About no fear…the “experts” being wrong…Winnipeg Jets go from Team Bicker to Team Good Ship Lollipop?…getting paid to be wrong…and other Stanley Cup things on my mind

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I might wear white tonight but I won’t be anywhere near downtown Pegtown…

So, how do you like the Winnipeg Jets now, kids?

More to the point, do you see an outfit still standing in the Stanley Cup tournament that the local hockey heroes should fear? I don’t either.

Oh, sure, the Vegas Golden Knights are an imposing group. Big, strong, swift, superb in goal. Washington? No, you wouldn’t want to wager a large wad of paper money against the Capitals successfully defending their championship and spending another summer engaged in liquor-fueled hijinks. Boston? Tranna? Calgary? Columbus? Colorado? The Islanders? Nashville? Meh.

Naturally, the St. Louis Blues still have something to say about les Jets’ shelf life in the National Hockey League annual spring runoff, and we wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. However, after what we witnessed in two skirmishes in the Show Me State, it should be apparent that the lads from St. Loo can match Winnipeg HC’s work ethic but not its skill.

Connor Hellebuyck

And that includes the boys in the blue paint, now that Connor Hellebuyck is turning away pucks as adeptly as he rejects objectionable questions and any suggestion that his stuff stinks.

In leveling their best-of-seven playoff series with a 2-1 W—on the strength of Kyle Connor’s OT tally and Hellebuyck’s gaffe-free goaltending on Tuesday night at the Enterprise Center—les Jets absorbed the best of the Blues and didn’t flinch. They just kind of shrugged and went about their business. And they now return to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie for tonight’s Game 5, confident that they’ve found their stride and convinced that Jordan Binnington is no longer the boogyman everyone made him out to be.

But, yes, it’s fair to wonder where these guys have been all year, and to ask if the phantom turn-off, turn-on switch that we keep hearing about really does exist.

I mean, going into this fray, les Jets had more skeptics than Christ in his heyday and, after dropping the first two jousts vs. the Blues, the bandwagon was emptying faster than a classroom on the last day of school.

Gord Stellick

Craig Button of TSN, for example, described Winnipeg HC as “the weakest team going into the playoffs.”

Over at Sportsnet, 10 of 16 “experts” in a preseason poll predicted a Western Conference crown for les Jets, but that number was reduced to just one—Gord Stellick—when 22 “experts” sifted through the tea leaves in a playoff poll.

Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, meanwhile, cited “multiple sources” to inform us that les Jets were “rotten to the core,” with discontent spreading through the changing room like a flesh-eating malignancy.

Yet here we are today with this “rotten” and “weakest” and “dysfunctional” team coming home with swagger after imposing its will on the Blues in St. Loo.

Shows you what the “experts” know.

Exactly what do the “experts” really know? No more than you and I or most lumps on bar stools. In the Sportsnet playoff poll, here’s how 22 “experts” saw the first round of the Stanley Cup tournament:

Tampa Bay vs. Columbus: 22-0 for TB. D’oh!
Pittsburgh vs. Islanders: 16-6 for Pitt. D’oh!
Boston vs. Tranna: 16-6 for the Bs.
Washington vs. Carolina: 21-1 for the Caps.
Calgary vs. Colorado: 22-0 for Cowtown.
Vegas vs. San Jose: 16-6 for Glitter Gulch.
Nashville vs. Dallas: 13-9 for Twang Town.
St. Loo vs. Winnipeg: 14-8 for the U.S. gateway.

Meanwhile, 21 of 22 had Tampa Bay winning the Eastern Conference and 18 of 22 predicted the Stanley Cup being paraded through the streets of Tampa in June. Only Kristina Rutherford (Boston), Stellick (Winnipeg), David Amber (Calgary) and Nick Kypreos (St. Louis) chose other outfits.

In short, they know squat.

Interesting that Drab Slab “expert” McIntyre is singing from a different songbook today, suggesting les Jets now are one big happy family.

Here’s what he told us on April 5: “Things appear to be rotten to the core with this team in a way that goes beyond the often lethargic, uninspired play we’ve seen on the ice far too many nights lately.” Mike M added that “multiple sources” informed him and fellow beat writer Jason Bell that “things are anything but rosy” and “there’s no joy to be found.”

Here’s what he’s telling us now: “Another positive to emerge for the Jets is the increased talk of unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice. Having been around this team all season, you get a pretty good sense of where the mood is at on a daily basis. Without question, players are as laser focused and locked in as they’ve been all season.”

