The River City Renegade


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About Steve Mason and platooning puck-stoppers…a coach’s wish list…the Maple Leafs and Oilers supposedly all-in…the Oilers and Connor McRichkid…hocus-pocus from the CFL commish…and a bummer for the Bombers

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

Steve Mason vows that he’ll play nice. It sounds like the Winnipeg Jets newly minted goaltender is a team-first dude who’s keen on sharing the blue ice with Connor Hellebuyck.

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

Steve Mason

In a conference chin-wag with newsies scant minutes after he had agreed to accept a two-year contract from the Jets, Mason talked a good game, suggesting he’ll happily work with incumbent Connor Hellebuyck and the two men would be “pushing one another” in the name of the greater good.

That, however, isn’t what he was saying in Philadelphia. In the world according to Steve Mason, there’s room for only one main man in the blue ice. Him. The other guy is his caddy.

Every single team needs a defined starter and backup goalie,” Mason told csnphilly.com in April, at which time he still harbored hope, albeit faint, for a contract offer from the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s shown throughout the league, (job sharing) doesn’t work. Tampa got rid of their situation. St. Louis got rid of their situation. You can’t be in and out, in and out. You have to have the flow. I believe, given that flow, I’ve done well with it.”

So there.

Don’t run off with the notion that the Jets will enter the 2017-18 National Hockey League fray with a No. 1 and No. 1A puck-stopping platoon. The new kid on the block expects to play Batman to Hellebuyck’s Robin. He’s Johnny Carson. Hellebuyck is Ed McMahon.

If general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice try to sell it any other way, pay attention to their noses. They’ll be growing.

We never really talked about what the work load is going to be,” says Cheveldayoff.

Really? You make one of your rare expeditions into the NHL free-agent market to address your outfit’s most-glaring flaw and you forget to mention to Mason that he’ll be expected to handle the heavy lifting?

Not only is Cheveldayoff’s nose longer than a telephone wire, his pants are on fire.

It’s a load of rubbish because Mason wasn’t lured to River City with the promise of playing wet nurse to Hellebuyck. Barring something freakish this summer—or a massive brain fart from Coach Potty-Mouth—Mason will be in the blue ice Oct. 4 when Auston Matthews and his supporting cast with the Toronto Maple Leafs come calling at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. He’ll start 60 games. Minimum.

There can be no other way.

Last week I mentioned that Maurice was sitting on the hottest seat in Jets Nation. Either the local lads qualify for the Stanley Cup derby next spring or he’s looking for work. In case there’s any doubt, consider this comment about the Jets defence from Cheveldayoff: “All the things on a coach’s wish list are there.” Well, Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty would be on my wish list, but I hear what Chevy is saying. Translation: Coach Potty-Mo has run out of wiggle room.

Connor McDavid

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek on the Jets, Maple Leafs and the Edmonton McDavids. The Winnipeg Free Press scribe laments Chevy’s roster tinkering, describing the acquisitions of Mason and blueliner Dmitry Kulikov as “modest moves” compared to the bold strokes of his counterparts in the Republic of Tranna and the Chuck. “To use a baseball analogy,” he writes, “the Oilers and Leafs have decided to swing for the fences in 2017-18, while Cheveldayoff is squaring up to bunt.” Well, I’m not a Chevy apologist. I find his methods—mostly management by paralysis—irritating and frustrating in the extreme. I’d much rather he be more Jim Nill and less Kevin Cheveldayoff. But, hey, he needed a starting goaltender. He got one. He needed a defenceman who shoots from the left side. He got one. He needed to unload a truckload of deadwood. He did it. Aside from botching the entry draft, he’s done what was required this off-season to get the Jets back into the playoff discussion.

I’m not convinced that Chevy is afraid to use bold strokes. I submit that when it comes to lavish spending and derring-do on the trade market, the GM doesn’t make the call. The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, does.

So here’s what I find myself wondering in the wake of that $100 million McWhopper contract the Oilers gave Connor McDavid: Will the Puck Pontiff and his deep-, deep-, deep-pocketed partner, David Thomson, be willing to part with that kind of coin were they to land a generational player of the McDavid or Sidney Crosby ilk?

