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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Winnipeg Jets: Is it bye-bye Citizen Kane?

Evander Kane reminds me of Kent Nilsson. Not on a skill level, understand. Nor aesthetically.

Nilsson was smooth, refined, elegant, full of luster. His pure talent was jaw-dropping. Gasp-inducing. Other-wordly. He was spell-binding in his brilliance. In the mood, the slick Swede was da Vinci. Michelangelo. Rembrandt. He made hockey look easy, like Brando or Streep on the big screen, or Streisand and Bocelli in concert. Mere child’s play.

Kane, on the other hand, is coarse, edgy, brusk, scratchy. His game is brash, brawn and bravado, not painting pretty pictures or singing sweet songs. If he has a soundtrack, it’s hip-hop or rap. Angry rap.

The two are as dissimilar as satin and sandpaper. Kane is the bull to Nilsson’s china shop. Yet, there exists a frustrating, sometimes infuriating, commonality.

Nilsson, you see, was a tease. He almost always left us insatiated. We were convinced (still are) that he was cheating us, if not himself. That he should have been putting up Gretzkyan numbers, not those of a mere mortal. We hungered for more, even on nights when he’d light it up. More, more, more. Give us more, Kenta, was the mantra.

It doesn’t matter that Nilsson’s points-per-game number is top-10 in National Hockey League history. Any discussion about him usually includes the words, “if only.” If only he had applied himself. If only he had the same motor as Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier or Steve Yzerman. If only he wasn’t so soft. If only he cared more.

So now we have Kane, who seems to have the complete tool kit. He is big, raw-boned, strong and moves about the freeze lickety-split. He will shy away from no foe and willingly contests the nasty areas. Alas, he is delivering, yet again, what appears to be a sub-20-goal season for the Winnipeg Jets.

We want more. We expect more. No doubt Kane does, too, otherwise he wouldn’t have beaked off during the pre-season about lighting the lamp 50 times this winter.

To many, of course, those were the bleatings of a cocky kid who never passes a mirror without giving it a second glance. The Natural, indeed. At the same time, however, even Kane’s harshest critic would concede that, yes, it might be doable. If not 50, certainly 30 or 40 goals. Well, good luck with that.

The Jets are almost certain to have four 20-goal scorers this crusade, but, should he maintain the pace established during his NHL career, not one of them will be named Evander Kane. For the fifth time in six seasons.

Thus, we wait…and we wait…and we wait. For something that might never happen.

Contemplating the merits of Kane makes me think of the Miss Peggy Lee classic Is That All There Is?, because, really, is that all there is? His high-water mark is the 30 goals he scored in his third season, the low being 14 as an NHL freshman in 2009-10. He has never suited up for an 82-game season, due to an assortment of owies, wrong-doing both on and off the ice, and one lockout-abbreviated campaign. Through it all, Kane has averaged one goal per 3.3 assignments, or 25 per 82 games.

If only he could deliver those 25 goals in an 82-game season.

There are those words again: “If only.” They applied to Kent Nilsson and now they apply to Evander Kane.

But perhaps we should reassess how we view Kane. Lower our expectations.

That is to say, look at his 30-goal season as an anomoly. A one-off, if you will. No more talk of 40- and 50-goal campaigns. Rather than gush over all that unrealized potential and allow visions of grandeur to cloud our sightlines, perhaps it’s time to see Kane for what he is: An injury-prone, power forward capable of rag-dolling a game but one who has a penchant for losing the plot, both on and off the ice, and one who is more likely to mix in with the crowd and hopefully deliver 20-25 goals per season. Anything more is a bonus.

Is that so bad? Not if he actually does it. But he’s only done it once and isn’t doing it now.

And now he’s once again in head coach Paul Maurice’s pooch palace, a healthy scratch Tuesday night in Vancouver, where the Jets’ losing skid reached five games with a 3-2 setback against the Canucks.

Rumors abound, naturally, with speculation suggesting the benching was a punitive measure for yet another off-ice misdeed. If true, it isn’t the first such incident and will, no doubt, lead to heightened rumor and gossip about Kane’s shelf life in Winnipeg, especially with the NHL trade deadline dead ahead on March 2. Whereas the Jets’ focus should be squarely on their playoff pursuit, the three-ring circus will return to town with the spotlight placed directly on the enigmatic left winger. Do the Jets deal him, finally, or do they continue to put up with his shenanigans?

The sticker price for Kane last summer was said to include a first-round draft pick and live bodies, and we don’t know how close general manager Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff came to pulling the trigger. This latest development might inspire The Possum to action and place phone calls to Edmonton or Buffalo, or perhaps Philadelphia, where the Flyers are said to have a keen interest in Kane. I’d be surprised if Cheveldayoff hasn’t already been on the phone to one or all of those outfits.

Oops. Check that. We’re dealing with The Possum, who doesn’t make NHL player-for-player trades. Silly me. Cancel those phone calls.

Sarcasm aside, dealing Kane would be a bold, risky move, but better players have been moved.

The aforementioned Nilsson, for example, was dispatched to the Minnesota North Stars by the Calgary Flames on the heels of a 99-point season. In barter, Flames GM Cliff Fletcher accepted two second-round draft choices. That’s it. No live bodies. Fletcher used the first of those two picks to pluck Joe Nieuwendyk from the player pool at the NHL entry draft and we scoffed. Kent Nilsson for some Ivy League college kid? It was a joke, right? I was writing for the Calgary Sun at the time and our main headline read: Joe Who? I referred to him as Joe Whowendyk. All he did, though, was win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, help the Flames win the Stanley Cup and is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

That’s not so say Cheveldayoff should ship Kane out for a string of beads, but somehow I believe the Jets would survive without their 10-goal scorer.

THE CITIZEN KANE FILE

                                            GP G A P
2009-10                              66 14 12 26
2010-11                              73 19 24 43
2011-12                              74 30 27 57
2012-13                              48 17 16 33
2013-14                              63 19 22 41
2014-15                              37 10 12 22