Imagine that. All that alleged friction (“chaos”), all that alleged animosity (“infighting”), all that alleged rot (“dysfunction”) vanished faster than summer wages. Team Bicker has morphed into Team Good Ship Lollipop. Why, it’s a tap water-into-Molson Canadian miracle. Which one of the guys in that room wears sandals and walks on water? Blake Wheeler? Rink Rat Scheifele? Big Buff? Josh Morrissey?

It’ll make for a boffo story if les Jets pull this thing off. Except former cops-and-robbers reporter McIntyre apparently has the innuendo but not the facts, ma’am.

Puck Finn

Quickie question 1: Does the regular season bore Patrik Laine? I mean, the Puck Finn I’ve been watching in Beard Season isn’t the same Puck Finn I watched from October to April. Maybe the mystery Miracle Worker in les Jets changing room sprinkled him with happy dust. Or threatened to huck his track suit into the ice tub.

Just for the record, I’m not wearing a pair of Hindsight Goggles when I say les Jets will get by the Blues. I remind you of something I scribbled on Feb. 26, one day after the NHL shop-and-swap deadline: “What about the St. Louis Blues, you ask? What about them? Don’t be fooled by their run of good fortune. Once the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington, they’ll be back to run-of-the-mill.” I also mentioned something about a Nashville-Winnipeg skirmish in the second round. And, as recently as last week, I wrote that the local lads were not “a writeoff” even though they were in a 0-2 hole vs. the Blues at the time. But, hey, what do I know? I mean, I’ve never seen the inside of of their changing room to monitor the “mood” and I don’t have “multiple sources” like Mike M at the Drab Slab. I do it the old-fashioned way. I examine the rosters, watch the games, listen to some of the players wag their chins, then call it as I see it. The difference between the “experts” and me? They get paid to be wrong, I don’t.

Nazem Kadri

Quickie question 2: If Nazem Kadri is made available by the Tranna Maple Leafs once this Stanley Cup business is out of the way, should les Jets put in a bid on the loose cannon? No. Too much of a wingnut.

Check out the top three point-producers in the Stanley Cup tournament: Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, all added to the Vegas Golden Knights roster by general manager George McPhee in the past 10 months. Can you say GM of the year, kids?

Mitch Marner

Quickie question 3: When the time comes to talk turkey, how can les Leafs possibly argue that Mitch Marner doesn’t deserve as much coin as Auston Matthews? Unless they pay by the chin whisker, there’s no measure by which Matthews is worth more than Marner.

Headline in the Globe and Mail after Game 3 of Leafs-Bruins series: “Auston Matthews grabs the playoff spotlight for Maple Leafs.” Good grief. Marner and John Tavares were les Leafs best players, not Matthews.

And, finally, rumor has it that there’ll be a gathering in late May to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of les Jets third and final World Hockey Association championship. Will the current Jets still be in business by then? Yes. Absolutely. But remember, I’m no expert.

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About the Winnipeg Jets playing keep-away vs. the St. Loo Blues…what a ripoff in the women’s world hockey final…Tiger, Tiger burning bright, but not the greatest comeback…and what’s up with Tampa Bay?

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’d make a comeback just like Tiger Woods, except no one is dumb enough to hire me…

Two main takeaways from Game 3 of the Winnipeg Jets-St. Loo Blues skirmish on Sunday night in the Show Me State:

1) Now we know what happens when the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington.

2) Les Jets discovered a rather unique, yet simple, tactic to remedy Connor Hellebuyck’s leaky goaltending—refuse to let the Blues have the puck.

Big Buff: Let me rag-doll you.

Oh, sure, there were other reasons why les Jets got off the schneid with a 6-3 W on a night when losing was not an option. Like, Kyle Connor and Kevin Hayes grew weary of being bystanders and decided it would be a swell idea to join the fray. And Dustin Byfuglien was in one of his I’m-gonna-rag-doll-someone moods.

But, let’s face it, it’s usually about the guys in the blue paint once the lads start sprouting chin whiskers.

Goaltending won Game 1 for St. Loo and lost Game 2 for Winnipeg HC, and les Jets were determined to reverse that before it became a disturbing trend that scuttled their Stanley Cup aspirations. They did so by playing keep-away with the puck, spending most of their time with it in the offensive zone at Enterprise Center, and it was a superb example of damage control. The less Hellebuyck saw of the little, round disc, the better their chances.

