The River City Renegade


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About a 1980s redux for the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers…a Little good news from Bryan…pollywaddle from the Republic of Tranna…odds of bringing Stanley Cup home…playoffs or bust in Pegtown…and the Sedins love letter

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

Rink Rat Scheifele

So here’s what I’m thinking as the Winnipeg Jets embark on their seventh crusade: This might be a 1980s redux. You know, deja vu all over again.

The Jets, you see, have some nice pieces in place. Very nice pieces, actually. Hard to go wrong with Rink Rat Scheifele, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and a few others. Even a carnival barker like potty-mouth head coach Paul Maurice ought to be able to coax a playoff-worthy campaign out of that group, and the fact they were found wanting last season says more about him than them.

But let’s suppose the Jets’ universe unfolds as it should in 2017-18. Let’s say Steve Mason is the answer in goal—even though Coach Potty-Mo refuses to commit to him as No. 1 in the blue ice as the local lads open training camp—and Scheifele is top-five in scoring, Wheeler is top-10, Patrik Laine leads the National Hockey League in snipes, Jacob Trouba is in the Norris Trophy conversation, Kyle Connor is the top freshman, and Maurice learns that there’s life after Chris Thorburn. Then what? A playoff date with the Edmonton McDavids? Oh joy. It’s the ghosts of playoffs past—Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Anderson, Kurri et al revisited.

There are grown men who still wake up in the middle of the night—yowling like banshees—at the nightmarish horrors that the Edmonton Oilers imposed on the Jets during the 1980s. Seven times the locals qualified for the Stanley Cup derby. Five times, the Oilers put them out of their misery. They did it again in the spring of 1990. Sadists.

Jets fans saw too much of this in the 1980s.

And now, 27 years later, it appears that, once again, the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force, even as ownership squabbles with politicos and beats the drums about relocation should the city refuse to pony up substantial coin for a new shinny palace.

The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian prairies.

I have a suspicion the Winnipegs soon shall be able to handle the Flames. But the McDavids? Different deal. I mean, Scheifele is a delight. He’s got that boy-next-door thing going, the kind of guy you want your daughter bringing home for dinner. And he’s very good at hockey. But let’s face it, the Rink Rat is to Connor McDavid what Dale Hawerchuk was to Wayne Gretzky.

So it could be curses, foiled again.

Bryan Little isn’t going anywhere. Nice. The Jets have locked up their No. 2 centre and, although I’m surprised at the length of term (six-year extension), it’s a very good move because the 29-year-old Edmonton native is a very good player. Little was on board when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, and I don’t think he’s ever disappointed. Solid guy who operates under the radar.

Ignore the pure pollywaddle drifting from the Republic of Tranna, where the hockey club’s bandwagon is overbooked with keyboard blowhards who insist on using the words “Stanley Cup” and “Maple Leafs” in the same sentence, something that hasn’t been done since 1967. If a Canadian outfit is going to bring the Stanley Cup home for the first time in a quarter century, it will be the Edmonton McDavids. I’d even be inclined to suggest the Jets will win the NHL title before the Tranna Maple Leafs. Does that mean I’m now drinking the True North Sports & Entertainment Kool-Aid? That I’ve bought into the Secret Society’s propaganda? Negative. Not prepared to go there. But I do believe general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled better young talent than the Leafs, who have the benefit of playing in a soft division.

Today’s list: Odds on each Canadian team ending the Great White North Stanley Cup drought…
1. Edmonton McDavids: 3-1
2. Winnipeg Jets: 5-1
3. Calgary Flames: 5-1
4. Tranna Maple Leafs: 10-1
5. Montreal Canadiens: 20-1
6. Ottawa Senators: Fuhgeddaboudit.
7. Vancouver Canucks: You’re kidding, right?

I’ll say this for the Leafs, they have a couple of pains in the ass who can also play. Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov are gooey chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your shoes. The Jets need to add some of that to their makeup.

Interesting how the two Pauls—Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press—interpreted the party line delivered by Jets ownership/management last week.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

Friesen wrote: “For really the first time since buying the moribund Atlanta Thrashers and moving them lock, stock and Evander Kane to this Canadian prairie burg six years ago, the people in charge aren’t ducking expectation. Instead, they’re almost embracing it. From the new slogan inscribed on the team’s interview backdrop—Rise Together—to the words of the team captain, the GM and even the man who shelled out a good portion of the $180-million franchise price tag, it’s playoffs or bust.”

Wiecek, meanwhile, tells us that Jets ownership/management remains wishy-washy in terms of expectations. They’re sending a message “that says that the 2017-18 Jets ‘can be’ a playoff team, but hey, these things take time and it’s still not a deal breaker if they don’t,” he writes.

Me? I’m with Friesen. I thought Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman made his thoughts absolutely clear the day he announced the re-upping of both his GM and head coach, saying, “Our expectation this year is to take a step forward in a meaningful way.” I don’t know how you can take that to mean anything other than he expects a playoff berth. There can be no other interpretation. Furthermore, in a conversation with John Shannon of Sportsnet at the draft lottery in May, Cheveldayoff stated flatly that “I’m not coming back” next year. Meaning, he doesn’t expect the Jets to be a lottery team in 2018.

The Sedin twins

That was so sweet of the Sedin twins to express their fondness and unwavering devotion to Vancouver in a love letter to The Players’ Tribune, but I just don’t see how warm and fuzzies advance the Canucks so-called youth movement. Say what you will about two players who’d rather stay in Vancity and loiter with the NHL also-rans rather than pursue the Stanley Cup elsewhere (for the record, I admire their stick-to-itness), but should Henrik and Daniel still be driving the bus? Some very dark and rainy days (years?) ahead on the West Coast.

