The River City Renegade


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Winnipeg Jets: No more excuses for head coach Paul Maurice

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

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Well, now that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and once-inert general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have addressed two of the Winnipeg Jets’ specific wants and needs, guess where the focus shifts? That’s right, Mr. .500 standing behind the bench. It’s squarely on you.

Paul Maurice

You know that annoying laundry list of excuses that you made a habit of trotting out during the Jets’ latest crusade that ended, once again, without a playoff whisker sprouting from your players’ chinny, chin-chins? Sorry, but whinging about the schedule, injuries, youth and the price of petrol won’t cut it anymore. Probably not even with mainstream news snoops, a number of whom actually bought your bunk.

Time to deliver the goods, Coach Potty Mouth.

You’ve got your goaltender and, even though I don’t expect Steve Mason to be the second coming of Terry Sawchuk, I’m guessing (hoping?) that he and the work in progress known as Connor Hellebuyck won’t be the second coming of Pokey and the Bandit either.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Pokey and the Bandit, Coach Potty-Mo. Two interesting, young dudes from the back half of the 1980s. One, Daniel Berthiaume, was mostly a cheery sort and the other, Eldon (Pokey) Reddick, had a tendency toward the sullen, with gusts up to sourpuss. Together, they combined to provide Winnipeg Jets 1.0 with the sort of goaltending that will cost a National Hockey League coach his job. Matter of fact, two head coaches and one GM drew pink slips during their tour of duty in the blue ice.

So, no Coach Potty-Mo, you don’t want your tandem of Mason-Hellebuyck to be Pokey and the Bandit II.

But, again, even if they bottom out, it’s going to be on you and your system(s).

Meanwhile, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy added one-vowel-short-of-a-full-load Dmitry Kulikov to shore up the left side of your blueline brigade. They’re telling you he’s an upgrade on Mark Stuart. You might not agree, given your fascination with greybeards of sketchy skill, but a left flank of Josh Morrissey, Toby Enstrom and Kulikov sounds better to me than Morrissey-Enstrom-Stuart.

On the down side, Coach Potty-Mo, they took away your favorite play thing, Chris Thorburn. I’m not convinced that means you’ll be less of a street busker with your forward combinations—your juggling Thorbs from fourth to first line and the two slots in between truly was annoying—because you’re apt to adopt a new teacher’s pet to infuriate the faithful.

You have your way of doings things, curious as they are, Mr. .500. They’ve seldom worked, but now they must work. If there are no meaningful matches being contested at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next April, you’re the fall guy.

Still no contract extension for Maurice, whose lifeline has been reduced to one more season as the ice-level puppet master. Not that I think he deserves a new deal, but Cheveldayoff repeatedly insists that he and his head coach are joined at the hip. So what’s the hangup? Could it be that the Puck Pontiff has grown iffy about Coach Potty-Mo? Naw. He won’t let Maurice go into the season as a lame duck. I say it gets done this month.

Paul Henderson and Yvan Cournoyer celebrate the iconic goal.

I get a chuckle out of young people who weren’t even an embryo in 1972 telling those of us who were there that their goal in 2010 was more iconic than our goal. Our goal, of course, is Paul Henderson sliding a shot under Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, in a hostile, corrupt environment a world away to win a signature, culture-shifting series that was as much about politics as pucks. Their goal is Sidney Crosby whipping a shot through Ryan Miller’s legs to win an Olympic gold medal against a southern neighbor in front of friends and family in the cozy confines of our own back yard. Only someone who lived both can compare both, and there is no comparison. Yet Emily Sadler of Sportsnet submits that Crosby’s 2010 golden goal is the most iconic moment in Canadian sports history. I submit that Emily is showing her age.

Among other things, Sadler allows that the Crosby goal has earned “Where were you when…” status. I’ve got news for her. I don’t have a clue where I was or what I was doing when the red light behind Miller flashed. But I do know that I was sitting in my living room on Wayoata Street in Transcona, with my young son Tony on my lap, when Foster Hewitt yelped, “Henderson has scored for Canada!”