Sorry, but I don’t see how Edmonton signing Connor McRichkid to an eight-year contract is a special stroke of genius. It’s more like, well duuuh. I mean, the Jets did the same thing last summer with their franchise centre, Rink Rat Scheifele, securing him for eight years at the bargain-bin price of $49 million. And, given that McDavid will still be working at his original rate of pay come October, I fail to see how a contract that doesn’t kick in until the autumn of 2018 means they’re all-in for 2017-18.

Nice to see someone from Good Ol’ Hometown get the top job in the Canadian Football League, but, unless Randy Ambrosie is holding back on administrative skills that include hocus-pocus, I don’t see how anything short of hypnosis can convince folks in the Republic of Tranna that the Argonauts are a good buy. Right now, the Boatmen are No. 6 on the pecking order in the Centre of the Universe, behind the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors, Toronto FC and Drake, and it shows in the pews. When the soccer side plays, BMO Field is alive and full. When the Argos are the main event, it becomes Empty Seats Stadium.

Matt Nichols

Quick thoughts on the heels of the 29-10 paddywhacking the Calgary Stampeders delivered to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry: Bombers running back Andrew Harris insisted that he and his mates in blue-and-gold “are better than this.” Okay. Prove it…Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea is “not interested in historical data of whatever number in a row.” We are, Mike. Like, Winnipeg has been a Grey Cup-free zone for 26 years in a row. Do something about that and the rest of us will ignore historical data, too…Oh no. Is Matt Nichols becoming the new Henry Burris without the Grey Cup rings? You know, Good Hank, Bad Hank? I mean, what we saw Friday night definitely was Bad Matt. Really Bad Matt. End zone interception and pick-six Bad Matt. You aren’t going to beat anyone, let alone the Stampeders, with that level of quarterbacking.

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.


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About a “hockey play”…NHL conspiracy theories…good Canadian boys aren’t fakers…hosing the hosers…and long pee breaks for the ladies in Edmonton

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

The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Player Safety Committee. It needs a parole board.

Let’s face it, playoff hockey is street crime moved indoors. Muggings are as commonplace in springtime shinny as unruly chin whiskers. If there’s a rule book, it has all the bite of a butterfly. I mean, using Sidney Crosby’s head for a butcher’s block is a “hockey play” like a home invasion is a pajama party.

Barry Trotz knows that. Ditto Brian Burke.

Paul Bunyan

But because Crosby wasn’t their ox being gored when Alexander Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen went all Paul Bunyan on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain last Monday night, both Trotz and Burke quoted chapter and verse from every good, ol’ boy’s favorite reading material—the Conn Smythe Beat ‘Em In The Alley Hockey Bible.

I thought it was really a hockey play,” observed Trotz, head coach of the Washington Capitals.

I think it was a hockey play. This is what happens in our game,” echoed Burke, president in charge of truculence for the Calgary Flames.

Burke is correct. Stick happens. Ovechkin and Niskanen aren’t the first players in NHL history to use their shillelaghs to deliver violent blows to the head of a foe, nor will they be the last. It’s just that you’re supposed to be punished for such distasteful trespasses.

In this case, Ovechkin didn’t receive so much as a tsk-tsking for his Bunyanesque-like assault on Crosby in Game 3 of the Washington-Pitt playoff series. A two-hander to the arm, followed by a not-so-gentle whack to the back of the head? Nothing to see here, folks. Stick happens. Let’s move along. Except Ovechkin’s lumberjacking led directly to his accomplice moving in for sloppy seconds and cross-checking Crosby to the face.

Yes, I realize Niskanen was flagged and banished from the fray, but were additional punitive measures applied? Like a suspension? Hell no. This is the NHL postseason, don’t you know. Once the Stanley Cup tournament commences, the safety police hand out Get Out of Jail Free cards like condoms at a safe-sex convention. And it doesn’t matter if the unlawful battering renders a player like Crosby concussed and sends him to the repair shop. It’s a “hockey play.”

Well it isn’t. It’s a mugging. And the real crime is the NHL ignoring it.

