About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.

About hockey greats…self-indulgent, unnecessary sports writing…Lebron James’s legacy…Kerry Fraser’s gaffe…Jimmy Hoffa…and other things on my mind

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

No. 4, Bobby Orr
No. 4, Bobby Orr

I witnessed my first live professional hockey game in the mid-1950s at the old barn on Maroons Road in Winnipeg, which was razed to rubble five decades later.

I watched my first televised hockey game in the 1950s, when our TVs had rabbit ears (sometimes with tin foil wrapping on the tips to enhance the quality of our black-and-white reception) and we would join a game originating from Toronto or Montreal already in progress (most often in the second period). That’s when I learned to truly dislike Rocket Richard.

I covered my first hockey game for a newspaper in 1970 and my byline first appeared on a hockey article in June 1971.

I wrote about, and commented on, hockey in mainstream media for 30 years and have written freelance articles and blogged on hockey for the past 17 years.

Do the math: I have been watching hockey for 60 of my 65 years and writing about it going on 47 years, long enough to draw conclusions.

So, were I to start a National Hockey League franchise, drawing from players I have witnessed—either in person or from my living room floor/sofa—which player would I choose to build around? No. 4, Bobby Orr.

Orr is the best hockey player I’ve ever seen. Still. Probably always.

Here’s my all-time dream team…

GOAL: Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek

DEFENCE: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Ray Bourque, Valery Vasiliev.

FORWARDS: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Alexander Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Anatoli Firsov, Sergei Makarov.

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press on the death of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “You’re going to be reading lots of ‘Here’s what Gordie Howe means to me’ stories over the next week,” he writes. “Most will be self-indulgent and unnecessary.” Let’s face it, much of what sports scribes scribble is self-indulgent and unnecessary, but the storytelling is neither. When someone of Howe’s or Muhammad Ali’s loft goes to the other side, the storytelling is essential to the narrative, otherwise all we’d have are lists of statistics to describe and define them. Without the storytelling, we know the athlete but not the person. Wiecek spun a terrific yarn about Howe that was far more interesting and insightful than spewing career scoring numbers.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe
Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Speaking of self-indulgent, one of the first columns I wrote for the Calgary Sun was about Gordie Howe. He was in town for a minor hockey promotion, the details of which now escape me, and we met at the CTV studios and spent the better part of an hour wagging our chins about all things shinny. The following morning, our editor-in-chief, Lester Pyette, approached me in the newsroom and said, “Great piece on Gordie Howe. Loved it. I’m a big Gordie Howe fan. But the publisher didn’t like it. He wants me to tell you that we brought you here to write about the Flames and Stampeders, not kids hockey and retired players.” I was gobsmacked. “Lester,” I told him, “if I find out that Mr. Hockey is in town, I’m writing about Mr. Hockey.” So I did. As mean and as ruthless as he was on the ice, Gordie Howe was as gracious and down-to-earth off the freeze. Wonderful man.

The notion that Lebron James needs to add a third National Basketball Association title to his resume before being granted all-time-great status is beyond absurd. How many World Series championships did Major League Baseball legend Ted Williams win? Or Carl Yastrzemski? Zero. Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back in National Football League history, was 1-2 in championship games. How many times has the name Bobby Hull been inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Once. The great hoopster Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA championship series. James doesn’t need to set foot on the hardwood ever again. He’s already and all-timer.

Okay, Kerry Fraser has ‘fessed up. The former National Hockey League referee admits in The Players’ Tribune that he blew the call when he failed to banish Wayne Gretzky to the brig for slicing and dicing Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings. It should have been a major penalty. “It was missed. Period,” is how Fraser puts it. Now, can Leafs Nation finally stop whining about something that happened 23 years ago?

If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t called when the NHL announces its top rookie for the 2015-16 season, he shouldn’t lose any sleep. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy weren’t at the head of their respective freshman classes, and each is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?
Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

So, legendary flying Frenchman Guy Lafleur isn’t fond of facial foliage. He looks at the unruly shrubs sprouting from the cheeks and chins of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and declares them “a disgrace for hockey.” This from a guy who went through two packs of cigarettes a day and actually smoked in the dressing room between periods when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Just wondering, when the Stanley Cup tournament concludes and Thornton and Burns finally reach for the razors, what are the chances of Jimmy Hoffa falling out of one of those beards?

Aside to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: You’ve cranked out some quality copy re the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe, but do yourself a favor—stop writing about Phil Kessel. We get it already. You weren’t a fan of his game or his eating habits during his tour of duty in the Republic of Tranna. Let it go, man. Move along.

Just for the record, this entire article has been self-indulgent and unnecessary. But I had nothing better to do when I awoke at 2:30 this ayem, so I started typing.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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.

 

Winnipeg Jets: It’s not who you give up in a trade, it’s who you receive in return

A little bit of this, a little bit of that and a whole lot of opinion in a weekend wrap…

Okay, as Howie (Squeaker) Meeker was wont to say, “Hold it! Stop it right there!”

