Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if NFL replay guys don’t know a catch from a fumble or where to place the football, how are we supposed to know?
These Winnipeg Jets are an interesting study.
They have arrived at the midway mark of their regular-season crusade where many of us figured them to be—atop the Western Conference table—but they seem to be something of a tease.
Clearly among the National Hockey League elite, they go about their business in a very workmanlike manner, determined and purposeful, yet it’s as if they’re holding something in reserve, offering only hints of what might be.
They have strut, but they fall noticeably short of cock-of-the-walk arrogance, which is a good thing. It’s as if they know they’re damn good, but they also seem to know they aren’t damn near good enough.
Perhaps that’s the lesson learned from their dizzying ascent and subsequent comeuppance in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, when they were found to be a brick or two short of a load and eventually bowed to the upstarts from Las Vegas in the tournament semifinals.
Let’s face it, the NHL season is a three-part play: Act I is October-November-December hockey, Act II is January-February-March hockey, Act III is the beast known as the playoffs. You can get by with good in Act I. You need to up your game in Act II. Only great is acceptable in Act III.
And lest there be any doubt, it has become all about Act III for Winnipeg HC, not the regular season.
Given that our hockey heroes have stared into the maw of the playoff beast, it follows that they surely recognize what lies in front of them will be contested at a higher in-your-face intensity. The grit quotient required to achieve the most favorable playoff seeding is amped up. It takes Blake Wheeler kind of grit. Does Winnipeg HC have enough of it? Well, every time I see Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine floating aimlessly about the freeze, I think not. Then I see Mathieu Perreault busting his hump along the wall and I think, “Ya, man, that’s how it’s done. Puck Finn take note.” Never thought I’d say it, but les Jets need more Perreault and less Puck Finn.
Forty-one games in, I harbor the same concerns that I had in early October—centre ice and defence. I didn’t expect general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to tinker with his roster pre-Christmas, but, as I wrote before they dropped the puck, he’ll have to do something before crunch time. I don’t think this Jets outfit is as good as the group that bowed out vs. the Vegas Golden Knights last spring. Mind you, at least one pundit begs to differ. “I think it is. (They’re) very much as good as last year,” says TSN talking head Mike Johnson. Except he then mentions the need for an upgrade at—you guessed it—centre ice. “Ideally” Bryan Little would be on the third line and Chevy would go out and grab someone to slide into the No. 2 slot. “That’s the one spot the Jets might want to try and address,” Johnson suggests. So if I’m hearing him correctly, Johnson figures les Jets are as good as before, except they aren’t. Sure. And Milan Lucic is the same beast he was in 2011, except he isn’t.
Hightlight of les Jets’ first 41 skirmishes for me? Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. They just keep getting it done. And, unlike a lot of folks, I’m not convinced that Scheifele is the most valuable player on the Jets. I still say it’s Wheeler.
Question to ask yourself, Part I: Would you trade les Jets roster even up for the Golden Knights roster? I wouldn’t either, so why did Vegas get to the Stanley Cup final last spring and why does it have more wins and points than Winnipeg HC today (after a horrendous start to the season)? Could the reason be found behind the bench? Just asking.
Question to ask yourself, Part II: Would you trade Laine even up for Matthew Tkachuk? I think I might. All that glitters with Puck Finn is goals. The rest of his game? Meh to disastrous. Tkachuk, on the other hand, brings a more complete package, including serious snark. Just turned 21, he’s already an assistant captain with the Calgary Flames, and I don’t think Keith’s kid takes a shift off, let alone a month. He has the kind of jam you need in the post-season, and his 49 points tower over Puck Finn’s 32. Nobody’s saying Chevy coughed up a hairball in choosing Puck Finn second overall in the 2016 NHL auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers, but, based on career growth to date, Tkachuk might have been the better choice. I wouldn’t have said that a year ago.
Latest sign that the world has gone stark-raving mad: Cody Parkey flubs a field goal attempt that eliminates the Chicago Bears from the National Football League playoffs, and he receives death threats on Twitter. That’s some kind of scary stuff.
I’m a big fan of replay in sports. I’m not a big fan of replay officials. I mean, some of the decision-making in Sunday’s NFL wild-card skirmishing was as ridiculous as the gown Lady Gaga wore to the Golden Globe Awards gala. (Seriously. The train on that thing was longer than most of the passes Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson tossed.)
This from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “After only four months in the country, Kawhi Leonard has become the most oddly compelling athlete in the country.” I really wish sports scribes working in the Republic of Tranna would stop telling those of us who live in the colonies what we’re thinking. It’s rude and offensive. I read all of Canada’s major dailies, and I don’t see any of our flowers of jock journalism (outside The ROT) writing about Leonard or the Raptors. Leonard and the Tranna Raptors are not a topic of conversation where I live. Of the athletes most searched on Yahoo! Canada in 2018, Leonard is nowhere to be found. Genie Bouchard is there. Brooke Henderson is there. Erik Karlsson is there. But not Kawhi Leonard. Among the top 10 sports searches, the Raptors fell into the seventh slot, behind soccer’s World Cup, the Tranna Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Leonard and the Raptors are a “thing” in The ROT. Nowhere else.
If we do have a most “oddly compelling” athlete, it has to be tennis diva Bouchard. I mean, aside from flashing a great amount of flesh in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, she did nothing of note in 2018. She’s short on charisma and seemingly long on sourpuss-ism. So how is it that she was the second most-searched athlete on Yahoo! Canada, behind only Tiger Woods? I guess it’s not how many tennis matches you win that counts, it’s how many pieces of clothing you remove. Here are the Yahoo! Canada search lists for ’18:
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
The Canadian dollar
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
U.S. Open (tennis)
And, finally, as a follow-up to comments I made Sunday about old friend Paul Friesen’s superb, thoughtful and touching piece on legendary broadcaster Bob Picken in the Winnipeg Sun, I must mention how fortunate and blessed I was to have worked with, and against, some of the men from what Paul F. described as the “golden age” of sports media in Good Ol’ Hometown. It was a treat and privilege to rub shoulders with Pick, Jack Matheson, Don Wittman, John Robertson, Hal Sigurdson, Jack Wells, Don Wittman et al. I certainly didn’t belong in their class, but it was kind of them to share the classroom with me.