Nice of you to come out of hibernation. How long had it been since we last saw and heard from you? At least three months, I’d say.
Some of us were beginning to worry about you, Commish. I mean, every pro sports operation known to woman and man has rebooted during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet your Canadian Football League turned out the lights. And you went radio silent.
So I figured flicking on the flatscreen and watching all those athletes in other leagues frolic might have driven you a bit batty. If not full-on bonkers.
I feared you might have done the Howard Hughes thing, Commish. You know, become a recluse.
I had visions of you holed up in a windowless bunker left over from the Cold War, cut off from civilization and peeing into pop bottles and eating nothing but nachos and chocolate bars. I imagined you pacing back and fourth…back and forth…back and forth, all the while muttering, “It’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault.” After all, Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger and his skinflint pals wouldn’t cough up $30 million when you went panhandling on Parliament Hill last spring.
You’re right, Commish, they seemed to have ample coin for everyone and everything—except three-downs football. So it’s understandable if you were gripped with paranoia, kind of like Captain Queeg and the strawberries.
I don’t know if you’ll face a mutiny like Captain Queeg once the COVID storm is behind us, Commish, but for now your hand is still on the wheel of the good ship CFL, and the rabble is looking to you for answers and signs that indicate a 2021 season is not only possible, but good to go.
I know that’s what I was hoping to hear on Monday when you made like Shubenacadie Sam or Fred de la Marmotte on Groundhog Day, finally popping your head out of a hole to study the landscape.
You had yourself a half-hour natter with Sara Orlesky of TSN, and who wouldn’t want to join Sara for a chat? She seems like such a lovely, young lass and, like yourself, I miss seeing her the sidelines, toque or not.
The thing is, I’d like to see Zach Collaros and Mike Reilly and Speedy B and Willie Jefferson between the lines a whole lot more, even if it means another summer and autumn listening to Glen Suitor, assuming TSN can pry him away from Keith Urban.
But you didn’t tell us when Rouge Football will return, Commish. Or if it will return.
You told us that Canada “is the greatest country on earth,” and you talked about putting “bums in seats,” and revenue streams, and CFL 2.0, and front-line health workers, and Rouge Football on the East Coast. It was all rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah boosterism.
You also confirmed there’ll soon be a 2021 schedule, but that isn’t worth the paper it will be printed on if the large lads in pads aren’t grabbing grass in June.
Near as I can tell, Commish, nothing has changed. Nada.
It would have taken $30 million from the feds to get you on the field for a runted season of six games per team this year—in a Winnipeg hub/bubble—and the CFL still doesn’t have any money, unless there’s a sugar daddy you aren’t telling us about.
Thus, unlike all other pro sports leagues in our part of the world, you stand alone as completely dependent upon squints in lab coats peering into microscopes.
The renewal of Rouge Football is only doable with the “bums in seats” that you talked about on Monday, Commish, and there has to be plenty of them. I don’t have to remind you that social distancing in the stands was the pre-pandemic norm in CFL danger locales of Vancouver, Montreal and the Republic of Tranna, but that’ll never do on the Prairies, Hamilton or Ottawa.
We both know the only avenue forward is a COVID-19 vaccine, Commish, and even at that we’re left to wonder how long it will take for the rabble to once again feel comfy enough to gather in large numbers.
I’m a Rouge Football lifer, Commish. Been following the three-downs game since I was knee high to Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis, and I’ve been scribbling about it since 1980. That’s taking in a lot of territory. So I feel your pain. You should be on the Flattest of Lands this week to hand the Grey Grail to the winning side of the championship skirmish, and I’d like to be watching it on TSN.
I guess we can only hope for next year, Commish. In the meantime, do us CFL lifers a favor and don’t go back into hibernation. Keep us informed. Don’t let out of sight become out of mind.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and now that spring has sprung let them play ball…
Time was when Humpty Harold Ballard provided the National Hockey League with its soundtrack for stupid. Now we get it in surround sound.
I mean, talk about clowns to the left and jokers to the right. Meet Bob Nicholson and Eugene Melnyk.
I’m not sure if Nicholson and Melnyk were trying to one-up each other last week, but the sound bites they delivered were definitely Ballardian in bluster, crass in content and, basically, outrageous.
