About a suspension for Big Buff…homerism in the River City media…another Drab Slab sports columnist bites the dust…Paul Wiecek’s parting cheap shot at former colleagues…Winnipeg Blue Bombers getting lost in Winnipeg Jets hype…a hissing contest in Lotus Land…Rink Rat Scheifele the writer…coach PoMo is No. 10 with a bullet…and more hypocrisy in the media

A Sunday smorg on Turkey Weekend in Canada…

Dallas Stars 5, Winnipeg Jets 1…I guess the local hockey heroes will have to settle for an 81-1 record this season.

Since you asked, yes, Dustin Byfuglien should have been given the remainder of the night off after his attack on Dallas defenceman Connor Carrick on Saturday.

Big Buff

Got a kick out of the biased, homer reaction to the Byfuglien assault on Carrick. Troy Westwood of TSN 1290 tweeted “Atta boy Buff,” and Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press described it as a “careless cross-check.” As if. This was a brutal attack—from behind—on an unsuspecting, defenceless foe whose face was planted into the boards by Big Buff. Well after the whistle. Somehow I doubt Ol’ Lefty Westwood or McIntyre would pass it off as a meh moment had it been one of the Stars attacking, say, Josh Morrissey from the rear and driving his kisser into the woodwork. They’d be squawking about a match penalty, a game misconduct and a suspension, which Byfuglien deserves. But, hey, when you work for the broadcast rights holder or the official paper of the Jets, I guess you see a different game.

Speaking of the Freep, the Drab Slab chews up and spits out sports columnists like sunflower seeds in a baseball dugout.

If my scorecard is correct, Paul Wiecek is the fourth guy to either walk away from—or be pushed out of—the position since 2004, so once a newbe is on board it’ll be five in 14 years. That’s an alarming amount of foot traffic for such a highly coveted gig.

Now, I understand that the rag trade has changed greatly this century and the rats continue to scurry from what appears to be a sinking vessel (meaning the overall print business, if not the Freep). Jock journos across the continent have abandoned newspapers in favor of digital enterprises or they’ve defected to pro sports outfits, and the Drab Slab has been hit as hard, if not harder, than most sheets.

Here’s who the Freep has lost in recent years:

1) Tim Campbell (went to nhl.com);
2) Gary Lawless (went to TSN 1290 before the Vegas Golden Knights);
3) Ed Tait (went to bluebombers.com);
4) Wiecek (he’s going for a long walk on a beach).

That’s a big wallop. And it would seem the columnist gig in the Freep’s toy department doesn’t hold the stature it did in the days of Maurice Smith and Hal Sigurdson.

Ed Tait

Not at all surprised that Wiecek couldn’t resist the urge to take one final cheap shot, but I thought his target would have been one of his favorite whipping boys, Mike O’Shea and his “goofy shorts” or Jacob Trouba (“liar, liar”). Instead, he took aim at former colleagues Campbell, Lawless and Tait, each of whom defected from the Freep and now puts food on the table by working for pro outfits.

“I also won’t be taking a job as a shill for a sports team or league, as so many others now seem to do,” he wrote in his farewell column. “There is journalism and then there is everything else. Any former reporter who tries to tell you that having their paycheque now signed by the same people they are covering ‘really isn’t all that different’ is hoping to delude you. And if they actually believe that nonsense, then they’re deluding themselves, too.”

Can you say arrogant, kids?

Knuckles Irving

Interesting that Wiecek would dump on someone like Tait when longtime and greatly respected voice of the Bombers, Bob Irving, is saying this about the former Freep and Winnipeg Sun football scribe: “He is fair, objective and even critical of the team he works for when it’s warranted. A consummate pro and incredibly respected as such across the land.” That was after Tait had worked with Knuckles on CJOB’s broadcast of the Bombers-Bytown RedBlacks skirmish in Ottawa on Friday night. Irving’s description of Tait is spot on. Wiecek, on the other hand, is full of crap.

Jacob Trouba: One of Paul Wiecek’s favorite whipping boys.

When Wiecek first landed the columnist gig at the Drab Slab, I applauded his appointment. He’d been a terrific reporter on both newsside and on numerous sports beats, and he’s a very good writer. I quite enjoyed his early offerings. They were pointed, opinionated and seldom shy. Over time, however, his copy grew increasingly bitter, angry and deeply mean-spirited in tone. It had a haughty, elitist, my-stuff-doesn’t-stink vibe. He used his print pulpit for obscene and unrelenting attacks on Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach O’Shea and Jets young defenceman Trouba (he’s “a liar, petulant, a malcontent, impetuous, the biggest loser, reckless, greedy, phony, selfish, a problem”). They were personal in nature and totally unprofessional. He never disguised his complete contempt for bloggers, newspaper defectors like the aforementioned Campbell, Lawless and Tait (“flacks and hacks”), and professional athletes (“coddled millionaires”). Reading him in the past year, I often got the impression that he was merely “mailing it in.” He became a blogger with personal axes to grind, rather than a journalist.