I get the drill. The Sadler piece was meant to stir conversation and debate, which it no doubt did. But, geez, someone at Sportnet might have clued in and had a writer who was at least knee high to Yvan Cournoyer in ’72 scribble that story. A 30something simply cannot relate to the Cold War intrigue of the times, any more than they can provide a first-hand account of what it was like when John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived on our shores. Heck, most of them don’t even know who John, Paul, George and Ringo are.

How intense was the eight-game, us-vs.-them ’72 series between our guys and the Soviet Union? Here’s what Team Canada leader Phil Esposito offered years after the fact: “I’ve said this publicly and I’m not too proud of it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have killed those sons of bitches to win. And it scares me.” Can you imagine Crosby saying that about the Americans? After losing the opening skirmish, 7-3, head coach Harry Sinden detected a shift in attitude among the Canadian players. “They switched to a war mentality,” he said. “They understood the politics at play, the Cold War backdrop. Imagine a team playing the Germans in the middle of World War II—that’s what it was like.”

Moving to present-day topics, I note that a group of 40 guys in Buffalo have set a new world record for marathon shinny by playing an 11-day hockey game. Yes, 11 days. By happy coincidence, Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane has now gone 11 days without being in trouble with the law.

Just wondering: Would you want a field goal kicker who’s last name begins with the letters C-R-A-P? That’s what the Saskatchewan Roughriders have in Tyler Crapigna, whose wonky right leg has failed Gang Green twice when they needed it most. The Riders are already 0-2 on a new Canadian Football League season, leaving us to wonder what the before/after is on head coach Chris Jones being asked to leave that swanky, new building on the bald Saskatchewan prairie? I say he’s gone by Labour Day, especially if he doesn’t find a leg that aims straight.

Theoren Fleury

For those of you puzzled because Theoren Fleury isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, here’s the reason in his own words (from his book, Playing with Fire, in which he details his alcohol and drug addiction, his womanizing, his heavy gambling and his bar brawling): “The whole league reacted to my leaving the way you would feel after having a big, happy dump. There were a lot of guys like me in the game, but they didn’t want anyone to know that. My presence kept the bad news on the front of the sports pages. Hockey wants to be known as the school’s good-looking, clean-cut jock, and I was really fucking with that image.”

Here’s proof that sports scribes carry no influence on the public: Steve Simmons of Postmedia pleaded with his readers to support the Toronto Argonauts prior to their home-opener vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats, writing: “Please, pretty please, pretty, pretty please, buy a ticket and take in the game against Hamilton.” Let’s ignore the deeper issue, that being a prominent Canadian columnist serving as a screaming shill for the Argos and the CFL. I’m actually okay with that because, like Simmons and most others who have covered three-down football, I love the CFL. As for Simmons’ sway with readers, the head count was only 13,583 for the opener and even less, 11,219, for their encore performance against the B.C. Lions. He has more than five times that many followers on Twitter.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s 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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My Hens in the Hockey House want Jacob Trouba to stay long term and Big Buff to stay short term

Once again, I present to you my two Hens in the Hockey House, who are down on Winnipeg Jets ownership/management but bullish on a number of players.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, this is our final gum-flapper of the hockey season. We’ve already dumped on the Fiddle-Farters Three, so what do you want to talk about now?

Answer Lady: Hey, this is Buffalo West. What do you think we’re going to talk about? In other National Hockey League locales, they talk about the now, which is to say the start of a playoff series, but not in Buffalo West, where one of the unfailing rites of spring is failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup shindig.

Question Lady: Boy, that’s a word you don’t hear too often anymore—shindig. You think youngsters in the audience know what it means?