I didn’t realize so many neurologists followed hockey. I mean, Crosby is concussed and suddenly everybody is an expert on brain trauma. Crosby should retire. No he shouldn’t. Yes he should. No he shouldn’t. Oh, just zip it. It’s his head, his career, his life. And for those who are astonished that he returned to the fray just four days after his mugging, be advised that concussions are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I ought to know: I’ve had my bell rung more often than Quasimodo.

Ryan Kesler

As a rule, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, the exceptions being the JFK assassination and anything involving Ryan Kesler, who is the NHL’s version of a human rights violation. But after witnessing the unraveling of the Edmonton McDavids against Kesler and the Disney Ducks on Friday night, I’m thinking there might be something to this ‘Gary Bettman/anti-Canada’ notion. Maybe it’s true what the conspiracists say about the NHL’s pointy-nosed, bobble-headed commissioner: He’ll go to extreme lengths to prevent the Stanley Cup from returning to the True North. Seriously. If what Kesler did to Edmonton’s Cam Talbot wasn’t goaltender interference, then I’m Patsy Cline and Bettman is Johnny Cash. Sure, the Ducks’ resident villain was shoved, rudely, onto the blue ice, but he wasn’t obliged to stay there and make like an octopus, wrapping his left tentacle around Talbot’s right pad. Not surprisingly, officials ignored damning video evidence that supported Kesler’s guilt and they allowed a Rickard Rakell goal to stand, thus sending Game 5 into extra time. If the Ducks’ 4-3 OT victory wasn’t part of a grand, anti-hoser conspiracy, it was enough to make me go “hmmmmmmm.”

For the record, I don’t have a dog in the Edmonton-Anaheim fight. I like Ducks coach Randy Carlyle because he’s one of the old Winnipeg Jets, and Connor McDavid is a joy to watch. Basically, I’m Switzerland on this one. Having said that, I think the McDavids have been hosed by the officials in the past two games.

I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s and, until this particular version of springtime shinny, I thought I had a good handle on things like icing and offside and goaltender interference and stick infractions. Now, all bets are off. I confess that I don’t know a foul from a fool. Well, okay, Don Cherry still plays the fool, but all the phantom fouls, faux fouls and no fouls leave me scratching my noggin. The officiating is tragically poor.

Don Cherry: We’re Canadian and this is how we dress.

Speaking of Grapes (sour or otherwise), Cherry was in ripe form after Nick Bonino of the Penguins hoodwinked a visually challenged referee into believing he had been clipped in the face by a careless T.J. Oshie, whose stick had actually glanced off Bonino’s left shoulder. “Kids, never, ever…we’re Canadians…we don’t do that, we don’t fake injuries,” the Lord of Loud barked from his Bully Pit on Coachless Corner. “We’re Canadians, we don’t do it. We wear shirts and ties.” So let that be your lesson, kids: Don’t be a Bonino, but if you have to fake an injury make sure you’re wearing a shirt and tie. Clean underwear is optional.

Bob Cole still has the great pipes, but, my goodness, the man has lost it when it comes to identifying players. His play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada is now done in general terms, and it’s kind of sad. His work reminds me of the great Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in his final days with the New York Mets.

Well, hello Dolly Parton.

Big beef about biffies at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the gender bending of the loo is a common practice and a ladies’ lament at Oilers matches. It seems that the ladies have been forced to surrender two of their washrooms to men during the Edmonton-Anaheim series, an inconvenience that has resulted in 30-minute waits for the girls. Geez, Louise, there are 320 public toilets and/or urinals on the main and upper concourses at Rogers Place. And the men need two of the women’s washrooms? How much beer are those boys drinking? Just remember to put the seats back down, boys. The girls will need them when Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks come to town.

Dumb headline of the week was delivered by the Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Raptors are losing and we’re all sad.” We are? Interesting. Where I live, I’m not sure anyone actually knows the Raptors exist.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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My Hens in the Hockey House want Jacob Trouba to stay long term and Big Buff to stay short term

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?

Sean Spicer

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.

Canucks cult figure Harold Snepsts.

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?

Jacob Trouba

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, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.


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My Hens in the Hockey House go off on the Winnipeg Jets’ latest lost season

Yes, my Hens in the Hockey House are back and one of them is in rather foul humor, not surprising given that the Winnipeg Jets have frittered away another National Hockey League season.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: My oh my, it seems like forever since we last got together to discuss our favorite hockey team. Where have you been, girlfriend?