So here’s what I’m wondering this fine October morning: With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers heating up as it cools down, will the rabble notice?

I mean, the frost is fresh on the pumpkin and these crisp, autumn days and nights are made for football. The kind of football we saw Friday from Ottawa, where the Bombers were required to work extra time before subduing the Bytown Redblacks, 40-32. It was remarkable, entertaining theatre that left you wanting more. And I expect the Bombers to deliver more of same in the remaining three assignments on their Canadian Football League calendar.

But here’s the rub: The boys are back in town.

That is to say the Jets juggernaut invites its first sacrificial lamb of the 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Tuesday, and my fear is that Winnipeg FC is about to be swallowed whole by Scheifele, Wheeler, Laine et al, plus an unfortunate bit of scheduling.

The Bombers’ next skirmish is Saturday vs. the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Should be a sizable head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. But then what? Due to a bye week, the large lads are out of sight and out of mind for 13 days, during which time les Jets have half a dozen home dates, including a visit from the Tranna Maple Leafs. I’ll be shocked if the Bombers are anything more than an afterthought by the time the Calgary Stampeders roll into town on Oct. 26. What will that game attract, 20,000? Less?

I hope I’m wrong because the Bombers are on a significant roll that would stretch to four successive Ws with a win over Gang Green on Saturday, so they’re worthy of our attention.

Jonathon Jennings

That’s a nasty bit of business going on between B.C. Lions general manager Ed Hervey and the agent for quarterback Jonathon Jennings. If you missed it, Hervey called out Jennings during a chat with Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver, saying: “Will he reach elite status? That’s in his hands. That comes down to how much time you commit to pre- and post-practice film work and working with the coaches. I’ve been around some good quarterbacks and they lived around the (practice) facility. The good ones usually do. No knock on Jonathon, but you rarely see him around the facility enough to give you any indication that he’s ready to take it to that level.” To which agent Bardia Ghahremani responded: “Jonathon is one of the first to arrive to work every day. Ed would know this if Ed weren’t one of the last.” Total burn. The end result will be Jennings getting a new postal code next season.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Enjoyed Rink Rat Scheifele’s column on the TSN website last week. Among other things, the Jets centre offered this nugget: “You haven’t done anything until you’ve won a Stanley Cup. When you get that close, anything short of the ultimate goal is failure.” Now, if one of the boys on the beat had written that, the rabble would be calling the news snoop a negative SOB, or something less flattering. But since it’s Scheifele, everything’s cool.

A tip of the bonnet to Coach Potty Mouth, Paul Maurice. The losingest coach in NHL history is now the 10th winningest coach in NHL history with 649 Ws. If nothing else, you have to admire the guy’s stick-to-itness. Coach PoMo should pass both Mike Kennan and Pat Quinn to move into eighth place before the current crusade is in the books.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s ABH in the Major League Baseball playoffs—Anybody But Houston. Can’t root, root, root for a team that hired a guy who beats up women.

And, finally, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna hopped on a horse called Faux Righteousness this weekend, calling out Brian Burke of Sportsnet for “hypocrisy.” If anyone knows about hypocrisy, it’s Simmons. He dumps all over Ray Rice for beating up his wife, yet he writes about Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s “dignity” and glorifies the champion boxer, even though he’s a convicted wife beater. He brands John Farrell a traitor for defecting from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Boston Red Sox, even though he defected from the Calgary Sun to the Calgary Herald to the Toronto Sun.

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Two Hens in the Hockey House: All about Sir Paul, the Rink Rat, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and how much the Winnipeg Jets will miss Paul Stastny

Let the games begin!

The Winnipeg Jets open their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade tonight against the Blues in St. Louis, and they have a tough act to follow. After advancing to the Western Conference final last spring, it has to be Stanley Cup final or bust for the locals.

Do they have it in them to take that next step? The Two Hens in the Hockey House have the answer. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, the quest is about to begin and I haven’t been this jacked up about anything since Paul McCartney stepped back on stage for a rousing encore the other night at the local hockey palace. How about you?

Answer Lady: You went to see Sir Paul in concert?

Question Lady: You bet your Beatles bubble gum cards I did. He’s been my main man since the lads first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. The guy’s a rock ‘n’ roll legend and can still get after it at 76 years of age. You don’t like Macca?

Answer Lady: Meh. His best post-Beatles work was Band On the Run. That was released in 1973. He’s been in a slump ever since. You know, kind of like the Jets since the World Hockey Association days.