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

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About jock journos still giving Floyd Mayweather Jr. a pass…Winnipeg Jets missing the playoffs…Connor McDavid is No. 1…an unsafe city…and other things that are too dumb for words

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

Floyd Mayweather Jr. in handcuffs is what the sports media should be talking about.

The circus has rolled into Las Vegas and no one is talking or writing about the elephant in the room.

They talk and write about Conor McGregor’s weight, the betting line, the unvarnished vulgarity of a recent travelling trash-talk tour, the price of ringside seats at T-Mobile Arena, pay-per-view audience numbers, McGregor’s Irish charm and blarney, the size of the the boxers’ gloves, the age of the fighters, Justin Bieber unfriending Floyd Mayweather Jr., the heat in Glitter Gulch, racism, McGregor’s wardrobe, a fixed fight, and the improbability of a mixed martial arts champion battering the best boxer of a generation.

But nobody is talking or writing about Mayweather beating up women. It’s as if the undefeated champion has never hit a woman or never spent any time behind bars for hitting women.

The unbeaten boxing champion is a serial woman abuser and the sports media is giving him a pass in advance of Saturday’s scheduled 12-round dust-up with MMA champion McGregor, who is so inexperienced as a pure fist-fighter that he can’t even be classified as a novice boxer.

I scanned a dozen articles Wednesday morning on the Mayweather-McGregor tiff and discovered exactly two one-sentence references to Floyd Jr.’s ugly predilection for punching out women, including the mother of his children. Neither of those sentences appeared in a column by Steve Simmons of Postmedia. He went all the way to Vegas to write about himself instead of the fighters. I watched Stephen Brunt, among our country’s finest sports scribes, wag his chin for 10 minutes on Sportsnet and not one second was devoted to Mayweather’s history of domestic violence.

So here’s the question I’m struggling with: Why were jock journalists so hot and bothered and eager to place a focus on domestic violence in February 2014, when Ray Rice KO’d his then-finance on an elevator, yet now it’s a non-issue?

Perhaps, like Mayweather himself, they’re “waiting to see the photos.” Perhaps that’s what it takes to stir them. Video or photographic evidence. It isn’t enough that there have been 21 arrests of National Football League players on domestic violence/battery charges since the Rice incident, which cost the former Baltimore Ravens running back his career. It isn’t enough that Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has been told to go away for six games due to multiple instances of domestic violence. It isn’t enough that Willie Reed of the Los Angeles Clippers spent time in a Miami jail last weekend on charges of roughing up his wife. It isn’t enough that Mayweather Jr. is a convicted woman-beater.

They need pictures. Otherwise, they’ll continue to glorify Floyd Jr. and promote his farce of a fight.

Sigh.

Paul Maurice

This just in: The Hockey News is first out of the chute with a prediction that there won’t be any meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next spring. Here’s what Sam McCaig has to say about the Winnipeg Jets’ prospects for their 2017-18 National Hockey League crusade: “The Jets have a premier first line, a solid second line, and some upside on the bottom two units. The defense corps features a sturdy top-six, led by Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. The problem areas are in goal, where incoming Steve Mason has been tasked with mentoring up-and-down goalie-of-the-future Connor Hellebuyck, and the team’s inability—to this point—to become a sum of its parts. It also doesn’t help matters that Winnipeg plays in the West, where there appears to be 11 bona fide playoff teams vying for eight spots.” Odd that he had nothing to say about the head coach, Paul Maurice, who’s probably the reason the local outfit has yet to “become a sum of its parts.” (McCaig, by the way, also has the Tranna Maple Leafs, L.A. Kings and San Jose Sharks among the 15 outfits that will fail to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament.)

Another reason to like Connor McDavid: He’s honest. THN rates McMoneybags as the No. 1 player in the NHL, but the Edmonton Oilers centre is having none of that. “I don’t agree with it,” says McDavid, who’s probably better than anyone not named Sidney Crosby. “Everyone knows who the best player in the league is and it’s not me.”

THN’s top-50 player list is a head-scratcher, to be certain. I mean, Sergei Bobrovsky is No. 6? Steven Stamkos is No. 46? Auston Matthews is already a better player than Victor Hedman? And if Kevin Shattenkirk is a better defenceman than Roman Josi, then Don Cherry is a card-carrying commie. That’s just stupid. Only two Jets cracked the THN select 50: Rink Rat Scheifele at No. 15 and Patrik Laine at No. 24. I’m not convinced that’s accurate, especially the Laine ranking, but it’s no dumber than listing Matthews at No. 8.

I note that a Mainstreet/Postmedia poll lists Winnipeg as the most unsafe city in Canada. There’s no truth to the rumor that the poll was taken immediately after Travis Bond, Jermarcus Hardrick and the rest of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ O-line attempted to leap into the stands at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Andrew Harris

A week ago, Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet declared Bombers kicker Justin Medlock to be the most outstanding player in the Canadian Football League (yes, a kicker). This week, Bennett asks this of running back Andrew Harris: “Is he the best player in the CFL?” A strong case can be made for Harris, but the answer is “no.” It’s Mike Reilly. Same as last week.

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The Bombers whup the Eskimos in their sole head-to-head skirmish, yet Bennett has the latter ahead of the former in his weekly CFL power rankings. Hands up if that makes sense to anyone other than Donnovan Bennett. I didn’t think so.

Looks like UFC fighter Jon Jones has failed yet another drug test. Plenty of athletes get caught using illegal drugs once. But twice? C’mon, man. Guess that’s why it’s called a dope test.