Answer Lady: Suffering from PTS—Post Trump Syndrome. I had a bad reaction to the Donald moving into the White House. I think I’m over it now, though. The eye-twitching has finally stopped and I should be off my meds long before he’s impeached. Anyway, so much has happened since our last gabfest. Or perhaps I should say so much hasn’t happened since then.

Question Lady: What do you mean by that?

Answer Lady: Well, this entire Jets season seems like an old TV rerun to me. I mean, stop me if you’ve seen this show before: The local hockey heroes are in the playoff conversation for about five months, Kevin Cheveldayoff does nothing to enhance their prospects of joining the Stanley Cup tournament, they fade, they’re eliminated, then they do boffo business in garbage time. I’d change the channel, but it’s like a car wreck…I just have to look.

Question Lady: What did you expect Chevy to do?

Answer Lady: That’s the trouble. I expected him to do nothing, because nothing is what he does best. He does nothing during the season—unless Dustin Byfuglien hurls someone’s clothing into a tub of ice—and he does nothing during the off-season. Except, of course, at the NHL’s annual crap shoot of teenagers.

Question Lady: Ya, but you have to admire his handiwork at the entry draft, no?

Answer Lady: What, you think choosing Patrik Laine with the second overall pick last year was a stroke of genius? As if. It wasn’t Chevy who plucked Puck Finn from the pool of available talent. It was a bunch of ping pong balls. If the ping pong balls bounce the right way for him again this year, he might land Nolan Patrick in June.

Question Lady: Oh, come on. Chevy’s track record at the draft is superb. All the evidence you need can be found on the Jets’ roster—Puck Finn, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, Connor Hellebuyck. All Chevy picks. Can you not give credit where it’s due?

Answer Lady: Who do you think made those picks? It wasn’t Chevy. It was his scouts. And I’m not convinced all those guys belong in the NHL.

Question Lady: Who doesn’t belong?

Mikey One Glove

Answer Lady: Andrew Copp is a borderline NHLer and if Connor Hellebuyck is a legit starting goaltender then I’m the U.S. First Lady. And nobody’s called me Mrs. Trump lately. I could be real mean and say Hellebuyck has one thing in common with the late Michael Jackson—Jacko wore a glove on one hand for no apparent reason, and so does Hellebuyck. I mean, really, he might as well wear a dainty evening glove on his catching hand. But I’m not going to blame the kid for being fast-forwarded when he wasn’t ready for prime time. That’s down to the Fiddle-Farters Three in the ivory tower.

Question Lady: Wow, you’ve sure got the growl on this morning. What’s gotten up your pretty, little nose?

Answer Lady: Well, unlike a lot of the faithful who continue to drink the True North Kool-Aid and genuflect at the sight of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, I’ve grown weary of the Little Hockey House on the Prairie being a no-playoff zone. I’ve grown weary of a meddlesome owner, the GM’s management by paralysis, and a head coach who allows Dustin Byfuglien to run the show. I mean, the Edmonton McDavids rebuilt in two years. Ditto the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Question Lady: No they didn’t. The Oilers missed the playoffs for 10 seasons. The Leafs have been in the playoffs once since 2006. And you’re telling me they rebuilt in two years?

Answer Lady: Do the math. In the past two years, the Oilers have added a new general manager, Peter Chiarelli, a new head coach, Todd McLellan, plus Connor McDavid, Cam Talbot, Patrick Maroon, Looch Lucic and other significant pieces. The Leafs added a new GM, Lou Lamoriello, a new head coach, Mike Babcock, plus players Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nikita Zaitsev, Frederik Andersen and other significant pieces. And they didn’t do it by drafting alone. The Oilers needed an upgrade in the blue ice and on defence, so they went out and got Talbot and Adam Larsson. The Leafs needed an upgrade in the blue ice and on defence, so they went out and got Andersen and Zaitsev. And what has Chevy done to upgrade the Jets most-glaring shortcoming, goaltending? Squat. In six years.

Question Lady: Do you expect him to acquire a true No. 1 goalie this summer?