Answer Lady: We have an audience? And there are youngsters in it? Who knew? Anyway, in River City, much like Buffalo where the Sabres make an annual early exit from the fray, we talk about the future because that’s all the Jets have to peddle—hope. That’s what both general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice will be selling next week at their respective season-end chin-wags with news snoops—hope. Both men will wax on about the “process” and the “long haul” and “patience” and new players “fitting in,” but neither will say when the future becomes the now.

Question Lady: You think?

Sean Spicer

Answer Lady: Listen, it’ll be Chevy/Coach Potty-Mouth doing Sean Spicer without the finger-pointing and schoolyard bickering. They’ll probably  deliver some interesting alternative facts, too. By the time they’re finished blah, blah, blahing and yadda, yadda, yaddaing, they might have some of the rabble convinced that the Jets actually made the playoffs.

Question Lady: Okay, let’s forget about those two because, you’re right, it’s all going to be hollow, preach-the-party-line blather. So you tell me, are the Jets about to turn the corner?

Answer Lady: I’m not sure they can even see the corner.

Question Lady: You’re kidding me, right?

Answer Lady: Not at all. Look, the Jets have incredible, top-end talent that I’m sure some other outfits envy. You think George McPhee wouldn’t like to hit the ground running with the top end of the Jets’ roster in Vegas? I’d venture to say that Vancouver Canucks ownership would swap rosters with the Jets—even-up—faster than you could say “Harold Snepsts is a cult figure.” I mean, would you want to step into the future with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine or with the Sedin twins? So, ya, the Jets have some fab pieces in place. But ready to turn the corner? Not without first navigating a whole lot of potholes. Frankly, I can see them in the same situation a year from now.

Question Lady: I find that hard to believe. I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?

Answer Lady: One, coaching. Two, goaltending. Three, unless Dame Fortune looks very favorably on the Jets when the ping pong balls start bouncing in this year’s draft lottery, their first choice in the auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers will be a two- or three-year project. Maybe longer. I’m not saying he’ll be as bad a choice as last year’s panic pick, Logan Stanley, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll step in immediately like Laine did this season.

Canucks cult figure Harold Snepsts.

Question Lady: Is Laine going to win the Calder Trophy as top rookie?

Answer Lady: I think Puck Finn could finish this crusade with back-to-back hat tricks and it still wouldn’t be enough to sway the eastern bloc vote. The Calder is Auston Matthews’ bauble. He deserves it. But it’s no bigee that Laine won’t win. Connor McDavid wasn’t rookie-of-the-year. Nor was Sidney Crosby—he received only four first-place votes. The Hockey Hall of Fame is full of players who don’t have their names inscribed on the Calder. Guys like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Mark Messier, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, St. Patrick Roy.

Question Lady: Laine is a keeper for sure. What other Jets do you consider untouchables?

Answer Lady: There are no untouchables…there are players I would least like to move—Puck Finn, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey, Bryan Little.

Question Lady: No Dustin Byfuglien on that list?

Answer Lady: They should have sent him packing last year, when he was positioned to become an untethered free agent. He would have brought a boffo return. So it was a missed opportunity. He’d still be the first guy I’d try to deal away, but his contract makes it very difficult, if not impossible. I’m afraid the Jets are stuck with him, although I’m sure they don’t look at it that way.

Question Lady: What’s the most-pressing issue the Jets face vis-a-vis the roster?

Answer Lady: Convincing Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. He’s the stud defenceman you build around. He has just one year left on the under-market-value deal he signed to end his contract impasse last November, and the Jets don’t want to go there again. I don’t know if there’s negative residue on either side from their standoff, but I want Trouba happy, healthy and wealthy.

Question Lady: What do you think owner Mark Chipman and Chevy will do?

Jacob Trouba

Answer Lady: It’s like the to-and-fro between a man and a woman. The guy’s always going to be interested in the girl, but if the girl isn’t interested in the guy it’s a non-starter. Same with the Puck Pontiff and Trouba. Chipman can pitch woo and Chevy can have a gazillion pictures of Trouba on his office wall, but the kid’s heart might be set on playing in another market, come hell or high income.

