A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m still a free agent but my phone still ain’t ringing and there ain’t no offer sheets on the way…
Let me guess. You’re underwhelmed.
I mean, the National Hockey League annual grab bag of teenage talent has come and gone, the frenzy that is Day 1 of free agency is behind us, Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev are memories, the return on Jacob Trouba was scant, and there’s a hole the size of Don Cherry’s ego on the right side of the Winnipeg Jets’ defence.
In other words, the Summer of Chevy is unfolding as expected.
Kevin Cheveldayoff is paid to generally manage les Jets, but what we have here is an example of the tail wagging the dog. The system now dictates his every move. He was forced to deal Trouba. He was forced to watch Myers and Tanev skate away as UFAs on Monday. He’ll be forced to make Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp mega-millionaires. He might be forced to unload useful workers and, perhaps, elite talent. And, unless he can find a sucker or two, he’s stuck with some contracts that will grow old in a hurry, if they haven’t already (read: Byfuglien, Dustin; Wheeler, Blake; Little, Bryan).
In short, it’s a fine mess Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have gotten themselves into.
Granted, there’s still much heavy lifting in front of Chevy, and the rabble can always hope that he has a bit of Harry Houdini in him. Or that he can find some hats with rabbits inside. For now, though, it looks like the third defence pairing in October will be a couple of guys named Wing and A Prayer.
And to think, a year ago Winnipeg HC was viewed as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Today they’d be lucky to win a cup of soup.
Chevy and the Puck Pontif (on the rare occasions when he’s spoken) have used up considerable oxygen reciting and trumpeting their draft-and-develop mantra. Which is fine. Except for all the good work their bird dogs have done identifying blue-chip kids, the braintrust is doing everything else all wrong.
That is, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff haven’t been building around Rink Rat Scheifele, Josh Morrissey, Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and the departed Jacob Trouba. They’ve been building around the aforementioned Byfuglien, Wheeler and Little. They still are. And that’s totally bass ackwards.
Let’s forget for a moment what’s in their pay envelopes. Think term. Do you realize that Twig Ehlers is the only player—that’s right, just one!—with a longer-term contract than Wheeler and Little (both five years)? They’re 33 and 32 years old. No defender has more term than Big Buff (two more years). He’s 34. Those are the deals that Chevy and the Puck Pontiff continue to build around. And, now that it’s time to pay the piper in the form of re-ups for Puck Finn, Connor and Copp, those ill-advised contracts with their no-movement and no-trade addendums are in the way.
Wheeler, of course, is fresh off repeat 91-point seasons, so he isn’t spent, but if he keeps producing at that level into his shinny dotage someone will demand he pee in a bottle. That is to say, at some point his numbers have to drop faster than F-bombs at a stag. Big Buff, meanwhile, is a necessary evil now that Trouba and Myers have skipped town, and we all know Little is no longer a No.-2 centre. It’s just that Chevy ignores that obvious flaw until he gets his annual wakeup call before the NHL shop-and-swap deadline, at which time he’s moved to squander a first-round draft choice for a two-month rental.
Look, I concede there’s value to thirtysomething hockey players. I just don’t think a guy should be at the front end of a five-year term once his chin whiskers turn grey. And they certainly can’t be considered building blocks.
Like I said, it’s bass ackwards.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find it interesting that Wheeler, Little and Big Buff are the only remnants of the Atlanta cartel that arrived in 2011. I’m not sure what that means, but it occurs to me that they’ve been coddled from the get-go. Just saying.
Looks like a couple of boys on the beat have been swilling the Jets Kool-Aid. Both Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun and Murat Ates of The Athletic used the same word to describe how we should view Chevy’s do-nothing handiwork—patience. Wiebe acknowledged that Winnipeg HC is in retreat mode, but he managed to find a silver lining in that cloud: “Reclaiming some semblance of underdog status probably suits the Jets just fine.” (I don’t even know what the hell that means.) He then stressed “the importance of patience for a small-market organization like the Jets.” Ates provided the backup vocals, opining, “I believe Cheveldayoff’s best play is to show patience.” Wow. I’ve gotta get me a pair of those rose-tinted glasses.
What say you, Pierre McGuire? Give us your take on the Summer of Chevy. “This pains me to say this, ’cause I think Kevin Cheveldayoff and all the people in Winnipeg have done a phenomenal job with their group,” the TSN natterbug said when asked to identify a “loser” on Day 1 of NHL free agency. “That being said, James (Duthie) talked about losing people, when you lose Jacob Trouba for nothing, basically, when you lose Tyler Myers for nothing, when you lose Tanev for nothing, you lose Kevin Hayes for a fifth-round pick, you’re losing a lot. That hasn’t even addressed Ben Chiarot yet. So that could be a lot of losses. Winnipeg is not as good. They’re not as good as they were a year ago.” Some of us feel your pain, Pierre.
Remember old friend Evander Kane? Of course you do. Chevy shipped out the young winger in February 2015 (along with Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf) and received a handful of live bodies in barter with the Buffalo Sabres—Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia—plus a draft pick he turned into Jack Roslovic. Myers is now a member of the Vancouver Canucks, which means Chevy has Roslovic to show for that transaction and Buffalo has Bogo. Would any of us take Roslo for Bogo today? I would.
TSN scout-in-residence, Craig Button, isn’t as high on les Jets top prospects as you might be. Naming Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, Kristian Vesalainen, Mason Appleton, Logan Stanley, David Gustafsson, Simon Lundmark, Mikhail Berdin, Declan Chisholm and Santeri Vertanen as the top-10 wannabes, he gives Chevy’s bird dogs a B-minus for their work, worse than every Canadian club except the Calgary Flames, also a B-minus.
“Winnipeg’s list is populated by prospects projected to be middle-six, bottom-half-of-the-lineup NHLers,” he says.
This is interesting: According to NBC, the Edmonton McDavids, your Winnipeg Jets and the Tranna Maple Leafs are the top road draws in the NHL, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philly Flyers rounding out the top five. And here I thought the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was the best road show out of River City.
Hey, check it out. Old friend John Paddock scored a hole-in-one on the 12th at Clear Lake on the weekend. You’ll remember good, ol’ John as a terrific guy, but also the man who had the bad manners to ship Teemu Selanne to the Disney Ducks back in the day. The former Jets GM accepted Oleg Tverdovsky, Chad Kilger and a third-round draft pick in barter for Teemu, Marc Chouinard and a fourth-rounder. “In hindsight would you do it differently? Of course you would,” Paddock, now GM of the Regina Pats, told ESPN a few years ago. “But that’s hindsight. The owners talked about budget and contracts and trying to get a defenceman…and there was a health concern with Teemu…there were different factors.” Some of us were concerned for John’s health after that trade.
Let’s play Jeopardy! Your category: The Canadian Football League after Week 3.
Clue: This is what $2.9 million buys you these days. Answer: What is a zero-3 record?
B.C. Lions bankroll David Braley coughed up large coin for starting QB Mike Reilly, and I’m guessing he’s given more than a fleeting thought to a do-over. A donut in the W column and a 2,124 drop in attendance for the home opener can’t be what he had in mind.
Clue: Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in an ice tub. Answer: Who are Zach Collaros, Antonio Pipkin and Bo Levi Mitchell?
Three starting quarterbacks down due to owies, six to go. At this rate, we can expect to see TSN natterbugs Matt Dunigan and Hank Burris back in pads and flinging the football by mid-August.
Clue: Seen mostly in B.C., Toronto, Montreal and, now, Edmonton. Answer: What are empty seats?
If the Eskimos didn’t perform in such a monstrosity of a stadium, the optics wouldn’t be so bad. But when you put 23,639 into a 60,081 facility, there’s more empty space than in Homer Simpson’s head. That’s not what Prairie football is supposed to look like.
Got a kick out of Megan Rapinoe’s comments after the Americans’ 2-1 women’s World Cup quarterfinal win v. France: “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team, it’s never been done before, ever. That’s science right there.” Seems ridiculous, but Megan makes a valid point as it relates to the World Cup. The website Outsports advises us that there are 40 out lesbians/bisexuals playing, coaching or on team support staff in France, and 19 of them are on sides that reached the last four—U.S. (6), England (3), the Netherlands (5) and Sweden (5). So it’s a fact: You can’t win without gays.
And, finally, a ship carrying 1,500 tons of Canadian garbage arrived on our shores last week, but there’s no truth to the rumor that Chevy was there to meet it and look for defencemen.