Tonya Harding

Speaking of dummies, here are my top five athletes who were just too dumb for words…
1. Ben Johnson. Too easily duped by dishonest people. A total patsy.
2. Tonya Harding. Seriously, a fancy skater hiring a hit man?
3. Pete Rose. Betting on baseball games when you’re a manager?
4. Ryan Locte. Really? Fibbing about being robbed at gunpoint during the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil?
5. Jose Canseco. Has the former big league ballplayer ever said anything that wasn’t too dumb for words?

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


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About Paul Wiecek feeling the wrath of the rabble…the Toronto-ization of the Winnipeg Sun…missing Kirk Penton’s work…and talking heads dreaming of Genie

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

It occurs to me that a large portion of the rabble consider Paul Wiecek to be a complete doofus.

Matter of fact, Wiecek might have supplanted Paul Friesen as resident rabble-rouser among River City jock journalists, essentially because the Winnipeg Free Press columnist has the bad manners to critique the local sporting heroes.

It’s always about the dark clouds with Wiecek, isn’t it? Never the silver linings. He’s grand poobah of the Royal Order of Negative Nellies, right?

Except, here’s the deal: The greatest percentage of Wiecek’s scribblings focus on a hockey outfit that has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby five of six springs and has won exactly zero playoff matches, and a football team that has never failed to fail for more than a quarter century. The shinny side is coached by a smooth-talking man destined next winter to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history, and the gridiron gang is coached by a blood-and-guts guy who, four years in, has a 25-34 record and still makes the boneheaded decisions of a Canadian Football League fledgling on training wheels.

And what? You expect glad tidings from Wiecek?

Look, when Mike O’Shea continues to cough up hair balls and then tells you that the cow did, in fact, jump over the moon and the dish really did run away with the spoon, you don’t look the other way and pretend it’s like a tree that falls in the forest. You call him on it. Which is what Wiecek does. Repeatedly. Because the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach repeatedly trips over his own feet and tells fairy tales.

The most recent example of Wiecek’s slicing and dicing was delivered in the wake of a ghastly blunder by O’Shea in the Bombers’ 45-42 loss to the B.C. Lions on Friday night in Vancouver. At the most inopportune time, Coach D’oh thought it a swell idea to give his kicker, Justin Medlock, the green light to hurl a pass instead of punting the football, a gob-smacking decision that Wiecek described as “a monumentally stupid play call.” I thought he was being kind.

Paul Wiecek

But what’s the first reader comment under the article?

Give it a rest Wiecek.”

Others showed Wiecek some love. This time. In general, the fangirlz and boyz who live in a rose-colored tea room usually skewer him when he pokes and prods their sacred cows in cleats or on skates. He’s “bitter” and “garbage” and “stupid” and “a pillar of negativity” and “anti-Jets” and “sour grapes” and “meaningless” and “Jekyll and Hyde” and he should “just go write for the National Enquirer.”

Look, I don’t always agree with what Wiecek writes. I thought he was terribly unfair in his commentary about Jacob Trouba when the young Winnipeg Jets defenceman went AWOL during the club’s training camp last autumn and bailed on the first month of the season. The criticism seemed creepily personal, which is never a good thing. He appears to harbour a peculiar mania for the matter of pro sports franchises limiting access to mainstream media and, instead, delivering their propaganda via in-house flacks, a number of whom have fled the falling house of cards that is the rag trade for the security of a gig with an NHL or CFL club (hello Ed Tait, Tim Campbell and Gary Lawless, all late of the Freep). And describing talented scribes like Tait and George Johnson as “hacks” because they went to the other side was hopelessly ignorant.

Wade Miller

Overall, though, Wiecek does solid work and, should the mood and need strike, he’s not shy about tossing scud missiles in the direction of movers and shakers in ivory towers, like Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Bombers CEO Wade Miller, who seems to have built himself a nice, little fiefdom in the club’s bunker at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

More than once, Chipman and Miller have declined interview requests from Wiecek, which, of course, only makes them come across as petty little men and tells me he’s doing his job.

I like his work (mostly) and I doubt the slings and arrows from the rabble cause him a moment of shuteye at night, nor do I think they have any influence on the way he goes about his business. If the Jets and Bombers insist on stinking, he has no choice but to say they stink.

It’s a shame what the Postmedia chain has done to Winnipeg Sun sports. I swear there are days when I’m convinced I’m reading the Toronto Sun, because there’s more Republic of Tranna tripe than local content. This morning, for example, I called up the Sun and there were six articles on the Toronto Blue Jays, two on Toronto FC, and one on the Toronto Raptors on the sports front. Meanwhile, I thought Paul Friesen was the main sports columnist, but apparently he’s not. It seems to be the Tranna-centric, Argonauts tub-thumping Steve Simmons, whose shtick is crapping on everyone and everything including Winnipeg. It’s not just a shame, it’s a sham.

I used to enjoy the weekly CFL Blitz feature in the Sun. Kirk Penton did a boffo job. The article was full of anecdotal insight, insider tidbits and biting, caustic commentary from coaches and executives across the land. Alas, Kirk has decided to give another side of life a try and, since his departure, CFL Blitz has basically become a collection of items that induce yawns.

Much fawning on display in the Republic of Tranna on Tuesday, with struggling tennis player Genie Bouchard in the 416 for some face time with the talking heads on The Fan 590 and Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid. Genie, of course, has more glam than game, which no doubt explains why Elliotte Friedman was swooning. I thought he was actually going to ask her for a date. Tim and Sid were captivated by Her Long-Leggedness, as well, and spent precious little time talking about Genie’s tennis, which is not good. She’s been a first-round loser in eight of 11 events since leaving Australia, she’s beaten just two world top-20 players, and her season record is 11-14. But, hey, she has cover girl good looks, so why let the facts get in the way of all that long, blonde hair and those smoky eyes?

