About deja vu all over again for Connor Hellebuyck and the Winnipeg Jets…tell us what’s “rotten” Mike…Kevin’s not making Hayes…a Finn for a Twig?…wrong about the refs…Canada’s colors…writing rubbish about women’s hockey…the Freep spending the NHL’s money…bravo to the delightful Kaitlyn Lawes…and a stubby bottle for Grapes

Another Sunday smorags-bored…and it’s a couch potato day to watch the Masters then les Jets…

Two games into Beard Season, I’d say Connor Hellebuyck and news snoops are even—he doesn’t like their questions and they don’t like his goaltending.

Connor Hellebuyck

The thing is, the questions aren’t going to get any easier or tamer, not as long as Hellebuyck has his head up his butt and refuses to accept the reality that the Stanley Cup playoff skirmish between his Winnipeg Jets and the St. Loo Blues is being determined in the blue paint, and he’s running a distant second in a two-man race.

Rather than suck it up and concede that he let the side down in a 4-3 Game 2 loss on Friday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, Hellebuyck went all snot-nose when confronted post-joust by those pesky newsies.

He harrumphed that one query was “loaded” and he fielded another with this gem: “I really don’t like that question.”

Boo freaking hoo. You want jock journos to lob softballs? Try stopping the damn puck.

Jordan Binnington

Look, Hellebuyck didn’t play poorly in the first act of this best-of-seven National Hockey League playoff series. He was solid. Can’t lay the blame for the 2-1 loss on him, not after Kevin Hayes, Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov made out like the Three Stooges on Tyler Bozak’s decisive score. And, of course, the guy in the blue paint at the other end of the freeze, Jordan Binnington, was better. Lights out better.

As for what went down on Friday, though, that’s totally on Hellebuyck. He was atrocious. Someone should be ripping him a new one.

What I find disturbing—other than Hellebuyck waving at the puck like a guy trying to flag down a cab—is his my-stuff-don’t-stink attitude, which is a haunting echo from last spring. A year ago, I remind you, he was out-tended by Marc-André Fleury in the Western Conference final vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, but he refused to accept that he had to step up his game.

Fleury and Hellebuyck

After Game 3: “(Fleury’s) obviously a big part of that team and playing very well, but I like my game, I like it a lot more. I like my details and I’m gonna keep chugging away.”

After Game 4: “I see a lot of posts at the other end. I don’t know if I want to call it luck, but things have gotta switch, it’s gonna come our way, I know that. I think it’s bad luck. Their goal is just the product of the puck bouncing the wrong way. The stars are aligning for them.”

After the series: “Maybe it was just the luck. I look back and I can honestly say I was playing the best hockey of my career in that series. I was very in tuned to the game. I felt the game a lot better than I have, and they got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”

Right. The Golden Knights took les Jets out in five games because of four-leaf clovers and rabbit’s feet taped to the goal posts. It had nothing to do with Fleury outplaying Hellebuyck by a considerable margin. As if.

So what we have now, kids, is deja vu all over again.

Binnington, a rookie, is outplaying Hellebuyck, but les Jets goaltender doesn’t see it that way. He only hears objectionable questions.

“Our details are right,” he insists. “We’re right there. It’s only a matter of time. Sooner or later it’s gonna go our way.”

Sure it will. Just like it did last spring vs. Vegas.

I’m not suggesting les Jets are a writeoff, down 2-nada as they move the series to St. Loo, but it doesn’t take a Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk or Marty Brodeur to understand that their only hope is better play between the iron. They were outgoalied in Game 1 (hey, that’s going to happen) and Binnington only had to be meh in Game 2 because Hellebuyck was waving at whiffle balls.

If les Jets goaler doesn’t show us his A-game in the Show Me State, I’d say Paul Maurice would be wise to call on Laurent Brossoit at the first hint of trouble. Is Coach Potty Mouth ballsy enough to turn to his backup? I doubt it, but he might have no choice.