As a free service (no pay wall here), we bugged Kevin Cheveldayoff’s cellphone, his burner phone, his Dick Tracy wrist watch radio/TV and his land line (the guy’s still a bit old school) to listen in on trade talks between the Winnipeg Jets general manager and his National Hockey League counterparts.
Sound of a cellphone ringing (to the tune of the Jerry Springer Show theme music)…
“Morning Chevy. Stevie Y here in Motown. How are things in Pegtown?”
“Oh, you know, Stevie. Same old, same old. We’ve already had 21 homicides and the year isn’t half over, you can’t drive half a block without your SUV being swallowed by a pothole the size of Texas, the WiFi still sucks, and mosquito season has already started—you should see the size of some of those suckers, Stevie; as big as Buff. On top of that, I feel more like a prison warden than a GM.”
“What, you guys don’t have the Internet in Detroit, Stevie? You haven’t heard that I’m dealing with more malcontents than Dr. Phil? There’s so much scrapping in my dressing room that my owner, Mark Chipman, had to create a new position in the ivory tower—Executive VP in Charge of Ruffled Feathers.”
“Who’d you hire?”
“No one. Chipper said we couldn’t afford Oprah, Dr. Phil, Springer or Maury Povich, so we just put it on Zinger’s plate.”
“Isn’t Zinger the dude who used to sew and wash Teemu’s jock strap?”
“Yup. Same guy, Craig Heisinger. He’s our Mr. Everything, except he does all his good work behind the scenes. People here think I’m a bit of a recluse, but Zinger’s got me beat all to hell. I can’t find the guy half the time I need him. It’s like he’s a member of the Green Party…you hear about him but you never really see him. Anyway, what’s on your mind, Stevie…wait…let me guess: You’re calling about Jacob Trouba.”
“You win the cupie doll, Chevy. I’d like to bring Trouba home to Michigan. What’s it gonna take to pry him away from you?”
“Jacob’s gonna cost you Dylan Larkin and a first-round pick in this month’s entry draft.”
“Are you daft, man? I give you Larkin and Mrs. Ilitch will have my left nut. She’s a dear, sweet lady, but my owner can be tougher than 10 days at hard labor. Sorry, Chevy, but Larkin is a non-starter. Especially if you want a first-rounder on top of that. You know the old saying, Chevy: I was born at night, but not last night.”
“Guess we can’t do business then, Stevie. I need a No. 2 centre like Zdeno Chara needs a straw to eat his food. I coughed up two first-rounders—plus Brendan freaking Lemieux—in the last two years trying to plug the hole at centre, and what do I have to show for it? Squat. If I don’t get it right with Trouba, Chipper will have both my balls. Anyway, Stevie, I’ve got another call…good talk though.”
Sound of Dick Tracy wrist watch radio/TV buzzing (to the tune of Fiddler on the Roof)…
“Chevy, my main man, my main dude…Kyle Dooby-Dooby-Doo calling from the Centre of the Universe, where you can’t swing a cat without hitting a Toronto Raptors fan or Drake. What do you say we scratch each others backs?”
“I don’t see how we can help each other, Kyle. We’re both in cap hell. That’s a big problem.”
“There are no problems, Chevy, just challenges. If we get creative, you can have the No. 2 centre you need—Nazem Kadri—plus some added frills and I can have the top-pair defenceman I need.”
“One of those added frills would have to be a first-rounder this month, Kyle.”
“Ouch. No can do, amigo. Already gave that baby away. But here’s what I can do for you: I’ll give you Nazem Kadri, Nikita Zaitsev, Nic Petan and the talking rights to Ron Hainsey for Jacob Trouba and a year’s supply of Pride rainbow tape, because hockey is for everyone.”
“Ron Hainsey?! I know you people in Toronto are big on dinosaurs these days, what with the Raptors leading the NBA final and all, but the last thing I need is a Jurassic defenceman like Hainsey. And Nic Petan? My coach Paul Maurice has already ruined the kid’s career once, why would we let him do it again?”
“Guess we can’t do business then, Chevy. Maybe it’s just as well, though. I hear Trouba won’t sign long term with a Canadian team.”
“Well, Toronto is close to his home in Michigan and his good buddy Bogo is in Buffalo, so…oops, got another incoming call, Kyle. Gotta go.”
Sound of land line ringing (no music, just Bring! Bring! Bring!)…
“Good morning, Mr. Cheveldayoff. This is Miss Tulip from Mr. Holland’s office in Edmonton…could you stay on the line for his call please?”
Lengthy pause (Nickelback elevator music playing in the background)…
“Hi Chevy. Kenny Holland here. Sorry about the wait.”
“That’s actually kind of rude, Ken. I mean, you called me, so why should I be put on hold?”
“Sorry, man, but that’s the Oilers’ way. They fire so many people around here that no job is safe for more than five minutes. So I let my girl Miss Tulip make the calls for me. If I’m still the GM by the time she’s finished dialing, I pick up. Anyway, I hear Patrik Laine is available.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“Some blog called The Fourth Period.”
“Fake news, Ken. Patty isn’t going anywhere. Hey, the kid had an off-year, but when an off-year is a 21-year-old kid scoring 30 goals he’s a keeper.”
“Too bad. I was hoping to pair Laine with Jesse Puljujarvi. I figure if I could get another Finn on board, Jesse might finally find his way in the NHL.”
“Who would you be willing to send my way? Like I told Stevie Y and Dooby-Dooby-Doo, I’m looking for a live body and a first-rounder this month. That’s my starting point.”
“How does Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sound? That’s the No. 2 centre you need. I’ll give you the Nuge, our first-rounder, which is eighth overall, and I’ll toss in the Looch, Milan Lucic.”
“C’mon Kenny. You mean you’ll toss me a bloody anchor! Offering me the Looch is like offering a drowning man a glass of water. Who do you take me for, Peter Chiarelli?”
“Hey, didn’t mean to insult you, Chevy, but you know that great feeling you get right after your first dump in the morning? That’s the feeling I’m gonna have when I unload the Looch. But, okay, I’ll take him off the table. You can have the Nuge and our first-rounder, and you give me Laine.”
“Nope. Not gonna happen, Kenny. But you can have Nik Ehlers instead. Playing with Connor McDavid, he’ll score 40 by accident. And I’ll add Sami Niku.”
“Okay, Chevy, the Nuge and our first-rounder it is for Nik Ehlers and Sami Niku. Done deal. Just out of curiosity, Chevy, how will you tell your guys that they’ve been traded?”
“Same way I always do it…I tell Buff to toss their clothes into the ice tub.”
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy Pride Month to everyone in the LGBT collective and all our allies…
Apparently, I’ve been “swept up.” You have been, too, in case you didn’t know.
Oh, yes, (I’m told) we have become a nation of 37 million bouncy-bouncy, hoopster hosers, entranced and enthralled by the antics of those long, tall Jurassics from the Republic of Tranna, a talented troupe that might or might not soon be champions of all the world’s hardwood floors.
It will require three more Ws from the Jurassics before they can be anointed rulers of a game invented by a Canadian and perfected by Americans, but their opening salvo—a 118-109 beatdown of the Golden State Juggernaut—in the National Basketball Association title skirmish has put us (I’m told) in a nation-wide tizzy, the likes of which we haven’t experienced since the last time we were in a nation-wide tizzy.
We in the north don’t get into too many tizzies, understand, because we’re understated and polite. But, when we do go ga-ga, it usually involves a hockey puck, like the one Paul Henderson slid under Soviet Union goaltender Vladislav Tretiak in September 1972, thus plopping the lid on a shinny cold war called the Summit Series and igniting a nation-wide hooraw.
I recall quite vividly where I was the moment Henderson, Espo, ankle-breaking Bobby Clarke et al put the Soviets in their place: At home. In my living room. Going bonkers.
Similarly, I know exactly where I was the other night when the Jurassics and their one-and-done superstar, Kawhi Leonard, took the measure of the Juggernaut in Game 1 of the NBA’s final tussle: At home. In bed. Catching zzzzzzs. And, no, I wasn’t dreaming of Drake.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, to learn in the ensuing days that I have been “swept up” by something one Postmedia Tranna essayist labeled “Rapstock,” the jock equivalent of Woodstock.
That same scribe, Joe Warmington, considered the Raptors’ success so significant and global in scope that he sought words of wisdom from that noted authority on pink slips and layoffs, Paul Godfrey, his boss at Postmedia. (Nothing quite like sucking up to the boss to flesh out your copy.)