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

 


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My Two Hens in the Hockey House deliver the goods on the Winnipeg Jets and Kevin Cheveldayoff’s addition by subtraction

Well, look who’s dropped in for an unexpected chit-chat about all things Winnipeg Jets. That’s right, it’s the Two Hens in the Hockey House, who, when last seen, were breaking away to enjoy summer. Turns out they delayed their good, ol’ summertime frolic to discuss the most recent goings-on with their fave National Hockey League outfit and its general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: What gives, girlfriend? I thought we were going to give our jaws a rest until October. What happened to a summer sans chit-chat about the Jets?

Answer Lady: Kevin Cheveldayoff happened, that’s what.

Question Lady: How so?

Answer Lady: Well, once they put the NHL entry draft to bed, I was convinced he’d become Rip Van Chevy and snooze the summer away, like he always does. Remember? Way back in April, I predicted this would be Chevy’s seventh annual Summer of Nothing. So what does the guy do? Instead of heading to the cottage to dip his fishing line into the lake, he dips his toes into the free-agent pool. He goes all GM on us. Go figure.

Question Lady: So, what are you telling me, that you were wrong?

Answer Lady: Yes, I was wro…I was wro…geez, I’m like the Fonz on Happy Days. I can’t say the word wro…oh, pooh. I was mistaken about Chevy. This time. Every other time I was unmistaken.

Question Lady: Actually, you weren’t wrong, girlfriend. You predicted that Chevy would be active once the free-agent bell rang. You said he’d sign at least one player. Remember which player?

Answer Lady: Oh, ya, Chris Thorburn. D’oh! Can you believe the St. Louis Blues actually reeled that sluggo in for two years, at 900K per? Were they not paying attention? Thorbs is a five-minutes-a-night forward with zero upside.

Question Lady: Aren’t they buying his bare knuckles? You know, to replace Ryan Reaves? One goon for another?

Answer Lady: Oh, ya, like that’s going to fly with the faithful in St. Loo. Thorbs is a fighter like I’m Jennifer Aniston’s stand-in. He drops his gloves and holds on like barnacles clinging to the hull of a rusty, old ship. He had what, 13 scraps last season? And threw maybe four punches. By the way, they don’t call players like Reaves and Thorbs goons anymore. They’re energy enforcers, don’t you know.

Chris Thorburn

Question Lady: I’ll try to keep that in mind. Meanwhile, won’t Thorbs be missed?

Answer Lady: Ya, like a yeast infection. Thorbs and Anthony Peluso have long been my measuring sticks for the Jets’ progress. I said in June 2015 that the presence of either in the lineup served as a retardant to the development of the young players, and only when Thorbs and Joe Palooka were told to vamoose would we see actual progress. They’re both gone—hallelujah!—so I guess it’s game on.

Question Lady: Is Steve Mason going to be the answer in goal next season?

Answer Lady: I’d feel a whole lot better about Mason if he wasn’t coming over from Philadelphia. I mean, the Flyers know goaltending like Gary Bettman knows the North End of Winnipeg. They haven’t had anyone who could stop a sniffle since Ron Hextall was acting like a one-man SWAT team in the 1980s. Talk about a guy off his nut. And now Ronnie Axe-tall is the Flyers GM. Who’d have thunk that?

Question Lady: Shouldn’t we be concerned that if Hextall has no use for Mason, Cheveldayoff could have done better than a recycled Philly Flyer?

Answer Lady: I’m going to cut Chevy some slack here. Yes, he’s goalie blind. As goalie blind as the Flyers. And it’s of his own doing that he found himself sifting through the dregs of the goaltenders who became available in the past 2½ months. But…at least he did something. Finally. Even a Philly Flyers reject has to be better than what Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson delivered last season.

Question Lady: You don’t think Hellebuyck is the real deal?

Answer Lady: Is Homer Simpson the poster boy for good parenting? Does the Pope skip mass? If Hellebuyck played in New Jersey or Columbus or San Jose, no one in Jets Nation would be talking about him. I mean, it’s not like everyone in the NHL is saying, “Geez, if we could pry that Hellebuyck guy out of Winnipeg we’d be a shoo-in to win the Stanley Cup.” I think Hellebuyck will be an upgrade on Hutchinson as a backup. That’s as half full as I can make that glass.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question Lady: What do you know about the defenceman Chevy reeled in, Dmitry Kulikov?

Answer Lady: I know he’s a Russian, he shoots left, he spent an awful lot of time in the repair shop last season, he’s buddies with Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele, he’s overpaid, and he could use one more vowel in his first name.

Question Lady: That’s it? That’s all you have to say about him?

Answer Lady: What else is there to say? The guy was a bust in Buffalo, but the Jets believe he’ll be boffo paired with Buff. Now stop me before I OD on alliteration.

Question Lady: So are you giving Chevy a passing grade for his off-season tinkering?

Answer Lady: Mostly, it’s been addition by subtraction. Gone are Thorbs, Peluso, Ondrej Pavelec, Mark Stuart, Paul Postma…that’s all good. Meanwhile, the Jets are better with a Mason-Hellebuyck combo than Hellebuyck-Hutchinson and, if buy-a-vowel Dmitry works out, the blueline is improved. But Chevy gagged at the expansion/entry drafts by dropping 11 slots in the first round just to protect fringe players on a non-playoff roster. And, he still hasn’t dealt with the elephant in the room—Jacob Trouba’s desire to get out of Dodge. Getting Trouba’s signature on a long-term contract ought to be priority No. 1. Overall, I’d give Chevy a passing grade C, for getting the goalie and for what he unloaded. He’s probably earned a week or two of down time at the cottage.

Question Lady: Before we go, what did you think of the TSN and Sportsnet coverage on free-agent day?