WHA champion Jets, circa 1978-79.

Question Lady: Will you old farts ever let go of that Jets/WHA nonsense?

Answer Lady: Nonsense? You call it nonsense? Wash your mouth out with granny’s lye soap, girlfriend! Those were the glory days—three championships, five trips to the final in seven seasons, kicked the Russian Bear’s butt, best forward line in all of hockey…neither version of the NHL Jets has accomplished anything to compare. It’ll be 40 years next spring since the last victory parade rolled down Portage Avenue, and we haven’t had a whiff of glory since.

Question Lady: Which brings us to the current edition of the Jets. Plenty of buzz about these boys. They’re among the morning-line favorites to win le Coupe Stanley. Do you think the hype is warranted?

Answer Lady: Absolutely. All the ingredients seem to be in place. I believe they’ll romp through the regular season, maybe even win the President’s Trophy, and then, hopefully, they’ll borrow on the experience gained and lessons learned from last spring and get the job done next April, May and June.

Question Lady: Any chance of the Jets doing a face plant like the Edmonton McDavids performed last season?

Answer Lady: Sir Paul will be back in town with Ringo, John and George in tow before that happens, and since two of the Fab Four are pushing up daisies it ain’t gonna happen. There’s too much depth, too much talent. There aren’t any Looch’s in the Jets’ lineup to drag everybody else down. There’s no one like that anchor Milan Lucic in E-Town.

Question Lady: So this season will be a cake walk?

Answer Lady: Not at all. It’s not like the other outfits on this side of the continent have been twiddling their thumbs. The St. Louis Blues ought to be better. Ditto the Dallas Stars. San Jose Sharks upped their game with Erik Karlsson. The Nashville Predators are still nasty. But, ya, the Jets are the best of the bunch.

Bryan Little

Question Lady: Any weaknesses?

Answer Lady: Yup. Down the middle. Maybe. Rink Rat Scheifele is a legit No. 1 centre, but it’s iffy after that. I’ve long been a Bryan Little fan and I believe he’ll suitably fill the second slot. But what if his best-before date has already passed? Is Jack Roslovic a ready-for-prime-time centre? We don’t know. We can only guess. It could be a repeat of last season when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff felt obliged to seek help from beyond. We might be looking at another Paul Stastny scenario.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: What you’re saying is that this Jets team isn’t as good as the one that reached the Western Conference final last May?

Answer Lady: Do the math. Stastny gave the Jets 13 points in 19 regular-season games and, more significant, 15 points in the Stanley Cup tournament. Can either Little or Roslovic deliver that kind of production? From October through March? Sure. April-May-June I’m not convinced. And remember, it isn’t about the regular season for the Jets anymore. It’s about what goes down in the tournament. The playoffs, that’s their measuring stick. Everything else is window dressing.

Twig Ehlers

Question Lady: Any other misgivings?

Answer Lady: Twig Ehlers. The guy’s dynamic, but he’s a 35/40-goal scorer dressed up as a 25/29-goal scorer. His retreats into the twilight zone are mysterious and frustrating. Maybe it’s that whole PlayStation thing. Maybe the Vancouver Canucks are on to something by banning PlayStation and Fortnite on road trips.

Question Lady: Are you serious? You think Ehlers’ trips to la la land are linked to an obsession with video games? That’s crazy talk, girlfriend. Patrik Laine is one of those PlayStation goomers and he scored 44 goals last season.

Answer Lady: I’m just spitballing, girlfriend. If Puck Finn scores 44 goals every winter they’ll let him play Fortnite until his thumbs fall off. But there must be a reason why Twig vamooses for chunks of time for no apparent reason. I mean, four goals after March? Zero in 15 playoff games? And people thought Howard Hughes disappeared. Maybe that’s what I should call Ehlers instead of Twig—Howard.

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: You’re being kind of hard on the kid, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: All I’m saying is he has 35-goal talent (or more) and his Invisible Man routine is beginning to wear thin. On the plus side, he’s young and can learn about the mental side of the game from a guy like captain Blake Wheeler.

Question Lady: Speaking of Wheeler, do you see another 91-point crusade out of him?

Answer Lady: I don’t see why not. Playing with Rink Rat Scheifele and Kyle Connor, he ought to get a point a game by accident. The guy’s a stud.

Question Lady: Any bold predictions?

Patrik Laine

Answer Lady: Yup. Puck Finn will win the Rocket Richard Trophy with 57 goals. The Rink Rat will reach the 100-point plateau and finish second to Connor McDavid in scoring. Connor Hellebuyck will win the Vezina Trophy. Paul Maurice will be a finalist for coach of the year.

