it plays out on the final weekend of scheduled skirmishing. The Bombers won the season series v. Calgary, with two different QBs (Collaros and Matt Nichols), and they gave the Saskatchewan Flatlanders a thorough paddywhacking with Streveler at the wheel. So playing on the final Sunday in November is doable.
I find it interesting that the rabble often rails against QB incumbent Matt Nichols for his pedestrian passing numbers (always less than 300 yards/game) even in victory, but the hosannas are raining down on Collaros, who was 22/28, 221 yards. Those are Nichols numbers, yet Collaros is the toast of the town. Peculiar thing that.
Apparently it isn’t just moi who thinks Davis Sanchez is nothing but a well-dressed gasbag hemorrhaging from the mouth on TSN. In his always-interesting spin on Rouge Football for The Athletic, Kirk Penton delivered this quote from a CFL exec/coach: “We were talking about Davis Sanchez at halftime. TSN has blown his ego up to Sean Avery-sized. Remember that shit? On Saturday night (Sanchez) second guesses NFL coaches. During CFL games, he thinks he’s smarter and better than anyone on the field or on our sidelines—one of those cool know-it-alls that I would love to coach against. When I came home from the office last night, my wife had the election shit on. I’m surprised Sanchez wasn’t on that panel telling the Tories what they did wrong, too.”
On the subject of TSN gab guys, if someone lopped off Matthew Scianitti’s right hand, would he be able to talk? Seriously. Scianitti’s right paw is the most distracting thing on TV since Emma Peel put on her black leather catsuit. And if you’re too young to remember Emma Peel, let’s just say the catching and slaying of bad guys never looked so good.
I don’t know about you, but I’d like these National Hockey League outdoor gimmicks a whole lot more if they were moved inside. The Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames joust Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium on the Flattest of Lands did nothing for me, except make me squint at my flatscreen more than normal. Go ahead and call me old school if you like, but I just don’t think 43 km/h winds, -10C temps and snow should be a factor in an NHL game. But, hey, the Jets won, 2-1 in OT, and everyone had a good time. So I guess it’s all good.
What do I think of the Jets’ latest recruit, Luca Sbisa? I think he needs one more vowel.
Apparently, Ruffled Feathers Syndrome is contagious and it’s been flowing through the NHL during the first month of the season like barley at a beerfest. Consider: Jason Zucker called out his Minnesota teammates and head coach Bruce Boudreau, and the Wild held a players-only meeting. In the Republic of Tranna, the Maple Leafs had a “family discussion,” followed by head coach Mike Babcock calling out his players following a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Then Auston Matthews called out everyone, including himself, after a beating in Boston. Not to be outdone, Logan Couture called out two of his “selfish” San Jose Sharks teammates after a loss to the Buffalo Sabres. And Brendan Perlini wants out of Chicago. Like we’ve been saying since last spring, this stuff happens with every team at some point during the course of a marathon season, although not necessarily for public consumption. And it doesn’t mean those changing rooms are “rotten to the core” or “fractured.” I trust the boys on the beat at the Drab Slab are paying attention.
I note that Mad Mike McIntyre has joined the Drab Slab chorus in demanding an end to the Dustin Byfuglien will-he-or-won’t-he saga. He tells us that Big Buff is holding the Winnipeg Jets “hostage” while contemplating a life-altering decision to retire or return to the blueline, and “that can’t continue.” Winnipeg HC, he insists, must force Buff’s hand because “enough is enough.” That, of course, is pure rubbish. Unless Mad Mike plans on consulting with Big Buff and/or the Jets the next time there’s a major decision to be made at the McIntyre household, he should keep his life advice to himself.
Mad Mike also believes Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was spot on when he rewarded captain Blake Wheeler with a five-year contract extension. “Both the term and annual average value made sense,” he writes. Au contraire. The term is stupid. I mean, five years? For a 33-year-old with heavy, heavy mileage on him? Does Mad Mike actually believe Wheeler will be putting up 91 points two years from now when he’s collecting $10 million? Or four years from now when his sticker price is $8.25 million? Wheeler will barely be mobile at the back end of that deal. As it is, Wheeler has been spinning his wheels this crusade, with just half a dozen points in a dozen assignments, so he’ll need 85 points in 70 games to match his total from last year. Not going to happen. And it’ll only get worse as both he and his contract age.
Here’s how screwed up the Houston Astros are: Brandon Taubman, the guy who said something incredibly improper in reference to a pitcher suspended for roughing up a woman, gets fired, but Roberto Osuna, the guy who actually roughed up the woman, still has a job in the Astros bullpen and will be a hero in Houston if he helps them win the World Series. Go figure.
Okay, you’ll have to help me out here. Houston assistant GM Taubman chose to taunt three female news snoops re domestic abuse, even as one of the women wore a purple bracelet to draw attention to the scourge that is domestic violence. It was an unprovoked, disgusting and insensitive shoutout (“Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so fucking glad we got Osuna!”) he repeated six times and, although the Astros dawdled with a series of half-truths, denials and flat-out lies, Taubman has been defrocked. But you tell me which was worse, Taubman’s rant or Auston Matthews and his boozed-up buddies taunting, harassing, intimidating and mooning a lone woman on a Scottsdale, Ariz., street at 2 o’clock in the morning?
Interesting how mainstream media reacted to the Taubman incident compared to Matthews and pals. Basically, they’ve made Taubman out to be responsible for the assassination of JFK and 9/11, while Matthews is nothing worse than a college-age scamp getting in some late-night yuks. And, whereas jock journos hither and yon were fast and furious in rallying around the targets of Taubman’s bile (notably Sports Illustrated scribe Stephanie Apstein), not a thought was given to Fayola Dozithee, the victim of the Matthews so-called prank. That’s as tone deaf as the Astros.
While we’re on the domestic violence file, you know the induction of Thomas Steen into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame will raise eyebrows and draw criticism because he was charged with abuse and uttering threats against a woman in a 2014 dispute. But, remember, the hockey club long ago established its position on these matters when it held its nose and looked the other way to include Bobby Hull among the original inductees. Although never charged with domestic violence, the Golden Jet’s ex-wife, Joanne, was granted a divorce on grounds of physical and mental cruelty, and the horror stories are well documented. Charges against Steen, meanwhile, were stayed, although he did spend a night in jail for breaching a no-contact order. Go ahead and kick up a fuss if you like, but it won’t change anything. The squeaky-clean Jets don’t consider it a stain.
As for the induction of Randy Carlyle to the Jets Hall, 100 per cent approved. The sole blot on Kitty’s file was a pee test that proved faulty at the world hockey championships. Kitty could have failed a drug test only if the squints were looking for residue from a glazed donut.
Add the name David Singh of Sportsnet to the list of scribes who perform a soft-shoe routine around boycotting female hockey players. Singh did the Q&A thing with Jayna Hefford of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association recently, but did he ask her why the boycotters refuse to engage in meaningful dialogue with commish Dani Rylan of the National Women’s Hockey League? No. Instead, he lobbed these probing questions: “You met Billie Jean King at the recent Dream Gap Tour event in Chicago. What was that like for you?” And: “What did the two of you talk about?” Atta boy, David. That’s getting to the heart of the matter. It’s evident that the women’s boycott has become more about photo-ops with Billie Jean King than it is improving their lot in life, and guys like Singh are swilling the Kool-Aid instead of calling them out.
And, finally, having been born and raised in Winnipeg, I’d like to go on record as saying I’m proud of Brian Pallister for being the only Prairie premier who didn’t have a hissy fit because of federal election results.
A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m still a free agent but my phone still ain’t ringing and there ain’t no offer sheets on the way…
Let me guess. You’re underwhelmed.
I mean, the National Hockey League annual grab bag of teenage talent has come and gone, the frenzy that is Day 1 of free agency is behind us, Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev are memories, the return on Jacob Trouba was scant, and there’s a hole the size of Don Cherry’s ego on the right side of the Winnipeg Jets’ defence.
In other words, the Summer of Chevy is unfolding as expected.
Kevin Cheveldayoff is paid to generally manage les Jets, but what we have here is an example of the tail wagging the dog. The system now dictates his every move. He was forced to deal Trouba. He was forced to watch Myers and Tanev skate away as UFAs on Monday. He’ll be forced to make Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp mega-millionaires. He might be forced to unload useful workers and, perhaps, elite talent. And, unless he can find a sucker or two, he’s stuck with some contracts that will grow old in a hurry, if they haven’t already (read: Byfuglien, Dustin; Wheeler, Blake; Little, Bryan).