Answer Lady: I mostly watched TSN and their talking heads did boffo business, although I cringe every time I see Aaron Ward. Still can’t get past that domestic violence issue. As for Sportsnet, was it bad-hair day on the panel, or what? I mean, what’s up with the mops on Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos? Friedman looked like he had half a head and Kypreos looked like he had his hair cut at Coif du John Deere. I swear, he must have laid down on the lawn and let someone run over his head with a riding mower. And the glare from John Shannon’s coke-bottle glasses blinded me. I’m still seeing double. Other than that, it was all good. Both groups were on their games.

Question Lady: Okay, that’s it. Time to do summer. See you in October.

Answer Lady: Sounds like a plan. Have fun and don’t forget your sunscreen.

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 the difference between the Jets and Leafs…Sportsnet talking Stanley Cup in the Republic of Tranna…rapping with Rink Rat Scheifele…two gasbags in Pegtown…a five-year plan…and a thank-you to the media

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

I don’t know about you, but while observing the recently concluded skirmish between the pesky, upstart Toronto Maple Leafs and the accomplished Washington Capitals, I kept asking myself the same question: Why not the Winnipeg Jets?

I mean, shouldn’t the Jets be part of the Stanley Cup derby? What do the Leafs have that the local hockey heroes don’t?

Brendan Shanahan

Well, okay, the Leafs have a team president, Brendan Shanahan, who actually performed in the National Hockey League and won the Stanley Cup (make that plural). The Jets have an executive chairman, Mark Chipman, who once sold cars and whose sole claim to fame as a jock was participating in one Canadian Football League exhibition game before being cut by legendary coach Cal Murphy.

So there’s that.

What else? Well, the Leafs have a general manager, Lou Lamoriello, who has won the Stanley Cup (make that plural). And they have a head coach, Mike Babcock, whose name is also etched on hockey’s holy grail and whose resume includes Olympic Games gold medals (yes, plural). The Jets, meanwhile, have Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice, winners of zero Stanley Cups as GM and head coach, respectively.

So there’s that, too.

Anything else? Well, there’s goaltending. The Leafs have it in Frederik Andersen. The Jets don’t.

Oh, one more thing: The Leafs have one pain in the ass (see: Kadri, Nazem) who can also score 30 goals, and another pain in the ass (see: Komarov, Uncle Leo) who’s basically a nasty rash on every opponent’s skin. The Jets most definitely do not have a pain in the ass, never mind two.

What about Auston Matthews you say? The Leafs have him. The Jets don’t. Fine. Except when I looked at the NHL scoring leaders at the close of regular-season business, only six players were ahead of Mark Scheifele and none of them was named Auston Matthews. (The separation between Matthews and Scheifele—today, not 10 years from now—is as thin as the sparse playoff whiskers on the Toronto rookie’s chinny-chin-chin.)

Lou Lamoriello

As for the rest of the on-ice personnel…if you say Jake Gardiner, I say Jacob Trouba. If you say Morgan Rielly, I say Dustin Byfuglien. If you say Nikita Zaitsev, I say Josh Morrissey. If you say Mitch Marner, I say Patrik Laine. If you say William Nylander, I say Nikolaj Ehlers. If you say Tyler Bozak, I say Bryan Little. If you say James van Riemsdyk, I say Blake Wheeler. Etcetera, etcetera.

Clearly, the Jets are more than a talent match, the exceptions being one goaltender and two pains in the ass. So, again, why were they not part of the playoff hijinks this spring like the Leafs?

I’ll let you discuss that among yourselves, but I suggest you start at the top of the totem pole by asking how involved Puck Pontiff Chipman is in the day-to-day operation of the Jets, then work your way down to ice level, specifically behind the bench.

You’ll probably find your answers there.

Only in the Republic of Tranna: The Leafs qualify for the postseason party for the second time in 12 years and Sportsnet, which often reads like a Maple Leafs blog, is already talking about a Stanley Cup in The 416. “Maple Leafs need to strike while in unique Stanley Cup window” is the headline on a piece by Chris Johnson, who advises us that the Leafs “are currently much closer to behaving like a Stanley Cup contender than they’re comfortable admitting publicly.” I believe the last time I heard Maple Leafs and Stanley Cup used in the same sentence, Punch Imlach was still coaching, Humpty Harold Ballard had yet to be caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and Trudeau the First was still playing second fiddle to Lester Pearson.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Speaking of Sportsnet, they actually managed to squeeze a piece featuring somebody other than one of the Maple Leafs onto their website. True story. Luke Fox had a lengthy and insightful tete-a-tete with Rink Rat Scheifele and, by all accounts, it was a pain-free exercise for the young centre. Imagine that. One of the Jets doing the chin-wag thing without a team PR flack lurking in the background.

Among the interesting nuggets in the Fox-Scheifele to-and-fro was this: “You never sewer a teammate,” said the Jets assistant captain. He might want to mention that to Mathieu Perreault, who doesn’t hesitate to toss his comrades, most notably the goaltenders, under a convenient bus. For his part, the Rink Rat had this to say about the much-maligned men tasked with the duty of stopping pucks for the Jets—Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson: “There’s always something that happens before a goal, and the goalies are just the last line. They take the brunt of the blame because they’re goalies and that’s what they signed up for and they’re crazy like that. But you can’t point the blame at our goaltenders. They both worked hard and never gave up on us. We all have to take blame for our weakness.”