Question Lady: That’d be a bummer. Any other thoughts on the Jets before they shut down for the season?

Answer Lady: Ya, I kind of feel sorry for guys like Wheeler and Little. As I’ve written, their career clocks are ticking and they can’t afford many more wasted years while the Fiddle-Farters Three continue to fiddle-fart around by selling hope. Wheeler is very good at hockey. He’s the Jets’ best player. And Little goes about his business in an admirable, understated way. They deserve playoff hockey.

Question Lady: Agreed. Well, that’s it for me, girlfriend. I’m out of here until the entry draft in June.

Answer Lady: Ditto. Enjoy the playoffs. Or do what I do—break out the hot dogs and watch baseball.

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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My Hens in the Hockey House would fire Paul Maurice, even if the Winnipeg Jets won’t

Yesterday, my Hens in the Hockey House had a go at two of the Winnipeg Jets’ Fiddle-Farters Three—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff—so now they’re taking aim at the much-maligned man behind the bench.

Take it way ladies…

Question Lady: I realize you don’t like head coach Paul Maurice, but…

Answer Lady: Whoa, girlfriend. I’ve never said I didn’t like Coach Potty-Mouth. I’ve never met the dude. I’m guessing he’s a decent guy, maybe even a salt-of-the-earth guy who’d be fun to share pints with. Probably a terrific hubby and father, too. And that’s more important in the grand scheme of things than winning hockey games. It isn’t a matter of liking or disliking him, though. So let’s make it clear from the get-go that my sole issue with Maurice is his coaching.

Question Lady: Fair enough. Am I correct in assuming you aren’t a fan of his coaching?

Answer Lady: Let me use two words to describe the job he’s done with the Jets this National Hockey League season. Actually, they’re the same two words Coach Potty-Mo used to describe his players the night the Montreal Canadiens curb-stomped them 7-4 in January—“horse shit.”

Question Lady: Ouch. Don’t beat around the bush, girlfriend. Tell us what you really think of Maurice.

Answer Lady: Okay. He’s been “effing horse shit.”

Question Lady: Care to expand on that?

Answer Lady: Oh, darling, that shopping list is longer than a Winnipeg winter. Where to begin…his overuse of the erratic Dustin Byfuglien…his refusal to rein in Byfuglien…his set of rules for Byfuglien and his set of rules for everyone else…his odd infatuation with Chris Thorburn…his hard-ass attitude toward Nic Petan…his defensive scheme—if such an animal actually exists…his goalie blindness, which, in fairness, is a fatal flaw shared by all members of the Fiddle-Farters Three…his line juggling—he changes more parts than the pit crews at Daytona Speedway…his penalty-killing unit…his head-scratching use of Patrik Laine on the powerplay…his inability to make his workers clean up their act—seriously, all those brain-fart stick penalties…his moaning and groaning about the schedule and injuries…

Question Lady: Well, is it not true that the Jets’ early-season sked was historically demanding?

Answer Lady: Spare me. At the Christmas break, seven teams had played 36 games and only one of them—the Jets—was below the playoff line. Coach Potty-Mo’s constant whinging about the schedule was a great big wah-wah-wah pitty party. He was giving himself and, worse, his players an excuse for failure.

Question Lady: I’ve heard it said and I’ve seen it written that not even the great Scotty Bowman could have gotten more out of this Jets team than Maurice. You don’t agree?

Scotty Bowman

Answer Lady: That’s an insult to Scotty Bowman. That’s all I have to say about that.

Question Lady: Would you fire Maurice at the end of the season?

Answer Lady: I would. Maurice isn’t going to become a better coach during the summer, and I don’t need or want a head coach who can’t grow with all the young talent on the Jets roster.

Question Lady: Wouldn’t a true No. 1 goaltender make him a better coach?