Question Lady: What about the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Can’t say. Too much can change by then, and I expect it will. Chevy will do something at, or just before, the trade deadline. It’ll involve centres and defencemen.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. I’d say let’s do lunch, but I’m going home for a soak and to listen to the latest McCartney album. How about you?

Answer Lady: I think I’ll just watch old film of the Jets’ last WHA championship.

 

 

About defining ‘Sedin stuff’…the toughest Swedes, Hedberg and Nilsson…two Swedes, one face, but not the face of hockey in Western Canada…cheering in the Winnipeg press box…Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston and a WHA title…Damien Cox scores a boffo Twitter burn on Randy Turner…talking up a Stanley Cup parade in the Republic of Tranna…lesbians on Hometown Hockey…an ace of a moment for grandpa and grandson Nicklaus…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Initially, a great many folks didn’t think Daniel and Henrik Sedin could pull it off.

They were too soft. Too timid. Too unsure. Too Swedish, which, for the less enlightened—like the xenophobic gasbag who occupies the bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada—was North American shinny code for cowardly.

Sedin twins

Indeed, after Braydon Coburn declined an opportunity to exchange knuckles with a rag-dolling Brandon Prust during a Tampa Bay Lightning-Montreal Canadiens 2015 playoff match, Don Cherry used his Coachless Corner soapbox to align the Swedes’ name with cowardice, saying, “I will never, ever, want one of my players acting like Coburn here. This is Sedin stuff.”

Well, okay, now that the twins have left the building, let’s try to define “Sedin stuff.”

Admittedly, I only observed them from a distance, but certainly the National Hockey League was better for having Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who took their final bow on Saturday night in Edmonton. They played the game as it’s meant to be played, the same way Jean Beliveau and Wayne Gretzky did. The same way Connor McDavid does, with an emphasis on finesse and flash over fists and felony. That’s “Sedin stuff.” Those who know them best, including news snoops tracking their every mirrored move through 18 years and 17 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, tell us they were better people than hockey players. Tall praise, given that the Sedins are Art Ross, Hart, Ted Lindsay and King Clancy Trophy recipients. That, too, is “Sedin stuff.”

What really should be celebrated is their strength, a commodity that is not one-size-fits all. Different athletes show it in different ways, some through brawn, others with their brain.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

The two mentally toughest players I ever met and covered were the Winnipeg Jets most-celebrated Swedes, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. They arrived together in the mid-1970s to join les Jets when the World Hockey Association was, on a certain level, a lawless frontier. Animosity born of xenophobia ruled the day and mayhem ensued on the ice. Hedberg and Nilsson were bludgeoned fore and aft by the heavy, wooden weapons wielded by envious, ill-mannered foes with an unreasonable dislike for foreigners. Their battered bodies featured every color of the rainbow, but the bruising wasn’t rainbow pretty. Through it all, Hedberg and Nilsson, both a class act, said nothing of the savagery, at least not on public account. They soldiered on, unwilling to acquiesce to the bullies and thugs and the BS. These were no “chicken Swedes.” They championed a cause and became champions.

Similarly, the Sedin twins have had to put up with a lot of crap, although from a different pile.

The masculinity of Daniel and Henrik often has been brought into question by rivals whose level of humor is on par with schoolyard adolescents, broadcasters who ought to know better, and fans who no doubt are devotees of Adam Sandler’s buffoonish movies.

Dave Bolland, then of the Chicago Blackhawks, called them “sisters” who “probably sleep in a bunk bed” in a radio interview. Not to be outdone, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars took to the airwaves and suggested the Sedins’ relationship was incestuous. Former New York Islanders general manager and TV talking head Mike Milbury called them “Thelma and Louise.” Denis Potvin, a Hall of Fame defenceman working in the Florida Panthers tower of babble-on, labelled Daniel a “lowlife.” During one post-match dustup, Potvin said, “The Sedins are pointing fingers now. Normally they only use those fingers to lick the peanut butter off their bread.” (What the hell does that even mean?) Fans would arrive at the rink wearing t-shirts that read: SEDIN SISTERS 2 GIRLS NO CUP. A Finnish media outlet, Ilta-Sanomat, ran a tasteless piece that featured Sedin Sisters paper doll cutout figures with dresses and high heels. Etcetera, etcetera.

And how did the Sedins respond? By playing hockey. By beating foes the honest way. The Hedberg-Nilsson way. It’s the Swedish way. And that is “Sedin stuff.”