In short, it’s a fine mess Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have gotten themselves into.
Granted, there’s still much heavy lifting in front of Chevy, and the rabble can always hope that he has a bit of Harry Houdini in him. Or that he can find some hats with rabbits inside. For now, though, it looks like the third defence pairing in October will be a couple of guys named Wing and A Prayer.
And to think, a year ago Winnipeg HC was viewed as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Today they’d be lucky to win a cup of soup.
Chevy and the Puck Pontif (on the rare occasions when he’s spoken) have used up considerable oxygen reciting and trumpeting their draft-and-develop mantra. Which is fine. Except for all the good work their bird dogs have done identifying blue-chip kids, the braintrust is doing everything else all wrong.
That is, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff haven’t been building around Rink Rat Scheifele, Josh Morrissey, Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and the departed Jacob Trouba. They’ve been building around the aforementioned Byfuglien, Wheeler and Little. They still are. And that’s totally bass ackwards.
Let’s forget for a moment what’s in their pay envelopes. Think term. Do you realize that Twig Ehlers is the only player—that’s right, just one!—with a longer-term contract than Wheeler and Little (both five years)? They’re 33 and 32 years old. No defender has more term than Big Buff (two more years). He’s 34. Those are the deals that Chevy and the Puck Pontiff continue to build around. And, now that it’s time to pay the piper in the form of re-ups for Puck Finn, Connor and Copp, those ill-advised contracts with their no-movement and no-trade addendums are in the way.
Wheeler, of course, is fresh off repeat 91-point seasons, so he isn’t spent, but if he keeps producing at that level into his shinny dotage someone will demand he pee in a bottle. That is to say, at some point his numbers have to drop faster than F-bombs at a stag. Big Buff, meanwhile, is a necessary evil now that Trouba and Myers have skipped town, and we all know Little is no longer a No.-2 centre. It’s just that Chevy ignores that obvious flaw until he gets his annual wakeup call before the NHL shop-and-swap deadline, at which time he’s moved to squander a first-round draft choice for a two-month rental.
Look, I concede there’s value to thirtysomething hockey players. I just don’t think a guy should be at the front end of a five-year term once his chin whiskers turn grey. And they certainly can’t be considered building blocks.
Like I said, it’s bass ackwards.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find it interesting that Wheeler, Little and Big Buff are the only remnants of the Atlanta cartel that arrived in 2011. I’m not sure what that means, but it occurs to me that they’ve been coddled from the get-go. Just saying.
Looks like a couple of boys on the beat have been swilling the Jets Kool-Aid. Both Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun and Murat Ates of The Athletic used the same word to describe how we should view Chevy’s do-nothing handiwork—patience. Wiebe acknowledged that Winnipeg HC is in retreat mode, but he managed to find a silver lining in that cloud: “Reclaiming some semblance of underdog status probably suits the Jets just fine.” (I don’t even know what the hell that means.) He then stressed “the importance of patience for a small-market organization like the Jets.” Ates provided the backup vocals, opining, “I believe Cheveldayoff’s best play is to show patience.” Wow. I’ve gotta get me a pair of those rose-tinted glasses.
What say you, Pierre McGuire? Give us your take on the Summer of Chevy. “This pains me to say this, ’cause I think Kevin Cheveldayoff and all the people in Winnipeg have done a phenomenal job with their group,” the TSN natterbug said when asked to identify a “loser” on Day 1 of NHL free agency. “That being said, James (Duthie) talked about losing people, when you lose Jacob Trouba for nothing, basically, when you lose Tyler Myers for nothing, when you lose Tanev for nothing, you lose Kevin Hayes for a fifth-round pick, you’re losing a lot. That hasn’t even addressed Ben Chiarot yet. So that could be a lot of losses. Winnipeg is not as good. They’re not as good as they were a year ago.” Some of us feel your pain, Pierre.
Remember old friend Evander Kane? Of course you do. Chevy shipped out the young winger in February 2015 (along with Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf) and received a handful of live bodies in barter with the Buffalo Sabres—Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia—plus a draft pick he turned into Jack Roslovic. Myers is now a member of the Vancouver Canucks, which means Chevy has Roslovic to show for that transaction and Buffalo has Bogo. Would any of us take Roslo for Bogo today? I would.
TSN scout-in-residence, Craig Button, isn’t as high on les Jets top prospects as you might be. Naming Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, Kristian Vesalainen, Mason Appleton, Logan Stanley, David Gustafsson, Simon Lundmark, Mikhail Berdin, Declan Chisholm and Santeri Vertanen as the top-10 wannabes, he gives Chevy’s bird dogs a B-minus for their work, worse than every Canadian club except the Calgary Flames, also a B-minus.
“Winnipeg’s list is populated by prospects projected to be middle-six, bottom-half-of-the-lineup NHLers,” he says.
This is interesting: According to NBC, the Edmonton McDavids, your Winnipeg Jets and the Tranna Maple Leafs are the top road draws in the NHL, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philly Flyers rounding out the top five. And here I thought the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was the best road show out of River City.
Hey, check it out. Old friend John Paddock scored a hole-in-one on the 12th at Clear Lake on the weekend. You’ll remember good, ol’ John as a terrific guy, but also the man who had the bad manners to ship Teemu Selanne to the Disney Ducks back in the day. The former Jets GM accepted Oleg Tverdovsky, Chad Kilger and a third-round draft pick in barter for Teemu, Marc Chouinard and a fourth-rounder. “In hindsight would you do it differently? Of course you would,” Paddock, now GM of the Regina Pats, told ESPN a few years ago. “But that’s hindsight. The owners talked about budget and contracts and trying to get a defenceman…and there was a health concern with Teemu…there were different factors.” Some of us were concerned for John’s health after that trade.
Let’s play Jeopardy! Your category: The Canadian Football League after Week 3.
Clue: This is what $2.9 million buys you these days. Answer: What is a zero-3 record?
B.C. Lions bankroll David Braley coughed up large coin for starting QB Mike Reilly, and I’m guessing he’s given more than a fleeting thought to a do-over. A donut in the W column and a 2,124 drop in attendance for the home opener can’t be what he had in mind.
Clue: Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in an ice tub. Answer: Who are Zach Collaros, Antonio Pipkin and Bo Levi Mitchell?
Three starting quarterbacks down due to owies, six to go. At this rate, we can expect to see TSN natterbugs Matt Dunigan and Hank Burris back in pads and flinging the football by mid-August.
Clue: Seen mostly in B.C., Toronto, Montreal and, now, Edmonton. Answer: What are empty seats?
If the Eskimos didn’t perform in such a monstrosity of a stadium, the optics wouldn’t be so bad. But when you put 23,639 into a 60,081 facility, there’s more empty space than in Homer Simpson’s head. That’s not what Prairie football is supposed to look like.
Got a kick out of Megan Rapinoe’s comments after the Americans’ 2-1 women’s World Cup quarterfinal win v. France: “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team, it’s never been done before, ever. That’s science right there.” Seems ridiculous, but Megan makes a valid point as it relates to the World Cup. The website Outsports advises us that there are 40 out lesbians/bisexuals playing, coaching or on team support staff in France, and 19 of them are on sides that reached the last four—U.S. (6), England (3), the Netherlands (5) and Sweden (5). So it’s a fact: You can’t win without gays.
And, finally, a ship carrying 1,500 tons of Canadian garbage arrived on our shores last week, but there’s no truth to the rumor that Chevy was there to meet it and look for defencemen.
A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m an unrestricted free agent but my phone still ain’t ringing…
As I was saying not so long ago, if a young player wants out of Dodge, he simply has to bide his time and the Trade Fairy shall grant his wish.
Evander Kane did it. Jacob Trouba did it.
One is now earning top dollar in San Jose, the other will reap his financial reward in Gotham or another National Hockey League locale.
And that, kids, is the main flaw in your draft-and-develop blueprint.
Now, I realize that Kane wasn’t among general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s prize catches in the NHL’s annual garage sale of acne-plagued teens, because he arrived with the Atlanta caravan that rolled into River City in 2011. But Kane was just a sprig of 20 years and, with 30 goals in his first whirl with the Winnipeg Jets, perhaps the shiniest part of the draft-and-develop plan.
Alas, Kane and Good Ol’ Hometown went together like a vegan and a 20-ounce T-bone.
Kane filed a trade request every summer and, 3½ years and one sopping-wet track suit later, Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman cried uncle, shipping their controversial conversation piece to the Buffalo Sabres, who passed the problem on to the San Jose Sharks.