It also helped, of course, that Binnington was in an obliging mood at the opposite end of the freeze. Although magnificent in the initial 20 minutes, we now know the National Hockey League rookie with the Midas touch isn’t actually the reincarnation of Georges Vezina. Or the second coming of Mike Liut.

That’s not to say the kid’s a fraud, but les Jets made him look awful ordinary on Sunday night, and I didn’t see any of them shaking their heads in frustration and disbelief at the final bell.

Maybe it was a one-off and Binnington will return to form in Game 4 of this best-of-seven skirmish on Tuesday, but at least les Jets know the formula for success and a way out of their 1-2 deficit—keep the puck away from the Blues. And Connor Hellebuyck.

Even with limited work, Hellebuyck couldn’t get through the game without a colossal gaffe. He continues to handle the puck like he’s afraid of catching the cooties from the thing, and he almost coughed up the biggest hair ball of them all in the third period. Fortunately for les Jets, Patrick Maroon of St. Loo is lacking in the lickety-split department, so damage was avoided.

Ref signals it’s a goal for Finland in OT.

I began watching hockey in the mid-1950s. I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot—brilliant stuff, lousy stuff, strange stuff, questionable stuff, stupid stuff, nasty stuff, idiotic stuff, zany stuff. But I don’t recall ever seeing anything so totally messed up as the call on what should have been Finland’s winning goal in the Women’s World Hockey Championship on Sunday.

To provide the Cole’s Notes version of events, Petra Nieminen scored in sudden-death overtime. The referee nearest the swirl of activity indicated it was a good goal. Game over. The Finnish players, coaches, support staff and fans in Espoo lost their minds, believing they had beaten the mighty United States, 2-1, for the first world title in the country’s history.

But wait…someone hiding in a video room wanted a second look at the winning tally. He or she determined that Jenni Hiirikoski of Finland had interfered with American goaltender Alex Rigsby. Thus, the goal was voided. Play on, girls. Except the U.S. was required to play on shorthanded because Rigsby was penalized for tripping Hiirikoski, who supposedly had interfered with the U.S. keeper as she scrambled to secure a loose puck outside the blue paint. Huh? Confused? Weren’t we all.

Bottom line: Finland was ripped off by a video judge who had no business over-ruling the on-ice officials, and a historic moment for women’s hockey was dashed.

While confusion reigned in Finland, I kept wondering why the two TSN voices on site, Rod Black and Cheryl Pounder, refused to tell the truth. Finland got royally screwed. Say it. In those words.

Tiger Woods and his fifth ugly green jacket.

Yes, now that you mention it, I was among the numerous naysayers who insisted that Tiger Woods would never win another golf major. Thanks for reminding me. But on the heels of Tiger’s fifth Masters title, I was hoping I wouldn’t hear too many over-the-top platitudes. Sigh. Too late.

The moment I clicked on the Internet in the small hours this morning, I was reading headlines about Tiger’s victory being the “greatest comeback in sports history.”

Look, I was caught up in the drama of Tiger’s victory at Augusta National on Sunday, and I admire his talent and stick-to-itness as it relates to golf. It’s just that I don’t think 30something-year-old sports scribes like Jon McCarthy of Postmedia are positioned to determine the best of anything, except perhaps Justin Bieber’s greatest hits.

You want to talk about comebacks? Okay.

  • Try golfer Ben Hogan, who lost an argument with a Greyhound bus in 1949 and suffered a double fracture to his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, near-fatal blood clots, lifelong circulation problems, and required blood transfusions. He won the U.S. Open the following year, and another five Grand Slam tournaments after that.
  • Try Muhammad Ali, banned from boxing for 3½ years due to the political climate of the day, then returning to win the heavyweight title.

  • Try Monica Seles, stabbed in the back with a nine-inch knife by a crazed Steffi Graf fan during a tennis match, disappearing for more than two years due to depression and the fear of another attack by a man who never spent a day in jail, then returning to win the Australian Open.

  • Try Mario Lemieux, who won a battle with cancer and returned to the NHL to win multiple scoring titles.

  • Try driver Niki Lauda, hauled out of a fire-engulfed car and his head and face burnt to a crisp, then returning to win the Formula 1 driving title one year later and again five years after his first retirement.

Woods battled back from self-inflicted public humiliation and numerous physical challenges that could have ended his career, but nothing life-threatening. His is a terrific story, to be sure. But the greatest comeback ever? Not even close.

And, finally, if the Tampa Bay Lightning don’t win a playoff game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets, did their record-breaking season really happen?

