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

Let the games begin!

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHA champion Jets, circa 1978-79.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryan Little

Question Lady: Any weaknesses?

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

Paul Stastny

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

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

Twig Ehlers

Question Lady: Any other misgivings?

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

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

Answer Lady: I’m just spitballing, girlfriend. If Puck Finn scores 44 goals every winter they’ll let him play Fortnite until his thumbs fall off. But there must be a reason why Twig vamooses for chunks of time. I mean, four goals after March? Zero in 15 playoff games? And people thought Howard Hughes disappeared. Maybe that’s what I should call Ehlers instead of Twig—Howard.

Blake Wheeler

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

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

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

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

Question Lady: Any bold predictions?

Patrik Laine

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

Question Lady: What about the playoffs?

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

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

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

 

 

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Dial 1-800-UR-5HOLE if you know a goaltender who can help the Winnipeg Jets

They’re baaaack! And one of them is totally PO’d with the Winnipeg Jets.

I refer, of course, to my two Hens in the Hockey House, who know all and aren’t afraid to tell all about the only National Hockey League club that apparently believes quality goaltending is an afterthought.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: I’m kind of nervous about getting into a discussion about the Jets with you…you look really sour. Kind of like the way Melania Trump looks every time The Donald tries to hold her hand. Are you not fond of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s handiwork?

Answer Lady: Does a vegetarian order a double Whopper with cheese? Is the White House fond of fake freaking news?

Question Lady: Oooooh, you are some kind of owly. But, hey, now that you’ve mentioned the White House, I note that the Pittsburgh Penguins say they’ll accept an invitation to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if President Trump tosses down the welcome mat to celebrate their Stanley Cup victory. Do you think Trump actually knows any of the Penguins by name?

Answer Lady: Probably just Evgeni Malkin. If there’s one thing Trump knows, it’s Russians. Actually, Malkin could become the first Russian to visit the White House during The Donald’s era who won’t have to hide in a closet.

Question Lady: So much has happened since the Penguins were feted for their championship. I don’t even know where to begin. I…

Answer Lady: Sorry to interrupt, but I guess that makes you just like the Jets—they don’t know where the hell to begin either! So far, their off-season has been brought to us by the letters W, T and F!

Question Lady: Ouch. That’s harsh.

Answer Lady: Harsh? You want harsh, girlfriend? Harsh is jacking up ticket prices at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie—and probably the cost of hot dogs and beer, too—and then doing sweet petite to improve a roster that wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs. That’s harsh. And flipping ballsy.

Question Lady: Okay, but what makes you think Chevy’s finished giving the club a makeover?

Answer Lady: Oh, get a grip, girl. He’s going to give his roster a makeover like Johnny Depp is going to break bread with the Trumps.

Question Lady: Geez, that’s your second or third Trump reference already. What’s up with you and The Donald?

Answer Lady: What can I say? I get a kick out of real life cartoon characters.

Question Lady: Okay, back to the Jets. What were you saying about Chevy?

Answer Lady: Chevy does the same thing every…freaking…summer. His scouts instruct him what pimple-poppers to claim in the NHL entry draft, then he does the Howard Hughes thing and becomes a recluse. He hides out at his cottage. But I don’t blame it all on Chevy. The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, is the commander-in-chief. Most people know that, even if mainstream media won’t mention it. Chipman is just like that new goomer in Phoenix who’s running everyone out of town. The only difference is that the Puck Pontiff isn’t as obvious as Andrew Barroway.

Question Lady: Were you surprised that Barroway got rid of Shane Doan, the last surviving member of the Jets original NHL franchise?

Answer Lady: Doan’s best-before date expired about the same time as Jaromir Jagr’s. But why is a guy who’s owned an NHL franchise for less than a month making that decision? What’s Barroway’s hockey background? What’s his hockey expertise? Don Cherry’s empty beer bottles have seen more shinny than Andrew Barroway. Shouldn’t Doan’s status be a general manager/head coach’s call? Whatever, a guy like Doan, who’d been the face of the Coyotes franchise for two decades, deserved better than an eight-minute chin-wag and a handshake from GM John Chayka in a coffee shop.

Question Lady: With Dave Tippett now the former head coach in Arizona, do you think Paul Maurice should be looking over his shoulder?

Answer Lady: Name me an NHL head coach who shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder. Other than Mike Backcock, that is. If the local lads soil the sheets in the first couple of months next season—and if Tippett is still available—cries of impeachment shall ring out from the rabble. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vegas bookies list Maurice as the odds-on favorite to be the next head coach fired, especially given that the Puck Pontiff and Chevy don’t seem interested in providing the poor sap with any new weapons. Like a freaking goaltender!

Question Lady: Come on, girlfriend. You don’t really believe the Jets will do nothing, do you?

Answer Lady: Here’s my prediction—their big free agent signing will be Chris Thorburn. Yes, that Chris Thorburn. Chevy gave credence to that possibility the morning after the Vegas Golden Knights laid claim to Thorbs’ bare knuckles in the expansion draft. Thorbs will be back. Remember where you heard it first.

Question Lady: Yikes! I think the rabble will be lighting torches and brandishing pitch forks if that happens. It’d be like a scene out of an old John Wayne western movie where the angry mob storms the sheriff’s office to get the bad guy and string him up.

Answer Lady: Like I said, little lady, remember where you heard it first.

Question Lady: What about that tall drink of water from Finland that the Jets plucked in the first round of the entry draft on Friday night? Can he help?

Answer Lady: Does Kristian Vesalainen play goal? Negative. Does he play defence on the left side? Negative. The Jets need goaltending help STAT. But the way other NHL outfits are gobbling up the available talent, they’ll have to settle for any old schmuck wearing a mask.

Question Lady: Hey, Batman wears a mask! Maybe he can play goal for the Jets!

Answer Lady: It’s even too late to get him. Batman just died.

Question Lady: Holy five-hole and kaPOW! I guess Chevy will have do it via free agency or trades.

Answer Lady: Trades? Chevy isn’t allowed to make trades without pontifical blessing. All he does is talk about the trades he almost made.

Question Lady: Is there anything about the Jets that you like?

Answer Lady: Of course. Absolutely. This isn’t a hot mess like in Vancouver. I like the Jets’ incredible young talent. Boffo kids. They’ve got game. Unfortunately, the decision-makers don’t. They’re afraid of their own shadows. That’s why I’m frustrated and PO’d. I see GMs in other NHL towns plugging holes, filling gaps and fleshing out their rosters, but all we hear in River City is the sound of crickets.

Question Lady: Well, I must take my leave. Time to travel and enjoy summer. You?

Answer Lady: No plans. I guess I’ll see you in October. Until then, don’t forget your sunblock and, if you stumble upon anyone wearing a mask in your travels, tell him to call 1-800-UR-5HOLE pronto. That’s the Jets’ goaltender hotline.

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

About 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.