Answer Lady: Ya, like I expect Donald Trump to stop using Twitter. Like, hellooooo. Not going to happen. First of all, Chevy knows goaltending like I know quantum physics. Second, Chevy only makes bold strokes when someone puts the proverbial gun to his head—see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew. I’m afraid we are about to embark on Chevy’s seventh annual Summer of Nothing.

Question Lady: You’re convinced of that?

Answer Lady: Absolutely. Chevy can’t lick his lips without the Puck Pontiff’s official okie-dokie and, let’s face it, Mark Chipman is a hockey expert like a glass of raw sewage is lemonade. He’s in Chevy’s ear every day—every day!—and he’s got him convinced that there’s only one way to build a perennial playoff team or a Stanley Cup champion—draft and develop. Period. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not make trades.

Question Lady: But isn’t draft and develop how teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks got it done?

Answer Lady: It was 50/50, my dear friend. The Pittsburgh outfit that won the Stanley Cup tournament last June was basically equal parts draftee (12) and castoffs from other clubs (13). It was pretty much the same half-and-half balance for the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings when they were top dog. Draft and develop has to be the central component of the process, but that can’t be all you do. Anyone who knows a hockey puck from a pastrami sandwich can tell you that.

Question Lady: Speaking of food, I’m feeling a bit peckish. Shall we do brekky, darling?

Answer Lady: By all means. But we’re not finished this discussion. Later we’ll talk about Paul Maurice, and if you think the Puck Pontiff and Chevy have gotten up my pretty, little nose, you ain’t heard nothing yet.

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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Hens in the Hockey House talk turkey about the Winnipeg Jets, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele

Before my two Hens in the Hockey House put the bird in the oven for Christmas dinner, they’re talking turkey about the Winnipeg Jets. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Finally, a chance to take a deep breath and chill. No hockey until Tuesday. Do you need the break as much as I do?

Answer Lady: Actually, there is hockey. The World Junior Championship starts on Boxing Day.

question-lady-and-answer-lady2Question Lady: You mean the “nobody cares except TSN tournament” don’t you?

Answer Lady: People care. Maybe not overseas, but we care in Canada. At least I think we do. I guess we’ll know by television ratings.

Question Lady: It’s hard to believe that Patrik Laine could be playing for Finland in that tournament. If defencemen and goaltenders in the National Hockey League can’t stop him, how much damage would he do playing against a bunch of kids?

Answer Lady: Puck Finn would be scary good. But so would all the other age-eligible players who are in the NHL. Connor McDavid and Mitch Marner could be playing for Canada. Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Zach Werenski and Matthew Tkachuk could be wearing the Stars and Stripes. Jesse Puljujarvi is another eligible Finn. There’s a lot of missing star power. It’ll be terrific hockey, but it’s watered down at the top end.

Question Lady: You surprised at how well Laine is doing in his rookie season with the Jets?

Answer Lady: Yes and no. I thought the over/under for Puck Finn was 20 goals. I just didn’t think he’d get there so soon. I thought he’d have an electric start, then go into a bit of a swoon. Hasn’t happened. Nineteen goals in 36 assignments is heady stuff. Everything about his game is lights-out impressive. Even his own goal—his selfie—was impressive. And I like his cockiness.

Question Lady: I think the Jets lead the league in selfies. Nikolaj Ehlers scored one, too.

Answer Lady: That was a goaltending gaffe. Michael Hutchinson went all Rip Van Winkle on the boys. Overtime is never a good time for a goalie to take a nap.

Question Lady: Who do you like more, Laine or Ehlers?

Answer Lady: That’s like asking me if I’d rather listen to Sinatra or Tony Bennett. They’re both brilliant. I kind of like Ehlers, though. I call him Twig because that’s how he’s built. He was snake-bit around the net for the longest time, but he discovered his goal-scoring mojo just before the break. Twig is a quick-strike kind of guy. He’s now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t fast. It wouldn’t surprise me if he finished the season with more points than his linemates, Puck Finn and Rink Rat Scheifele. Remember that. You heard it here first.

Question Lady: The question is, how long will head coach Paul Maurice keep those three together?