I’m not sure what to make of this, but Kevin Chevldayoff and Paul Maurice are hot-aired gasbags compared to their counterparts with the Maple Leafs. Here’s the scorecard from their season-over chin-wags with news snoops:

Cheveldayoff: 47 minutes, 37 seconds.
Maurice: 26:45.
Lou Lamoriello: 10:36.
Babcock: 8:49.
Combined totals:
Cheveldayoff/Maurice—1 hour, 14 minutes, 22 seconds.
Lamoriello/Babcock—19 minutes, 25 seconds.

I guess the Jets brass had more explaining to do. Either that or they just had a whole lot more smoke to blow up the media’s butt.

Mike Babcock

I find it interesting that Shanahan, Lamoriello and Babcock don’t hesitate to put themselves on the clock. That is to say, Lamoriello went on record as saying the Leafs are operating on “a five-year plan.” In other words, Leafs Nation can expect to see a perennial playoff participant by then (they’re now two years into the plan). Puck Pontiff Chipman and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, have never dared to offer Jets devotees a similar time frame on their “process.” What are they afraid of?

Here’s another interesting comparison between the outlooks of the two teams: Asked about the Leafs roster next season compared to that which was eliminated in six games by the Capitals, Babcock said, “There’ll be changes.” Maurice answered a similar question by saying next season’s Jets are “gonna look an awful lot like this team but five months older.” Pushing forward in TO, same old-same old in Pegtown.

Got a kick out of Lamoriello’s parting words to the assembled news snoops in the Republic of Tranna: “Thank you for making it an enjoyable year.” I think he was serious. Who in professional sports does that?

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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About jocks jumping the MRI queue…those “coddled” millionaire Winnipeg Jets…a dude named Dart Guy…it isn’t The Forsberg…giving the Soviets the finger…Centre of the Universe snobbery…and Gomer Pyle sings the anthem

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

Okay, hands up anyone who is genuinely shocked that professional athletes pulling in great gobs of American greenbacks have been allowed to jump the MRI queue in Canada?

Seriously. If word that play-for-pay jocks receive “preferential treatment” is a revelation to you, then you’d probably be interested in knowing that a guy named Trudeau is prime minister in the True North but his first name isn’t Pierre. I mean, hellooooo. How long have you been napping?

Pro athletes and “preferential treatment” have been hand-in-glove since David threw down on Goliath. You think David ever had to buy his own pints and chow after scoring that upset?

But, hey, what’s happening in Manitoba isn’t about free bar or restaurant tabs, is it? It’s about health care and the deified, millionaire members of the Winnipeg Jets and the regular Joe-salaried workers with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. According to the provincial auditor general, 59 jocks were allowed to jump the MRI queue for 149 scans in an eight-year period (2008-2016). Allow me to do the math: That averages to less than one athlete and 1.5 scans per month.

Frankly, I’m surprised the numbers are so low.

Look, I don’t blame anyone for being PO’d if they’ve been on a wait list for four months only to see Jacob Trouba or Matt Nichols limp in and go directly to the scanner. It isn’t fair. But in Winnipeg, that’s the way it has to be if you want a National Hockey League and Canadian Football League franchise.

In the interests of full disclosure, I had an MRI scan done on my brain slightly more than a year ago. The good news is, they found a brain. The bad news is, results showed soft tissue in my grey matter, the result of the combined nuisances of multiple concussions (10) and aging. Hopefully, that explains a lot of things, if not everything.

This whole MRI thing has really gotten up Paul Wiecek’s nose. His pallor surely must be as ashen as his hair, because the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has called out Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman for the Winnipeg Jets owner’s silence on the issue, and he describes the local hockey heroes as a “tiny cadre of coddled millionaires.” Coddled? Coddled? You want to talk about coddled? During my time in the media we received free beer, free food, free books, free music, free tickets, free clothing, free merchandise, free access to back-stage gatherings, free access to doors that were closed to the regular rabble, free everything. And, hey, some might even have been pushed to the front of the queue at the doctor’s office. I can’t say what, if anything, has changed, but it’s my guess that the media Gravy Train is still chugging along.

Unlike Wiecek, I’m not interested in what Puck Pontiff Chipman has to say about MRI scans. I’m more interested in what he thinks about his general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, not being able to accomplish in six years what Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton McDavids and Lou Lamoriello of the Toronto Maple Leafs have done in two years.

Dart Guy

This spring’s Stanley Cup skirmishing has been strange. How strange? Well, let’s put it this way: The Chicago Blackhawks are out of the playoffs after only four games and Dart Guy is still in them.

I don’t know what to make of this Dart Guy dude. I mean, he has a Maple Leafs logo painted on his face, he sticks an unlit cigarette between his lips and he becomes some kind of cult figure in the Republic of Tranna? Sometimes I wish Andy Warhol hadn’t been right about those 15 minutes of fame.

Why do broadcasters and writers insist on describing a goal with a one-handed deke “the Forsberg?” I know for certain that I saw Alexei Zhamnov of the Jets perform that very move, more than once, before I ever saw Peter Forsberg do it. I also saw Kent Nilsson do it before Forsberg.

This from Don Cherry during one of his Coachless Corner segments on Hockey Night in Canada last week: “The last Coach’s Corner, I said to you kids, ‘Don’t taunt or laugh when you’re winning.’ I said, ‘Never do that, kids.’ Kids, it’s not the Canadian way. You never laugh or taunt your opponent.” Grapes is right. The Canadian way is to give them the middle-finger salute, like Alan Eagleson and Frosty Forristall did to the Soviets in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series. We don’t taunt them when we’re losing, either. We break their ankles (hello, Bobby Clarke).

Guaranteed to happen in life: 1) Donald Trump will tweet; 2) Adam Sandler will make bad movies; 3) a Bruce Boudreau-coached team will be eliminated from the Stanley Cup tournament.