“It is definitely something we haven’t seen since the Blue Jays 1992 and 1993 years that the whole country got swept up in,” the God-man gushed.
Hmmm. I seem to recall being “swept up” in gold medal crusades by our women and men hockey players at the 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 Winter Olympic Games, but, hey, that didn’t happen in the Republic of Tranna, so it’s total meh, I guess.
I don’t know about you, but I truly appreciate it when people from The ROT tell those of us in the colonies what we’re thinking and feeling.
You know, people like Steve Simmons, who informed us, “The country won.” His columnist colleague with Postmedia, Scott Stinson of the National Post, spoke to a chap in Quebec and advises us that folks in La Belle Province have embraced the Jurassics “in a way that matters.” He didn’t say in what way it matters, but I’ll take his word for it that it matters to les Quebecois. Curtis Rush of Forbes reminded us that “Canadians swelled with pride,” the moment the Jurassics arrived in The ROT late last century. (For the record, the only thing that swells on me are my ankles, and that has everything to do with failing kidneys and nothing to do with a hoops outfit more than 4,000 kilometres away.)
On jock TV, meanwhile, the propaganda machine at Drake-onian Sportsnet went into overdrive, cranking out dispatches that trumpet record-breaking viewership numbers. An average of 3.3 million sets of Canadian eyeballs caught Game 1. Yowza!
You know what that means, don’t you? That’s right, 33.7 million of us found something better to do than watch the Jurassics tame the Juggernaut last Thursday night. Like me…I got “swept up” in sleep.
I’d like to see a regional breakdown of the Sportsnet numbers. It’s my understanding that two-thirds of the 3.3 million viewers live in Ontario. So much for a nation-wide tizzy.
Interesting that the Drab Slab would dispatch their main man, Mad Mike McIntyre, to Games 1 and 2 of the NBA final. Even more interesting is that Mad Mike would eagerly swallow the Kool-Aid they’re serving in The ROT. I mean, he calls a “foul on anyone” who claims she or he isn’t caught up in Rapstock. He also writes: “You’ll have a hard time convincing me that a Raptors championship won’t instill a sense of pride to even the most fair-weather fan out there.” Yo! Mad Mike! Some of us just…don’t…care. And we don’t have to convince you or anyone else of that.
I wonder what the fib count was during this weekend’s 40th anniversary gathering of the 1979 champion Winnipeg Jets in Good Ol’ Hometown. Hockey people, especially a guy like Tommy McVie, like to tell stories, and I’m guessing they’ve been stretching the truth further than the elastic waist bands on some of their trousers. It’s just too bad Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, Friar, Jon and Turbo weren’t there to share the tall tales.
Still surprised when I hear someone suggest the World Hockey Association Jets could have laid a licking on the late-1970s Montreal Canadiens. Wouldn’t have happened, kids. The Jets were very good, but not Habs good.
It’s Sunday morning, June 2, 2019: Do we know where Jacob Trouba is? Does Kevin Cheveldayoff know where he’s sending the young defender? Time to play show-and-tell, Chevy.
Trouba sits in the No. 2 slot on TSN’s National Hockey League trade board, and here’s something to keep in mind when Chevy moves him: We know for certain that two players have asked the general manager for a trade—old friend Evander Kane and Trouba. Kane got his wish. Trouba will, too, one way or the other. Moral of the story: Any player who wants to get out of Dodge simply has to be patient because, in the end, Chevy can’t prevent him from bolting.
Always find the goings-on in Edmonton a curious bit of business, with the Oilers forever hiring and firing scouts, coaches and GMs to be fired and rehired. The latest to step behind the E-Town bench as future ex-head coach is Dave Tippett, who replaces Ken Hitchock who replaced Todd McLellan who replaced…oh, you know the story. Odd thing is, Tippett’s record is no better than McLellan’s. Check it out…
Tippett: 14 seasons, 553-413-28 .563…missed playoffs six times…33-41 .446…twice reached conference final…Stanley Cup titles 0.
McLellan: 11 seasons, 434-282-90 .594…missed playoffs three times…37-38 .493…twice reached conference final…Stanley Cup titles 0.
I doubt this latest changing of the guard will make Looch Lucic’s feet move any faster.
Nice to see Doug Brown’s big words back on the sports pages of the Drab Slab. I haven’t always been a fan of his work, but Doug’s essays on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Canadian Football League serve two purposes: 1) they usually provide readers the kind of insight that only a former player can deliver; 2) they often give my dictionary a good workout.
Bravo and a tip of the bonnet to Emily Clarke and Georgina Paull, both of whom worked the Calgary Stampeders-Saskatchewan Roughriders skirmish on Friday night in Cowtown. Emily (side judge) and Georgina (line judge) are the first women to wear the stripes in a CFL game, and it somehow doesn’t seem right to call game officials skunk shirts or zebras anymore.
Also a tip of the bonnet to the Tranna Argonauts, whose first dress rehearsal of the CFL preseason was a daytime gig at old Varsity Stadium in The ROT. Only 4,313 witnesses watched the Boatmen beat the Montreal Alouettes, 45-20, but that’s okay because most of them were school kids who got to skip class. That, not trips to Mexico and Europe by Commish Randy Ambrosie, is the ticket for the CFL—make nice with Next Gen fans.
Speaking of school kids, the d-i-c-t-i-o-n-a-r-y took a beating at the recent Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S., when officials ran out of words for the young geniuses to s-p-e-l-l. So they declared the last kids standing co-champions—all eight of them. There hasn’t been that many hands pawing a trophy since Lyle Lovett started dating Julia Roberts.
On the subject of champions and the alphabet, a real shocker in boxing on Saturday night when Andy Ruiz Jr. paddywhacked defending heavyweight chump Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden in Gotham. After boxing Joshua’s ears, Ruiz Jr. now holds most of big boy boxing’s title belts—WBA, WBO, IBF. Deontay Wilder owns the other alphabet belt (WBC) and, for those of you scoring at home, Manuel Charr is the WBA Regular champion and Trevor Bryan is the WBA Interim champion, whatever that means. The Ring magazine, meanwhile, refuses to recognize any of the aforementioned pugs as world champeen. Apparently the self-proclaimed Bible of Boxing is holding out for a Mike Tyson comeback.
Ruiz Jr., who stopped Joshua in the seventh round, looks like a guy who spends a lot more time in a donut or ice cream shop than a gym. He’s definitely the Round Mound of the Ring, and his considerable girth did not escape the notice of some of the mooks in MSG. Here’s how Tom Gray of The Ring described the pre-fight scene: “As he stood proudly listening to the Mexican national anthem, Ruiz was heckled by hordes of idiots around the ringside area over his body shape. ‘You fat bastard!’ they cried in unison. ‘Get your tits out for the lads!’ they sang.” Way to keep it classy, New York.
For those of you wondering, here’s the skinny on women’s pro sports in North America:
WNBA: Average attendance 6,721 Minimum wage $40,000
NWSL: Average attendance 6,024 Minimum wage $16,538
NWHL: Average attendance 954 Minimum wage $4,000
As much as I would like women’s hockey to grow and flourish, in whose universe can you earn a $50,000-$100,000 salary when no one is buying what you’re selling? The ForTheGame200 boycotting the National Women’s Hockey League might want to rethink their wants and needs, not to mention their strategy.
And, finally, I’m going to come right out and say it: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are your 2019 Grey Cup champions. I’m not going to explain myself. Not yet anyway.
Forty years ago this weekend, the Winnipeg Jets put an exclamation mark on an incredible, unlikely run to the final World Hockey Association championship, their third title during the rebel league’s seven-year history. I was fortunate enough to go along for the ride in that winning 1978-79 season—as the main Jets beat writer for the Winnipeg Tribune—and I share the following recollections while thinking of Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, my two media traveling companions, Friar Nicolson and Reyn Davis, and that wonderful photog with both the Trib and Winnipeg Free Press, Jon Thordarson, all of whom have left us.
It was early March 1979 and the Winnipeg Jets were back in Birmingham, the scene of their most heinous crime.
Only 11 days earlier, the defending World Hockey Association champions had absorbed a shameful and shocking 9-1 paddywhacking at the neophyte hands of Alabama’s Baby Bulls, and the pungent residue of that humiliation remained. The bus carrying the workforce turned into a parking lot and lurched haltingly (much like the Jets’ on-ice product) toward the team hotel, and one of the players observed two Birmingham cop cars parked in front of the main entrance.
