The River City Renegade


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About the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Model…the Blue Bombers and soccer…the Puck Pontiff going into hiding…and what the women on the tennis tour think of our Genie

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

When the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, purchased his new play thing in 2011, he turned his eyes due south, directly toward Twang Town U.S.A., and found himself a role model for his team to be named later.

The Nashville Predators,” he mused. “I wanna be just like those pesky Predators.”

Now, it’s quite unlikely that the Puck Pontiff spilled those exact words, but he did confirm that the plan for the outfit he later named Winnipeg Jets was (still is?) to follow the blueprint laid out by Nashville, now in its 18th National Hockey League season and still winners of exactly nothing.

That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg,” he supposed.

Yup. Strange like hiring Justin Bieber as a life coach strange. Strange like wanting to dress like Don Cherry strange. I mean, Nashville is like that Dwight Yoakam song—guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With a whole lot of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry tossed into the mix. But hockey? Come on, man.

They’ve done it methodically,” the Puck Pontiff advised news snoops in springtime 2012, “they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”

That team” he spoke of so fondly failed to qualify for the next two Stanley Cup tournaments, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a misguided notion.

The point is, the Puck Pontiff likes to think of his fiefdom as Nashville North sans Dolly, Carrie and Little Big Town, so, with the Predators awaiting a dance partner in the Western Conference final for the first time in club history, let’s take a look at them to see if they tell us anything about the Jets.

  • The Predators were built from scratch, as a 1998 expansion team. They missed the playoffs their first five crusades.
  • The Jets were a pre-fab outfit built in Atlanta, but the Puck Pontiff operated it like an expansion franchise, gutting the management side down to the studs. They’ve missed the playoffs in five of their six seasons.
  • The Predators have known just one general manager, David Poile, who learned at the knee of Cliff Fletcher in Calgary then earned his chops as GM of the Washington Capitals for 15 years.
  • The Jets have known just one (official) general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who apprenticed under Stan Bowman in Chicago and has done the Puck Pontiff’s bidding for six years.
  • The Predators have had two head coaches, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. Poile didn’t ask Trotz to leave the building until 15 years had passed.
  • The Jets have had two head coaches, Claude Noel and Paul Maurice. It only took about 15 months before Noel was asked to leave the building, but it’s apparent that the Puck Pontiff is prepared to stay the course with Coach Potty-Mouth for 15 years.
  • The Predators, under Poile’s direction, preached the draft-and-develop mantra from the outset.
  • The Jets talk about nothing but draft-and-develop.
  • The Predators can be found in the lower third of the pay scale.
  • The Jets can be found in the lower third of the pay scale (if not at the bottom).

So there are your commonalities: Methodical, consistent, patient, steady-as-she-goes, loyal (to a fault for the Jets) and frugal.

Where do the Predators and Jets part company? In the GM’s office.

David Poile

Poile is unafraid to deliver bold strokes. He dared to send a first-round draft pick, defenceman Seth Jones, packing in barter for Ryan Johansen, the top-level centre he required. He shipped his captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for flamboyant P.K. Subban. He somehow pried Filip Forsberg out of Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. His captain, Mr. Carrie Underwood, and James Neal came via trade. Yannick Weber is a free-agent signing.

By contrast, Cheveldayoff is only allowed to make significant troop movements when backed into a corner (see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew).

So what do the Predators teach us about the Jets? Well, if the locals follow the Nashville Model to the letter, we can expect to see meaningful springtime shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie as early as next season. As for arriving in the Western Conference final, put in a wakeup call for 2030.

In rooting through archives, I stumbled upon a most interesting discovery: Once upon a time, the Puck Pontiff spoke to his loyal subjects. Honest. Chipman actually stood at a podium and did the season-over, chin-wag thing with news snoops in April 2012, at which time the city was still in swoon and the rabble didn’t much care that there’d be no playoffs. He has since become Howard Hughes, hiding himself in a room somewhere, no doubt eating nothing but chocolate bars and drinking milk. I found one remark he made at the 2012 presser to be rather troubling: “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, ’cause I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.” I wish I could believe that he allows the hockey people to make the important hockey decisions, but I can’t.

I note the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking to branch out into another sport and secure a franchise in a proposed Canadian pro soccer league. Ya, that’s just what Winnipeg needs—more dives.