Where to begin? Well, let’s start with Melnyk.
The Ottawa Senators bankroll did the gasbag thing on both 590 The Fan in the Republic of Tranna and CFRA 580 in the nation’s capital, and he told the mayor of Bytown, Jim Watson, to shut the hell up, he labeled one news snoop “bush league,” and this owner of the 31st-place team in a 31-team league felt the need to counsel the architects of the fifth-place team in the proper construction of a championship roster.
He stopped short of instructing his head coach, Marc Crawford, to wear a paper bag over his head while behind the bench, but it could be that it simply slipped his mind.
“I better not say what I was going to say,” Melnyk said before saying what he was going to say about the Toronto Maple Leafs, “but they’re going to have a very hard time winning a Stanley Cup without defence. Because they are hitting the cap. They can’t bring anybody new in. They’re stuck. And that’s where you have to be extremely careful…mistakes were made. Somebody forgot about defence.”
That from a man who held a garage sale and peddled off most of his shiny playing pieces, including Erik Karlsson who is—oh, that’s right—a defenceman. One of the very best, in fact.
Meanwhile, Nicholson also summoned his inner Humpty Harold.
Once upon a time the head of Hockey Canada and now CE-D’oh! of the Edmonton McDavids, Nicholson stood before a live audience of disgruntled, if not hostile, devotees and laid the blame for another playoff-free spring in E-Town on a spare part named Toby Rieder. That’s right. Toby Rieder.
“If Toby Rieder had scored 10 or 12 goals, we’d probably be in the playoffs,” said Nicholson.
Cripes, man, I didn’t even know Toby Rieder existed until Nicholson went off on him, but now I know where we can find him—under a bus. It might even be the same bus that Humpty Harold hurled Inge Hammarstrom and his pocketful of eggshells under back in the day.
At any rate, the squawkings of the two Ballard wannabes—you can call them Harold Lite and Harold Lite Jr.—made me think of our own Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman.
Will we ever hear a similar level of bombast emanate from the ivory tower at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? Not bloody likely. You’re more apt to see a UFO land at Portage and Main first. I mean, Chipman is chatty like a Zamboni is a dinky toy. Compared to the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll, a street mime is a blowhard. The Puck Pontiff is seen and heard from so infrequently that I’m convinced he’s actually Howard Hughes, tucked away in some dark room, watching old hockey film, walking around with Kleenex boxes on his feet, peeing in pop bottles, and munching on candy bars and pecans. That’s not really Chipman you see in the owner’s suite at les Jets home games. It’s a stunt double, probably some bit player on loan from the Prairie Theatre Exchange across the street.
Should we be thankful that the Puck Pontiff is a recluse? That he doesn’t go off his nut like the clown to the left and the joker to the right?
Well, it’s a lot less entertaining but, ya, we can do without the racket. Serenity now! Serenity now!
Apparently Rieder was disturbed by CE-D’oh! Nicholson’s unflattering remarks. “I’m offended,” the E-Town forward said when news snoops tracked down what was left of him under the bus. Offended? Ya think?
Leave it to Brian Burke of Sportsnet to deliver a blunt take on Melnyk’s runaway mouth: “He is aiming at both of his feet. He’s not just shooting himself in the foot, he is aiming at his feet. This guy’s gotta stop doing interviews. He needs to take a nap. He needs to get out of the media.”
I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but let’s waitto see how Beard Season shakes down before we talk about les Jets signing Kevin Hayes long term. Based on the early returns, yes, it appears that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has knocked it out of the park with the addition of Hayes, the long, tall drink of water Chevy scooped up at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline. Hayes contributed a goal and three helpers in Winnipeg HC’s most significant victory of the current crusade, a 5-nada paddywhacking of the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, but let’s not lose sight of the fact it’s all about the Stanley Cup runoff for les Jets. If Hayes delivers at the Paul Stastny rate (15 points in 17 games) when the skirmishes matter most, I’ll agree that Chevy should make the Little Hockey House On The Prairie the lanky centre’s permanent address.
Just wondering: Were the Preds lying in the fetal position and sucking their thumbs when they left Good Ol’ Hometown? Seriously. If les Jets weren’t in the Preds’ heads prior to the Saturday rag-dolling, they are now. And what kind of unspeakable nightmares must Pekka Rinne be having?