Trouba, meanwhile, went looking for a way over the wall in May 2016, skipping training exercises and the first two months of the season that autumn, then signing a bridge deal. He ignored whatever woo Chevy pitched at him last summer, instead calling in an arbitrator to settle a salary stalemate. And now, three years after his original ask for a new postal code, the Trade Fairy has touched his shoulder with her magic dust.
The Jets top-pair defender became a member of the New York Rangers on Monday, and you can be sure that his escape won’t go unnoticed by others in les Jets changing room.
You want out of Dodge, kid? You say you don’t fancy minus-40 temps? The bright lights of the city aren’t bright enough? The WiFi doesn’t cut it? Paul Maurice is feeding you a steady diet of press box popcorn? The guy sitting in the changing room stall next to you is teacher’s pet and collects more coin? Not to worry. Give it 3-3½ years, kid. The Trade Fairy will pay you a visit.
Again, that’s the irritating fly in the draft-and-develop ointment. The club only controls the player for X number of years and there’s nada Chevy or the Puck Pontiff can do to prevent him from bolting.
The trick, of course, is to receive a favorable divorce settlement.
To assess Chevy’s latest bit of handiwork, we must look at it in four-part measure. That is:
* Brendan Lemieux and the 20th shout-out in this Friday’s entry draft went to N.Y. for rental centre Kevin Hayes at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline in late February.
* Negotiation rights to Hayes were transferred to the Philly Flyers in barter for a fifth-round shout-out.
* Trouba went to N.Y. for Neal Pionk and the 20th shout-out that Chevy originally surrendered to N.Y.
* Bottom line: Trouba and Lemieux for Pionk and a fifth-rounder.
I believe there’s a word for that—fleeced.
I mean, when Chevy shook hands with Rangers GM Jeff Gorton to complete the deal, I hope he checked to see if he still had all his fingers.
Oh, there have been worse decisions. Decca records signing The Tremeloes and telling The Beatles to pound pavement leaps to mind. And Manhattan in barter for an assortment of tools will forever serve as the standard for “D’oh!” moves. But shipping out a top-pair defender as payment for a handful of hope named Neal Pionk certainly doesn’t set the heart racing.
Naturally, some among the rabble stress that Chevy has freed up that most valuable of commodities in today’s NHL: Cap Space. The difference between signing Trouba and Pionk is anywhere from $4 million to $5 million. Fine. But I’ll remind you of that next season when Cap Space is losing one-v-one puck battles or trying to shut down Nathan MacKinnon.
Other Chevy apologists suggest that the GM had little option but to accept a lowball offer. Trouba wanted out. He’d be an unrestricted free agent a year from now. Everybody in hockey knew it, thus offers were scant. Chevy’s hands were tied.
But that’s my point.
We know for certain that two players—Kane and Trouba—asked to be moved and they were, at ages 23 and 25. That’s more like a draft-develop-and-depart program.
Just spitballing here, but let’s say Patrik Laine is the next young stud to pull on a pair of grumpy pants. He wants a fresh start. He’s seen how it worked out for Kane and Trouba. So Puck Finn signs a bridge deal, puts in his time like a good soldier, then forces Chevy’s hand. And what do the Jets receive in return? A checking forward?
The adios of Trouba is not a good look on the Jets or Chevy. They lost. And now any young player with an axe to grind knows how to beat them.
A good portion of the Jets constituency is telling Trouba not to let the door smack him on the ass as he leaves Good Ol’ Hometown, but I’m not among their number. Ya he wanted out, but so did Dale Hawerchuk, and Ducky is revered in River City. So the anti-Trouba sentiment makes no sense to me.
If the Rangers can nail down Trouba long term, who was the problem in the ongoing contract saga in River City, Chevy or Kurt Overhardt, the defenceman’s hard-ass agent? Either way, the failure to convince Trouba that Good Ol’ Hometown is the place to be stands as Chevy’s major fail as Jets GM. Then again, you can’t convince a cattle rancher to buy sheep.
Clearly, les Jets are not as good a team today as they were Monday morning. The good news is, Chevy’s only just begun the makeover. Or, based on the Trouba trade, maybe that’s the bad news.
So what’s the scoop on Brett Hull? Is he trying to drink all of Missouri dry? Is he trying to one-up Ovie in Stanley Cup hoorawing? The Golden Brett has become the Golden Blotto, and I wonder why the St. Louis Blues let him anywhere near a microphone.
And, finally, I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith, but, like most scribes, he has a tendency to lose the plot. His recent piece on the National Basketball Association champion Tranna Jurassics would be an e.g. “They’re bigger than the Beatles,” he wrote. Right. A guy who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s would know what it was like when John, Paul, George and Ringo touched down in the 1960s. I don’t think it’s the dumbest thing I’ll read this year, but it has the clubhouse lead right now.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I wonder if the Blue Bombers will ever get to play a game at Lambeau Field…
I am not accustomed to telling others what to do with their money.
Oh, sure, I sometimes wonder why folks spend considerable chunks of their well-earned—or ill-gotten—coin on certain things. You know, like a Nickelback or Luke Bryan concert. Or that phony fist fight a couple years ago between wife-beater Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the planet’s most-vulgar athlete, Conor McGregor. Or an Adam Sandler anything.
But, hey, it’s your dime. Spend it as you like.
I will, however, make an exception in the case of the National Football League dress rehearsal featuring the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers, proposed for Aug. 22 at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry. Tickets are priced from $75 to $340 (plus taxes, plus fees, plus your child’s university tuition)…and people are actually buying them.
To borrow a phrase from one-time tennis wingnut John McEnroe: “You CANNOT BE SERIOUS!”
Think about it, kids. Folks in Oakland will watch those same Raiders play the Los Angeles Rams on Aug. 10 for the equivalent of 13 loonies and couch change. Yet the tariff in Good Ol’ Hometown is $75-$340?
We haven’t seen a ripoff like this in River City since the night Dave Hanson ripped the rug off Bobby Hull’s head.
It couldn’t be more of a sham if the two teams were named Con and Job.
So, yes, you can count me as shocked that all the $75-plus seats were snatched up in less than 24 hours. I mean, we’re talking about Winnipeg here. The Ojibwe word for Winnipeg is “wholesale.” Peggers wouldn’t buy a corned beef sandwich from Oscar’s Deli unless it was a bargain. Which, of course, it is. Yet they’re shelling out large dollars for faux football (read: exhibition season).
Someone suggested an NFL game in Winnipeg is comparable to a Paul McCartney concert. I agree. The Raiders haven’t been any good since the 1970s and neither has Sir Paul.
Sticking with Sir Macca and the Packers, the former Beatleplayed Lambeau Field, home of the Cheeseheads, on Saturday night as part of his Freshen Up Tour. Tickets went for $55.95 to $279.95, but they were fetching as much as $3,500 on the secondary market. Imagine that, spending $3,500 just to listen to Silly Lambeau Songs.
I have no quibble with the NFL invading three-down football territory. It’s not like the locals will stop watching or supporting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers simply because Aaron Rodgers and his American Cheesehead pals are coming to town. It might, in fact, confirm what some of us have believed since we were knee high to Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis—our game is more entertaining than theirs.
My goodness. The Canadian Football League season is already upon us, with the fun starting on Thursday in the Hammer. I swear, it seems like only yesterday that Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders was squawking about the “fucking Canadian mafia” in Winnipeg.
I’ve already made my 29th annual prediction of a Grey Cup parade for downtown River City in November, and it doesn’t matter that my previous 28 forecasts were incorrect. (Hey, if meteorologists can be wrong every day, I can be wrong once a year.) This will be the order of finish in the CFL this season:
East Division 1. Hamilton
Playoffs Calgary def. Toronto
B.C. def. Edmonton
Hamilton def. Calgary
Winnipeg def. B.C.
Grey Cup: Winnipeg def. Hamilton
I hope the kickoff to the CFL season brings Kirk Penton back to his keyboard. Kirk’s take on all things three-down football for The Athletic are must-reads, notably the insider musings from league coaches, GMs, scouts and upper-management types.
If it’s a good read you’re looking for (and who isn’t?), you’ll want to check out Katy Strang’s piece on the NHL rookie combine in The Athletic. It’s lengthy, but worth the time because it provides incredible insight, including this cringeworthy gem:
“One agent mused that the later in the week the combine goes, the more some teams’ scouting staffs get bored and start screwing around for a laugh. But sometimes teams cross a line.