Wonder how Hellebuyck will like the questions then.

I thought by now that Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab would have filled us in on what’s “rotten” about les Jets. But no. He just tosses out lines like Winnipeg HC is “rotten to the core” and he cites “multiple sources” then leaves us to guess what his “multiple sources” are telling him about the undoing of the local hockey heroes. “Myself and fellow Free Press hockey writer Jason Bell have heard from multiple sources that things are anything but rosy with this group,” he wrote slightly more than a week ago. He later added that les Jets were “appearing to come apart at the seams.” There can be just two reasons why Mike Mac refuses to give us the poop on any in-house bickering: 1) It’s fiction; 2) he’s afraid to rattle cages. In either case, that reporting is as shabby as Hellebuyck’s Game 2 goaltending.

Kevin Hayes

Interesting that McIntyre also has chosen his scapegoat if les Jets don’t fix what’s wrong vs. St. Loo—Kevin Hayes. He tells us that Hayes isn’t contributing enough offensively, with points in just seven of 20 matches to close the season and zero in the playoffs. That’s a fair critique. It’s evident that he’s no Paul Stastny. But the Jets aren’t down 2-nada because of Hayes’ failings. It’s about goaltending. If anybody needs to be fitted for a pair of goat’s horns, it’s Hellebuyck.

Jim Matheson of Postmedia Edmonton proposes that the Oilers send their first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2019 NHL entry draft and forward Jesse Puljujarvi to the Jets in barter for Twig Ehlers. Sorry, Matty. Never going to happen. The Jets don’t need another under-performing Finn and I don’t need another player whose name I can’t spell.

Craig Button

This from Craig Button of TSN: “I believe the NHL officials are the best on the planet, I think they rarely make mistakes.” Earth to Craig! Earth to Craig! You might want to watch film from Game 2 of the Boston-Tranna playoff series. You might also want to check out the replay of Micheal Ferland’s hit on Nic Dowd in the Carolina-Washington skirmish. A bum to the body got Ferland booted. Sorry, man, but the skunk shirts are making more mistakes than your local meteorologist.

At least the zebras did the right thing and sent Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs to his room for a crosscheck to Jake DeBrusk’s melon. Brian Burke called Kadri’s hatchet job a “selfish, senseless act.” Yup. Now we’ll see if Sheriff George of the player safety department will do the right thing and ground the Leafs centre for the remainder of the series.

Pet Peeve: Whose idea is it to drape our international shinny sides in black unis with red trim? That’s just wrong. Planet Puckhead is red and white. Those are the colors on our flag, and that’s what our women should have been wearing in their World Hockey Championship semifinal skirmish vs. Finland on Saturday. The regrettable color scheme wasn’t the reason for our ladies losing 4-2 (Suomi goaltender Noora Raty gets credit for that), but they looked unCanadian. Donate those threads to a thrift shop and get back to red and white.

Perhaps we should have seen the Canadian ouster at the worlds coming. I mean, the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League had to prey on our players’ minds, and how do you keep your focus fully on the task at hand when you don’t know what you’ll be coming home to once the final buzzer sounds? Hey, I’m just spitballing here, but the fall of the CWHL had to be a weighty distraction in the Canadian camp over there in Finland.

Well now, look who’s suddenly passing himself off as a friend of women’s hockey—Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Suggesting that the Finnish victory over Canada is a positive development for the distaff game (I agree, it is), he wrote: “For far too long, we’ve wanted to see the game and the sport expand.” What a complete phony. This is the same dude who once delivered this commentary: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this charade of imbalance.” That’s right, Simmons has wanted women’s hockey to be abolished, not expanded. So I say Postmedia has let him write his rubbish “for far too long.”