Carolina Hurricanes have had goaltending issues. Ditto the Dallas Stars. Double ditto the Jets. So ‘Canes GM Ron Francis uses a third-round draft choice to acquire the rights to Scott Darling, then signs him to a four-year contract. Stars GM Jim Nill uses a fourth-round pick to secure the rights to Ben Bishop, then lock him in for six years. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, do nothing. Don’t you just hate the sound of crickets?

I look at the Ottawa Senators, who ousted the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup derby on Tuesday night, and I mostly see smoke and mirrors. Yes, they have Erik Karlsson, the premier player on the planet at the moment, and Craig Anderson often provides the Sens with stud goaltending. But beyond that, it’s largely a ho-hum roster. Where is the stud centre? You don’t win championships without a stud centre. At least not since the New Jersey Devils. My guess is that the Senators’ fun is soon to end.

Here’s one way of looking at this year’s Stanley Cup tournament:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genie Bouchard proved nothing with her win over Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open this week, except that she can beat a player who had been away from elite tennis for almost a year and a half. And that she can’t win gracefully. I don’t like rooting against Canadian athletes, but our Genie has become increasingly difficult to embrace. Branding Sharapova a “cheater” and suggesting she ought to be banned for life due to a drug violation is good copy, but surviving a second-round match and acting like you’ve just won Wimbledon because you have a hate-on for your opponent is bad form.

Bouchard claims that a number of players on the Women’s Tennis Association tour approached her on the QT prior to her match with Sharapova, wishing her bonne chance. Simona Halep of Romania was not among those women. “I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually,” Halep advised news snoops. “She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.” Ouch.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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About Kevin Cheveldayoff’s playoff guarantee for the Winnipeg Jets…Festus Haggen running the Vancouver Canucks…Genie Bouchard’s hissy fit…the heavyweight boxing alphabet…and those darned kids are playing on Steve Simmons’ lawn again

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

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Interesting exchange between John Shannon of Sportsnet and Kevin Cheveldayoff before the ping pong balls went bouncy-bouncy at the National Hockey League draft lottery on Saturday in the Republic of Tranna.

Shannon: “I mean this sincerely, I don’t wanna see you (here) next year.”

Chevy: “I’m not coming back.”

I suppose we can read that light-hearted bit of good, ol’ boys banter one of two ways:

1) Chevy, after half a dozen years of generally (mis)managing the Winnipeg Jets, is telling the faithful that there shall be meaningful games played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next spring. That’s right, playoffs. You have his guarantee. No ifs, buts or maybes. It’s iron-clad.

Or…

2) Should the Jets fail to qualify for the 2018 Stanley Cup tournament, Chevy is telling Jets Nation that he no longer will be generally (mis)managing the Jets. They’ll kick him to the curb.

Which of the two is it? Well, I don’t think Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman is inclined to kick Chevy anywhere, although a good, swift boot to the seat of his britches might serve a useful purpose. So, he’s guaranteeing us that the Jets will not be a lottery team next year.

Trouble is, nobody will hold him to it.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! This is your weekly reminder about how to build a playoff team. If you’ve been paying attention to the Edmonton McDavids’ postseason run, you’ll know they’ve gotten game-winning goals from Zack Kassian (two), David Desharnais, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon and Anton Slepyshev. All but Slepyshev were acquired in trades, Chevy. Oh, and that goalie who stole Game 2 for the McDavids in their skirmish with the Disney Ducks? That’s right. Cam Talbot was acquired in a trade, as well. But, hey, you just keep drafting and doing nothing else, Chevy.

Why do I keep reading and hearing that it will be an upset if the McDavids knock off the Ducks? Edmonton was a mere two points in arrears of Anaheim at the close of regular-season business, they racked up the same number of Ws (regulation/overtime), and their goal differential was 12 better. So how would that qualify as an upset?

Festus Haggen and Trevor Linden: Separated at birth?

That hot mess that is the Vancouver Canucks doesn’t look any prettier after they dropped three spots, to No. 5, in the draft lottery, but it won’t prevent Trevor Linden from peddling his flock a snootful of hooey. “We could get a better player at five than the top two, and that’s what we’re focused on,” the Canucks chief cook and bottle washer said. “We’re thinking about the entire draft. We’ll have six picks in the top 120 and we’re going to add to our group of prospects. That’s the message to our fans.” Which is like trying to sell mosquitoes to Winnipeg.

