The River City Renegade


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

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Poile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 


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About Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice’s job status…No. 3 centre Mark Scheifele…too much ice for Big Buff…too much whinging about the schedule…and a Grey Cup for the Stampeders

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

What’s that chirping I hear? Crickets? Nope. It’s the natterbugs.

They’ve begun to make noise about Paul Maurice, who, should the Winnipeg Jets’ current funk stretch beyond five games, soon will be described as a much-maligned man. No surprise there, really. I mean, the Jets went 0-for-the road last week, so it must be the head coach’s fault. Surely, his best-before date is about to expire.

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice

Well, you can put the pitch forks and torches away. Pa Ingalls isn’t going anywhere.

When Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his College of Yes Men headed by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff chose to go all-in on the greening of the Jets at the commencement of this National Hockey League crusade, they were telling us that their expectations vis-a-vis the playoffs were low and, short of mutiny, nothing was going to move Maurice from behind the bench. Ownership/management were giving him a Mulligan before he took his driver out of the bag.

Think about it. They saddled the guy with a gaggle of greenhorns. By my count, there were half a dozen rookies at the start of business. More youth joined the fray due to various owies. What did you expect would happen?

This is the nature of the youth beast: All-world one night, all-woe the next five.

The same scenario is unfolding in the Republic of Tranna, where the Maple Leafs tease then torment the rabble, and in Buffalo, where the Sabres show promise then perform a faceplant, all the while wondering if the other shoe will drop on Evander Kane. And, of course, we watched it in Edmonton, where the Oilers were a decade-long, class-action joke and remain erratic, even with Connor McDavid on board.

So get used to it, Jets Nation. This season will have more ups and downs than the Trans-Canada Highway through the Rocky Mountains.

I don’t want to sound like an apologist for Maurice. I’m not. It’s just that I believe he’s been set up to fail this season. The Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men went younger by design, and I don’t think they expect the Jets to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Is the goaltending Maurice’s fault? I doubt Cheveldayoff would recognize elite puckstopping if Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur were playing pond hockey in his back yard. How, then, can ownership/management or anyone else lay the blame at the coach’s feet? They can’t. Thus, he stays.

None of this is to say Maurice is fault free. He juggles his forward lines like he’s a street busker. His unwavering faith in, and reliance on, Chris Thorburn remains as much a mystery as how they get the caramel inside a Caramilk chocolate bar. Mark Stuart belongs on an NHL roster like Don Cherry belongs on the cover of a Moscow tourism brochure. Then there’s coach Pa Ingalls’ adopted son, Alexander Burmistrov. Can we not send him back to the Russian orphanage?

Mark Scheifele

Mark Scheifele

I don’t know about you, but I often detect a whiff of haughtiness in many of Maurice’s chin-wags with news snoops. There’s just something about his way with words that suggests a self-declared upper-crustacy. But can he really be the smartest man in the room when he spouts the kind of nonsense he delivered on the heels of a recent loss to the Carolina Hurricanes? “Bryan (Little) played four shifts for us this year, so our No. 1 centreman is out,” he said. “Matty Perreault’s been gone for a while, that’s our No. 2 guy.” Either Maurice thinks we’re stupid, or he’s actually the dumbest man in the room. If he truly believes that Mark Scheifele, the NHL’s leading point collector at the time, is his third-line centre and will be slotted as such once Little and the do-nothing Perreault return from the repair shop, he should be fired immediately.

If Dustin Byfuglien is this bad in the first go-round of his five-year contract, how bad will he be in the 2020-21 season, at which time he’ll be 36 years old and likely weigh about 300 lb.? It’s clear that Byfuglien is getting far too much ice time from Maurice, who, much like his predecessor Claude Noel, treats Big Buff with kid gloves. Sit him down, for cripes sake. He’s not Bobby Orr. Give the top-pairing minutes to Jacob Trouba.

I’ve heard enough whinging from Maurice and the rabble about the Jets horrible, unfair, cruel, hardship, blah, blah, blah schedule. Yes, it’s a grind, but no more so than what the Calgary Flames or Edmonton McDavids are dealing with this month. The Flames will play 16 games in November, 11 on the road and four back-to-backs. The McDavids play 15 games, 10 away from home. The Jets will be 16 and 10. The Dallas Stars play 16 games. So, don’t talk to me about the schedule. It’s a copout.

Does Sportsnet know that the 104th Grey Cup game will be played this afternoon in the Republic of Tranna? There were exactly zero stories about the Canadian Football League title match on the front page of the Sportsnet website when I brought it up at 5 o’clock this morning. Zero. There were more than a dozen on the TSN front page.

