About drinking the Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid…a pity party…size doesn’t really matter…beer-league hockey and a bean counter…a losing MVP…Nathan MacKinnon for MVP…Shaq’s still PO’d about Steve Nash…women in the broadcast booth…and Le Grand Orange bids adieu

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

I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.

But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.

Right to the very last drop.

Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”

In fact, it almost certainly was not true.

Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.

Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):

Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90
King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96
All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95
Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17
Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars15.

Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17
Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93
All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80
Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17
Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.

We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.

But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.

Go figure.

This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.

Blake Wheeler

Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.

Scott Foster shuts the door on Paul Stastny.

So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.

Al Rollins

Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.

If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.

I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.

How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.

Le Grand Orange

Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.

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About Blake Wheeler and the media…the Fiddle-Farters Three…time’s a-wasting for Bryan Little…the Republic of Tranna still talking about Wayne Gretzky’s high stick…and remembering Vic Peters

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

blake-wheeler2
Blake Wheeler

Oh woe is Blake Wheeler.

Those pesky news scavengers keep squirting in his Corn Flakes, causing the frowning, scowling il capitano no end of grief at the south end of yet another National Hockey League crusade that has found his Winnipeg Jets wanting.

There he stood in the Jets boudoir Thursday night, scant moments after the local lads had aroused the rabble at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie with a stirring, come-from-behind, 4-3 extra-time victory over the Disney Ducks. One seeker of sound bites had the bad manners (at least to Wheeler’s way of thinking) to wonder aloud how the Jets might “bottle up” their late-game magic and use it going forward in what remains of garbage time.

Well…um…you know, it’s probably hard for you to understand how difficult it is to go through this again at a time like this,” began Wheeler, who now has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby in five of his six seasons in River City. “You know, the fact we’re winning hockey games this time of year with nothing to play for says a lot about the group that we have, the guys that we have…um…you know, how we bottle that up…you know, we’ve won three in a row and six of our last eight with nothing to play for, so it’s a little frustrating you ask a question like that, to be honest with you. I’m proud of our group, to play a team like that who’s trying to win a Stanley Cup, to be down 3-1 with nothing to play for, come back and win 4-3, you know, I’d expect a little more positive line of questioning next time.”

He glared hard at his interrogator.

Maybe you weren’t being too negative,” Wheeler continued, softening but still combative. “It’s just…you know, it’s just a little bit…I don’t know, a little bit undertone there, dude. Do you not agree?”

No,” came the reply from Kevin Olszewski of CTV sports. “I wasn’t trying to be negative at all.”

You asked me how do we bottle that up more consistently, which insinuates we don’t do that consistently. Am I making that up?”

No, you’re not making that up. I think it might be miscommunication, though.”

That’s fine. That’s fine. I want the message from tonight to be positive. I think our group deserves that.”

That’s the way you guys need to play. That’s what you can do. That’s what I’m saying, you can prove that you can do that to those teams, right? So how do you guys, as a group, manufacture that night in, night out on a consistence basis where you can be where teams like the Ducks are?”

Well, I think that was great. That was perfect. That was a perfect way to ask that question.”

Well, thank you Blake Wheeler for that crash course in Creative Communications 101. Perhaps you can land a teaching gig at Red River College while the rest of your teammates tee it up in another week or so.

Chris Thorburn

Here’s what Wheeler fails to grasp: Few fans or media appear to have any quarrel with the team captain and his accomplices wearing Jets linen (the notable exceptions being whipping boys Chris Thorburn, Mark Stuart and anyone who has stood in the blue ice). Their beef is with the Fiddle-Farters Three—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice, whose glacier-like pace in piecing together a playoff-worthy outfit has the rabble in a fit of pique. The faithful see outfits in Edmonton and Toronto rebuilt in two years while, in Winnipeg, the Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff have been trying to get this thing right for six years, without success. That’s the rub.

Here’s something else Wheeler would be wise to bear in mind: This is garbage time for the girls and boys on the beat, too. They’re expected to make these meaningless games—and the days between—sound interesting and significant, which these games most assuredly are not. News snoops aren’t paid to wave pom-poms and report at the same time, but most of what I’ve read—about the players—in the past few weeks of a lost season has been ultra-positive. Wheeler ought to find another tree to bark up.

Let me make something perfectly clear: I’m a Blake Wheeler fan. He’s very good at hockey. Love his intensity and determination. And, hey, any 30-year-old who can name all four of the Beatles is okay in my book. I just wish he would back off on the angry-young-man shtick. It’s an ugly look.

Veteran centre Bryan Little delivered a most-telling statement once the Jets had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now.” I wonder if the Fiddle-Farters Three are listening.

Dustin Byfuglien

What’s the over/under on Dustin Byfuglien’s fat-cat contract becoming an anchor to the Jets? One year? Two? If the Jets are in the same position next season, they have to unload him. If, that is, someone is willing to pick up the $7.6-million tab for a rogue rearguard with little to no regard for structure.