Answer Lady: Sure. And directing a movie with Meryl Streep in the lead role would make someone a better director. Or at least it should. But I don’t see GM Kevin Cheveldayoff prying Carey Price out of Montreal, Henrik Lundqvist out of Gotham, Braden Holtby out of D.C. or Devan Dubnyk out of Minny. I’m convinced that the Fiddle-Farters Three are convinced that Connor Hellebuyck is the answer in the blue ice. Still.

Question Lady: The goaltenders Maurice has had over the years are a lot like most of the teams he’s coached—mediocre. Could that be the reason he’s a career .500 coach?

Answer Lady: Let me ask you this—were the teams he’s coached mediocre, or were those teams mediocre because they had a mediocre coach?

Question Lady: Geez, that sounds like one of those zen koans. Can you make it less of a riddle?

Answer Lady: Okay. You’re saying that Coach Potty-Mo has never been surrounded with talent, right? So you’re telling me that Puck Finn isn’t talent? Rink Rat Scheifele isn’t talent? Blake Wheeler? Bryan Little? Twig Ehlers? Jacob Trouba? Josh Morrissey? Matty Perreault? Adam Lowry? Byfuglien? None of that is talent? Cripes, girlfriend, half his team is high-end talent and he can’t get it into the playoffs. People can talk all they like about shoddy goaltending, but coaching is the main problem with this team.

Question Lady: Will Chipman kick Maurice to the curb?

To Russia, with Cherry.

Answer Lady: Don Cherry will coach the Russian national team first.

Question Lady: What are you telling me? That Maurice is going the distance?

Answer Lady: Naw, nobody gets a lifetime contract. Except Chris Thorburn apparently. I’m saying that Coach Potty-Mo will be behind the bench in October. He might even have a new contract tucked in his britches. But a three-year deal doesn’t mean you get to coach for three years. Loyalty only stretches so far. Ask Claude Noel.

Question Lady: Before we go, is there anything about Maurice’s coaching that you like?

Answer Lady: Ya, I think he’s a snappy dresser.

Question Lady: Cheeky girl. What do you say we do dinner and talk about the players tomorrow?

Answer Lady: Sounds like a plan. There’s plenty to like there.

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: Re-investing in a snake oil salesman and others who never fail to fail

I have a question for those of you in Jets Nation now heavily engaged in the annual spring ritual of teeth gnashing and gazing at navels: What did you expect?

Yes, of course, I understand that you’re a frustrated, fed up and flat out PO’d lot because there shall be no meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie beginning next month. But seriously. Surely you knew in advance that the Winnipeg Jets’ 2016-17 crusade would be an angst-inducing exercise guaranteed to expose the local lads as lacking in the necessities and, thus, leaving them—yet again—with their noses pressed against the window as they view the Stanley Cup derby from the outside-in.

The Puck Pontiff

If you thought otherwise, you weren’t paying attention last autumn.

If you recall, the Jets entered this National Hockey League fray with a roster that included fledglings Brandon Tanev, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and, most notable, Connor Hellebuyck in the blue ice. Add to that collection of neophytes a pair of past-their-due-date greybeards in Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart, plus the aimlessly wandering Alexander Burmistrov, and ownership/management was telling you all you needed to know before the drop of the first puck: “This season is a writeoff.”

Naturally, the Puck Pontiff (that would be meddlesome co-bankroll Mark Chipman) and his ring-kissing College of Yes Men fronted by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the potty-mouthed head coach, Paul Maurice, didn’t say it in so many words. They didn’t have to. It was painfully obvious that they were in organizational tank mode from the get-go.

I submit this not in hindsight, by the way. This is what I wrote in October: “I think it can be said that the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men have conceded that this season won’t end well.”

It wasn’t the heavy infusion of peach-fuzzed faces that led me to that conclusion. I had no quarrel with it. After all, when your club’s ad nauseam mantra is draft-and-develop, youth must be served at some point, so you gird your loins knowing the forecast calls for pain. Trouble is, they didn’t go far enough.