I know it’s the easy pick, but I’ve got to go with the Calgary Stampeders in the large football match this afternoon. I’m thinking it’ll be a whupping, and only garbage points by the Ottawa RedBlacks in late-game skirmishing will make it seem closer than the reality of a rout. Calgary 32, Ottawa 19.

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

 


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Bottom Feeders ‘R’ Us…hope in Edmonton…media whining about the zebras…and other things on my mind

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

chipman and chevy

Is this how it works with Mark Chipman and Kevin Cheveldayoff?

Winnipeg Jets, last place in the National Hockey League. Manitoba Moose, last place in the American Hockey League. So, how’s that draft-and-develop thing working out for you so far, Mark Chipman?

Look at it on the chipper side, though, Mark. This rare daily double of yours provides True North Sports & Entertainment with a catchy slogan for next season’s marketing campaign—Bottom Feeders ‘R’ Us. That ought to lure prime NHL free agent beef to River City come summertime.

Cheap shots aside, accusing fingers are being pointed in the direction of Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of the Jets (at least on paper) who’s bound to be the fall guy for an NHL crusade that has gone horribly wrong and has two principles, captain Andrew Ladd and backliner Dustin Byfuglien, skating in shinny limbo.

I cannot, however, let go of the notion that Chevy is merely playing Pinocchio to owner Chipman’s Geppetto.

Saint Mark already has advised a national television audience that he sticks his thin, pointy beak into Chevy’s business, which is to say the co-bankroll imposes his whims and wishes on trade and contract negotiations. To what degree, we are uncertain. So, what exactly do we have here? Humpty Harold Ballard without the bluster?

Chipman’s involvement/interference, to me, is the X factor in the Jets’ operation and, should we discover that he’s hamstrung his paper GM, then we must refrain from flinging poison arrows in Cheveldayoff’s direction and aim them toward meddling Mark.

connor mcdavid

In Edmonton, hope is named Connor McDavid.

Here’s the difference between the Jets and Edmonton Oilers: In Winnipeg, they’re hoping; in Edmonton, they have hope. Hope is named Connor McDavid and, if you bore witness to his return from sick bay against the Columbus Blue Jackets this week, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Oilers management, of course, have been the poster boys for faceplants since 2006, but it appears that a decade of pratfalls is finally about to pay dividends.

Here’s what should be unsettling, if not frightening, for the faithful in Jets Nation: The Winnipegs aren’t pretending to be this bad in order to land the next whiz kid, Auston Matthews, in the 2016 NHL entry draft. They are this bad.

This from Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press in his gamer on the Jets-Carolina Hurricanes joust Friday night at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie: “The Jets continue to have a hard time getting away from their reputation for taking penalties. In the first 40 minutes, the tally was Winnipeg, four infractions; Hurricanes, benefit of the doubt every time.” Oh, please. Would you like some cheese with that whine, Tim? It’s one thing for fans to infer the zebras are out to screw the Jets, but it’s lame when a member of the mainstream media does it. Campbell goes on to say, “The calls and non-calls had no bearing on the outcome (a 5-3 ‘Canes win).” So why even mention it?

newspapers2So this is how it works in the new world of Postmedia, which does not believe in competition between newspapers: Terry Jones of the Edmonton Joursun goes to Las Vegas to cover curling; Ed Willes of the Vancouver Provsun is dispatched to Charlotte, N.C., to file copy on the National Football Conference championship match; Toronto-based scribes Michael Traikos and Mike Zeisberger are sent to Nashville for the John Scott Testimonial, otherwise known as NHL all-star hijinks; Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sunprov and Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun are lodged in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50, and Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun is…well, he’s told to stay home and write an advancer for the men’s provincial curling event next week. I realize that Paul is a ginger-haired lad, but does Postmedia really have to treat him like the ginger-haired cousin who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the kids?

First Jets rookie Nikolaj Ehlers is $2,000 out of pocket for flopping all over the ice, and now the NHL has dipped into prodigal son Alexander Burmistrov’s pay envelope to the tune of $2,000, also for bad acting. The Jets aren’t very good at hockey, but they’re assembling a crack synchronized diving outfit for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

I note that Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters plans to be an active participant in this year’s livestock auction of Canadian Football League free agents. “Overall, organizationally, we just need better players,” he says. “Simple as that.” Geez, what was your first clue, Sherlock? Last season’s 5-13 record or a quarter of a century without a Grey Cup championship? And shouldn’t you have recognized that two years ago?

If there is a worse website than that which the Winnipeg Free Press delivers, it is that which the NHL offers. What a tire fire. Someone in the NHL has turned a silk purse into a sow’s ear.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.