About Humpty Harold, a blowhard in Bytown, a CE-D’oh! in Edmonton, a Puck Pontiff in Pegtown…Kevin Hayes a keeper?…the undressing of P.K….TSN Sportscentre gets leggy…a cat fight on court…Adrienne Clarkson’s furniture…our Pebble People lose…best-selling books…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and now that spring has sprung let them play ball…

Humpty Harold Ballard

Time was when Humpty Harold Ballard provided the National Hockey League with its soundtrack for stupid. Now we get it in surround sound.

I mean, talk about clowns to the left and jokers to the right. Meet Bob Nicholson and Eugene Melnyk.

I’m not sure if Nicholson and Melnyk were trying to one-up each other last week, but the sound bites they delivered were definitely Ballardian in bluster, crass in content and, basically, outrageous.

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with Melnyk.

The Ottawa Senators bankroll did the gasbag thing on both 590 The Fan in the Republic of Tranna and CFRA 580 in the nation’s capital, and he told the mayor of Bytown, Jim Watson, to shut the hell up, he labeled one news snoop “bush league,” and this owner of the 31st-place team in a 31-team league felt the need to counsel the architects of the fifth-place team in the proper construction of a championship roster.

Eugene Melnyk

He stopped short of instructing his head coach, Marc Crawford, to wear a paper bag over his head while behind the bench, but it could be that it simply slipped his mind.

“I better not say what I was going to say,” Melnyk said before saying what he was going to say about the Toronto Maple Leafs, “but they’re going to have a very hard time winning a Stanley Cup without defence. Because they are hitting the cap. They can’t bring anybody new in. They’re stuck. And that’s where you have to be extremely careful…mistakes were made. Somebody forgot about defence.”

That from a man who held a garage sale and peddled off most of his shiny playing pieces, including Erik Karlsson who is—oh, that’s right—a defenceman. One of the very best, in fact.

Bob Nicholson

Meanwhile, Nicholson also summoned his inner Humpty Harold.

Once upon a time the head of Hockey Canada and now CE-D’oh! of the Edmonton McDavids, Nicholson stood before a live audience of disgruntled, if not hostile, devotees and laid the blame for another playoff-free spring in E-Town on a spare part named Toby Rieder. That’s right. Toby Rieder.

“If Toby Rieder had scored 10 or 12 goals, we’d probably be in the playoffs,” said Nicholson.

Cripes, man, I didn’t even know Toby Rieder existed until Nicholson went off on him, but now I know where we can find him—under a bus. It might even be the same bus that Humpty Harold hurled Inge Hammarstrom and his pocketful of eggshells under back in the day.

At any rate, the squawkings of the two Ballard wannabes—you can call them Harold Lite and Harold Lite Jr.—made me think of our own Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman.

Mark Chipman

Will we ever hear a similar level of bombast emanate from the ivory tower at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? Not bloody likely. You’re more apt to see a UFO land at Portage and Main first. I mean, Chipman is chatty like a Zamboni is a dinky toy. Compared to the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll, a street mime is a blowhard. The Puck Pontiff is seen and heard from so infrequently that I’m convinced he’s actually Howard Hughes, tucked away in some dark room, watching old hockey film, walking around with Kleenex boxes on his feet, peeing in pop bottles, and munching on candy bars and pecans. That’s not really Chipman you see in the owner’s suite at les Jets home games. It’s a stunt double, probably some bit player on loan from the Prairie Theatre Exchange across the street.

Should we be thankful that the Puck Pontiff is a recluse? That he doesn’t go off his nut like the clown to the left and the joker to the right?

Well, it’s a lot less entertaining but, ya, we can do without the racket. Serenity now! Serenity now!

Apparently Rieder was disturbed by CE-D’oh! Nicholson’s unflattering remarks. “I’m offended,” the E-Town forward said when news snoops tracked down what was left of him under the bus. Offended? Ya think?

Leave it to Brian Burke of Sportsnet to deliver a blunt take on Melnyk’s runaway mouth: “He is aiming at both of his feet. He’s not just shooting himself in the foot, he is aiming at his feet. This guy’s gotta stop doing interviews. He needs to take a nap. He needs to get out of the media.”

Kevin Hayes

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but let’s wait to see how Beard Season shakes down before we talk about les Jets signing Kevin Hayes long term. Based on the early returns, yes, it appears that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has knocked it out of the park with the addition of Hayes, the long, tall drink of water Chevy scooped up at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline. Hayes contributed a goal and three helpers in Winnipeg HC’s most significant victory of the current crusade, a 5-nada paddywhacking of the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, but let’s not lose sight of the fact it’s all about the Stanley Cup runoff for les Jets. If Hayes delivers at the Paul Stastny rate (15 points in 17 games) when the skirmishes matter most, I’ll agree that Chevy should make the Little Hockey House On The Prairie the lanky centre’s permanent address.