Chris Thorburn should not have been on this team. Ditto Mark Stuart.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Again, I direct your attention to something I long ago posted on this blog: “I don’t know about you, but I tend to use Thorburn and (Anthony) Peluso as measuring sticks vis-a-vis the growth of the franchise, on-ice division. The way I have it figured, as long as either is wearing Jets linen, he is clogging the club’s developmental arteries.”

That was in June 2015. Thorburn is still to be found in Jets linen.

So think of it this way: Cheveldayoff and his scouts have participated in six NHL entry drafts and they have heard the hosannas rain down for their handiwork in the first round (hello Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Nikolaj Ehlers, Morrissey and Laine). Yet they have unearthed nary a grinder who is better at hockey than Chris Thorburn? The mind boggles.

That is not to slight Thorburn. He need not make apologies for being Chris Thorburn. But his ongoing presence in the Jets lineup is a harsh indictment on the Puck Pontiff, Cheveldayoff, his bird dogs and, perhaps most of all, Maurice.

Paul Maurice is a snake oil salesman. He is, as they say in cowboy country, all hat and no cattle.

Few talk a better game than coach Potty-Mo, who, for all his TV-smooth blah, blah, blah, delivers a phony bill of sale. At some point very early next season, he will become the losingest coach in NHL history and it isn’t difficult to see why. The Jets’ defensive deficiencies, the complete disregard for discipline, the dumpster fire that is the penalty killing, the logic-defying player deployment, the Thorburn fetish…that’s all down to coaching.

Paul Maurice: No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time loser list.

Here’s something else to consider: I’m convinced that coach Potty-Mo, much like his predecessor Claude Noel, is afraid of Dustin Byfuglien because he refuses to rein in his rogue rearguard.

Naturally, all of this means the Jets will re-up this coach who has been fired or missed the playoffs in 14 of his 19 seasons behind an NHL bench. Rewarding those who never fail to fail is the Jets way, you see. It’s the “plan.”

Our plan is very simple,” the Puck Pontiff revealed in September 2013, scant hours after he had happily delivered a contract extension to Cheveldayoff following the GM’s first two failed crusades. “It is about re-investment in our organization from top to bottom, from facilities to player personnel to key management.”

And that, Jets Nation, would explain Chris Thorburn’s lifetime contract, five of six seasons with their noses pressed against the window when the post-season commences, and zero playoff victories.

Let the teeth gnashing and navel gazing continue.

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 Blake Wheeler’s snooty attitude…the athlete-media dynamic…fake news…untouchable Winnipeg Jets…and needing 23 more wins

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

It was a simple question, one put forth in the wake of yet another failed mission in a crusade full of failed missions and an equal measure of frustration and angst.

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler

Your room was closed an unusually long time tonight. Was there a meeting?” Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press inquired of Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler on Friday night at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

What do you think?” replied Wheeler, turning and fixing Wiecek with a stare that suggested he was the worst form of pond scum. “What do you think, we were just silent in here with the door shut? Obviously there was a conversation had between us, obviously I’m not gonna give you anything that was said in this room.”

Obviously Wheeler was being a dink, obviously he didn’t have to be a dink.

Wiecek didn’t ask what was said behind those doors that stayed closed for 17 minutes. He likely didn’t care. He merely wanted confirmation that the Jets were late in allowing news snoops into their changing chamber because they had held a chin-wag following the 22nd loss of their National Hockey League schedule. He didn’t pose the question in a provocative, challenging or confrontational manner. Still…

What do you think?” came the snotty reply, the words dripping with unbridled contempt. “What do you think, we were just silent in here with the door shut?”

Look, I understand these are tense times in Jets Nation. That happens when your head coach has told anyone who cares to listen that all his players are “horse shit,” your supposed No. 1 goaltender can’t stop a runny nose, and you’ve just received a pair of paddywhackings, 7-4 against the Montreal Canadiens and 4-3 vs. the gawdawful Arizona Coyotes, who win about as often as Dustin Byfuglien passes on second helpings. Given those dire circumstances, the last thing a player wants or needs is a parry-and-thrust with people holding notepads and microphones. Newspaper deadlines be damned.