Yo! Trevor Linden! It’s one thing to look like you’re in the fourth month of a hunger strike, but what’s with those scruffy chin whiskers? If someone were to stick a tattered, old cowboy hat on you, we’d be looking at Festus Haggen from Gunsmoke.

Would I be out of line if I suggest someone other than Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world? I mean, I don’t see anyone better than Erik Karlsson these days, and the Ottawa Senators captain is playing on a foot with two hairline fractures.

I see our girl Genie Bouchard had herself quite the hissy fit when the Sharapova Shriek returned to the Women’s Tennis Association tour this week after 15 months of shriek freedom. Maria Sharapova, of course, had been in exile for using the banned substance meldonium, and the return of Her Royal Blondness as a wild-card entry in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix at Stuttgart, Germany, inspired Genie to label the former world No. 1 a “cheater and…I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again.” Geez, who knew Genie Bouchard was still on the circuit?

Maria Sharapova

Yo! Genie and all you other ladies (hello, Caroline Wozniacki) who would have Sharapova grovel! Listen up. Serena Williams is away having babies. The Sharapova Shriek had been silenced. You have no star power without them. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So give your heads a shake. Of course event organizers want the tall Russkie in the main draw. That’s why she was offered wild-card entries at Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome. She sells. It’s a no-brainer. Will she receive a free pass into the French Open at Roland Garros? We’ll know mid-May. In the meantime, the WTA needs her as much as she needs it.

Once upon a time, a heavyweight title bout was the biggest sports story of the day. Heavyweight champion of the world was the most exalted position in all of jockdom. Today? Dispatches on the title tiff between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday night at Wembley Stadium in London didn’t even make it on the front page of the Sportsnet website (I guess they couldn’t work a Toronto Maple Leafs angle into the story) and it made the bottom of the page on TSN’s site. For the record, Joshua (19-0, 19 knockouts) stopped Klitschko in the 11th round and he now owns two of prize fighting’s alphabet belts—the IBF and WBA. Deontay Wilder is the WBC champeen and Joseph Parker holds the WBO title. No word on the three champions going dukes up to sort out boxing’s alphabet, but if they do fight I’m sure Sportsnet won’t care.

Grandpa Steve Simmons is in the Bow Wow Bungalow again.

Oh, dear me, those pesky kids are playing in Grandpa Steve Simmons’ front yard again. The Postmedia columnist tweets: “Shouldn’t playoffs be enough to get people excited? Why this need for blaring noise and screaming half hour before Raptors game?” Shhhhhh. You kids keep it down out there! Grandpa Stevie has to get in his nap before tipoff.

Just wondering: Is there a Canadian Football League rule that Chris Jones hasn’t broken since taking over Gang Green. The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Mr. Everything has been levied fines totaling $116,500, which could buy him a backup quarterback, a rookie O-lineman and a fine to be levied later.

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

 

 


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Winnipeg Jets: A tough-talking coach and a tough team to play

If it’s true that a team assumes the personality of its coach, then it’s easy to see why the Winnipeg Jets play hockey the way they do and why they have fooled so many people.

I mean, you look at their puppet master, Paul Maurice, and the first two words that come to mind are not “tough guy.” More like “book worm” or “bean counter.” Coach PoMo looks tough like Clark Kent or Buddy Holly look tough. Start with the eye glasses. Black, horned rimmed and science-project nerdy, if he were in junior high school he’d be a wedgy waiting to happen.

Coach PoMo’s hair doesn’t help, either. It’s thinning and in rapid, middle-age retreat, like a neglected lawn. Another few years and he’ll have enough forehead to start a second face.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

It’s only when Maurice opens his mouth that you realize what you see isn’t what you get.

The Jets’ bench jockey talks like a tough guy. His voice is bottom-of-the-barrel deep. Commanding and no-nonsense. He often speaks with a clenched jaw, as if he is clamping down—hard—on an irksome thought that requires his immediate attention and deserves the back of his hand. He sniffs a lot, like a pug at the end of 10 rounds. It is clear he does not suffer fools well. There is a street fighter in Maurice, someone with a hidden fury who’s prepared to throw down on you at the very hint of defiance.

And so it is with his Jets.

You look at the Winnipegs’ roster and it is found wanting when measured against those of the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Yet there they are, in lockstep with the Blackhawks, two points in arrears of the Blues and distancing themselves from the Kings, who entered this 2014-15 National Hockey League fray as defenders of hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup.