Got a giggle out of a Winnipeg Free Press editorial under the headline “Women’s hockey deserves NHL support” last week. Among other things, the opinionist submits that the “cash-rich NHL has a moral obligation to do more than simply collect outlandish ticket revenues from its ravenous fan base. It has a vested interest in growing the game, regardless of the gender of its players. It’s time for the NHL to step up in a more materially significant fashion. When our best female hockey players return home from Finland, the NHL should be waiting to greet them with news of a brighter future rising from the ashes of a troubled past.” I don’t know about you, but I find it laughable that a for-profit business like the Drab Slab advocates government subsidies for media outlets and, indeed, hopes to feed at the welfare trough, yet it’s telling another business, the NHL, how to spend its profits. That’s rich.

Kaitlyn Lawes

The mooks who do the voting for Canada’s athlete of the year will never anoint a curler as our top jock, because too many news snoops see Pebble People as a bunch of hubbies, brides and kids getting together for a family frolic at the local club on a Wednesday night. But they do things right in my home province. The very likable Kaitlyn Lawes has been named the best female athlete in Manitoba, and it had to be your basic no-brainer. Kaitlyn copped Olympic and world titles in 2018, and she did it while being an absolute delight.

And, finally, I think perhaps Donald S. Cherry was sampling a bit too much of the sponsor’s product prior to his Curmudgeon’s Corner segment on Hockey Night In Canada last week. After a promo for Budweiser’s new Copper Lager, Grapes had this to say“I’m tellin’ ya, I went out and bought some, and it is terrific. I love the horses, I love the bar we drink in…the color I’m not too crazy, but…I’ll tell ya one thing, it sure goes down PRETTY GOOD. Aaaaaand, don’t forget the stubby bottles. Stubby bottles. Canadian. Cana…that’s us. Canadians. Stubby bottles.”

Postmedia’s top-100 NHL players: If you never saw them play, how can you rate them?

I recall lying on our living room floor, watching a playoff game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in the late 1950s.

The red light behind the Leafs goal was flashing (in black and white, of course) and, not surprisingly, Doug Harvey, who breathed the rarefied air that only the National Hockey League elite enjoyed, had been the mastermind behind the Habs’ successful venture.

doug-harvey2I hate Doug Harvey,” I muttered to my dad scant seconds after les Glorieux had secured a victory, which was the rule rather than the exception in Stanley Cup skirmishing back then.

Why do you hate Doug Harvey?” he wondered.

Because he always has the puck.”

Like most Canadian kids in the ’50s, my eyes would be glued to a black-and-white TV screen every Saturday night during the winter, and every second night during the Stanley Cup tournament, which did not drone on into June. In the case of this particular Habs-Leafs joust, I would have been seven or eight years old at the time. I root, root, rooted for the Leafs. Disliked les Canadiens with an irrational intensity.

At that age, my hockey knowledge was limited mostly to the players’ names and sweater numbers. In terms of grading the skill level of those players, the eye test was far from fully developed. How could it be at such a young age? Oh, I knew Doug Harvey was supreme because, as I lamented, he was loath to share the puck with the other team. Every time he hopped over the boards, the game unfolded at Harvey’s whim and tempo. He was the maestro. He was doing the Savardian spinorama when Serge Savard was still in middle school.

There were others whose skills I recognized and admired. I delighted in the daring of Habs goaltender Jacques Plante, who didn’t glue himself to the goal crease, and the Leafs’ young Big M, Frank Mahovlich, was something to behold, his skating stride longer than a Winnipeg winter. Gordie Howe always seemed to have his way with everyone, even the tough hombres, and I remember Maurice Richard as a dashing sort, but he was in his hockey dotage and always seemed grumpy. So I didn’t like him.

The point is, I can say I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s, but as much as I witnessed the great Rocket Richard, I didn’t witness his greatness. His signature 50-goal season was in the rear-view mirror when Hockey Night in Canada became a ritual for me on what many kids also knew as bath night. Thus, I cannot possibly rate him as a player. I was too young and he was too old.

I give ponder to such matters this morning because Steve Simmons of Postmedia has compiled a top-100 list in recognition of the NHL’s centennial, which arrives in 2017.

Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr

While an admirable undertaking, his is a fool’s errand.

The most obvious and greatest flaw in someone picking the top 100 players in NHL history is not in choosing Bobby Orr over Wayne Gretzky, or vice versa, atop the list. Or anointing Dominik Hasek the greatest goaltender of all time. Or including only three Russians among the fab 100. The flaw, as I see it, is in the person doing the ranking. Precious few are qualified to do it. Simmons does not walk among those precious few. Age disqualifies him.

Simmons was born in 1957. He’s seven years my junior. As little as I can recall from the 1950s NHL, he cannot possibly have any first-hand knowledge of hockey from that era. Zero. Bupkus. Unless he was some sort of child hockey savant, which I doubt, his ability to grade players with any acceptable level of expertise wouldn’t have kicked in until the latter part of the 1960s, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt there.

Yet, by his own accounting, he has listed two dozen players from the 1950s and beyond. He never saw 25 per cent of his personal top 100 play hockey. Forty of his players are pre-1967, when he was 10 years or younger. Or not yet drawing oxygen.

I’m not prepared to pan Simmons for any of his choices. That’s a mug’s play. I’ll leave it to the Twitter trolls to pummel him (many have; others not so much). I do, however, submit that he doesn’t have the chops to compile such a list, based on his age. Indeed, his comment on Maple Leafs legend Syl Apps, whom he slid into the No. 36 slot, underscores his lack of expertise: “My dad told me he was the greatest Leaf he ever saw.”

Well, my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles told me stories, too. Look, I need not have seen Babe Ruth swing a Louisville Slugger to know that he was among the greatest hitters of a baseball. But, for me, it’s all about the eye test when it comes to hockey rankings. It isn’t what I read about a player in the record book, or what I see on grainy, black-and-white film on YouTube that has three or four different speeds, or what mom and pop told me. It’s what I’ve seen.

My point of reference is 1957—the year Simmons was born. I didn’t realize you could watch hockey from the womb. Apparently, that’s what he did.

As I said, admirable undertaking, fool’s errand.

***

I find it interesting that, on his Twitter page, Simmons gets snooty about age vis-a-vis his overall top pick, advising dissenting followers that “If you’re not 45-50, you never saw (Bobby) Orr play. If you’re not over 50, you didn’t see him at his most dominant.” In other words, how dare the younger generations question his judgement about Orr being No. 1? He’s seen both Orr and Gretzky, don’t you know? You young whippersnappers haven’t. So no one under 50 can make an educated, first-hand comparison between Orr and Wayne Gretzky.

rocketFine. But by that reasoning, if you’re not over 65 you didn’t see Doug Harvey at his most dominant. If Simmons saw Harvey play, he was a 44/45-year-old, dog-eared defenceman whom the expansion St. Louis Blues had dug out of moth balls when Simmons was in Grade 6.

Yet that didn’t prevent a 59-year-old Simmons from ranking Harvey No. 8 on his all-time list, second among defencemen behind only Orr. How can he possibly compare Harvey to Orr or, say, Nicklas Lidstrom? Meanwhile, he ranked the Rocket at No. 6. Never once saw him play. So how can he compare him to Guy Lafleur or Teemu Selanne?

***

My grandfather would tell us Rocket Richard was the greatest player ever. My dad would say Gordie Howe. I’d say Bobby Orr. My eldest son would likely say Wayne Gretzky. His kids are apt to say Sidney Crosby. It’s a generational thing that we should acknowledge and respect, not pooh-pooh or dismiss with a pompous grunt.

***

Simmons writes this of Joe Sakic: “Top five wrist shot in history.” He would know this how? Bernie Geoffrion popularized the slap shot in the 1950s. Prior to Boom Boom, most everyone used the wrister. Since Simmons never saw hockey in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, how can he compare Sakic’s wrist shot to all those old-time players? He can’t rate what he’s never seen. But he does and condemns others for doing that very thing. Go figure.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.