“Take the example of one current NHL player, who recalled his most vivid memory of the combine interview process. The wide-eyed teenager entered the room for an interview with the team, sat down and, rather than being questioned, was met with this jaw-dropping remark instead from one of the team’s high-ranking executives:
“So, I heard you’re a pussy.”
Like I said, it’s cringeworthy, but not at all shocking. That kind of degrading, sexist hockey-speak has been around since road apples were used for pucks and Eaton’s catalogs were shin pads, and hokey slogans like “Hockey Is For Everyone” won’t drown out the misogyny choir. It’s also the reason why any gay players remain hidden so deep in the closet that a team of coal miners can’t find them.
Did he or didn’t he? Aaron Portzline of The Athletic says he did. Ken Robinson says he didn’t. But, to date, Jack Roslovic has neither confirmed nor denied that he asked for a one-way ticket out of Dodge at some point during the Winnipeg Jets’ latest National Hockey League crusade. Unhappy Jack certainly whinged about a lack of ice time, but so did his on-again, off-again linemate Mathieu Perreault and, no doubt, every other guy that head coach Paul Maurice forgot about (hello, Nic Petan). Hockey players bitch about ice allotment on every team, in every town, from peewee to beer league to pro, and I suspect it’s highly prevalent among young players with les Jets. I suppose that’s what passes for “ruffled feathers” these days.
If Coach Potty Mouth put Roslovic, Twig Ehlers and Kyle Connor together, he might have the fastest forward unit in the NHL. Also the most timid.
Had to laugh at a line in Mad Mike McIntyre’s column on Unhappy Jack. “The Roslovic trade bombshell was just another log on the fire for the ‘everything is broken’ crowd out there when it comes to the Jets,” he wrote in the Drab Slab. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to Mad Mike that he’s the dude who created the “everything is broken” mob with his fact-free “rotten to the core” yarn in early April. Since that initial installment of his whodunit novel Scandal, Jets Wrote, speculation and gossip have been running at full gallop, no surprise given that Mad Mike has yet to provide any hard-core evidence of corruption.
Watching Boston Bruins president Cam Neely toss a water bottle in unrestrained fury during Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final reminded me of the night John Ferguson, then GM of the Jets, dumped an entire bucket of ice cubes from his press box bunker onto the Buffalo Sabres bench in the old barn on Maroons Road. Fergy was a beauty.
Luke Fox of Sportsnet offered an interesting take on the Neely water-bottle toss, inspired by a non-penalty call that led to St. Louis Blues’ decisive score in a 2-1 win: “So this is how we find out Cam Neely is a lefty. The uncalled penalty was so blatant and so instrumental to the outcome of the game and, possibly, the championship that the president of the Boston Bruins stood up enraged in the press box, snatched a water bottle with his left hand and, in one fluid motion, whipped it against the wall like Pedro Martinez.” Ya, just like Pedro. Except for one thing: Martinez wasn’t a freaking lefty. He tossed right-handed for the Dodgers, the Expos, the Red Sox, the Mets and the Phillies. The only thing Pedro ever did with his left hand was toss Don Zimmer to the turf.
I’m not saying officiating in this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament has been all bad, but it’s not a good sign when the zebras skate onto the ice to the tune of I Go Blind by Hootie and the Blowfish.
Dumbest headline of the week was delivered by Sportsnet: “U.S. TV ratings aside, Raptors-Warriors is dream matchup for NBA.” Oh, for sure. The NBA should ignore the fact that most folks in the world’s greatest basketball nation are watching Gilligan’s Island reruns instead of the hoops championship series. Viewership in the U.S. has reached 10- to 12-year depths. Game 5 in the Republic of Tranna, with the Jurassics positioned to put away the Golden State Juggernaut, could be the lowest-rated final match ever in Trumpland. This is a dream matchup for the NBA like Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman were a dream couple. We’re talking nightmare, kids.
Women’s hockey update: XVI Sports and Sportsground in Sweden have joined forces to produce all games in the SDHL on TV next winter. It’s a six-year, multi-million dollar deal. All that’s missing is a network partner to come on board. Meanwhile, the grand sum of 18 players have signed with National Women’s Hockey League outfits in the U.S., with the Boston Pride leading the way with eight players. That ought to make the Pride a shoo-in for the title. Except they don’t have a goalie.
And, finally, boffo start to the women’s World Cup, with host France beating South Korea 4-donut. Our soccer ladies take to the pitch vs. Cameroon on Monday, and if this is Christine Sinclair’s final whirl with our national side I hope she goes out in a blaze of glory.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
There’s been considerable teeth gnashing, hand wringing and chin wagging devoted to the flawed National Hockey League playoff schematic in the past week, all of it an echo of the squawking we heard during the spring runoff a year ago.
The Tranna Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins meeting in Round 1? Stupid.
The Winnipeg Jets, henceforth known as Canada’s (Only) Team, and the Nashville Predators obliged to engage in hostilities in Round 2. Also stupid.
Apparently, it isn’t “fair” either.
Well, excuse me, but I must have missed the memo that says sports is supposed to be fair.
Is it fair that Connor McDavid is stuck in Edmonton? Is it fair that Brent Burns has that magnificent beard and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine has the world’s worst collection of chin whiskers? Is it fair that Michael Phelps has flippers instead of feet? Is it fair that Secretariat had a heart the size of a keg of beer while most other race horses have hearts the size of a shot glass. Is it fair that 5-feet-7 Spud Webb had to climb a stepladder to look 7-feet-7 Manute Bol in the eye?
Expecting fairness in sports is a fanciful notion.
Ask New York Islanders fans about fair. If sports was meant to be fair, someone not named Garth Snow would be generally managing their NHL club. Instead, they’re still saddled with him, 12 years in.
Ask Jets Nation about fair. Every time Dale Hawerchuk and the boys were feeling their oats in the 1980s, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and pals were eating their lunch. (Les Jets and Edmonton Oilers played 19 games across five series in the ’80s. Final tally: Edmonton 18 Ws, Winnipeg 1.)
I think the last truly “fair” thing in sports was Elin Nordegren’s divorce settlement with Tiger Woods.
In an ideal world, sure, the Preds and Canada’s (Only) Team wouldn’t meet until Round 3 of the Stanley Cup tournament. They, after all, collected the most points in the regular season, finishing 1-2, respectively. But, hey, it’s not like the NHL has a monopoly on stupid. The National Football League, Canadian Football League, Major League baseball…all dumb.
The NFL has been known to reward sub-standard outfits with home playoff dates simply because they had the good fortune of competing in a turtle division. The CFL is worse. The East Division has been without a plus-.500 team since 2015, but the Ottawa RedBlacks and Tranna Argonauts won the past two Grey Cup games in large part because they were granted a bye and home field in the playoffs. In Major League Baseball, both the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates had more Ws than two of the three National League division champions in 2015, yet they were required to compete in a wild-card game.
None of that’s fair. Sports was never meant to be fair.
You want to talk about fairness in sports? Any club other than the Oilers winning the right to choose Rasmus Dahlin at the NHL entry draft in June…that’s fairness in sports. I mean, what was the most oft-heard conversation once the ping-pong balls stopped bouncing at the draft lottery on Saturday in The Republic of Tranna? Try this:
“Thank gawd those messed-up, misfit SOBs in Edmonton don’t get another first pick overall.”
“You got that right, man. ABO—anybody but the Oilers.”
It’s bad enough that the Oil Drop gets the 10th shoutout in June (it’ll be their eighth top-10 pick this decade if you’re keeping score at home), but a fifth No. 1 would have brought serious calls for entry draft reform. As it turns out, the Buffalo Sabres will get Dahlin (not wild about that; was hoping for the Vancouver Canucks).
Did the NHL Department of Tsk-Tsking really call the Boston Bruins and instruct them to instruct Brad Marchand to stop licking opposing players? Marchand, you’ll recall, was observed licking Leo Komarov of the Tranna Maple Leafs on the neck during their just-concluded Stanley Cup series. What’s the big deal? Everybody’s been licking the Leafs since 1967.