“They must have been at our last game here,” muttered a wise-cracking John Gray. “They’ve come to arrest us for impersonating a hockey team.”
I don’t recall if everyone laughed, but I did. Ditto Tom McVie, the freshly minted head coach who could not be implicated in the 9-1, scorched-earth debacle. He had an-air tight alibi for that night—he’d been sitting at home in Washington, waiting for the phone to ring and hoping it would be someone (anyone) in hockey calling to offer him a job behind their bench.
So McVie was off the hook, as were Terry Ruskowski, Kim Clackson and Gary Smith. (A nasty rib owie had limited Roscoe to four shifts that night; Clacker, in head coach Larry Hillman’s doghouse as usual, had been left behind in Winnipeg; recently arrived goaler Suitcase Smitty had yet to unpack his bags.)
The other boys on the bus, however…they wore the stink of 9-1, all complicit in what had been to that point in the Jets final WHA crusade the most damning evidence that this was Team Dysfunction.
To truly appreciate what went down that season, you must consider the nuances of a nine-month journey full of barking headlines, baffling sideshows, bitching, firings, hirings, disappearances and scoldings. Or, as I like to call it: Troubles Before Triumph.
This, understand, was not an outfit that fed off the warm-and-fuzzy remains of the previous campaign, a successful frolic that produced a second victory parade down the two main drags of River City. Gone to Gotham were Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, while other prominent performers such as Thommie Bergman and Dan Labraaten also took leave. In their stead skated Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray and Paul Terbenche, all refugees from an abandoned Houston Aeros franchise.
The remnants of the Jets championship outfit and the orphaned Aeros were confirmed enemies. They buddied-up like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.
“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich confirmed at the close of business on May 20, 1979, the night les Jets gained permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy with a 7-3 victory over the Edmonton Gretzkys. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”
“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski agreed.
There were other fractures, most notably between fan favorite/resident ruffian Kim Clackson and the head coach, Larry Hillman.
Clacker was a work in progress, a young guy whose game was more fury and fists than finesse, and his style seldom found favor with bench jockey Hillman, who did not fancy the blueline bully’s perceived lack of puck-moving skills. So, like Lukowich, the frustrated Clacker was anxious to acquire a new postal code.
“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” he barked in early November. “I’m tired of all the bull. I was brought here to play hockey and take care of some of the guys. But it’s never worked out that way. I want to go somewhere else so I can play. I just want to play and be appreciated.”
It didn’t help that foes like Edmonton Oilers smug puppet master Glen Sather took delight in giving that particular pot a vigorous stirring.
“If (Hillman) ever wants to get rid of him, we’ll gladly take him,” Sather snickered rather cheekily one night after his Oilers had taken their measure of the Jets. “He’d fit right in with us.”
Others around the league also saw merit in Clackson’s presence.
“There’s no question that we prefer to play Winnipeg when he’s not in the lineup,” confessed Rick Adduono of the Bulls. “When Clackson’s out there and you come down on a three-on-two, you know you’re going to get a good two-hander when you skate in front of the net.”
“Leaving Clackson at home only helps us,” agreed Bulls coach John Brophy. “Every team needs a policeman, especially on the road.”
Jets team president and co-bankroll Michael Gobuty was unamused by the discordant notes being struck and, two weeks later, he took the extraordinary measure of entering the players’ lair to, among other things, instruct Clackson and any other malcontents to put an end to their pity party and play hockey.
“Michael came in and let us know he was the boss around here,” said Lukowich. “He told us where we stand, kind of put our minds at ease. I think we needed somebody to come in and show some authority. Nobody wants to get smart with Mr. Gobuty.”
That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Hillman.
Larry Hillman was a nice man. A very nice man. And he owned a WHA championship ring that provided proof he was no pooch as a coach.
The man some of us called Morley had pushed all the right buttons six months earlier when the Jets secured the World Avco Trophy for a second time, yet Hillman fell prey to the whims of fate as unsteady dominoes began to tumble.
It wasn’t his fault, for example, that Hedberg and Nilsson defected to the New York Rangers.
It wasn’t his fault that the Achilles tendon in Lars-Erik Sjoberg’s right heel exploded during a late-September exhibition skirmish vs. the St. Louis Blues, and the captain was lost until the butt end of March.
It wasn’t his fault that Robert Marvin Hull suited up for four games then disappeared to battle his bride, Joanne, in a divorce court.
It wasn’t his fault that Teddy Green followed Hull into retirement.
Nor was he the mastermind behind the stroke of brilliance that brought the Houston cartel to River City.
It was, however, Hillman’s duty to make the Jets-Aeros alliance work. Unfortunately, he wasn’t up to the task of blending this hybrid outfit of fierce foes into a unified force.
“We didn’t please each other at the start and still haven’t come to great harmony,” Hillman allowed during the rough patch of mid-November. “Maybe it’s because I mentioned (the Houston guys) more frequently than others in discussing this team. You know, the owners, the public and even the media expected a lot from the one line (Ruskowski-Lukowich-Preston), and maybe I expected too much, like everybody else. I can’t keep relating the Houston guys to the big line (Hedberg-Nilsson-Hull).
“This isn’t a give-up situation, it’s something that we’ll have to overcome. But if something isn’t done soon, there are two objectives—either the coach has to be fired or some changes have to be made on the playing roster. Hopefully we’re all mature enough to realize we have the same objective.”
Hillman survived until Feb. 27, four days and another loss (to the Baby Bulls) after the infamous 9-1 blitz in Birmingham.
“I don’t know how he controls himself,” Hillman’s second-in-command, assistant coach Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, said on the day of the dismissal. “If I was in his position, I would have had some of those guys by the throat. His biggest fault is that he was too good to the guys…he took the blame for everything.”
Only 24 hours earlier, general manager John Ferguson had granted Hillman a stay of execution, saying, “I was seriously considering making a change. But there won’t be any at this time.” A 5-2, home-ice loss to Birmingham, however, sealed the coach’s fate.
“I did not give him a vote of confidence,” Fergy explained of his abrupt about-face. “I said I would leave it up to the players.”
Apparently, the players said it all in that 5-2 defeat, a performance Ferguson described as “horrendous.”
There was delicious irony in the hiring of John Bowie Ferguson as GM of the Jets on Nov. 22 of the final season.
Fergy, you see, was the cad who had lured Hedberg and Nilsson away from River City, where they were looked upon by the rabble with deity-like reverence. Turns out the two Swedes were his parting gift to Gotham and the Rangers, because the National Hockey League club relieved him of his GM duties three days before officially introducing the former Jets to Times Square and the masses in the city that never sleeps.
Gobuty tossed Fergy a lifeline six months later, and it was goodbye Broadway and hello boondocks.
“We are, in effect, handing Ferguson the key to the club,” said Gobuty. “My partners and I plan to take a much less active role in the running of the club. It’ll take time, but we’re confident that he’ll mold the people he wants into the organization.”
Fergy accepted the job sight unseen, and he joined the lads in Quebec City for a first-hand look and a speech from the throne four days later.
“I don’t know how I should put this,” defenceman Scott Campbell said after a 2-2 stalemate with les Nordiques. “Let’s just say it’s nice to know who the boss is around here. Now we know who we have to answer to.”
It’s not like Fergy came in, waved a magic wand and—poof!—the Jets were rid of the toxins that had tainted the water through the first two months of the grind.
More to the point, Winnipeg HC continued to sputter like an old jalopy and, along the way, they were forced to do without Teddy Green, the legendary, tough-as-a-tire iron defenceman who stepped away from the game on Jan. 22 after 19 1/2 seasons and a near-fatal head injury.
I often wondered how Teddy repeatedly returned to the fray. I would watch him hobble onto the team bus or airplane, then observe him sitting in a stony, seemingly catatonic silence, paralyzed from the pain in his knees and, more significantly, his head. He had been on the losing end of a vicious stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki in 1969, a confrontation that put him in a hospital bed and near death. After the passage of much time, he still had “never fully recovered” from that blow to the head.
“I’ve got no feeling at all in my left hand,” he said at his farewell presser. “Some nights I couldn’t even get my glove on before the game. I’d be putting four fingers in the same hole.”
I marveled at, and admired, Teddy’s courage, but he pooh-poohed any pity hurled his way.