Answer Lady: Sometimes I think Maurice is a bit of a basket case. He keeps trying to fix what isn’t broken. The Lickety-Split Line should stay together until the end of time, but I’m sure Maurice will go into his street busker routine shortly after the Christmas break and start juggling his forwards with no rhyme or reason.

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice, aka Mr. .500.

Question Lady: Could that explain why Maurice is a career .500 coach?

Answer Lady: Player deployment is probably one of the reasons.

Question Lady: There’s been plenty of speculation about Maurice’s future with the Jets. Do you think he should be fired?

Answer Lady: No. Not now. This season is Maurice’s mulligan. But going forward into next season, I agree with what TSN analyst Craig Button said about coach PoMo the other day—“(He) is going to have to do a much better job.” Maurice needs to up his game. But can a career .500 coach who’s made the playoffs only five times in 18 seasons do that? I have my doubts. Any lump on a bar stool can tell you that the Lickety-Split Line should never be torn apart, but, as sure as Don Cherry likes good Canadian beer, Maurice will be fiddle farting around with those three lads inside a fortnight.

Question Lady: Fiddle farting isn’t a very lady-like term, my dear.

Answer Lady: Sorry, but that’s what Maurice does. He fiddle farts.

Question Lady: What’s the biggest disappointment with the Jets to date?

Answer Lady: Mathieu Perreault. I mean, two goals and seven points? That’s what $4.5 million buys you these days? I realize he isn’t pulling in that much coin right now, but that’s his sticker price next season and $4 mill per annum after that. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff clearly had a moment of madness when he agreed to that deal. Either that or Perreault has incriminating photos. Chevy gave the guy a four-year extension at that inflated wage for what? Perreault has never had a 20-goal season. He only scored nine goals in 2015-16. He’s brittle…he’s never played a full, 82-game season. Perreault is probably the most overpaid worker in the NHL. I’m guessing Chevy would probably like a do-over on that contract. Or maybe he’s hoping the Las Vegas expansion franchise will take that fat-cat contract off the Jets’ books next summer.

Question Lady: What’s your take on Dustin Byfuglien?

Answer Lady: What can I say that hasn’t already been said? One minute he’s a jaw-dropping delight, the next he’s back to his d’oh boy ways. Buff is Buff. An asset and a liability. I don’t drink the True North Kool-Aid, so I can take him or leave him.

Question Lady: You don’t buy into the Jets’ heavy schedule as an excuse, do you?

Connor Hellebuyck

Connor Hellebuyck

Answer Lady: Seven NHL teams have played 36 games. Six of them are in a playoff position at the Christmas break. The only team below the line is Winnipeg. Conclusion: The schedule as an excuse is lame. You know why the Jets are on the outside looking in right now? Coaching, inconsistent play, dumb penalties and goaltending.

Question Lady: You include goaltending among the flaws?

Answer Lady: It’s been moderate. Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck need to be better. We already knew that Hutchinson wasn’t a No. 1 ‘tender, so Hellebuyck was the mystery. He’s had his moments. I suppose the jury is still out, but I don’t see him as a No. 1. It’s one of those things I’d like to be wrong about, but I don’t believe the Jets braintrust recognizes talent in the blue paint.

Question Lady: What do you expect during the back half of the season?

Answer Lady: Much of the same. It’s a toilet-seat season—up and down, up and down. This Jets outfit is very much like big Buff’s game. Bad and brilliant.

Question Lady: Still think they’ll miss the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Yup. But I’ll enjoy watching Puck Finn, Twig and Rink Rat do their thing. If, that is, Maurice lets them.

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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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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About Mike O’Shea’s shelf life…unnecessary roughness on a coach…Evander being a twit…and the new Sammy Semenko in Edmonton

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

Mike O'Shea

Mike O’Shea

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Bombers lose! Bombers lose!

Of course you’ve heard it before. You’ve been hearing it since 1991. And it’s now 26 times that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been on the short end of the scoreboard since Mike O’Shea became sideline steward of the Canadian Football League outfit. Yup, 26 Ls against one dozen Ws his charges have scrounged up.

A .316 success rate means you’re doing boffo business if you’re the leadoff hitter in baseball. Not so much on a football field.