P.K. Subban is still playing hockey (suprise, surprise). Shea Weber isn’t. Does that mean the Nashville Predators got the better of the Montreal Canadiens in their exchange of all-world defenceman? No. It isn’t Weber’s fault the Habs’ forwards score less often than the Pope swears.

Postmedia scribe Steve Simmons, whose work often appears on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Sun, has provided us with a tweet that serves as a shining example of the self-absorbed, Centre of the Universe mentality that exists in the Republic of Tranna: “An absolutely stacked Canadian Sports Hall of Fame class is introduced on the wrong day. Not their fault. Toronto is Leafs consumed today.” In other words, the rest of the country be damned. Stevie says any national news of significance must be put on hold whenever Auston Matthews and pals are playing a hockey game in the 416 area code. All you good people in Winnipeg, you can wait a day to learn that your speedskating golden girl, Cindy Klassen, is among the 2017 CSHofF inductees. Ditto for you fine folks in Hanna, Alta. We’ll fill you in on native son Lanny McDonald after Auston and pals have had their fun. I must say, for a guy who once called Calgary home and ought to know better, the ego-fuelled Simmons has developed into a first-class Tranna snob.

In the week’s social news, Serena Williams announced she’s preggers and Ronda Rousey announced she’s engaged. The nerve of those women. I mean, don’t they realize the Maple Leafs are still playing hockey? Nobody wants to hear about a mommy bump or a diamond ring unless Auston Matthews happens to be the father or fiance, right Stevie?

Barney, Andy and Luke Bryan.

Well, golleeee and shezam! I finally figured out who country guy Luke Bryan sounds like when he tries to sing—Gomer Pyle. I swear, when I heard Bryan perform the American anthem prior to a Nashville Predators-Blackhawks skirmish, the first thing I thought of was good, ol’ Gomer Pyle pumping gas and visiting Andy and Barney at the sheriff’s office in Mayberry. How Bryan became one of the giants of the country music industry is as much a mystery as how Donald Trump got the keys to the White House.

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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Winnipeg Jets: Ripples on the water and the Zen of Chevy

Okay, here’s what we learned during 46 minutes and 37 seconds of a smoke-blowing to-and-fro between Kevin Cheveldayoff and news snoops on Monday:

  1. The Winnipeg Jets general manager has had a tete-a-tete with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman about a contract extension that would allow Chevy (“I love this organization.”) to complete the restoration project he began in 2011, when the Puck Pontiff purchased a fixer-upper known as the Atlanta Thrashers with $170 million of David Thomson’s pocket change.
  2. Head coach Paul Maurice and all his accomplices (yes, kids, we said all…of…them) will return for the 2017-18 National Hockey League crusade.
  3. Nobody’s perfect, not even Maurice.
  4. If you drop a pebble in water, Grasshopper, it will create ripples.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

So, if it was insight, enlightenment, revelation or specifics you sought about your fave National Hockey League outfit, you came to the wrong place.

That’s not to say Chevy didn’t speak. Boy, did he ever flap his gums. The Puck Pontiff’s right-hand dude reminds me of a joke former Jets coach and funny man Tom McVie used to tell us about a friend who had a serious case of the yadda, yadda, yaddas: “Ask him for the time of day and he’ll tell you how to build a watch.”

Well, Chevy didn’t instruct the assembled diggers of nuggets how to build a timepiece, but he assured one and all that the Puck Pontiff’s and his way of constructing an NHL winner/champion is the right way, albeit the long way (patience, Grasshopper, and you too shall one day see the ripples on the water).

As is his norm, the GM spoke in Chevy-speak, meaning word count was maximized (why use a dozen words when 10 dozen will do?) and content required decoding. With that in mind, we give to you the Zen of Chevy, what the Grand Master said and what he really said.

What Chevy said about Puck Finn, fab Finnish rookie Patrick Laine…

He’s a wonderful person, he cares deeply about his game, he cares deeply about the team’s game and he’s got a passion to want to learn, a passion to want to keep getting better, a passion to want to be the best. He’s a driven individual and a proud individual and a humble individual. For us, as a franchise, it’s a big, key piece in helping us get to where we want to get to.”

What Chevy really said: “You talk about your craphouse luck. I still cannot believe those ping pong balls bounced our way at the draft lottery last year. You think we can fall into that same dung heap and come up smelling like orchids again? Karma, baby.”

What Chevy said about Maurice and a contract extension for the third-losingest coach in NHL history…

“Paul Maurice is the coach of this hockey team. What, where, how we go to the next steps, we’ll have discussions as we go. For me, Paul ‘s got my full support. I think it really goes to what we’ve asked Paul to do over his period of time here and, again, this hasn’t been something that we’ve knee-jerked and said ‘We’re gonna go in this direction now’ or ‘We’re gonna change and go in this direction.’ When Paul and I talked when he took over the team, we talked about the steps that were going to be necessary in order to build this franchise and continue to push it in the direction that we wanted. It was really at that point in time his enthusiasm and his willingness, for a veteran coach, to take on that task and understand that it wasn’t going to be smooth. You know, there’s gonna be steps along the way that you’d like accelerated and there’s gonna be steps along the way…some coaches that maybe aren’t as secure in their own skin or belief or where they’re at in their careers wouldn’t want to take on, they wouldn’t want to maybe take some of the youth, opportunities we had in front of us and really not coach for the best interests of the team. Paul’s coached for the best interests of this team and the best interests of the future of this team as we’ve asked him. He’s a leader. Is he perfect? No. We’re all not perfect here.”

What Chevy really said: “I like this Maurice dude almost as much as I like Chris Thorburn.”