“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” he said. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”
There are differing stories on what brought these Jets together as a true team, but I favor the one about Gary Smith, known to some as Suitcase and to others as Axe.
By any name, he was not a goaltender of gaudy credentials upon his arrival in River City in mid-February. He had begun the season guarding the Indianapolis Racers goal, but that franchise went belly up 10 days before Christmas, leaving Smitty and his 0-10-1 record and his 5.51 goals-against average wanting for work.
He called Fergy asking for employment, and here’s how Ruskowski remembers the Axe’s introduction to the lads.
“He came walking into the locker room,” Roscoe told Hockey Digest in 2001. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Axe Smith because I’ve been around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you: I’m not that good.’ Everyone just cracked up. But you could see we were coming together as a team.”
Not yet, they weren’t. Not until Tom McVie came aboard.
Tommy and Fergy had been childhood chums in Vancouver and, hockey being very much a buddy network, it was reasonable for the latter to reach out to his out-of-work pal to fill the Jets’ coaching vacancy.
We knew little about Tommy, except that he’d been deep-sixed by the worst outfit in NHL history, the Washington Capitals. His reputation as a hard-ass taskmaster preceded him, and he said/did everything to confirm he was a bit off his nut, even telling a vomiting Scott Campbell at practice to “get sick on your own time.”
Although fitness-freak Tommy’s preachings and rigid, nutbar demands failed to translate into Ws at the get-go, we saw evidence that they soon would deliver favorable results. There was renewed vigor. More purpose in their play. Superior conditioning began to take grip, most noticeably in the third period of games.
Better yet—at least for us news snoops—Tommy was a quote machine. A funny quote machine.
On teams in a slump: “You know what happens when you get into a rut like that? People start talking behind your back. When I was with Washington, I remember standing in the Los Angeles airport and I could see a couple of guys talking. As soon as I walked near them, they stopped. I’d walk up to a couple more and they’d stop talking too. Hell, it got so bad in Washington, that one night I was at a football game and the Redskins went into their huddle…I thought THEY were talking about me too.”
Upon arrival in Quebec City, he heard players whinging about their tiny rooms in Le Chateau Frontenac: “I don’t know what you guys are bitching about. The last time I was here, my room was so small that when I put my key in the door I broke a window.”
After the Jets had swept les Nordiques in their first-round playoff series, Gobuty gave Tommy a huge thank-you hug: “The last guy who did that to me was Abe Pollin (chairman of the board for the Washington Capitals). He hugged me and told me he should give me a 20-year contract…then he fired me 19 years too soon.”
More than anything, though, McVie proved to be the right man at the right time for that team.
The Jets had somehow maneuvered their way into top spot on Feb. 15, but they finished the month in third place, five points in arrears of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and every other outfit in the league had at least three games in hand. They lost six of eight, then eight of 10.
Gradually, however, whatever flavor of Kool-Aid McVie was selling kicked in. It was balls to the wind. The Jets came down the stretch like Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes, winning 11 of 17 and four of their final five matches, and only once after March 6 did they absorb back-to-back losses.
“It took them a while before they started winning,” observed Jacques Demers, head coach of the Quebec Nordiques. “Now every one of those guys is proud to wear a Jets sweater…you can see that Winnipeg has togetherness, that pride just by looking at their bench. I think now the Jets may be a better team than they’ve ever been. They’ve got so many leaders.”
It was convenient and a blessing that one of those leaders, captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg, returned from the repair shop for the finishing strokes of the regular season.
Squat like a fire hydrant, the Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.
The Jets were unsuccessful in his comeback game, dropping a 2-nada decision to les Nordiques, but the Shoe was magnificent in his understated manner.
“I told Fergy after the game that he should cut Shoe’s wages,” McVie joked. “He makes the game look so easy. Any guy having that good a time out there shouldn’t get paid.”
“Now I know why I always had to chop him in Houston,” added Lukowich, the feisty 65-goal winger. “The only way to stop him is to put the lumber to him.”
“I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the league five years,” Edmonton Oilers centre Ron Chipperfield said of the Shoe.
Let the record show that the Jets went 13-6 with Sjoberg orchestrating the show from the back end and, although his point total was modest, it’s unlikely they would have gone on their successful 8-2 playoff run without him.
This was a WHA title that almost never happened.
The Jets had finished in third place, a whopping 14 points in back of Edmonton and three behind Quebec, and when they departed River City to open a best-of-seven skirmish vs. Quebec there were no assurances that les Nordiques would be waiting for them at the other end.
There was a money dispute, you see.
The WHA’s agreement with the WHA Players Association called for a payout of no less than $10,000 to each member of the championship side. The league was offering between $6,000 and $7,000 and the players insisted they receive no less than $8,000. Les Nordiques and Cincinnati Stingers voted to cancel the playoffs, while the Oilers and New England Whalers were in favor of proceeding as scheduled.
So was there a possibility of the WHA collapsing before its final act?
“Sure there is,” said Peter Sullivan, the silky-smooth centre who served as the Jets player rep. “Even if we vote in favor, Quebec and Cincinnati still might not come over and agree with the other three clubs. I just hope for the league’s sake it doesn’t happen.”
The Jets never took a formal vote, but at least one player, Clackson, was against a work stoppage.
“Don’t write me down as one of the malcontents,” he said. “I’ll take $7,000 anytime. We shouldn’t be concerned about anything right now except winning this series of ours.”
The Jets touched down in Quebec City on a Friday (first game was scheduled for Monday), and the club withheld the players’ per diem ($24), with a further caution: If there was a cancellation of the post-season, the players would be returning home on their own dime.
As it happened, the WHA and WHAPA agreed to put the dispute on hold until after the playoffs, so it was game on.
Much was made of the impact the threatened boycott had on les Nordiques, who became a house divided over the issue.
Reports of fights involving Curt Brackenbury, Serge Bernier and Marc Tardiff came out of the Quebec camp, although defenceman Paul Baxter insisted it was nothing more than mountains-out-of-molehills nattering from news snoops.
“We haven’t played for a week now,” Baxter said with a dismissive shrug, “that sort of thing happens.”
Brackenbury chirped in, saying, “I can’t remember anything about them.”
Whatever the case, the Jets took out les Nordiques in a romp, sweeping the series with 6-3, 9-2, 9-5 and 6-2 wins and outshooting Quebec 50-14 in Game 4.
“There are players on this team who will never wear a Quebec Nordiques uniform again,” vowed the vanquished Quebec coach Demers. “They were unprofessional. They didn’t try at all…all of this because of money. The Jets went through the same thing as my players, but they still wanted to play hockey. What hurts most is when you stand behind the bench and see your players laughing.”
That’s what the semifinal series was…a laugher.
Like many others, I often wondered how the Jets would function without Terry Ruskowski.
If Clackson provided the team with its spine (in the figurative realm), Roscoe was its heartbeat, and that’s not to discredit the Shoe and Barry Long, who wore the ‘C’ while Sjoberg was in the repair shop. It’s just that Ruskowski had that special ingredient you couldn’t reach out and touch. Call it the ‘it’ factor.
“He’s a very talented hockey player, but it’s more than that,” winger Lyle Moffat suggested during the final vs. the Oilers. “I don’t know what it is that the man has, but he has to have something magic about him. He’s just a great leader.”
After 3-1 and 3-2 victories on Edmonton ice to open the championship series, the Jets lost Roscoe to a serious shoulder owie in Game 3, and they were promptly outscored 4-zip in the third period of an 8-3 loss. They gutted out a 3-2 victory in Game 4, then received a royal rag-dolling by the Oilers, 10-2. So, let’s do the math: In seven periods sans Roscoe, the Jets were outscored 16-5. Ouch.
Chances are there wouldn’t have been a happily-ever-after ending to this story except for trainer Billy Bozak. The nicest of men, Boz used his magic fingers and perhaps some voodoo on Roscoe’s shoulder, and he was good to go for Game 6, even though the hard-boiled centre couldn’t raise his left arm and truthfully had no business being on the ice. All he did was set up four goals in a 7-3 victory that brought the curtain down on the WHA, on May 20, 1979.
“I just love the man,” gushed McVie. “I’ve never met a man in my life like Terry Rukowski (Tommy often dropped the first ‘s’ when he spoke Ruskowski’s name).”
I was happiest for the Houston players, who hadn’t been warmly embraced initially and were handed a very tough act to follow.