Just wondering: Were the Preds lying in the fetal position and sucking their thumbs when they left Good Ol’ Hometown? Seriously. If les Jets weren’t in the Preds’ heads prior to the Saturday rag-dolling, they are now. And what kind of unspeakable nightmares must Pekka Rinne be having?

The Golden Boy

Yo! P.K. Subban! You can collect your laundry—lock, stock and jock—at Kyle Connor’s locker. An undressing? What Jets sophomore Connor did to the Preds veteran defender should be illegal in 10 provinces and three territories. He left P.K. as naked as the Golden Boy.

I don’t get it. Why do people keep throwing down on Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins? I mean, what part of “Ouch, his fists really freaking hurt!” do they not understand?

So, how’s your March Madness bracket doing? I’d like to report that mine is doing just fine, but I don’t have a bracket. Never have had a bracket. More to the point, I don’t know what a March Madness bracket is. I just wish it would end so we can go back to regularly scheduled highlights on TSN and Sportsnet.

Kara Wagland

Is it my imagination, or are the heels and hemlines getting higher on TSN Sportscentre? It’s either that or Lindsay Hamilton and Kara Wagland have grown longer legs. Notably, no one at TSN has attempted to sexify the male talking heads, unless you consider Jeff O’Dog’s butt cleavage sexy. It’s a blatant sexist double standard that the women must look and dress the way they look and dress while a male talking head can have a face like and old catcher’s mitt and clothes right off the rack at Couture de Riff Raff. That isn’t a complaint. Just an observation.

Just wondering: Why does Kara Wagland think it’s “funny” when a man gets drilled in the nuts with a tennis ball? When did injuries to such a delicate area of the bod become “funny?”

Apparently Angelique Kerber doesn’t like Bianca Andreescu. After losing to our girl in the third round of the Miami Open tennis tournament on Saturday, Kerber bared her fangs and showed her claws at the post-match handshake, calling Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever.” Guess Kerber has never seen Ru Paul. Or Serena Williams at the U.S. Open. Whatever, I can’t say that I blame Kerber. I mean, I wouldn’t like someone who kept stealing my lunch money either.

Adrienne Clarkson and her cup.

Nice of our national media—print division—to notice women’s hockey. Both Scott Stinson of the National Post and Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail genuflected in the direction of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title tilt today in the Republic of Tranna, but they had very different takes. Stinson scribbled something about the participants—it’s the Calgary Inferno vs. Les Canadiennes de Montreal—while Kelly wrote about Adrienne Clarkson’s furniture and sipping tea with the former Governor General. WTF? It’s nice to know that Lady Adrienne is of considerable refinement and that her home furnishings didn’t come from the Sally Ann’s, but can’t we make it about the women who’ll actually compete for the trophy she donated to the CWHL?

Connor McDavid: Better than Auston Matthews.

Must be difficult days for news snoops in The ROT. They spent much of the winter prattling on and scribbling about the unparalleled, other-wordly wonders of Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly of les Leafs, making one out to be a latter-day Wayne Gretzky and the other a born-again Bobby Orr. Now along come more than 500 NHL players to tell them they’re full of phooey. Best forward in the world? The players’ poll says it’s Connor McDavid. Matthews wasn’t even a blip on the radar. Best defenceman? Victor Hedman. Rielly didn’t register. Most difficult to play against? McDavid. The guy you’d want to start a franchise with? McDavid. But, hey, what do the guys on the ice know compared to a bunch of balding, overweight, out-of-shape, middle-age men with food stains on their shirts?

Chelsea Carey

Oh drat. Chelsea Carey’s crew crashed and burned at the World Women’s Curling Championship in Denmark, failing to qualify for the playoffs, and that leaves me to wonder what it is about Alberta-based outfits that they can’t get the job done on global pebble. The women from Wild Rose Country remain 0-for-life when wearing the Maple Leaf, and that’s at both the worlds (0-5) and Olympics (0-2). Are they not drinking the same water as the men?

Hard to believe, but Alberta remains the only western province that has yet to produce a women’s world champion. B.C. and Saskatchewan have four each and Manitoba three.