Yo! P.K. Subban! You can collect your laundry—lock, stock and jock—at Kyle Connor’s locker. An undressing? What Jets sophomore Connor did to the Preds veteran defender should be illegal in 10 provinces and three territories. He left P.K. as naked as the Golden Boy.
I don’t get it. Why do people keep throwing down on Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins? I mean, what part of “Ouch, his fists really freaking hurt!” do they not understand?
So, how’s your March Madness bracket doing? I’d like to report that mine is doing just fine, but I don’t have a bracket. Never have had a bracket. More to the point, I don’t know what a March Madness bracket is. I just wish it would end so we can go back to regularly scheduled highlights on TSN and Sportsnet.
Is it my imagination, or are the heels and hemlines getting higher on TSN Sportscentre? It’s either that or Lindsay Hamilton and Kara Wagland have grown longer legs. Notably, no one at TSN has attempted to sexify the male talking heads, unless you consider Jeff O’Dog’s butt cleavage sexy. It’s a blatant sexist double standard that the women must look and dress the way they look and dress while a male talking head can have a face like and old catcher’s mitt and clothes right off the rack at Couture de Riff Raff. That isn’t a complaint. Just an observation.
Just wondering: Why does Kara Wagland think it’s “funny” when a man gets drilled in the nuts with a tennis ball? When did injuries to such a delicate area of the bod become “funny?”
Apparently Angelique Kerber doesn’t like Bianca Andreescu. After losing to our girl in the third round of the Miami Open tennis tournament on Saturday, Kerber bared her fangs and showed her claws at the post-match handshake, calling Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever.” Guess Kerber has never seen Ru Paul. Or Serena Williams at the U.S. Open. Whatever, I can’t say that I blame Kerber. I mean, I wouldn’t like someone who kept stealing my lunch money either.
Nice of our national media—print division—to notice women’s hockey. Both Scott Stinson of the National Post and Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail genuflected in the direction of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title tilt today in the Republic of Tranna, but they had very different takes. Stinson scribbled something about the participants—it’s the Calgary Inferno vs. Les Canadiennes de Montreal—while Kelly wrote about Adrienne Clarkson’s furniture and sipping tea with the former Governor General. WTF? It’s nice to know that Lady Adrienne is of considerable refinement and that her home furnishings didn’t come from the Sally Ann’s, but can’t we make it about the women who’ll actually compete for the trophy she donated to the CWHL?
Must be difficult days for news snoops in The ROT. They spent much of the winter prattling on and scribbling about the unparalleled, other-wordly wonders of Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly of les Leafs, making one out to be a latter-day Wayne Gretzky and the other a born-again Bobby Orr. Now along come more than 500 NHL players to tell them they’re full of phooey. Best forward in the world? The players’ poll says it’s Connor McDavid. Matthews wasn’t even a blip on the radar. Best defenceman? Victor Hedman. Rielly didn’t register. Most difficult to play against? McDavid. The guy you’d want to start a franchise with? McDavid. But, hey, what do the guys on the ice know compared to a bunch of balding, overweight, out-of-shape, middle-age men with food stains on their shirts?
Oh drat. Chelsea Carey’s crew crashed and burned at the World Women’s Curling Championship in Denmark, failing to qualify for the playoffs, and that leaves me to wonder what it is about Alberta-based outfits that they can’t get the job done on global pebble. The women from Wild Rose Country remain 0-for-life when wearing the Maple Leaf, and that’s at both the worlds (0-5) and Olympics (0-2). Are they not drinking the same water as the men?
Hard to believe, but Alberta remains the only western province that has yet to produce a women’s world champion. B.C. and Saskatchewan have four each and Manitoba three.
And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Sometimes I wonder about this country I adore: Cathal Kelly and David Shoalts have written fine books but are not found on the bestsellers list for non-fiction but last time I looked Steve Dangle had a book on the list.” So, if we aren’t buying his friends’ books, there’s something wrong with the country? What freaking ever. (Quick aside: One of his copy editor’s might want to introduce Simmons to the comma. Punctuation is useful, also advisable, in a 32-word sentence.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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, whichmeans she is old and probably should think about getting a life.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
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.
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, whichmeans she is old and probably should think about getting a life.