From the department of He Doesn’t Have A Freaking Clue, I give you Frank Seravalli. In an ode to the Sedins, the TSN senior hockey reporter describes the Swedes as “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century.” Good grief. Quick, someone give the man a copy of Western Canada for Dummies. I mean, there is no known word to describe that level of ignorance. It’s as daft as saying Don Cherry is the voice of Russian hockey. Yes, that dumb. As far as I can tell, (from the experience of living 99.9 per cent of my 67-plus years in Winnipeg, Calgary and Victoria) there’s just one commonality between the rabble on the B.C. coast and the Prairie provinces—a healthy distrust of, and dislike toward, the Republic of Tranna. Otherwise, what happens in Vancouver stays in Vancouver, because few Prairie folk gave a rat’s patoot about the Sedins before they declared their intention to retire last week. They gave them a warm sendoff Saturday night in Edmonton, because that’s the way Prairie folk are, but make no mistake: The Sedins never were the face of the Oilers, Flames or Jets, and last time I looked each of those outfits is based in Western Canada.

Frank Seravalli

If you’re wondering how a TSN reporter could make such a “D’oh!” statement, be advised Seravalli is not of us. He’s an American, born in Bucks County, Pa., just north of Philadelphia, and he was schooled there and in other eastern U.S. outposts. Clearly, he didn’t major in Canadiana. Still, that’s no excuse. I mean, the City of Brotherly Love remains his home base, and I’m guessing no Philly guy, including him, would be so dense as to suggest Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins are the faces of northeastern U.S. hockey. Seravalli’s been to Western Canada. He knows the good people of Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton identify with their own players, not two guys on the La La side of the Rocky Mountains. Get with the program, man.

This is rich. In the breezy Say What?! banter between Winnipeg Free Press sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek, the former accuses Hockey Night in Canada gab guys Jim Hughson and Scott Simpson of being “homers” and waving blue-and-white Maple Leafs pom-poms when les Jets visited the Republic of Tranna last weekend. “Come on guys, try to refrain from cheering in the press box will ya?” Lyons scribbles. Yet his own guy, Wiecek, has become guilty of shameless pom-pom waving. He writes this of the Jets as they prepare to embark on the Stanley Cup crusade: “Yeah, we want the Cup. More than most, I’d venture. But what we need first is a playoff win. And then another. And another.” He’d like the Jets’ playoff run to last “hopefully weeks.” And “for once it feels like the sporting gods are working in favor of the locals instead of against us.” Us? Us? That isn’t a good look for a sports columnist. Nor for a sports editor who condemns others for cheering in the press box even as his writer does that very thing in print.

Look, I get it. Sports writers are human. Honest, some of them are. They have their favorites and it’s a more enjoyable gig when the locals are successful. I confess now that I wanted the Jets to win the final WHA title. They were a terrific bunch of guys. But the “we” and “us” and “hopefully” stuff has to be left to the rabble and blogs like Arctic Ice Hockey. Or even this blog. Mainstream scribes covering the team, on the other hand, are expected to operate from a platform of objectivity. Well aren’t they?

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

Speaking of the WHA’s last act, in which the Jets delivered a championship to River City, this is what sometimes happens when people who weren’t there write history: Mike McIntyre of the Freep scribbled a lengthy piece about past Jets’ post-season activity and mentioned they received “contributions from the likes of Willy Lindstrom, Morris Lukowich and Peter Sullivan” in beating the Quebec Nordiques and Edmonton Gretzkys in the spring of 1979. While true, no review of the Jets’ third WHA title can have the ring of credibility without the mention of Terry Ruskowski and Rich Preston. They were the driving forces. Ruskowski, who basically played the final vs. the Gretzkys with one arm, was an emotional force and led the team with a dozen assists, while Preston, a penalty-killing demon, provided 13 points and was saluted as playoff most valuable player. McIntyre’s failure to acknowledge them is a glaring omission on what went down that spring.

I’m still liking Jets captain Blake Wheeler and his 91 points to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. I have, mind you, slightly revised my personal top five: Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Blake Wheeler, Taylor Hall and Sidney Crosby.

Randy Turner: Burned

Really enjoyed a fun Twitter exchange between Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet and Randy Turner of the Freep.

Turner: “Personally, I’m rooting for a #NHLJets-Leafs Stanley Cup final just so Toronto fans can finally get some much-needed publicity for their hockey team.”

Cox: “Plus it’ll give Winnipeggers a chance to see what the Grey Cup looks like if they come to town for the series.”

Total burn for Cox. Brilliant. Love it, and I’m from Pegtown.

Dumbest headline and article of the week was delivered by Sportsnet: “Thinking about past, and future, Maple Leafs Stanley Cup parades.” The piece is written by former Leafs general manager and Sportsnet chin-wagger Gord Stellick, a great guy who never should have been GM of the Leafs and never should have written that article.

Julie Chu, Caroline Ouellette and Liv

The best from Sportsnet came in the form of a lovely Hometown Hockey feature on same-sex couple Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette, and their baby Liv. I’d say we’re making progress when a national sports network doesn’t shy away from talking about married lesbian hockey players/coaches. It was a beautiful bit of work that dampened my eyes.