The inclination, even this deep into a crusade that began with scant hope of achievement and even less promise, is to suggest the other shoe has yet to drop. That the Jets shall awaken one morning, perhaps not long after this weekend’s all-star recess, and collectively say, “Who are we trying to kid? We aren’t this good.”

Just don’t count on it.

The Jets, you see, have assumed the Maurice mentality. They are street fighters. They are—dare I say it?—truculent. Which is why they win games they have no business winning. It explains how they can skate into the United Center in Chicago and, challenged by the Blackhawks to a bash-and-bang bit of roller derby on ice, they give as good as they get. And win.

In short, the Jets don’t take any crap.

Maurice calls it “teamness” where “everybody takes care of everybody else.”

One, of course, could point to the Daniel Carcillo-Mathieu Perreault crosscheck episode in the Toddlin’ Town on Friday night and suggest it didn’t look that way. That the Jets’ reponse to their hottest hand being harpooned and rendered unavailable by the Chicago pest was less than adequate. That they had lost the plot. This repeat offender should have been drawn and quartered, right? Well, a case could be made that the time wasn’t right to deploy the assault squad. There was a hockey game to be won. The bill collector could perhaps visit Carcillo another time, another place.

The Jets might choose to not seek retribution for Carcillo’s callous act, but on no level would that be in disagreement with the reality that they can be a rather beligerent bunch with gusts up to ornery. We shouldn’t expect that to change as long as Maurice is riding herd.

You are who you are as a team,” says Maurice, his jaw clenched, “and you have to be true to that.”

That’s a tough guy talking…even if he doesn’t look the part.

HITHER & YAWN: I realize he’s a broadcasting legend, a wonderful man and he still has the great chops, but listening to Bob Cole describe a hockey game is painful. It’s anybody’s guess who has the puck. It’s like trying to guess the number of jelly beans in the jar…So, what was this week’s lesson for “all you kids out there” from the resident curmudgeon on Coachless Corner on Saturday night? Just this: Be like Phil Kessel—if you score the most goals, kids, don’t sweat the little details like backchecking. “Kessel…forget it comin’ back,” Don Cherry bleated. “Just score goals. He’s your magic guy with the hands. Forget backchecking. Let him go.”…Is it just me, or does anyone else sometimes forget that Ottawa actually has a team in the NHL?…Mark Hunter, director of player personnel for the Toronto Maple Leafs, on junior phenom Connor McDavid: “He could play in the National Hockey League right now and get 50, 60 points, I think. That’s how good I think he is.” Not if McDavid played for the Leafs. They only score one goal every four games...So, the Disney Ducks retire Teemu Selanne’s jersey No. 8 in an elaborate ceremony that takes a little more than 90 minutes. The L.A. Kings retire Rob Blake’s No. 4 in a ceremony that takes 35 minutes. The Buffalo Sabres raise Dominik Hasek’s No. 39 to the rafters in a ceremony that takes less than 20 minutes. At this rate, jersey-retirement ceremonies soon will last about as long as a Hollywood marriage…This from Roberto Luongo, courtesy Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province: “People don’t understand how hard it is to be a goalie in a Canadian market. You have to wear the pressure during the game; then, after the game, you have to answer every question about every goal. ‘How did that one go in? Why did that one goal in?’ And it’s after every game. You can’t escape it.” Somewhere, Ondrej Pavelec of the Jets is nodding in agreement.

THE FAB WHO? Blake Wheeler is my new fave Jet. I like the way he plays, first of all, but when I discovered he can name the Beatles—all four of them—I was sold on the Jets big winger.

The folks at NHL.com have this fun feature called Puck Personalities, you see, and Wheeler was one of 14 players asked to provide the names of the most famous rock band in history. How did they score? Let’s just say this: If they were this bad at hockey, they’d all be playing in beer leagues.

Except Wheeler, who was the sole player of the 14 who rattled off John, Paul, Ringo and George—in that order—while the others…so sad.

Erik Karlsson wondered if “John Something?” was a member of the Beatles. Claude Giroux asked about “McArthur?” and Kyle Okposo figured a lad named “Paul Ringo” was one of the Fab Four. It was left for Henrik Lundqvist to sum up the exercise by saying, “This is awful, by the way.”

Yup, it was.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.