Interesting times in the 6ix, which, I’m told, is what the happening people who hang out with Drake call The Republic of Tranna. Les Leafs, of course, have put away the pucks in favor of more seasonal pursuits, but they couldn’t retreat from The ROT without Nick Kypreos tossing a lit match into the dumpster of another crusade that ended in wanting. “Babcock lost Matthews,” he told the boys on Sportsnet 590’s Starting Lineup. “I don’t know what happened, but he lost him. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews.” Kypreos failed to offer a shred of evidence to support his thesis that head coach Mike Babcock and his main stud, Auston Matthews, were/are at odds, except to mutter something about “body language.” Lame, lame, lame. This story will lose some of its giddyup over the summer, but it’ll be a fresh brush fire when les Leafs reconvene in autumn, with the possibility of gusts up to an inferno. Simply because Kypreos opened his gob and out fell innuendo, then reporters and opinionists chased after it.
What’s the difference between a sloth and Zdeno Chara? Two toes on each foot. I mean, to say that Chara is sloth slow would be an insult to dawdling mammals everywhere. I swear, if a fire alarm went off, a sloth would beat Chara out the door. Incredibly, the Bruins captain continues to get the job done and, at age 41, he gobbles up more minutes for head coach Bruce Cassidy than the mere mortals on the B’s blueline. I just wonder if it’s sustainable through three more rounds of the Stanley Cup tournament. I don’t see it happening, but more power to him if he can pull it off.
I sometimes think Damien Cox of the Toronto Sun/Sportsnet and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna/TSN were separated at birth. Seriously. They must be blood related. How else do we explain their shared penchant for the absurd? Last week, for example, Cox wrote: “The (Nashville Predators) have always been competitive under the only GM they’ve ever had, David Poile.” Apparently, “always competitive” means missing the playoffs eight times. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs in the first five years of the franchise’s existence. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs as recently as both 2013 and ’14. Cox then doubled down on his “D’oh!” boy hockey analysis by submitting that the Maple Leafs defence was “fine” in a 7-4 Game 7 loss to the Bruins on Wednesday. Fine? Jake Gardiner was totally inept. His game was like a spring day in Winnipeg—minus-5. It was biblical in its awfulness. The puck was a live grenade on his stick. He wanted no part of it. (Neither, for that matter, did his equally inept goaltender, Frederik Andersen.) It’s hard to imagine any player inflicting so much damage on his own side during 24 minutes of ice time, but, according to Cox, a defence that featured Gardiner was “fine.” At the end, I found myself wondering what the Leafs could possibly fetch in barter for Gardiner during the off-season. Certainly no one who’s breathing.
I used to enjoy listening to the boys banter on Hockey Central at Noon, but it has become a chore now that Cox seems to have secured a regular seat on the soup-and-sandwich-time gabfest. The man is an interruptive, insufferable, eye-rolling, lip-licking, fact-fudging, ego-driven, know-it-all squawkbox who talks down to people and gets agitated at the slightest suggestion that his might not be a persuasive or prevailing opinion. Other than that, Cox is “fine.”
Word out of Russia is that disgraced wife-beater Slava Voynov will seek re-entry to North America and the NHL, and his wish list includes the Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and—horrors—Winnipeg. I think maybe Slava might want to scratch the Jets off his list. They took heat for inducting Bobby Hull into their Hall of Fame, so I can’t see them flopping down the welcome mat for the former Los Angeles Kings defenceman who spent two months in the brig and was deported from the U.S. for kicking the crap out of his wife.
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The brother you don’t hear about, Keith Gretzky, left the Boston Bruins after the 2016 season to join his friend, Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton. But here’s what Gretzky left behind as scouting director: Future Norris Trophy winner Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo. He passed on Mathew Barzal. Stuff happens. Name another team that’s drafted better?”
Okay. I’ll name another team: The Winnipeg Jets—Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jack Roslovic, Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku, Kristian Vesalainen.
Second, Gretzky’s work in the first round of the 2015 entry draft can’t be written off as “stuff happens.” Ya, he got the B’s a keeper in Jake DeBrusk, but he used picks 13-14-15 to claim Jakub Zboril, DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn when Mathew Barzal (16th) Kyle Connor (17th), Brock Boeser (23rd), Travis Konecny (24th) and Jack Roslovic (25th) were there for the taking.
Third, Gretzky didn’t draft Grzelyck for the Bruins. He was taken in 2012, two years before the Great One’s brother became the B’s top amateur bird dog.
Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.
And, finally, it’s about Canada’s (Only) Team: Peggers are already partying like it’s the 1970s again—when Ben Hatskin was hijacking Bobby Hull and the Jets were riding in championship parades as a regular routine—but will the cross-country rabble rally ’round the flag and adopt an outfit from little, ol’, out-of-the-way Winnipeg as Canada’s team as the NHL playoffs lurch along? I have my doubts. I mean, sure, there’ll be pockets of hosers across our vast land whose patriotic pangs will inspire them to root, root, root for Tinytown North, because beating the beasts of the south and returning Hockey’s Holy Grail to its rightful home is a compelling, warm-and-fuzzy narrative. But I can’t imagine les Jets catching the fancy of the masses in The Republic of Tranna, Ottawa and all points east. Nor on the far side of the Rocky Mountains, where locals mourned the passing of the Sedin twins with much reverence for a respectful 48 hours then returned to the shade of their palm trees and regularly scheduled patio lattés. I’m thinking nothing shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup final will stir up national fervour for Canada’s (Only) Team. But it’s never too early or too late for outriders to hop on the bandwagon.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
See? Evander Kane was right all along.
He wasn’t the problem.
It was all those ungrateful, green-with-envy restaurant workers and (especially) those nasty racists in Winnipeg. And it was those young, gold-digging women in Buffalo who kept calling the cops and accusing him of sexual assault. And it was those same cops who clapped the cuffs on him—in broad daylight on a downtown Buffalo street, no less—and hauled his sorry butt to the hoosegow. They were white, ergo racist.
That’s why Kane never blossomed into the National Hockey League mega-star that so many of the faithful expected (hoped?) him to become.
Well just look at our old friend now.
Kane has landed in a city, San Jose, where (apparently) there isn’t someone wearing a white bedsheet and a KKK hood hiding behind every lamp post. The citizenry is, according to Paul Gackle of the San Jose Mercury News, recognized for “ethnic diversity and lefty politics.” Also significant: “Less than 30 per cent of its population is white.”
And—as if on cue—presto! Kane has his first NHL hat trick. Four goals in one game, in fact. Five in nine.
“It’s great that San Jose is so diverse,” the former Winnipeg Jets/Buffalo Sabres and freshly minted Sharks winger told Gackle just last week. “I’ve heard nothing but positive things.”
I guess Kane missed the memo about Donald Williams Jr.
He was a 17-year-old black freshman and the victim of a chilling campaign of racism at San Jose State University. Three white dorm roommates terrorized Williams Jr., dropping N-bombs, calling him “fraction,” posting pictures of Adolph Hitler, flaunting the Confederate flag and, most alarming, they clamped a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck and told him they lost the key. That went on for three months. The white boys insisted it was a college prank and, alarmingly, a jury agreed, finding the roommates guilty of misdemeanor battery but clearing one on a hate-crime charge and failing to reach a verdict on the other two. Oh, did I fail to mention that it was an all-white jury?
I don’t recall anything like that happening at the University of Winnipeg or University of Manitoba.
Ironically, the Williams Jr. torment occurred in 2013, about the same time Kane was telling The Hockey News that much of the criticism directed his way in Winnipeg was “because I’m black, and I’m not afraid to say that. I do think that’s true. Absolutely.”
Indeed, Gackle writes about “the racial issues that Kane confronted with the Jets,” but he leans heavily on race and goes light on substance. That is to say, not once does he provide anecdotal evidence in his Mercury News article to support his supposition. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, Kane has never supplied one morsel of detailed testimony to confirm that racism was at the root of his trouble in River City. At best, he’s muttered about the horrors of “social media and that sort of stuff.”
That from a guy who once tweeted that Chris Bosh “looked like a fairy” during a National Basketball Association playoff game. Before delivering a mea culpa for that anti-gay slur, Kane scoffed at anyone who took offence, advising them that his comment was “real talk.” So, ya, he knows all about the sewage that pours out of people hiding behind a computer keyboard. He’s contributed to it.
Look, I don’t doubt Kane has experienced racism and/or bigotry on social media. What minority hasn’t? Try being a female jock journalist. Or gay? Or transgender.
None of this is to suggest racism doesn’t exist in Winnipeg. We all know it does. Bigotry too. I just think it’s time that Evander Kane stopped playing the race card and just played hockey.