On the subject of getting teary-eyed, I thought bean counter Scott Foster playing 14 minutes of goal for the Chicago Blackhawks and shutting out the Winnipeg Jets would be the feel-good sports story of the year, but G.T. Nicklaus’s ace on No. 9 in the Masters par-3 tournament has moved to the front of my scorecard. Caddy G.T.’s ace brought grandpa Jack Nicklaus to tears. It was a magic moment.

Apparently, fighting fool Conor McGregor did something really stupid this week. In other news, dog bites man.

Wayne Gretzky

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: In a Twitter exchange with Heather Marginet re the NHL Hart Trophy, Simmons displayed a shocking lack of knowledge for a national sports columnist.

Marginet: “The 79-80 Oilers finished with 69 points. Significantly worse than this (current) Oilers squad. Gretzky was the Hart.”

Simmons (being sarcastic and dismissive): “They were so bad they played 13 playoff games that year—basically announcing their arrival as a team to reckon with.”

As numerous people eagerly pointed out, Simmons was totally out to lunch. The Oilers, in fact, played just three playoff games that year, not 13. All were losses to the Philadelphia Flyers. And, the Hart Trophy is voted on prior to the Stanley Cup tournament, so his playoff point was moot.

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.

 

About hockey ‘experts’…Team Tease…a positive message for Captain Surly…putting the right woman in goal…and Mitch the curmudgeon

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

Do the “experts” actually know what they’re talking about or is their know-how no better than a row of lumps on a row of stools in any bar in Canada? Well, some do, others don’t.

Paul Wiecek

Take Paul Wiecek, for an e.g. The Winnipeg Free Press columnist forecast this for the Winnipeg Jets in their 2016-17 National Hockey League crusade: “What you’re going to get this season is a lot of defensive lapses and odd-man rushes that are precisely the kinds of situations where you need great goaltending to keep you in the game. Is (Connor) Hellebuyck that guy? (Kevin) Cheveldayoff obviously seems to think so.”

I’d say that Wiecek was spot on.

Over at nhl.com, meanwhile, 15 of 20 geniuses predicted an unfavorable ending to the Jets’ season, with Kevin Weekes, Rob Vollman, Shawn Roarke, Adam Kimelman and Brian Lawton the only “experts” to forecast a spot in the Stanley Cup derby for the Jets. They had them earning a wild-card berth. And four of 16 “experts” at Sportsnet—Ryan Dixon, Chris Johnston, Eric Francis and Mark Spector—had the Jets leading all Canadian outfits in total points. D’oh!

Here’s what some of the other shinny swamis had to say before the puck was dropped in October…

Pierre LeBrun, ESPN: “The Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues are the class of the Central, leaving the Minnesota Wild and Jets to battle it out for fifth place in the division and potentially the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference. I’m giving the nod to the Jets. Fifth in the Central.

Jen Neale, Yahoo! Sports: “The Jets have another year of pain ahead of them before getting back to the playoffs. The younger players need a little more experience before this group can come together and ice a consistently competitive team. Unfortunately for Paul Maurice, these growing pains could cost him his job.”

Jeremy Fuchs, si.com: Breakthrough team—It’s tough to say this because they don’t have a goalie, but the Winnipeg Jets’ offence could be dangerous. A first line of (Patrik) Laine-(Mark) Scheifele-(Blake) Wheeler might be one of the best. And a powerplay of that line alongside (Nikolaj) Ehlers and Dustin Byfuglien. Oh boy. Get ready for a lot of goals in the Peg.”

As for moi, well, I wrote: “They have as much chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup tournament as I have of filling in for Frida or Agnetha at an ABBA reunion concert.” Since my phone still ain’t ringing, I assume it still isn’t Benny or Bjorn calling. I also mentioned something about defence being the Jets’ Waterloo, but, hey, I’m just a once-a-week little lump on a bar stool. What do I know?

Paul Maurice

Just call them Team Tease. For all of you in Jets Nation getting giddy because the locals have strung together four successive Ws, you are reminded that they did the same thing a year ago in garbage time—they won their final four skirmishes, including a California sweep over the playoff-bound Disney Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Here’s what head coach Paul Maurice said following the W in San Jose: “I’m not going to get excited about winning three in a row. These games don’t tell you anything about how we’re doing.” So relax. The Jets outfit that has won four straight assignments won’t be the Jets outfit you watch next October. Or will it, Kevin Cheveldayoff?