What Chevy said about the positives he takes from a season in which the Jets failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament for the fifth time in six tries…

“We talk about the youth and we talk about the development of this organization. When we took over, we were clamoring to be able to have young players that we could look at and say ‘Hey, we want to build this franchise with (him).’ That has taken time. It’s taken time not only to draft them and unfortunately you don’t get that opportunity to draft all your players all at once. Sometimes you have to wait, sometimes as we have seen the wait is definitely worth it. But you can only implement what you have when you have it. And when you do have it, you should be looking at pushing it forward. Again, if you’re looking for the greater goal of trying to achieve something, you want to build a core, you want to build it as big as you can. You have to be able to go through that process to be able to do it. Drafting and developing is the way that we chose. That’s what we set out to do and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

What Chevy really said: “I can’t think of any positives right now. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Connor Hellebuyck

What Chevy said about the Jets goaltending this season…

“I think anybody who can manage in hindsight is a better manager than anybody that’s in pro sports. You don’t manage in hindsight, you learn from experiences and you certainly grow from experiences. But you also need to understand that you have to take steps to move forward. You have to make decisions. You don’t sit and try and say ‘Well I hope.’ You make that decision. It’s not unlike a skater. You have to give them that opportunity to grow. The decision that we made to move forward with the goaltending and how we chose to do it this year, it was not done in a vacuum. It was done with lots of conversation within the group, understanding that if we didn’t do it at that point in time that, one year forward, we would be sitting here today, tomorrow meaning at the beginning of the season, saying ‘Can Connor Hellebuyck take us to that next level? Is he going to be that No. 1?’ Well, if we didn’t give him that opportunity to play the games this year, we don’t know. Well, we better give him those opportunities in order to find out. We made that decision. You have to make decisions. You have to make choices. We made that choice. For a player like Connor, the sky’s the limit. Can he grow into being that No. 1? Ya, for sure he can.”

What Chevy really said: “We rolled the dice and we crapped out.”

What Chevy said about the need for a veteran goaltender…

What direction we choose to go, we’ll look at all the different options that are available to us. We will look at a lot of different scenarios to see if there’s a chance to push it, to move forward with it, whether it’s a veteran, whether it’s a young guy. Again, these are things that I can’t sit here and tell you in a hundred per cent certainty what’s going to happen. But, again, we’re going to look at all the different options.”

What Chevy really said: “After the entry draft in June, I’ll take the rest of the summer off. You know, same as I always do.”

What Chevy said about the challenge of signing all his young talent in the future…

Salary cap management is probably one of the biggest and foremost responsibilities for a general manager at the National Hockey League level. Certainly at the situation we’re in, when you look to acquire young talent and they have excelled under the staff that’s here and the opportunities that are given them, that’s a good thing. Again, if you have young talent that doesn’t challenge you and push you from a contractual situation, then maybe you’d be a little concerned. Are they the right people to push us moving forward? We’ve been very conscious in trying to understand that one bad decision, one long-term financial decision can have major ramifications and ripples all the way through. It’s like when you drop a little pebble into a water, you get the small ripples maybe happen right there but they keep getting bigger and bigger and expand the longer you go out. You want to make sure the decisions you make today…again, instant gratification is something that we all think is just the be all, end all and that there’s that magic pill, there’s that magic cure to cure all ills with respect to your team, but no team has found it yet. We have some good young players. We will make the necessary steps and necessary decisions to keep those good young players. That’s been our promise, that’s been our mandate, that’s been something we’ve said since day one. And that day is coming.”

What Chevy really said: “We’re totally screwed financially in another year or two.”

Jacob Trouba

What Chevy said about Jacob Trouba, who delivered a trade request last May and withdrew his services at the start of last season…

We’ve never deviated from the fact that, when we talk about Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, we believe that those two players are going to be the ultimate drivers on this team. I can’t sit here and tell you we’re gonna open contract negotiations tomorrow. We might. Those are things that do unfold and stay behind the scenes, close to the vest.”

What Chevy really said: “Have you seen the pictures from Jacob’s draft day that I have on my office wall? Sweet.”

What Chevy said about another “wasted” year for soon-to-be-greybeard and captain Blake Wheeler…

I think, again, you can’t help but get excited about some of the youth that’s here. I think whether you’re in sports or whether you’re in school or whatever it is, when you have the potential to do something great you want it to happen now. So…again, the players, Blake…they all play this game to try to get to this point to try to win the Stanley Cup. One thing that is very certain in this league, you do not know what the future holds. You do not. And whether you’re a young player that wins a Stanley Cup at 18 years old and thinks that it’s going to happen each and every year…you know, you may never get back there. So, again, for Blake you empathize with those kind of players that lay it out there every night, provide the examples. But I think deep down you relish that opportunity knowing that how much you have helped those young guys is, again, gonna point them in the right direction. Blake’s passion, Blake’s desire will never be questioned. Certainly, it’s what drives me as well. When I sit there…when I sat there and talked to Blake the last time we did his contract extension, I gave them my commitment, I gave them my promise that I was going to do what’s necessary to push this team not only to try to win but to try to win the big prize. That ultimately is what they want. When I get a chance to speak with Blake, we’re gonna go over that as well.”

What Chevy really said: “Hey, it’s like the ripples on the water. Eventually, they fade away, so you drop another pebble in the water and new ripples appear. Unfortunately for Blake, he isn’t one of those new ripples.”

What Chevy says to Jets Nation…

They’re gonna get an opportunity to see a team that has grown. You know, the process was started…from the moment that we took over, the idea of what we were going to do and how we were going to do it…the seeds were planted. Those seeds took a while to germinate. They took a while to start growing. We have one of the best ownership groups in the league, because they know that there’s a plan in place and they know that they’re gonna stick to that plan.”

What Chevy really said: “We have a plan with no beginning and no end, Grasshoppers.”

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.