All you people who keep pointing to Tyler Seguin as the poster boy for trades gone bad, you’re either forgetting or ignoring one very significant factor. To wit: The Boston Bruins, who had their fill of the youthful-but-seemingly troubled Seguin, are in a playoff position, tenuous as it might be. The Dallas Stars, with whom Seguin has blossomed into an elite scorer, are not.

Thus, the fact that Seguin is joint leader of the National Hockey League scoring derby heading into Tuesday night’s matches does not support the notion that the Bruins erred horribly when they sent him packing to the Lone Star State, lock, stock and bad attitude.

Let’s ignore what might have been, because there is no way of measuring where Seguin would be today had the Bruins exercised greater patience and allowed their maturity-challenged forward to clean up his act. (I think, however, it’s reasonable to suggest he would not be atop the NHL scoring tables were he still with the Bs.) Based purely on the numbers, two of the players Boston accepted in barter for Seguin—Louie Eriksson and Reilly Smith—have matched his points output. Seguin is 29-30-59, Eriksson and Smith are a combined 22-36-58.

Meanwhile, the likelihood is that Eriksson and Smith will still be playing hockey after April 11, which marks the close of the NHL’s regular season business. Barring a remarkable surge in fortunes, Seguin and the Stars will be golfing or fishing. So you tell me who wins the trade.

Which brings me to Evander Kane and the Winnipeg Jets.

Because Kevin Cheveldayoff, aka GM Groundhog, has never arranged an NHL player-for-NHL player transaction, there is a fear that a) he will be fleeced and b) Kane will move on and, like Seguin, develop into an elite scorer.

Sorry, but no risk, no reward.

Most likely, Kane will be the largest talent in any deal Cheveldayoff concocts. That doesn’t mean he loses the trade. It isn’t so much what you surrender as what you receive in return. If, in barter, he acquires bodies that enhance the Jets and positions them as a perennial playoff participant, what does it matter how Kane performs in Buffalo or Pittsburgh or New Jersey of Vancouver? He isn’t doing it here. Period.

Let’s put it another way: The mistake wasn’t the original Jets dealing away a 24-year-old David Babych. The blunder (arguably the biggest is Jets 1.0 history) was accepting Ray Neufeld in the exchange.

The same lesson is to be learned from the Tyler Seguin saga. It isn’t so much about giving up on a young talent too soon, it’s about the return. It’s about the end game. It tells me that it’s okay to unload Evander Kane, who’ll be 24 the next time he pulls on an NHL jersey. Just don’t give him away for a song.

I’m not convinced GM Groundhog is the right man for that job, but if I can figure it out I’m sure he can, too.

TELLY TALK: My, my my. That was an epic rant Don Cherry unloaded from his Bully Pulpit on Curmudgeon’s Corner this past weekend. We heard all about “savages” and “barbarians” like Ron MacLean who eat seal meat, hockey goons who got a raw deal and should still be working in the NHL, and Evander Kane is a “jerk” who ought to be “ashamed” of himself. I’d hate to think what the Lord of Loud would say if he discovered that Kane had a baby seal burger for lunch…Caught a bit of the press conference for the Gordie Howe gathering in Saskatoon on Sportsnet. It included Wayne Gretzky, two of the Howe boys, Mark and Marty, and Brett and Bobby Hull. I’m sorry, but whenever I see Bobby Hull now I think spousal abuse…What a shame that Mathieu Perreault of the Winnipeg Jets shaved his facial foliage. That was a killer beard. The good news is they found Jimmy Hoffa when they cut the thing off…Would it be too much to ask of Hockey Night in Canada host George Stromboloupouloupoloupolous to wear a sports jacket that actually fits? The thing he squeezed himself into Saturday night would have looked tight on a chihuahua or something of a similarly small stature. Like Johnny Gaudreau…The gab guys on TSN’s The Reporters with Dave Hodge gave the Jets some talk time this past Sabbath morning. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star advised us “this is the year the Winnipeg Jets got interesting.” Actually, Bruce, there are those of us living in the colonies who’ve found the Jets interesting ever since they arrived in Winnipeg. Arthur also advised us that Evander Kane is “a 25-to-30 goal scorer.” He said it twice. Fact is, Kane is nothing of the sort. He has scored plus-20 goals exactly once in half a dozen NHL seasons…The sartorially challenged P.J. Stock wore a track suit instead of his off-the-Wallmart-rack business suit for his Stock Exchange gig on HNIC. It was a dig at the Jets and Kane. It think it was supposed to be funny. It wasn’t.

LAST CALL: This from Little Stevie Blunder Simmons of the Toronto Sun/Sun Media on The Reporters, speaking about the Winnipeg Jets and Evander Kane:

“This has been a dressing room or a team without leadership for the past couple of years, inside that room. There’s a leadership issue inside that room.”

One question: You know this how, Toronto Boy? Please enlighten us. If this information comes from your many visits to Winnipeg and the Jets’ boudoir, tell us. If it comes from reliable informants in the Jets’ boudoir, tell us. If not, stick to skewering the Maple Leafs.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.