And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Sometimes I wonder about this country I adore: Cathal Kelly and David Shoalts have written fine books but are not found on the bestsellers list for non-fiction but last time I looked Steve Dangle had a book on the list.” So, if we aren’t buying his friends’ books, there’s something wrong with the country? What freaking ever. (Quick aside: One of his copy editor’s might want to introduce Simmons to the comma. Punctuation is useful, also advisable, in a 32-word sentence.)

About the Winnipeg Jets at the NHL trade deadline…Dustin Byfuglien’s ice tub…the bullying and harassment of Puck Finn…Sportsnet’s meathead gets his wish…news snoops in E-Town have a pity party…the Buffalo Girls stink it up in Sydney…Jennifer Jones at the top of the heap…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I have a no-trade, no-movement clause, so don’t even think about telling me to get lost…

Who wrote the script for the Winnipeg Jets last week? Charles Dickens?

I mean, the past few days definitely were the worst of times and the best of times for the local hockey heroes.

Then, again, perhaps it was Robert Louis Stevenson with pen in hand, because this was strictly Jekyll-and-Hyde stuff—The Strange Case of the Mile-High Keystone Kops in Denver and the Rat Pack in Glitter Gulch.

Twig Ehlers

Whatever the case, we are left to ponder a Jets outfit that didn’t merely lay an egg vs. the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, it served up a 12-egg omelette in the form of a 7-1 paddywhacking. To confound matters, Winnipeg HC followed by delivering an emphatic 6-3 wedgie to the Golden Knights 48 hours later in Las Vegas, a success that included significant contributions from glam-and-glitz guys Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, the prodigal goal-scorer who’d been wandering the wasteland for the better part of three months.

So what do we say about Team Topsy-Turvy with the National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline upon us? The same as some of us said back in October: Help!

Les Jets were found wanting in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, falling seven bricks short of a full load, and that was with Paul Stastny on board. I’m uncertain what part of replacing Stastny that Kevin Cheveldayoff doesn’t understand, but it ought to be Priority One when the Jets general manager and his accomplices assemble in the Winnipeg HC trade war room on the morrow.

Chevy

Those same deep-thinkers might also be inclined to do something about their team’s Keystone Kopish defensive play. But, again, we said these things in October, so I’m at a loss to explain why we’ve arrived at the 11th hour and we’re still waiting for Chevy to take out his tinkering tools.

As assembled, I believe les Jets can get out of the Central Division if they secure home-ice advantage, but I don’t see them getting the best of the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks. My guess is that Chevy stands pat tomorrow. If so and les Jets fall short in their Stanley Cup quest, the lost opportunity is on him.

How do les Jets notify a player that he’s been traded? Dustin Byfuglien tells him he can find his track suit in the ice tub.

Best line about the NHL trade deadline was delivered by Brian Burke on Hockey Night in Canada: “It’s a four-aspirin headache for the general manager.”

Puck Finn

Now that Laine has freed himself from an epic goal-scoring funk, perhaps the leather-lungs in Jets Nation can turn down the volume on the trade-him, ship-him-to-the-farm, give-him-a-box-of-pressbox-popcorn blah, blah, blah. The noise in the past 2½ months has been as loud as it’s been irrational, confirming that Puck Finn is the victim of his own success. He lit more lamps than a Kentucky coal miner as an NHL freshman and sophomore, and nothing shy of 44 snipes is going to sate the rabble. At the least, his two goals in Glitter Gulch should shush the crowd. Until the next time, of course.

What’s this? Some among the rabble believe Puck Finn has been the target of bullying and harassment from news snoops and fans? Oh please. It’s professional sports. Criticism comes with the gig. Besides, it’s only bullying or harassment if you hear it, and I doubt Laine leaves his PlayStation gadgets long enough to stick his nose in a newspaper or lend an ear to yadda, yadda, yadda sports radio.

Nick Kypreos

Well, Nick Kypreos got his wish and I can only assume he’s pleased that Connor McDavid has been told to go away for a couple of games.

It wasn’t so long ago, you might recall, when the resident meathead on Sportsnet/Hockey Night in Canada suggested that McDavid forget about scoring highlight-reel goals and, instead, morph into a fellow meathead.

“I would have loved Connor McDavid to turn around and two-hand Lindholm,” Meathead growled on Hockey Central at Noon after the Edmonton Oilers captain had been sent careening into the boards by Hampus Lindholm in an early-January game vs. the Disney Ducks. “I don’t care. If Connor gets suspended a couple of games, so be it. Send a message. Send a message that I’m not taking this, okay? And Connor doesn’t have to fight, but pull the Mark Messier, pull a couple of old-time guys and say, ‘Listen, you wanna shove me into the boards? I’m gonna take my stick and I’m gonna jam it down your throat. I don’t care if I get two games, 10 games, I’ll make a hundred and 50, two hundred million dollars by the end of my career, I’ll spend 50 grand, I’ll spend a hundred grand just to send a message to you and everybody else. I ain’t taking this.’”