At least one member of Team News Snoop has surely earned considerable brownie points from Captain Surly, Blake Wheeler. If you missed it, Wheeler had himself a proper hissy fit on Thursday night, whereby he demanded that any message dispatched about the Jets must “be positive” because, gosh darn it, he and the boys are trying really, really hard in their annual two-plus weeks of garbage time. As if on cue, it’s been mostly rah, rah, rah and siss, boom, bah from Ken Wiebe, who’s positively aglow in his praise of the local hockey heroes, most notably Captain Surly, Rink Rat Scheifele and Twig Ehlers. And, lest there be any doubt, the Winnipeg Sun scribe assures us that our also-ran hockey heroes are so gosh, darned determined to go out raising hell that they would never—ever, ever—think of “tanking.” There is, of course, nothing wrong in acknowledging praiseworthy work, but correct me if I’m wrong here…the Jets did miss the playoffs, did they not? Someone messed up along the way.

While bearing witness to the 2-0 paddywhacking the U.S. laid on Canada in their opener of the women’s world hockey championship in Plymouth, Mich., I couldn’t help but wonder if it was too late for the Americans to reconsider their boycott threat. Come to think of it, maybe the Finns could boycott as well.

Shannon Szabados

I don’t know about you, but if I’m Laura Schuler, head coach of Team Canada, my starter in the blue ice is Shannon Szabados. Every game. The Americans easily could have rung up a six-pack against our girls if not for Szabados, and the goaltending against Finland was suspect.

I was disappointed to learn that Mitch Kasprick had shut down his Winnipeg Hockey Talk website in late January. No word on whether or not Mitch plans to crank it up again, but I miss his curmudgeonly take on all things Jets. WHT, by the way, is where Scott Campbell got his start as a scribe before being poached by the Drab Slab otherwise known as the Winnipeg Free Press.

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.

 

 

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: It must really suck to be Lirim Hajrull-oops

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

How bad a day did Lirim Hajrull-oops have on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry? Well, after coughing up a hair ball on four field goal attempts and a convert in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ one-point loss to the Edmonton Eskimos, he was so angry when he got home that he wanted to kick a dog.

Naturally, he missed. Fido is just fine.

It’s no surprise, really, that Lirim Hajrull-oops’s teammates stood by their man and resisted the urge to hurl the much-maligned place-kicker under the team bus. They put on the proper public face. In private, though, we all know what they had to be thinking—he cost them two points in the West Division table and, possibly, admission to the Canadian Football League post-season party. It was the worst kicking performance since Jay Leno gave Conan O’Brien the boot, and he ought to be fired. That’s the reality.

I see where TSN has been doing the promo thing for a feature on the Toronto Blue Jays’ 1993 World Series championship, and Joe Carter, the batsman who struck the decisive blow in the home half of the ninth inning of Game 6, tells us that “everyone knows where they were” when he swatted his three-run homer, and the Jays’ success “changed how we view baseball.” I can assure Mr. Carter that I, for one, do not have a clue where I was or what I was doing when he clouted a Mitch Williams pitch over the fence in left field, nor did that development alter the way I watch rounders. I mean, get a grip, man. It was a baseball game, not the JFK assassination.

Exactly how many people does Raffi Torres have to send to the hospital before the National Hockey League does the right thing and tell him to go away and never come back? Suspended for a fifth time, his most recent trespass being a predatory-type assault on Jacob Silfverberg of the Disney Ducks, it truly is time to toss the book at the San Jose Sharks’ repeat felon.

So, three female reporters were denied access—temporarily—to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ changing room post-game in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon. Not good. Blatant gender discrimination. Should never happen in 2015. A male usher made a serious faux pas. But wait. One of the women, Graham Watson, described the usher as an “old, out-of-touch geezer” and another, Joey Chandler, was only slightly more charitable, referring to him as an “old man.” Way to keep it classy, ladies. Makes it rather difficult to sympathize with you when you’re so insulting.

Okay, let’s put the corks back in the champagne bottles, boys. That is to say, there are far too many champagne celebrations in baseball for my liking. You win a division title, fine. Break out the bubbly. Ditto for an American League or National League pennant and World Series victory. But for earning a wild-card spot? Or a second wild-card spot? Again, get a grip, boys. You haven’t won a thing. What next? A champagne bath for finishing first in the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues in spring?

 

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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.

Winnipeg Jets: It’s not who you give up in a trade, it’s who you receive in return

A little bit of this, a little bit of that and a whole lot of opinion in a weekend wrap…

Okay, as Howie (Squeaker) Meeker was wont to say, “Hold it! Stop it right there!”

All you people who keep pointing to Tyler Seguin as the poster boy for trades gone bad, you’re either forgetting or ignoring one very significant factor. To wit: The Boston Bruins, who had their fill of the youthful-but-seemingly troubled Seguin, are in a playoff position, tenuous as it might be. The Dallas Stars, with whom Seguin has blossomed into an elite scorer, are not.