Thus I wandered down to the Jets changing room in the bowels of a decaying Winnipeg Arena and sought to engage in chin-wags with four of them—Roscoe, Luke, Rich Preston (the playoff MVP) and Scotty Campbell. I don’t recall ever seeing four happier, more contented men. They wore that victory well.
They all did, of course, from Suitcase Smitty to shutdown forwards Lyle Moffat-Bill (Tractor) Lesuk-Roland Eriksson-Bobby Guindon, to fancy-schmancy offensive wizards Silky Sullivan and Magic Man Kent Nilsson, to gut-check guys like Clackson and Long, to greenhorns Glenn Hicks and Paul MacKinnon, to the guy who scored the final goal in Jets WHA history 40 years ago tomorrow—Willy Lindstrom.
“I had a bad season, so I had to have a good playoff,” said Willy, who contributed 10 goals and five assists in the 10 games that mattered most. “I wanted to show that I was a better player than Larry Hillman thought I was. When he was coach, I used to get only five or six shifts a game. I was thinking this would be my last season in North America, and I was thinking of playing over in Germany or Switzerland next year. But now things are different. Tom McVie gave me chance to play and I wanted to make good on that chance.”
No one in that changing room was happier than McVie.
“Three months ago I didn’t have a job in hockey and now they’re measuring me for a championship ring,” Tommy gushed. “This is better than sex…well, maybe.”
Often I have taken pause for ponder on that 1978-79 season and how the events unfolded. Was there one decision that served as the catalyst? Actually, yes. Here’s how I rate the five most-significant developments in that championship crusade:
Michael Gobuty and his 8 Hockey Ventures Inc. partners purchased the contracts of a dozen Houston Aeros, bringing Ruskowski, Preston, Lukowich, Campbell, West, Gray and Terbenche to Winnipeg.
The Gobuty Group hired John Ferguson and handed him the keys to the shop.
Fergy hired Tom McVie.
The return of Lars-Erik Sjoberg.
Suitcase Smitty put in a phone call to Fergy and asked for a job.
The 1978-79 Jets, playoff team: Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray, Paul Terbenche, Peter Sullivan, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Bill Lesuk, Lyle Moffat, Bobby Guindon, Roland Eriksson, Paul MacKinnon, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Glenn Hicks, Kim Clackson, Gary Smith, Joe Daley, Barry Long. Coaches Tom McVie, Bill Sutherland. General manager John Ferguson.
Also playing during the regular season: Markus Mattsson, Rich Gosselin, John Gibson, Ted Green, Bobby Hull, Bill Davis, Mike Amodeo, Dale Yakiwchuk. Coach Larry Hillman. Executive Director of Hockey Operations/assistant GM Rudy Pilous.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, yes, it’s still morning where I live…
Okay, here’s what I want to know: What did Josh Morrissey do to tick off anyone? Hike gas prices? Steal nickels and dimes from panhandlers in Osborne Village? Say women’s hockey sucks?
Whatever the misdeed, there are folks who want young Josh on the next stagecoach out of Dodge.
And, for me, that’s what jumped out as I scanned the results of the Winnipeg Sun You Be the Boss survey, in which the rabble were invited to play Puck Pontiff and suggest who among the Winnipeg Jets should stay or go.
The rest of it, I get.
The faithful, for example, have seen and heard enough of Jacob Trouba. Ditto Charlie Huddy. Well duh. Those two are to Jets loyalists what Trudeau II is to Saudi Alberta, and it doesn’t matter that Trouba just completed the most-productive crusade of his National Hockey League career.
Fact is, the young defender once requested a one-way ticket out of town and, when asked, Trouba refuses to express warm and fuzzy feelings for River City, a dismissive attitude that never plays well in a burg that leads the league in inferiority complex (ask old friend Evander Kane about that).
Huddy, meanwhile, holds the defence coaching portfolio and, since les Jets so often come across as Keystone Kopish behind the blueline, he takes the rap. Mind you, some longtime devotees never have warmed to Huddy simply because they can’t get past his alliance with the 1980s Edmonton Gretzkys. If you’re too young to recall those dark days, be advised that the Gretzkys made annual spring sport of les Jets, bullying them as if part of a college hazing ritual.
No surprise, therefore, that 78 per cent of 4,598 respondents want Trouba kicked to the curb, while 51 per cent would prefer that Huddy clear out his desk. (Note: He’s the only member of head coach Paul Maurice’s staff they want removed.)
But this Morrissey thing baffles me. The guy is boy-next-door likable. I bet he shoveled the neighbor’s sidewalk as a kid. Gratis. Likely mowed the lawn, too. You could create a sitcom based on him: Everybody Loves Josh. Except everyone doesn’t.
The question was simple: Should he stay or should he go? A whopping 98 per cent say Trouba’s top-pair defence partner is a keeper. Works for me. So who is the 2 per cent? And how did Morrissey possibly rub those 92 people the wrong way?
The survey results don’t provide those kind of answers, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I mean, as long as Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff aren’t among the 92, Morrissey isn’t going anywhere.
Noteworthy was the Kyle Connor-Patrik Laine finding. That is, given a choice of one or the other restricted free agent, the rabble would prefer to keep Connor by a 61-31 percentage. That’s not surprising. It’s all about expectations, of course, and Puck Finn’s are sky high. Connor’s not so much. He scores 34 goals and the hosannahs ring out from hither and yon. Puck Finn, meanwhile, scores 30 and the sky is falling. It doesn’t help, mind you, that Laine basically dogged it for 2-3 months during the recently concluded crusade.
Also noteworthy is the number of respondents to the Sun survey. The 4,598 is dwarfed by a similar You Be the Boss study undertaken by its sister paper in Edmonton, where 9,250 angry Oilers fans had their say. That could mean a few things: a) the folks in E-Town are more PO’d that the rabble in River City; b) the E-Sun circulation is considerably larger than the W-Sun; c) they care more in E-Town; d) Winnipeggers have better things to do than fill out survey forms once the grass is riz.
Well, another newspaper editorial board is telling the 32 NHL owners how to spend their money. This time it’s the Toronto Star, where the Lords and Ladies of One Yonge Street have weighed in on the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a player boycott: “The players who built the league—and kept it afloat with plenty of their own money, earned through the second jobs they all had to have, just to play professional women’s hockey in this country—deserve so much better than this. A partnership with the NHL, which has the brand power and all the resources, is the best way to put women’s hockey on a sustainable path. It really is time for a $5-billion enterprise that claims “Hockey is for Everyone” to do something to make that sound a little less hollow for half the population.” Hmmm. I hardly think a private business that laid off 52 employees in summer 2018 and another 21 in June of last year is positioned to lecture another private business. And if the Star is so keen on resurrecting the CWHL, perhaps it can pony up $100,000 to put the Tranna Furies back in business.
Too much is being made of women’s hockey players needing to hold down second jobs to pay the bills. That’s as old as Gordie Howe’s first jock strap, and it’s never been limited to shinny. Ken Ploen had a day job throughout his entire career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Ditto teammate Cec Luining, known as the Selkirk Milkman because he really was a milkman with the family dairy operation in Selkirk. New York Giants linebacker great Sam Huff bagged groceries. Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan worked at a gas station and installed air conditioning. Another hurler, Harvey Haddix, delivered heating oil. Jon Cornish, while leading the Canadian Football League in rushing, worked two six-hour shifts per week as a bank teller. Many CFL players still have second jobs. So it shouldn’t be included in the women’s hat-in-hand argument.
The Boston Red Sox wrap up a road trip on Wednesday in Baltimore, then break ranks to board two charter flights—one taking manager Alex Cora and seven players home to Beantown, the other carrying the remaining World Series champions to the capital for a visit with Mr. and Mrs. Trump at the White House. Final score at the D.C. airport: Red Sox 18, Air Force One.
Got a kick out of the Trumpster tweeting about Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, which he pooh-poohed for its controversial ending. He spelled the state “Kentuky” and “Kentucky” in his original tweet, then someone made a correction on the first “Kentuky.” But, hey, don’t call it a spelling mistake. Trump aide Kellyanne Conway insists the Command-in-Chief was simply providing “alternative facts.”
What would a week be without some asinine scribblings from the Republic of Tranna? Here’s Michael Grange of Sportsnet on the Toronto Raptors: “You can make the case that they’ve been the most successful Canadian sports franchise for the last several seasons.”
Here’s what the Raptors have won in the past five seasons:
National Basketball Association titles: 0.