So McDavid lays Nick Leddy low with a shoulder to the head, and Sheriff George of the player safety department sends the Oilers captain to his room for two games. Plus, the kid is out $134,408.60 in pay. Just as Kypreos wanted.

Well, I’m sorry, but I fail to see the benefit of having the game’s most dynamic offensive performer sitting in stir. Just as I fail to see the benefit of having Kypreos spew rubbish on Sportsnet.

Free Connor McDavid! Pull the plug on Meathead!

Connor McDavid

You’ve got the Edmonton Oilers and you’ve got the Edmonton Wailers, otherwise known as the biased news snoops in E-Town. Many of them are crying foul on the NHL and Sheriff George for grounding their hockey hero. Some samples (reader advisory: Kleenex optional)…

Terry Jones, Postmedia: “The National Hockey League, repeatedly and consistently, punishes Connor McDavid for being Connor McDavid. Players are allowed to treat arguably the world’s greatest hockey player with all manner of spit and abuse with a minimal number of trips to the penalty box. But have McDavid, a first-time offender, create an unintentional hit to the head of New York Islanders’ Nick Leddy and he’s suspended for two games? This looks and smells like the NHL announcing to one and all that it treats its superstar player with the same rules of justice as all others. And that would be fine, if it were true and it worked both ways, but it doesn’t.”

Rob Tychkowski, Postmedia: “I never had much faith in George Parros. He has a tendency to overcompensate in these situations, ask Andrew Cogliano. But a multiple repeat offender who whacks someone on the head with a stick, that’s the guy who gets the break…if the NHL wants to treat him equally when it comes to infractions he commits, which it should, then maybe the NHL should treat him equally when it comes to the infractions he receives. That would be fair.”

Bob Stauffer, Oilers broadcaster: “Pretty ironic that a superstar player who doesn’t get protected by the officials gets no benefit of the doubt on a first-time infraction. There is a reason why the NBA kicks the NHL’s ass in the U.S. The NBA respects their stars, the NHL doesn’t!”

Wah, wah, wah.

Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard, Val Sweeting, Kerri Einarson.

If I had told you that Kerri Einarson and her all-skip outfit would fail to qualify for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, and that the Tracy Fleury foursome would fail to make the championship round, and that Jennifer Jones would fail to execute a simple draw to the rings and her world championship crew would fail to make the playoffs—horror of horrors!—you would have called for the men in the white coats, right? I mean, no one of sound mind would have forecast such calamity for the Buffalo Girls at the Canadian women’s curling shindig in Sydney. So how do we explain what went down at Centre 200? Manitoba is supposed to be a powerhouse. No province does curling better. And we went 0-fer. Go figure. But, hey, we still lay claim to Chelsea Carey, don’t we? Damn straight, we do. Doesn’t matter that she curls out of Saudi Alberta. She’s one of us. So a win in today’s Canadian women’s curling final vs. Rachel Homan and her gal pals from Ottawa is a win for good, ol’ Toba.

Chelsea Carey

Speaking of Chelsea, if you’re looking for a good read, check out Melissa Martin’s feature on the Alberta skip and her pop, Dan Carey, in the Drab Slab. Melissa doesn’t mention that Dan is an old neighbor of mine from way back in the day (we’re talking the 1950s), but I won’t hold that against her. It’s a terrific piece.

One of the curlers detected a foul odor at Centre 200 in Sydney during Thursday’s play. She’s right. Something did stink. It was Tracy Fleury’s draw weight. Seriously. The Manitoba champ lost her touch somewhere between Gimli and the Maritimes, and it was painful to watch. I felt sorry for her.

Kaitlyn Lawes

In the department of Things That Don’t Make Sense: TSN assembled a panel of 31 “experts” to determine the greatest female curlers in history, and they voted Jan Betker the best to ever throw third stones. So far, so good. But those same 31 “experts” rated both Cathy Overton-Clapham (No. 6) and Kaitlyn Lawes (No. 7) among the top 10 players in history, regardless of position. Betker was nowhere to be found on that list. So how does it figure that two thirds, Cathy O and Lawes, are better players than Betker but not better thirds? I’d say the 31 “experts” have some explaining to do, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for their reasoning.