Thus, the fact that Seguin is joint leader of the National Hockey League scoring derby heading into Tuesday night’s matches does not support the notion that the Bruins erred horribly when they sent him packing to the Lone Star State, lock, stock and bad attitude.

Let’s ignore what might have been, because there is no way of measuring where Seguin would be today had the Bruins exercised greater patience and allowed their maturity-challenged forward to clean up his act. (I think, however, it’s reasonable to suggest he would not be atop the NHL scoring tables were he still with the Bs.) Based purely on the numbers, two of the players Boston accepted in barter for Seguin—Louie Eriksson and Reilly Smith—have matched his points output. Seguin is 29-30-59, Eriksson and Smith are a combined 22-36-58.

Meanwhile, the likelihood is that Eriksson and Smith will still be playing hockey after April 11, which marks the close of the NHL’s regular season business. Barring a remarkable surge in fortunes, Seguin and the Stars will be golfing or fishing. So you tell me who wins the trade.

Which brings me to Evander Kane and the Winnipeg Jets.

Because Kevin Cheveldayoff, aka GM Groundhog, has never arranged an NHL player-for-NHL player transaction, there is a fear that a) he will be fleeced and b) Kane will move on and, like Seguin, develop into an elite scorer.

Sorry, but no risk, no reward.

Most likely, Kane will be the largest talent in any deal Cheveldayoff concocts. That doesn’t mean he loses the trade. It isn’t so much what you surrender as what you receive in return. If, in barter, he acquires bodies that enhance the Jets and positions them as a perennial playoff participant, what does it matter how Kane performs in Buffalo or Pittsburgh or New Jersey of Vancouver? He isn’t doing it here. Period.

Let’s put it another way: The mistake wasn’t the original Jets dealing away a 24-year-old David Babych. The blunder (arguably the biggest is Jets 1.0 history) was accepting Ray Neufeld in the exchange.

The same lesson is to be learned from the Tyler Seguin saga. It isn’t so much about giving up on a young talent too soon, it’s about the return. It’s about the end game. It tells me that it’s okay to unload Evander Kane, who’ll be 24 the next time he pulls on an NHL jersey. Just don’t give him away for a song.

I’m not convinced GM Groundhog is the right man for that job, but if I can figure it out I’m sure he can, too.

TELLY TALK: My, my my. That was an epic rant Don Cherry unloaded from his Bully Pulpit on Curmudgeon’s Corner this past weekend. We heard all about “savages” and “barbarians” like Ron MacLean who eat seal meat, hockey goons who got a raw deal and should still be working in the NHL, and Evander Kane is a “jerk” who ought to be “ashamed” of himself. I’d hate to think what the Lord of Loud would say if he discovered that Kane had a baby seal burger for lunch…Caught a bit of the press conference for the Gordie Howe gathering in Saskatoon on Sportsnet. It included Wayne Gretzky, two of the Howe boys, Mark and Marty, and Brett and Bobby Hull. I’m sorry, but whenever I see Bobby Hull now I think spousal abuse…What a shame that Mathieu Perreault of the Winnipeg Jets shaved his facial foliage. That was a killer beard. The good news is they found Jimmy Hoffa when they cut the thing off…Would it be too much to ask of Hockey Night in Canada host George Stromboloupouloupoloupolous to wear a sports jacket that actually fits? The thing he squeezed himself into Saturday night would have looked tight on a chihuahua or something of a similarly small stature. Like Johnny Gaudreau…The gab guys on TSN’s The Reporters with Dave Hodge gave the Jets some talk time this past Sabbath morning. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star advised us “this is the year the Winnipeg Jets got interesting.” Actually, Bruce, there are those of us living in the colonies who’ve found the Jets interesting ever since they arrived in Winnipeg. Arthur also advised us that Evander Kane is “a 25-to-30 goal scorer.” He said it twice. Fact is, Kane is nothing of the sort. He has scored plus-20 goals exactly once in half a dozen NHL seasons…The sartorially challenged P.J. Stock wore a track suit instead of his off-the-Wallmart-rack business suit for his Stock Exchange gig on HNIC. It was a dig at the Jets and Kane. It think it was supposed to be funny. It wasn’t.

LAST CALL: This from Little Stevie Blunder Simmons of the Toronto Sun/Sun Media on The Reporters, speaking about the Winnipeg Jets and Evander Kane:

“This has been a dressing room or a team without leadership for the past couple of years, inside that room. There’s a leadership issue inside that room.”

One question: You know this how, Toronto Boy? Please enlighten us. If this information comes from your many visits to Winnipeg and the Jets’ boudoir, tell us. If it comes from reliable informants in the Jets’ boudoir, tell us. If not, stick to skewering the Maple Leafs.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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.