The headline on Gackle’s article in the Mercury News was pure click bait: “Racism, Winnipeg and why the Sharks are a good fit for Evander Kane.” But, then, that’s what a headline is supposed to do. As for the writer, Gackle pointed out that racism isn’t “just a Winnipeg thing,” but he still wasn’t about to let the facts get in the way of his slanted story. He eagerly painted River City as a bedrock of racism and, at the same time, presented San Jose as lily white in soul, if not skin color, yet he not only ignored the aforementioned Donald Williams Jr. case, he also made no mention of a September 2016 circumstance, whereby swastikas and anti-semitic language were discovered in two resident halls at San Jose State University. That led to another investigation of a hate crime. Had Gackle included those two incidents, he had no story.
Speaking of scribes and facts, Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is dealing in inaccuracies when he writes this about Jets sophomore sensation Patrik Laine: “So what does (a contract) extension look like for a 19-year-old who has 41 goals in his second season in the NHL and has already scored more often at this point in his career than Wayne Gretzky?” Fact check: To date, Puck Finn has lit the lamp 79 times. He has 132 points. Gretzky, meanwhile, had 106 (51, 55) goals and 301 (137, 164) points in his first two NHL crusades. Thus, Laine needs 27 goals and 169 points in the Jets final 10 games to equal Gretzky’s totals. Just the facts, ma’am…just the facts. It’s not hard to look ’em up.
Wiecek also makes the strong case that the Jets are modeled after the Chicago Blackhawks, but didn’t Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman make it clear from the outset that his franchise was using the Nashville Predators’ blueprint? Well, yes…yes he did. “That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg, that Nashville’s a team we’ve looked carefully at,” the Jets co-bankroll told news snoops in the spring of 2012. “They’ve done it methodically, 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.” As it turns out, Nashville South and Nashville North (in the hockey sense) soon might be arguing over Central Division bragging rights in the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament.
So, people are watching golf again now that Tiger Woods can get out of bed without taking a mulligan, and Las Vegas bookies are mightily impressed. So much so that LV SuperBook had Tiger listed last Wednesday as the 8-1 favorite to win next month’s Masters tournament. It’s a fool’s bet. As well as Woods performed in the recent Valspar Championship and in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, he won’t win an event that includes Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. That’s where my money would go.
I’m advised that last Friday’s joust between National Basketball Association titans, the Tranna Raptors and Houston Rockets, was watched, in whole or in part, by 1.7 million Canadians. Never before have that many eyeballs been glued to Tranna’s hoopsters for a regular-season game. “The excitement for the Raptors is clearly building right across the country,” gushed Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet. I suppose we’ll have to take his word for it, but I’d like to see a regional breakdown of viewer numbers before I’m convinced that anyone west of Mississauga and east of the Ontario-Quebec boundary is watching the Raptors. Personally, I’ve never seen five minutes of a Raptors game. Mind you, I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek or a James Bond movie, either, so perhaps I’ll add all three to my bucket list. If I had a bucket list, that is.
Canadian women’s national team keeper Stephanie Labbe is attempting to crack the roster of the Calgary Foothills, a men’s under-23 outfit in soccer’s Premier Development League. “I’m not a female soccer player, I’m just a soccer player,” she says. Unfortunately, even in 2018, that’s not how others will look at it. I mean, a rainbow trout can shout “I’m not a rainbow trout, I’m just a trout,” but fishers are still going to see a rainbow trout. The important thing—and all that really matters—is that management and Labbe’s fellow players treat her as “just a soccer player.” Bonne chance to her.
Is the Tim Tebow carnival sideshow on or off? “I think one day he will play in the major leagues. That’s my guess,” New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said of the football-to-baseball experiment. He added that Tebow graduating to his club’s Major League Baseball roster has become a “modest expectation.” Tebow then went 1-for-18 (.056) with 11 whiffs during seven Grapefruit League games with the Amazins. No word on whether the expectation has been downgraded from “modest” to “it ain’t never gonna happen,” but I saw the former Heisman Trophy winner twice this spring and it seems to me he’s a guy with a future as a college football broadcaster, not in Mets outfield.
Canada’s reps at the world women’s curling championship are Jennifer Jones and her gal pals from the St. Vital Club in River City, and neither local newspaper has feet on the ground in North Bay. I’ve come to expect that from the Winnipeg Sun, which was truant at this year’s Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I’m surprised that the Freep would give the worlds a pass. Especially since this is last call for the legendary hall of fame tandem of Jones and longtime second Jill Officer, who steps away from the team as a full-time curler at season’s end.
And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.” So, Euclid Cummings is facing two counts of sexual assault, one count of assault and one count of uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm, and Simmons believes the Canadian Football League is wrong for telling the B.C. Lions that the defensive lineman is persona non grata. I suppose we ought not be surprised. Simmons, after all, also believes Johnny Manziel, who beat up his former girl friend more than once, would be a swell addition to the CFL. Perhaps he’d like the three-down league to make room for Ray Rice as well.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Paul Stastny. For real?
The Winnipeg Jets actually pried Paul Stastny away from the St. Louis Blues? And they didn’t have to twist his arm? No fuss, no muss, no whinging about mosquitoes, spring flooding, crime, potholes, brown tap water and the Arctic winds at Portage and Main?
Something doesn’t add up here.
I mean, nobody goes to Winnipeg. Except on a dare. Or unless they’ve lost a bet. Cripes, man, even the premier of the province, Brian Pallister, gets out of Dodge as often as he can.
I think Billy Mosienko was the last hockey player who went to Winnipeg voluntarily. That was in 1955, when the locals were still riding around in streetcars. Mosie had an excuse, though. Pegtown was his ‘hood. He knew all about the potholes, Arctic winds and skeeters the size of a Zamboni, so they weren’t going to scare him away.
But there’s no explaining this Stastny thing. Except to say he must have missed the memo. You know the one. Certain members of the San Jose Sharks sent it out earlier this National Hockey League season. River City is cold. River City is dark. And don’t even think about WiFi service. You want to text a friend? Here’s your carrier pigeon, kid.
The thing is, a lot of us know Winnipeg isn’t the backwater burg most folks make it out to be. It’s a boffo place. And the winters don’t seem quite so long, dark and cold when les Jets are putting on the ritz at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
Will Stastny’s willingness to disregard his no-trade clause influence others to regard Good Ol’ Hometown as a favorable destination? Perhaps not, but it’s worth revisiting something general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said last summer, scant seconds after convincing goaltender Steve Mason and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov that River City is an NHL hot spot.
“Ultimately,” he said, “when it comes to free agency, the players want to know that they have a chance to win.”
Prior to last Monday’s NHL trade deadline, TSN natterbug Jamie McLennan had this caution for Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “You never want to mortgage the future. There’s no weaknesses whatsoever in this lineup. All you can ask for really is health. You want Adam Lowry back. You want Jacob Trouba back. I believe this team is built to go on a Stanley Cup run. They’re that good. But, if you want to tinker at the deadline, add some depth, add a little Stanley Cup experience, absolutely, but do not mortgage the future with those young players.” So, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy surrendered college kid Erik Foley, their first-round pick in the 2018 entry draft and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2020 for Stastny, plus a fourth-rounder this year for rearguard Joe Morrow. Did they mortgage the future? Nope.
Now that the Buffalo Sabres have rid themselves of the headache known as Evander Kane, what do they have to show for the original deal with les Jets that sent the sometimes wacky winger to upstate New York? Not much. If my math is accurate, here’s how the February 2015 trade now shakes down: Winnipeg has Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, Jack Roslovic, Brendan Lemieux and a sixth-round pick in the NHL entry draft this summer (for Drew Stafford); Buffalo has Zach Bogosian, Danny O’Regan, Jason Kasdorf, a conditional pick in 2019 (first or second round) and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020. It’s still a total fleece job by Cheveldayoff.
With the exception of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, I can’t think of a partnership that’s lasted as long as Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones. What’s it been? Twenty-three years? Twenty-four? Thus, when Officer announced her intention to retreat from full-time competition next season, it was a big deal. She’s one of the most-decorated curlers in Manitoba history, with nine provincial titles (two in Junior), seven Canadian titles (one in Junior), one Olympic Games gold medal, and one world championship. Only six women have played in more games at the Canadian Scotties than Officer. And there’s a park named in her honor in North Kildonan. All that and, unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Sun completely ignored the story. Shame, shame.