Trouble is, once that ‘C’ was stitched on to his Jets jersey, Wheeler became the official voice of the workers. Dealing with news scavengers, in good times and bad, is part of the gig. And I would expect he do it with a civil tongue.

The Jets captain could have—no—he should have said something like, “Yes, we had a players’ meeting and, before you ask, I’m not prepared to share what we discussed.” That’s how a true professional would have handled it. Not Wheeler though. He had to be rude, biting and dismissive. But, hey, if the president-elect of the United States can get away with calling the great Meryl Streep a bottom-feeding thespian, surely a hockey player dissing a news snoop is small potatoes.

I’ve never met Blake Wheeler. I doubt I ever will. I admire the way he plays the game, with a favorable blend of skill and naked intensity. And, really, that’s all that should matter. But, again, he’s the team captain. If Wheeler doesn’t like the media component of the job, simply surrender the ‘C’. Then he can be just like his mime-like buddy Big Buff, who apparently only shares his five-word pearls of wisdom with the Fourth Estate when the moon is full.

fake-newsFewer professional athletes genuinely embrace the ritual of news scavengers invading their space, before or after games. It’s tolerated as a necessary evil. But I’ve got news for Blake Wheeler and those of his ilk: Most news snoops I know and worked with don’t enjoy visiting changing rooms, either. I’m guessing that Paul Wiecek would be quite content if he never saw the inside of a sports boudoir again. But, as with the players, the athlete-media dynamic is a necessary evil. And without reporters in those rooms to ask questions, you get fake news. And fake news begets rancor, distrust and a Twitter-angry president-elect who can’t keep his thumbs to himself. So play nice and just answer the damn questions, boys.

While watching the Jets gag on a late lead and lose another hockey game Saturday night, 3-2 to the Kings in Tinseltown, it occurred to me that one of them is apt to be playing in Las Vegas at this time next year. So I scanned the roster, searching for the Jets whom I consider untouchable. I came up with seven: Jacob Trouba, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and the entire Lickety-Split Line of Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele. Vegas can have their pick of the rest, including Byfuglien.

It will take 90 points, minimum, to qualify for the western portion of the Stanley Cup tournament. The Jets need 46 points in 36 games to get there. In basic numbers, that’s a 23-13 record the rest of the way. Good luck with that.

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: Putting Chevy-speak into plain English

Depending on which River City rag you read, Kevin Cheveldayoff sat down with either two news snoops or a group of news snoops on the weekend for some fireside blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Naturally, the Winnipeg Jets general manager droned on in Chevy-speak, so, as a public service, we have hired a professional linguist to translate and distill his comments. Here, then, is the Reader’s Digest condensed version (3,160 words reduced to 1,050) of Chevy’s state-of-the-union chin-wag…

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Kevin Cheveldayoff

How would you assess your team just past the halfway point of the National Hockey League season?

“Are you kidding me? All those kids in our lineup, those two goaltenders, the schedule that Paul Maurice keeps complaining about, all those injuries…I’m surprised we’re even in the post-season discussion. I mean, I wrote this season off before it even started because of our youth movement, so it’s a bit of a bonus that we’re so close to the playoff line.”

Your head coach, Paul Maurice, says there should be an asterisk beside your record because of the schedule and all the injuries. What say you?

“Damn straight!”

What’s your take on Maurice’s work?

“Paul said it best when he said, ‘You are who your record says you are.'”

What level of job security does Maurice have?

“Look, Mark Chipman told me that it was time for a full-scale youth movement. He’s the Puck Pontiff, and I do what I’m told. So it was out with the old and in with the new. I saddled Paul with a very young team. He didn’t necessarily like it. But he knew what he was getting into when he signed on. He knew it wasn’t going to be all flowers and roses. This season is a gimme for Paul. I’m not going to toss him under the bus. But, at the end of the day, you are who your record says you are.”