Those 26 losses? They put O’Shea on par with Jeff Reinebold. You do not want to be linked to that name. Reinebold is the gold standard for all that is wrong with a head coach. He was 6-26 before the Bombers much-maligned board of directors told him to turn off his Bob Marley tapes and hop on his Harley and haul his sorry butt out of Dodge.

Therefore, it perhaps strikes some as a minor mystery that the 12-26 O’Shea is still wearing the headset. There can only be one of two reasons: 1) Wade Miller, the CEO whose exhaustive search for a general manager was confined to a short walk down the hallway at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry to hire the man (Kyle Walters) who hired the man, still believes in O’Shea; or 2) the board no longer has an appetite for paying people not to coach.

If it’s the former, then Miller hasn’t been paying attention.

I mean, it’s one thing for the Calgary Stampeders to give the Blue and Gold a wedgie at McMahon Stadium, which they did Friday night, 36-22. That’s been happening seemingly since Peter Liske and Ham Hands Harrison were playing catch in Cowtown. But it’s the way the Bombers went about their business that’s so disturbing. They appeared disinterested. They didn’t warm to the task until all hope had faded, then put up staggeringly good garbage stats and garbage points in garbage time, when their foes were pulling pranks and kibitzing on the sidelines.

Disinterest is down to coaching. Or Walters has recruited the wrong players. Take your pick.

I remember when Mike O’Shea stepped forward as head coach of the Bombers. It was to the hard-diving beat of the Bachman Turner Overdrive classic You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet.

Here’s something that you’re never gonna forget. B-b-b-baby you just ain’t seen n-n-nothing yet.”

Well, b-b-b-baby, some of us have seen all we n-n-need to see.

Coach LaPo needs his playbook from TSN.

Coach LaPo needs his playbook from TSN.

Apparently, the Bombers’ regurgitated offensive co-ordinator, Paul LaPolice, left his playbook behind in the TSN studio. Might be an idea to put a call in to Milt, Matt, Jock and Schultzie, LaPo. Maybe have one of them run it over to you. Sad Sack offence notwithstanding, coach LaPo isn’t going anywhere. He’s the fall-to guy. If and when O’Shea is given his parting gifts, LaPolice gets the headset.

If Duran Carter scored a touchdown against the Bombers, do you think he’d have the balls to walk over to the Winnipeg bench area and try to do to O’Shea what he did to Rick Campbell, head coach of the Ottawa RedBlacks? Not bloody likely. Second question: Why was Campbell on the field when the Montreal Alouettes receiver knocked him on his fanny? If Campbell is where he’s supposed to be, which is to say on the sidelines, nothing happens. Thus, if Carter is suspended, Campbell ought to be fined.

Moving on to the National Hockey League, I note with interest that Evander Kane is in trouble with the law. Again. And it involves women. Again. Tim Murray, who has already suspended his left winger once, is unamused. “It’s not something I like getting up in the morning and reading about, that’s for sure,” the Buffalo Sabres GM says. What part of “bad apple” did Murray not understand when he acquired Kane from the Winnipeg Jets? I don’t know if Kane finds trouble or trouble finds him, but I didn’t think his act would wear thin so soon in Buffalo.

Just wondering: When Milan Lucic says he plans to give the Edmonton McDavids some “swagger,” is he threatening to kill his foes or will he just bust their knee caps if they mess around with Connor McDavid, the NHL’s new ‘it’ guy?

Sammy Semenko

Sammy Semenko

The addition of the hulking Looch to the Edmonton lineup has Wayne Gretzky and Dave (Sammy) Semenko written all over it, right down to sweater No. 27, no doubt still blood-stained from the days when Sammy’s bare knuckles would bust open a few heads. Put Jesse Puljujarvi on the right wing and you’ve got Semenko-Gretzky-Jari Kurri revisited.

If, as many have suggested since they swapped sweaters this week, P.K. Subban is a better defenceman than Shea Weber, why is it that Weber was a big minutes defender on two teams that won Olympic gold for Canada and will be given a similar role in the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, while Subban isn’t invited to participate?

Interesting troop movements in the toy department at the Winnipeg Free Press. Out is one of my favorite scribes, Melissa Martin, and in is longtime cops-and-robbers guy Mike McIntyre. The Freep sports section really misses the Ed Tait vibe.

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 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.