The Sun’s snub of Officer is the latest example of the tabloid’s near-total abandonment of curling coverage by local scribes. The Sun didn’t have a reporter on the scene at last month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, nor does it have feet on the ground in Regina for this week’s Brier. Coverage is being handled by Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton and Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post. By way of comparison, the Winnipeg Free Press continues to do it the right way. Melissa Martin was in Penticton and Jason Bell is in Regina. And the Freep posted the Officer story on its website at 11:05 a.m. Friday, and followed with a video interview in the afternoon. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.
Holy hissing contest, Batman! Broadcaster Elliotte Friedman, whose home base is the Republic of Tranna, went on Sportsnet 650 last week to discuss the steaming mess of dog hooey that is the Vancouver Canucks, and it turns out that it’s the media’s fault. Also the fans’ fault. Everybody’s to blame except the team president, Trevor Linden, and the GM, Jim Benning.
“I see your market right now and I think it’s a really brutal place to be,” Friedman said. “These guys feel like they are under siege…like they’re getting torn apart by wild dogs.”
He described the situation in Vancity as “toxic” and “edgy” and “nasty” because of the media.
Not surprisingly, Vancouver news scavengers and opinionist sprung into action, including old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia.
“Why would Elliotte Frickin’ Friedman care so passionately about the Vancouver market, and why would he launch such an impassioned defence of Linden and Benning from The Big Smoke?” Willes asked. “Fair questions, yes? As for the answers, we’d suggest they lie somewhere in the towering arrogance of Toronto’s media titans and the uncomfortable relationship that exists between ‘insiders’ and their sources. Friedman is a made man in that world but his information sometimes comes at a cost. Consider his radio diatribe a down payment on his next scoop.”
Totally dumb tweet of the week comes from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star and Sportsnet: “Remember the old days when independent media used to ask serious, critical questions when NHL expanded. Now there’s mostly just cheerleading. Yay, Seattle, look how many tix you sold. Yay, more shitty teams, more diluted NHL hockey. It’s a sad thing.” Ya, those Vegas Golden Knights are a real “shitty” team, Damien. But, hey, if it makes you happy, perhaps we can go all the way back to the six-team days when goaltenders played with their bare faces hanging out and Charlie Burns was the only NHL player who wore a helmet.
Sad to hear of the passing of former Winnipeg Blue Bombers (interim) head coach Urban Bowman. Had many enjoyable chin-wags with Bowman during his time subbing for Cal Murphy, who was away getting a new heart. Urban had a folksy, cowboy charm that made him the Bum Phillips of the Canadian Football League, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear him talk of chickens, cattle and such instead of Xs and Os. He did, mind you, have one memorable quote about football. “We’re going to breathe our nasty breath on those folks,” he said prior to a playoff game. “Yes, sir, we’re going to breathe our nasty, bad breath on those folks.” Urban was a good man…with bad breath.
So, I’m watching Pardon the Interruption on TSN the other day and the boys, Keith Olbermann and Tony Kornheiser, are gasbagging about Johnny Manziel potentially getting a second chance in the National Football League. “Why not?” asks Olbermann, who’s all in on the return of Johnny Football. “He’s a misdemeanor case.” That’s what we’re calling woman beaters these days? A misdemeanor case? Is there some sort of TV rule that says you must be a complete goomer to talk sports? I mean, two weeks ago NBC gab guy Mike Milbury referred to former Los Angeles Kings defenceman Slava Voynov’s brutal assault on his wife as an “unfortunate incident.” Now a man putting the boots to a woman is a “misdemeanor case.” Clearly, the culture of misogyny extends from the clubhouse to the old men in the press box.
Watched Pride of the Yankees the other day. A total tear-jerker. But I got a kick out of the “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech Gary Cooper delivered at the end of the movie. “I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up there behind the wire in the press box, my friends, the sportswriters,” Coop said in his role as New York Yankees legendary first baseman Lou Gehrig. An athlete’s “friends?” Sportswriters? That has to be the biggest fib on the face of the earth.
Let’s give Rosie DiManno big points for honesty. In her wrap from South Korea, the Toronto Star columnist admits that the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports is about “sports some of us only cover every four years but, of course, feign instant expertise at.” Totally true. And it showed, especially with the guys who attempted to cover curling. Dave Feschuk of the Star, for example, wrote about curling guru “Russ” Turnbull, but the late Moosie’s actual name was Ray. And Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail prattled on about Rachel Homan burning a rock when it was actually one of the Canadian skip’s opponents who inadvertently touched a stone while sweeping it into the rings.
And, finally, this week’s Stevie-ism from the ever-bombastic Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The list of all-time Canadian Olympic greats is not particularly long. In summer, you start with Percy Williams and Donovan Bailey and turn somewhere to Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle and lately Penny Oleksiak. In winter, there is a place for Cindy Klassen and Catriona Le May Doan and Marc Gagnon and Hayley Wickenheiser and a few others.” Excuse me? Clara Hughes, the only Olympic athlete to earn multiple medals in both Winter and Summer Games, doesn’t qualify? Her two cycling (bronze) and four speed skating (gold, silver, two bronze) medals aren’t enough? Sorry, Stevie, but any list of Canada’s great Olympians has to begin with the smiling redhead from Winnipeg.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.
Well, now that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and once-inert general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have addressed two of the Winnipeg Jets’ specific wants and needs, guess where the focus shifts? That’s right, Mr. .500 standing behind the bench. It’s squarely on you.
You know that annoying laundry list of excuses that you made a habit of trotting out during the Jets’ latest crusade that ended, once again, without a playoff whisker sprouting from your players’ chinny, chin-chins? Sorry, but whinging about the schedule, injuries, youth and the price of petrol won’t cut it anymore. Probably not even with mainstream news snoops, a number of whom actually bought your bunk.
Time to deliver the goods, Coach Potty Mouth.
You’ve got your goaltender and, even though I don’t expect Steve Mason to be the second coming of Terry Sawchuk, I’m guessing (hoping?) that he and the work in progress known as Connor Hellebuyck won’t be the second coming of Pokey and the Bandit either.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with Pokey and the Bandit, Coach Potty-Mo. Two interesting, young dudes from the back half of the 1980s. One, Daniel Berthiaume, was mostly a cheery sort and the other, Eldon (Pokey) Reddick, had a tendency toward the sullen, with gusts up to sourpuss. Together, they combined to provide Winnipeg Jets 1.0 with the sort of goaltending that will cost a National Hockey League coach his job. Matter of fact, two head coaches and one GM drew pink slips during their tour of duty in the blue ice.
So, no Coach Potty-Mo, you don’t want your tandem of Mason-Hellebuyck to be Pokey and the Bandit II.
But, again, even if they bottom out, it’s going to be on you and your system(s).
Meanwhile, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy added one-vowel-short-of-a-full-load Dmitry Kulikov to shore up the left side of your blueline brigade. They’re telling you he’s an upgrade on Mark Stuart. You might not agree, given your fascination with greybeards of sketchy skill, but a left flank of Josh Morrissey, Toby Enstrom and Kulikov sounds better to me than Morrissey-Enstrom-Stuart.
On the down side, Coach Potty-Mo, they took away your favorite play thing, Chris Thorburn. I’m not convinced that means you’ll be less of a street busker with your forward combinations—your juggling Thorbs from fourth to first line and the two slots in between truly was annoying—because you’re apt to adopt a new teacher’s pet to infuriate the faithful.
You have your way of doings things, curious as they are, Mr. .500. They’ve seldom worked, but now they must work. If there are no meaningful matches being contested at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next April, you’re the fall guy.
Still no contract extension for Maurice, whose lifeline has been reduced to one more season as the ice-level puppet master. Not that I think he deserves a new deal, but Cheveldayoff repeatedly insists that he and his head coach are joined at the hip. So what’s the hangup? Could it be that the Puck Pontiff has grown iffy about Coach Potty-Mo? Naw. He won’t let Maurice go into the season as a lame duck. I say it gets done this month.
I get a chuckle out of young people who weren’t even an embryo in 1972 telling those of us who were there that their goal in 2010 was more iconic than our goal. Our goal, of course, is Paul Henderson sliding a shot under Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, in a hostile, corrupt environment a world away to win a signature, culture-shifting hockey series that was as much about politics as pucks. Their goal is Sidney Crosby whipping a shot through Ryan Miller’s legs to win an Olympic gold medal against a southern neighbor in front of friends and family in the cozy confines of our own back yard. Only someone who lived both can compare both, and there is no comparison. Yet Emily Sadler of Sportsnet submits that Crosby’s 2010 golden goal is the most iconic moment in Canadian sports history. I submit that Emily is showing her age.