You decided to go with the kids, Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, in goal and waived the incumbent, Ondrej Pavelec, then shipped him to the minors. How’s that working so far?

“The fact none of the other 29 teams claimed Pavs on waivers ought to tell you all you need to know about him. I like Pavs, but it was the right thing to do. As for Connor and Michael, do the math. Why do you think coach PoMo tossed them under the bus a week or so ago? Paul is right…we don’t have a No. 1 goaltender. Not yet. We’re building toward the future. Is the future here yet? No. When is the future? Your guess is as good as mine.”

What say you about Patrik Laine, your prize rookie?

“God bless those bouncing ping pong balls at the draft lottery! Sometimes you need a horse shoe up your butt instead of skill. I mean, eight teams passed on Nikolaj Ehlers at the 2014 NHL draft. Eight teams passed on Jacob Trouba in 2012. Having the ping pong balls fall our way last year meant we were getting either Patrik or Auston Matthews. We got the player we wanted.”

Pictures on a wall say it all.

Pictures on a wall say it all.

Now that you mentioned Jacob Trouba, how is your relationship with him after his trade demand and failure to attend training camp?

“I still have pictures of Jacob and I shaking hands at the 2012 draft on my office wall. What does that tell you about our relationship?”

Dustin Byfuglien signed a five-year, $38-million contract last summer. Are you getting enough bang for your buck?

“Buff is earning his keep. But if coach PoMo keeps playing him 29-30 minutes a game, there’ll be nothing left of Buff by the final year of that contract. Quite frankly, I’d like to see some of Buff’s minutes go to Jacob Trouba. As it is, Buff is all over the map. Nothing’s really changed since this team arrived in Winnipeg in 2011. Buff is still being Buff.”

Tylers Myers has missed most of the season due to injury. Any chance of bringing in help to shore up the back end?

“You mean trades? Hey, after I fleeced the Buffalo Sabres in the Evander Kane deal and fleeced the Chicago Blackhawks in the Andrew Ladd deal, you think anyone wants to deal with me? Seriously, though, I think everyone knows I don’t do anything unless there’s the proverbial gun to my head.”

Has Blake Wheeler been a suitable replacement for Ladd as team captain?

“Are you kidding me? Did you see what he did after Patrik Laine scored that selfie against the Vancouver Canucks? He wrapped his arm around him and whispered sweet nothings in his right ear. Awwwww.

What have you to say about the progress of Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey?

“Like I said, eight teams passed on Nikolaj at the draft. D’oh! We’re extremely happy those eight teams all had a Homer Simpson moment. As for Josh…he’s been a revelation. He ought to receive extra pay just for cleaning up Buff’s mess every night. I imagine it’s kind of like cleaning up after the elephants at the circus. That’s not a cheap shot on Buff’s size, by the way. Just saying.”

Bye bye Burmi.

Bye bye Burmi.

How difficult was it to put Alexander Burmistrov on waivers? He’s a former top-10 draft pick.

“Whoa Nellie! Don’t pin that rap on me. I didn’t draft Burmi. That was Rick Dudley or Don Waddell or one of those other nitwits who left the cupboards bare when Chipper bought the Atlanta Thrashers. I thought I’d washed my hands of Burmi when he defected to Russia, but coach PoMo took a fancy to him and kind of adopted him. Guess that’s why they call him Pa Ingalls. Whatever, the Arizona Coyotes are welcome to him. It’s kind of ironic, though. I mean, going from Winnipeg to Phoenix is the first time Burmi has gone north-south his entire career.”

How will next summer’s expansion draft for the Las Vegas franchise impact the Jets?

“They’ll get a player to be named later. That player won’t be named Laine or Ehlers or Scheifele or Trouba or Little or Morrissey or Wheeler or Connor or Roslovic or…well, you get the picture.”

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.