NBA final appearances: 0.
NBA Eastern Conference titles: 0.
Atlantic Division titles: 4.
First-place finishes: 4.
Here’s what the Calgary Stampeders have won in the past five seasons:
Canadian Football League titles: 2.
Grey Cup game appearances: 4.
West Division titles: 4.
First-place finishes: 4.
I’d say two league titles and four championship game appearances trumps zero every time. But, then, the CFL is like curling to news snoops in The ROT—it doesn’t exist.
And, finally, the good news is that our terrific tennis teen Felix Auger-Aliassime has advanced to the round of 32 at the Madrid Open. The bad news is he has a date with the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, on Wednesday.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and that Jets loss really knocked the frills off my Easter bonnet…
Well, there is no joy in Mudville today. The mighty Winnipeg Jets have struck out. Without really taking a final swing.
I mean, six shots through 40 minutes? One in the second period?
That’s the best you can do when it’s win or go to the beach? Talk about throwing a handful of confetti in a knife fight.
Oh, sure, you can say the St. Louis Blues had something to do with that. You know, suffocating defensive scheme and all. But, c’mon man. No team, not even the Montreal Canadiens circa 1970s, should be able to limit les Jets to one measly shot on goal. There’s too much talent.
I’d accuse les Jets of mailing it in, except I’ve mellowed over the years. I can’t be that cruel. So let’s just say I believe some of them tried in their 3-2 loss Saturday night in St. Loo. They just didn’t try hard enough, goaler Connor Hellebuyck being the notable exception, and the local hockey heroes’ premature ouster from the Stanley Cup tournament isn’t how a whole lot of folks, myself included, had Beard Season scripted. I was confident that there would be boisterous Whiteout parties in and outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie well into May, if not June.
Alas, the Blues’ series-concluding cakewalk at the Enterprise Center put an end to all the fun, and there’s little point in wondering what might have been for les Jets had their playoff push advanced beyond the sixth game of this best-of-seven skirmish.
Certainly the window of opportunity had been pushed wide open, with top seeds falling like April rain, and I liked their chances in this Stanley Cup crap shoot. Based on their disgraceful group no-show in St. Loo, though, it’s apparent that les Jets had less belief in themselves than much of the rabble. Again, including myself.
The inclination, of course, is to play the Blame Game for this wasted opportunity, but I’m not prepared to go there this morning. I’ll leave that to the “experts.”
I’m more interested in what this face plant does for les Jets moving forward and, as the local lads went through the final throes of another National Hockey League crusade gone wrong, I found myself asking these question:
Does Blake Wheeler have any more 91-point seasons in him? No.
They’ll be paying their 33-year-old captain $8.25 million next autumn, and the only guarantee is that his production will begin to drop faster than Justin Trudeau’s approval ratings.
Is Dustin Byfuglien going to get any younger or any smarter? No.
Big Buff has always marched to his own drummer, and that old dog isn’t about to learn new tricks at age 34. As much as he can hold sway in a game, he’s prone to massive brain farts and, frankly, he’s 260 pounds worth of liability.
Is Paul Maurice going to become a better coach? No.
I’ve said it before: Coach Potty Mouth is not the right man to take this young outfit to the next level. He’s reached his level of (in)competence, and it’s time for him to do what he does best—talk. That is, a career in either the TSN or Sportsnet studio awaits him.
Does Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have the coconuts or desire to punt Coach Potty Mouth? No.
Many among the rabble are crying out for Maurice’s ouster, but they can save their breath. Both the Puck Pontiff and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff are on record as saying Maurice is here “for the long haul,” so you can bitch about him all you like. He isn’t going anywhere.
Is Jacob Trouba prepared to sign long term? Good luck with that.
On a scale of 1-to-10, I’d say there’s less than zero chance the still-young defender keeps a River City postal code beyond next winter. Actually, I suspect he’ll be out of Dodge before they drop the puck again. Chevy might feel obliged to move him this summer.
Is Twig Ehlers capable of doing anything more than skate pretty? No.
Don’t talk to me about Ehlers’ wonderful zone entries. I really don’t care what the pie charts tell you. He’s paid to score. Instead, he’s doing triple salchows and sit spins, like he’s auditioning for Ice Capades. Perhaps he can partner with Tessa Virtue and they can tour with a fancy skating company. Seriously. Zero goals and seven points in 21 playoff assignments? There’s just no game in his game.
Is Kevin Hayes worth keeping around? No.
Turns out that the lanky centre was Stastny Lite, with minimal impact after joining les Jets at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline. He had his moments. Just not enough of them. Acquiring Hayes was a right thing to do that didn’t work out.
Will Chevy put together a package to retrieve the first-round draft pick he surrendered in barter for Hayes? Unlikely.
I doubt the other 30 league GMs have any appetite for helping Chevy.
Is Chevy prepared to enter another crusade with Bryan Little in the second centre slot? No choice.
Chevy, by his activity at the last two trade deadlines, has told Little that he’s not a No. 2 centre. Trouble is, the Atlanta holdover has a no-movement clause, so Chevy is stuck with him. The No. 2 centre slot was an issue heading into this season and, unfortunately, Hayes wasn’t the solution. Chevy’s mistake was waiting until the 11th hour to attempt to fix it.
If rumors of infighting among the players are true, will the toxic elements be discarded? Hard to say.
We only have Mike McIntyre’s word for it that les Jets changing room was a pit full of bickering sourpusses with self-serving interests, so unless the Drab Slab beat guy is prepared to give us the skinny we won’t know the true story.
Let’s make something quite clear: Jacob Trouba wasn’t solely responsible for the goal that did in les Jets in their stunning Game 5 loss to the Blues last Thursday. Yes, he made a poor decision to attempt to freeze the puck on the end boards. A real D’oh! Boy move with about 25 ticks left on the clock. But what of his defensive partner, Josh Morrissey? He was working in concert with Trouba, trying to free the puck vs. Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz of St. Loo. When it came loose, Rink Rat Scheifele promptly handed it to the Blues Tyler Bozak. Kyle Connor then made a pathetic one-handed poke check attempt, but refused to engage Bozak. Both Trouba and Wheeler then ignored Schwartz, standing unmarked in front of the net to redirect a Bozak feed past Hellebuyck. It was, in short, a 10-second, total team collapse.
If the Tranna Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins in their Game 7 showdown on Tuesday to advance along the Stanley Cup trail, I sure hope Sportsnet and TSN will clear some air time and web space to finally give some coverage to the Buds.
Let’s put the shrine to Auston Matthews on hold, shall we? I mean, if not for some replay goomer who failed to see what the rest of us saw, Matthews’ goal in les Leafs’ 2-1 victory over the Bruins on Friday night in Beantown would have been waved off for goaltender interference and, for all we know, they’d still be playing.
That’s twice in less than a week that a hockey outfit has been royally ripped off by a video replay judge. First the Finnish women were denied the world title they had earned, and now the Bruins. What are the requirements for that job? A white cane? I think we all knew this replay business would be iffy, but, c’mon man, no amount of official bafflegab from the IIHF or NHL can justify this level of stooge-ism.
Postmedia Edmonton allowed readers to have their say on their favorite hockey team, and this was among the many questions asked: “Assuming no team would trade for him given his salary and term remaining on his contract, what should the Oilers do with Milan Lucic?” Shockingly, 3,857 (42 per cent) people who apparently had their eyes shut when the Looch was on the ice answered “Keep him.” Each of those 3,857 Sad Sacks is now qualified to work as an IIHF and NHL video replay judge.
I assume the Winnipeg Sun will run a similar You Be The Boss survey now that garbage bag day has arrived for les Jets, because it’s a tabloid kind of thing to do. Who will the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown fit for the biggest pair of goat horns? I predict there’ll be three main fall guys: Head coach Paul Maurice, assistant coach Charlie Huddy, and head-strong defender Jacob Trouba, although not necessarily in that order.
And, finally, I don’t know about you, but I feel no obligation to root, root, root for the Maple Leafs simply because they’re the only Canadian outfit still standing in Beard Season.
Another Sunday smorags-bored…and it’s a couch potato day to watch the Masters then les Jets…
Two games into Beard Season, I’d say Connor Hellebuyck and news snoops are even—he doesn’t like their questions and they don’t like his goaltending.