Will the long-suffering wretches in the Republic of Tranna ever get over the Missed Call? Apparently not. TSN this week ran a nine-minute, 15-second feature on Wayne Gretzky high sticking Doug Gilmour in Game 6 of the 1993 Campbell Conference final between the Los Angeles Kings and Maple Leafs, with former player Jeff O’Neill interviewing the culprit, the victim and the guy who missed it all, referee Kerry Fraser. According to TSN, O Dog O’Neill “solved the mystery of what really happened the night of May 27, 1993.” Excuse me, but there was no mystery to solve. Fraser copped a plea to blowing the call in an article he wrote for the Players Tribune last summer. Time to move on, Tranna.

It was a year ago this week (March 27) that we lost one of the all-time great people, curler Vic Peters. I still think of Vic whenever I watch curling. He truly was a lovely man.

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.

About hockey greats…self-indulgent, unnecessary sports writing…Lebron James’s legacy…Kerry Fraser’s gaffe…Jimmy Hoffa…and other things on my mind

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

No. 4, Bobby Orr
No. 4, Bobby Orr

I witnessed my first live professional hockey game in the mid-1950s at the old barn on Maroons Road in Winnipeg, which was razed to rubble five decades later.

I watched my first televised hockey game in the 1950s, when our TVs had rabbit ears (sometimes with tin foil wrapping on the tips to enhance the quality of our black-and-white reception) and we would join a game originating from Toronto or Montreal already in progress (most often in the second period). That’s when I learned to truly dislike Rocket Richard.

I covered my first hockey game for a newspaper in 1970 and my byline first appeared on a hockey article in June 1971.

I wrote about, and commented on, hockey in mainstream media for 30 years and have written freelance articles and blogged on hockey for the past 17 years.

Do the math: I have been watching hockey for 60 of my 65 years and writing about it going on 47 years, long enough to draw conclusions.

So, were I to start a National Hockey League franchise, drawing from players I have witnessed—either in person or from my living room floor/sofa—which player would I choose to build around? No. 4, Bobby Orr.

Orr is the best hockey player I’ve ever seen. Still. Probably always.

Here’s my all-time dream team…

GOAL: Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek

DEFENCE: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Ray Bourque, Valery Vasiliev.

FORWARDS: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Alexander Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Anatoli Firsov, Sergei Makarov.

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press on the death of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “You’re going to be reading lots of ‘Here’s what Gordie Howe means to me’ stories over the next week,” he writes. “Most will be self-indulgent and unnecessary.” Let’s face it, much of what sports scribes scribble is self-indulgent and unnecessary, but the storytelling is neither. When someone of Howe’s or Muhammad Ali’s loft goes to the other side, the storytelling is essential to the narrative, otherwise all we’d have are lists of statistics to describe and define them. Without the storytelling, we know the athlete but not the person. Wiecek spun a terrific yarn about Howe that was far more interesting and insightful than spewing career scoring numbers.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe
Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Speaking of self-indulgent, one of the first columns I wrote for the Calgary Sun was about Gordie Howe. He was in town for a minor hockey promotion, the details of which now escape me, and we met at the CTV studios and spent the better part of an hour wagging our chins about all things shinny. The following morning, our editor-in-chief, Lester Pyette, approached me in the newsroom and said, “Great piece on Gordie Howe. Loved it. I’m a big Gordie Howe fan. But the publisher didn’t like it. He wants me to tell you that we brought you here to write about the Flames and Stampeders, not kids hockey and retired players.” I was gobsmacked. “Lester,” I told him, “if I find out that Mr. Hockey is in town, I’m writing about Mr. Hockey.” So I did. As mean and as ruthless as he was on the ice, Gordie Howe was as gracious and down-to-earth off the freeze. Wonderful man.

The notion that Lebron James needs to add a third National Basketball Association title to his resume before being granted all-time-great status is beyond absurd. How many World Series championships did Major League Baseball legend Ted Williams win? Or Carl Yastrzemski? Zero. Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back in National Football League history, was 1-2 in championship games. How many times has the name Bobby Hull been inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Once. The great hoopster Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA championship series. James doesn’t need to set foot on the hardwood ever again. He’s already and all-timer.

Okay, Kerry Fraser has ‘fessed up. The former National Hockey League referee admits in The Players’ Tribune that he blew the call when he failed to banish Wayne Gretzky to the brig for slicing and dicing Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings. It should have been a major penalty. “It was missed. Period,” is how Fraser puts it. Now, can Leafs Nation finally stop whining about something that happened 23 years ago?

If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t called when the NHL announces its top rookie for the 2015-16 season, he shouldn’t lose any sleep. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy weren’t at the head of their respective freshman classes, and each is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?
Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

So, legendary flying Frenchman Guy Lafleur isn’t fond of facial foliage. He looks at the unruly shrubs sprouting from the cheeks and chins of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and declares them “a disgrace for hockey.” This from a guy who went through two packs of cigarettes a day and actually smoked in the dressing room between periods when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Just wondering, when the Stanley Cup tournament concludes and Thornton and Burns finally reach for the razors, what are the chances of Jimmy Hoffa falling out of one of those beards?

Aside to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: You’ve cranked out some quality copy re the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe, but do yourself a favor—stop writing about Phil Kessel. We get it already. You weren’t a fan of his game or his eating habits during his tour of duty in the Republic of Tranna. Let it go, man. Move along.

Just for the record, this entire article has been self-indulgent and unnecessary. But I had nothing better to do when I awoke at 2:30 this ayem, so I started typing.

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.