Among other things, Sadler allows that the Crosby goal has earned “Where were you when…” status. I’ve got news for her. I don’t have a clue where I was or what I was doing when the red light behind Miller flashed. But I do know that I was sitting in my living room on Wayoata Street in Transcona, with my young son Tony on my lap, when Foster Hewitt yelped, “Henderson has scored for Canada!”
I get the drill. The Sadler piece was meant to stir conversation and debate, which it no doubt did. But, geez, someone at Sportnet might have clued in and had a writer who was at least knee high to Yvan Cournoyer in ’72 scribble that story. A 30something simply cannot relate to the Cold War intrigue of the times, any more than they can provide a first-hand account of what it was like when John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived on our shores. Heck, most of them don’t even know who John, Paul, George and Ringo are.
How intense was the eight-game, us-vs.-them’72 series between our guys and the Soviet Union? Here’s what Team Canada leader Phil Esposito offered years after the fact: “I’ve said this publicly and I’m not too proud of it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have killed those sons of bitches to win. And it scares me.” Can you imagine Crosby saying that about the Americans? After losing the opening skirmish, 7-3, head coach Harry Sinden detected a shift in attitude among the Canadian players. “They switched to a war mentality,” he said. “They understood the politics at play, the Cold War backdrop. Imagine a team playing the Germans in the middle of World War II—that’s what it was like.”
Moving to present-day topics, I note that a group of 40 guys in Buffalo have set a new world record for marathon shinny by playing an 11-day hockey game. Yes, 11 days. By happy coincidence, Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane has now gone 11 days without being in trouble with the law.
Just wondering: Would you want a field goal kicker who’s last name begins with the letters C-R-A-P? That’s what the Saskatchewan Roughriders have in Tyler Crapigna, whose wonky right leg has failed Gang Green twice when they needed it most. The Riders are already 0-2 on a new Canadian Football League season, leaving us to wonder what the before/after is on head coach Chris Jones being asked to leave that swanky, new building on the bald Saskatchewan prairie? I say he’s gone by Labour Day, especially if he doesn’t find a leg that aims straight.
For those of you puzzled because Theoren Fleury isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, here’s the reason in his own words (from his book, Playing with Fire, in which he details his alcohol and drug addiction, his womanizing, his heavy gambling and his bar brawling): “The whole league reacted to my leaving the way you would feel after having a big, happy dump. There were a lot of guys like me in the game, but they didn’t want anyone to know that. My presence kept the bad news on the front of the sports pages. Hockey wants to be known as the school’s good-looking, clean-cut jock, and I was really fucking with that image.”
Here’s proof that sports scribes carry no influence on the public: Steve Simmons of Postmedia pleaded with his readers to support the Toronto Argonauts prior to their home-opener vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats, writing: “Please, pretty please, pretty, pretty please, buy a ticket and take in the game against Hamilton.” Let’s ignore the deeper issue, that being a prominent Canadian columnist serving as a screaming shill for the Argos and the CFL. I’m actually okay with that because, like Simmons and most others who have covered three-down football, I love the CFL. As for Simmons’ sway with readers, the head count was only 13,583 for the opener and even less, 11,219, for their encore performance against the B.C. Lions. He has more than five times that many followers on Twitter.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.
Once again, I present to you my two Hens in the Hockey House, who are down on Winnipeg Jets ownership/management but bullish on a number of players.
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: Well, this is our final gum-flapper of the hockey season. We’ve already dumped on the Fiddle-Farters Three, so what do you want to talk about now?
Answer Lady: Hey, this is Buffalo West. What do you think we’re going to talk about? In other National Hockey League locales, they talk about the now, which is to say the start of a playoff series, but not in Buffalo West, where one of the unfailing rites of spring is failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup shindig.
Question Lady: Boy, that’s a word you don’t hear too often anymore—shindig. You think youngsters in the audience know what it means?
Answer Lady: We have an audience? And there are youngsters in it? Who knew? Anyway, in River City, much like Buffalo where the Sabres make an annual early exit from the fray, we talk about the future because that’s all the Jets have to peddle—hope. That’s what both general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice will be selling next week at their respective season-end chin-wags with news snoops—hope. Both men will wax on about the “process” and the “long haul” and “patience” and new players “fitting in,” but neither will say when the future becomes the now.
Question Lady: You think?
Answer Lady: Listen, it’ll be Chevy/Coach Potty-Mouth doing Sean Spicer without the finger-pointing and schoolyard bickering. They’ll probably deliver some interesting alternative facts, too. By the time they’re finished blah, blah, blahing and yadda, yadda, yaddaing, they might have some of the rabble convinced that the Jets actually made the playoffs.
Question Lady: Okay, let’s forget about those two because, you’re right, it’s all going to be hollow, preach-the-party-line blather. So you tell me, are the Jets about to turn the corner?
Answer Lady: I’m not sure they can even see the corner.
Question Lady: You’re kidding me, right?
Answer Lady: Not at all. Look, the Jets have incredible, top-end talent that I’m sure some other outfits envy. You think George McPhee wouldn’t like to hit the ground running with the top end of the Jets’ roster in Vegas? I’d venture to say that Vancouver Canucks ownership would swap rosters with the Jets—even-up—faster than you could say “Harold Snepsts is a cult figure.” I mean, would you want to step into the future with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine or with the Sedin twins? So, ya, the Jets have some fab pieces in place. But ready to turn the corner? Not without first navigating a whole lot of potholes. Frankly, I can see them in the same situation a year from now.
Question Lady: I find that hard to believe. I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?
Answer Lady: One, coaching. Two, goaltending. Three, unless Dame Fortune looks very favorably on the Jets when the ping pong balls start bouncing in this year’s draft lottery, their first choice in the auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers will be a two- or three-year project. Maybe longer. I’m not saying he’ll be as bad a choice as last year’s panic pick, Logan Stanley, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll step in immediately like Laine did this season.
Question Lady: Is Laine going to win the Calder Trophy as top rookie?
Answer Lady: I think Puck Finn could finish this crusade with back-to-back hat tricks and it still wouldn’t be enough to sway the eastern bloc vote. The Calder is Auston Matthews’ bauble. He deserves it. But it’s no bigee that Laine won’t win. Connor McDavid wasn’t rookie-of-the-year. Nor was Sidney Crosby—he received only four first-place votes. The Hockey Hall of Fame is full of players who don’t have their names inscribed on the Calder. Guys like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Mark Messier, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, St. Patrick Roy.
Question Lady: Laine is a keeper for sure. What other Jets do you consider untouchables?
Answer Lady: There are no untouchables…there are players I would least like to move—Puck Finn, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey, Bryan Little.
Question Lady: No Dustin Byfuglien on that list?
Answer Lady: They should have sent him packing last year, when he was positioned to become an untethered free agent. He would have brought a boffo return. So it was a missed opportunity. He’d still be the first guy I’d try to deal away, but his contract makes it very difficult, if not impossible. I’m afraid the Jets are stuck with him, although I’m sure they don’t look at it that way.
Question Lady: What’s the most-pressing issue the Jets face vis-a-vis the roster?
Answer Lady: Convincing Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. He’s the stud defenceman you build around. He has just one year left on the under-market-value deal he signed to end his contract impasse last November, and the Jets don’t want to go there again. I don’t know if there’s negative residue on either side from their standoff, but I want Trouba happy, healthy and wealthy.
Question Lady: What do you think owner Mark Chipman and Chevy will do?
Answer Lady: It’s like the to-and-fro between a man and a woman. The guy’s always going to be interested in the girl, but if the girl isn’t interested in the guy it’s a non-starter. Same with the Puck Pontiff and Trouba. Chipman can pitch woo and Chevy can have a gazillion pictures of Trouba on his office wall, but the kid’s heart might be set on playing in another market, come hell or high income.
Question Lady: That’d be a bummer. Any other thoughts on the Jets before they shut down for the season?
Answer Lady: Ya, I kind of feel sorry for guys like Wheeler and Little. As I’ve written, their career clocks are ticking and they can’t afford many more wasted years while the Fiddle-Farters Three continue to fiddle-fart around by selling hope. Wheeler is very good at hockey. He’s the Jets’ best player. And Little goes about his business in an admirable, understated way. They deserve playoff hockey.
Question Lady: Agreed. Well, that’s it for me, girlfriend. I’m out of here until the entry draft in June.
Answer Lady: Ditto. Enjoy the playoffs. Or do what I do—break out the hot dogs and watch baseball.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, whichmeans she is old and probably should think about getting a life.