The thing is, the questions aren’t going to get any easier or tamer, not as long as Hellebuyck has his head up his butt and refuses to accept the reality that the Stanley Cup playoff skirmish between his Winnipeg Jets and the St. Loo Blues is being determined in the blue paint, and he’s running a distant second in a two-man race.
Rather than suck it up and concede that he let the side down in a 4-3 Game 2 loss on Friday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, Hellebuyck went all snot-nose when confronted post-joust by those pesky newsies.
He harrumphed that one query was “loaded” and he fielded another with this gem: “I really don’t like that question.”
Boo freaking hoo. You want jock journos to lob softballs? Try stopping the damn puck.
Look, Hellebuyck didn’t play poorly in the first act of this best-of-seven National Hockey League playoff series. He was solid. Can’t lay the blame for the 2-1 loss on him, not after Kevin Hayes, Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov made out like the Three Stooges on Tyler Bozak’s decisive score. And, of course, the guy in the blue paint at the other end of the freeze, Jordan Binnington, was better. Lights out better.
As for what went down on Friday, though, that’s totally on Hellebuyck. He was atrocious. Someone should be ripping him a new one.
What I find disturbing—other than Hellebuyck waving at the puck like a guy trying to flag down a cab—is his my-stuff-don’t-stink attitude, which is a haunting echo from last spring. A year ago, I remind you, he was out-tended by Marc-André Fleury in the Western Conference final vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, but he refused to accept that he had to step up his game.
After Game 3: “(Fleury’s) obviously a big part of that team and playing very well, but I like my game, I like it a lot more. I like my details and I’m gonna keep chugging away.”
After Game 4: “I see a lot of posts at the other end. I don’t know if I want to call it luck, but things have gotta switch, it’s gonna come our way, I know that. I think it’s bad luck. Their goal is just the product of the puck bouncing the wrong way. The stars are aligning for them.”
After the series: “Maybe it was just the luck. I look back and I can honestly say I was playing the best hockey of my career in that series. I was very in tuned to the game. I felt the game a lot better than I have, and they got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”
Right. The Golden Knights took les Jets out in five games because of four-leaf clovers and rabbit’s feet taped to the goal posts. It had nothing to do with Fleury outplaying Hellebuyck by a considerable margin. As if.
So what we have now, kids, is deja vu all over again.
Binnington, a rookie, is outplaying Hellebuyck, but les Jets goaltender doesn’t see it that way. He only hears objectionable questions.
“Our details are right,” he insists. “We’re right there. It’s only a matter of time. Sooner or later it’s gonna go our way.”
Sure it will. Just like it did last spring vs. Vegas.
I’m not suggesting les Jets are a writeoff, down 2-nada as they move the series to St. Loo, but it doesn’t take a Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk or Marty Brodeur to understand that their only hope is better play between the iron. They were outgoalied in Game 1 (hey, that’s going to happen) and Binnington only had to be meh in Game 2 because Hellebuyck was waving at whiffle balls.
If les Jets goaler doesn’t show us his A-game in the Show Me State, I’d say Paul Maurice would be wise to call on Laurent Brossoit at the first hint of trouble. Is Coach Potty Mouth ballsy enough to turn to his backup? I doubt it, but he might have no choice.
Wonder how Hellebuyck will like the questions then.
I thought by now that Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab would have filled us in on what’s “rotten” about les Jets. But no. He just tosses out lines like Winnipeg HC is “rotten to the core” and he cites “multiple sources” then leaves us to guess what his “multiple sources” are telling him about the undoing of the local hockey heroes. “Myself and fellow Free Press hockey writer Jason Bell have heard from multiple sources that things are anything but rosy with this group,” he wrote slightly more than a week ago. He later added that les Jets were “appearing to come apart at the seams.” There can be just two reasons why Mike Mac refuses to give us the poop on any in-house bickering: 1) It’s fiction; 2) he’s afraid to rattle cages. In either case, that reporting is as shabby as Hellebuyck’s Game 2 goaltending.
Interesting that McIntyre also has chosen his scapegoat if les Jets don’t fix what’s wrong vs. St. Loo—Kevin Hayes. He tells us that Hayes isn’t contributing enough offensively, with points in just seven of 20 matches to close the season and zero in the playoffs. That’s a fair critique. It’s evident that he’s no Paul Stastny. But the Jets aren’t down 2-nada because of Hayes’ failings. It’s about goaltending. If anybody needs to be fitted for a pair of goat’s horns, it’s Hellebuyck.
Jim Matheson of Postmedia Edmonton proposes that the Oilers send their first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2019 NHL entry draft and forward Jesse Puljujarvi to the Jets in barter for Twig Ehlers. Sorry, Matty. Never going to happen. The Jets don’t need another under-performing Finn and I don’t need another player whose name I can’t spell.
This from Craig Button of TSN: “I believe the NHL officials are the best on the planet, I think they rarely make mistakes.” Earth to Craig! Earth to Craig! You might want to watch film from Game 2 of the Boston-Tranna playoff series. You might also want to check out the replay of Micheal Ferland’s hit on Nic Dowd in the Carolina-Washington skirmish. A bum to the body got Ferland booted. Sorry, man, but the skunk shirts are making more mistakes than your local meteorologist.
At least the zebras did the right thing and sent Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs to his room for a crosscheck to Jake DeBrusk’s melon. Brian Burke called Kadri’s hatchet job a “selfish, senseless act.” Yup. Now we’ll see if Sheriff George of the player safety department will do the right thing and ground the Leafs centre for the remainder of the series.
Pet Peeve: Whose idea is it to drape our international shinny sides in black unis with red trim? That’s just wrong. Planet Puckhead is red and white. Those are the colors on our flag, and that’s what our women should have been wearing in their World Hockey Championship semifinal skirmish vs. Finland on Saturday. The regrettable color scheme wasn’t the reason for our ladies losing 4-2 (Suomi goaltender Noora Raty gets credit for that), but they looked unCanadian. Donate those threads to a thrift shop and get back to red and white.
Perhaps we should have seen the Canadian ouster at the worlds coming. I mean, the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League had to prey on our players’ minds, and how do you keep your focus fully on the task at hand when you don’t know what you’ll be coming home to once the final buzzer sounds? Hey, I’m just spitballing here, but the fall of the CWHL had to be a weighty distraction in the Canadian camp over there in Finland.
Well now, look who’s suddenly passing himself off as a friend of women’s hockey—Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Suggesting that the Finnish victory over Canada is a positive development for the distaff game (I agree, it is), he wrote: “For far too long, we’ve wanted to see the game and the sport expand.” What a complete phony. This is the same dude who once delivered this commentary: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this charade of imbalance.” That’s right, Simmons has wanted women’s hockey to be abolished, not expanded. So I say Postmedia has let him write his rubbish “for far too long.”
Got a giggle out of a Winnipeg Free Press editorial under the headline “Women’s hockey deserves NHL support” last week. Among other things, the opinionist submits that the “cash-rich NHL has a moral obligation to do more than simply collect outlandish ticket revenues from its ravenous fan base. It has a vested interest in growing the game, regardless of the gender of its players. It’s time for the NHL to step up in a more materially significant fashion. When our best female hockey players return home from Finland, the NHL should be waiting to greet them with news of a brighter future rising from the ashes of a troubled past.” I don’t know about you, but I find it laughable that a for-profit business like the Drab Slab advocates government subsidies for media outlets and, indeed, hopes to feed at the welfare trough, yet it’s telling another business, the NHL, how to spend its profits. That’s rich.
The mooks who do the voting for Canada’s athlete of the year will never anoint a curler as our top jock, because too many news snoops see Pebble People as a bunch of hubbies, brides and kids getting together for a family frolic at the local club on a Wednesday night. But they do things right in my home province. The very likable Kaitlyn Lawes has been named the best female athlete in Manitoba, and it had to be your basic no-brainer. Kaitlyn copped Olympic and world titles in 2018, and she did it while being an absolute delight.
And, finally, I think perhaps Donald S. Cherry was sampling a bit too much of the sponsor’s product prior to his Curmudgeon’s Corner segment on Hockey Night In Canada last week. After a promo for Budweiser’s new Copper Lager, Grapes had this to say: “I’m tellin’ ya, I went out and bought some, and it is terrific. I love the horses, I love the bar we drink in…the color I’m not too crazy, but…I’ll tell ya one thing, it sure goes down PRETTY GOOD. Aaaaaand, don’t forget the stubby bottles. Stubby bottles. Canadian. Cana…that’s us. Canadians. Stubby bottles.”