Jennifer Jones

Congrats to the fabulous Jennifer Jones, now the winningest skip in Scotties history, with 141 Ws. Even though she came up empty in Sydney and isn’t getting any younger, I doubt we’ve seen or heard the last of the great champion. I certainly hope not.

And, finally, Les (Ronny) Lazaruk and Joe Daley were blowing out prairie fires last week. Ronny had 60 candles on his birthday cake and the Holy Goalie had 76, so it was a three-alarm day for both. Ronny and Joe are genuinely good guys and two of my favorite people in sports. Belated happy birthday, boys.

About Coach PoMo’s “complete faith”…Finn Almighty’s ice time…a pastor’s $1.1 million smackers…say buddy, can you spare the Puck Pontiff a dime?…a writer without a clue…Sportsnet is really LeafsNet…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, remember, I’m not responsible if you share my opinions with others and they slap you upside the head…

Okay, to review, Jamie Oleksiak and Dustin Byfuglien collide. The earth shakes. And Big Buff becomes 265 pounds of wobbly.

He staggers to the Winnipeg Jets bench like a guy who’s just sucked back an entire two-four of Budweiser. He’s directed to the changing room, whereupon a medic presumably asks him what day it is and how many fingers he’s holding up. Buff sees four digits but correctly guesses two. Yup, he’s good to go. So, with the two tree trunks that are his legs no longer a pair of noodles, he’s back on the bench, then rejoins the fray vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Apparently, his brain, which clearly had been scrambled, is no longer scrambled.

But wait. One day later, Big Buff experiences a “symptom.” His brain is, in fact, scrambled. He’s concussed. Better tell him to stay home. Actually, let’s put him on injury reserve. Keep him in the repair shop for a week, or however long it takes for his grey matter to settle.

Clearly, then, the National Hockey League’s in-game finger-count protocol has failed.

Yet there was Paul Maurice on Thursday, expressing “complete faith” in a system that is obviously flawed and places concussed players in peril.

“I’m a hundred per cent fine with it, I really am,” les Jets head coach said two days after Byfuglien had lost his entire bag of marbles. “I think the most important thing is it’s not subjective where you say clearly he’s got a concussion so he shouldn’t come back in the game. That has absolutely no value to what we do here. Put him through the system, trust it.”

“Does it not say those tests aren’t enough?” a probing Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun asked.

“Were you asking for perfection? That happens at the hospital every day, right?” came Coach PoMo’s rather flippant, if not smarmy reply. “It’s the best tests that we have and it’s the best system that we have. I’ve got complete faith in it.”

Hmmm. This might explain some of Maurice’s coaching strategy over the years. I mean, he had unwavering faith in Chris Thorburn and Ondrej Pavelec, too. Where did that get him?

Paul Maurice

Let’s be clear. Maurice doesn’t take the rap for sending Big Buff back into the skirmish last Tuesday. If the medics tell him his worker is good to go, he’s good to go. It doesn’t matter how many fingers Byfuglien sees or how loudly the bells between his ears are ringing. Have at it. But for Coach PoMo to unblushingly endorse a system that is as flawed as Connor Hellebuyck’s goaltending…well, that tells me he’d have us believe the dish really did run away with the spoon. The guy’s either totally lost the plot or he’s playing news snoops and the rabble for fools.

Quiz me this, kids: Among the top 50 point-collectors in the NHL, who averages the least amount of ice time and is also the only player given fewer than 20 shifts per game? If you answered Patrik Laine, move to the head of the class. So is Coach PoMo under-using Puck Finn by limiting the league’s leading goal-scorer to 17:09 on the freeze and sending him over the boards just 19 times per game? Not if you’ve seen him play without the puck.

Johnny Depp and Tonto’s bird

Laine’s scoring line for the month of November: 18-1-19. That one assist looks more out of place than anything I’ve seen since Michael Jordan gave pro baseball a try. Or at least since Hollywood put a bird on Johnny Depp’s head and told him he was Tonto.

So, Puck Finn lights the lamp five times vs. the St. Loo Blues and Chris Haley scores a $1.1 million windfall in a grocery store Score & Win contest. What’s his reaction? “I’d like to thank God for this,” said Haley, a part-time pastor in River City. “I believe this is a gift from God.” So that’s what we’re calling Laine now? God? Sorry, but that name’s already taken. I prefer Finn Almighty.

David Thomson

You’ll have to excuse Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman if he calls up his shaggy-haired, billionaire co-bankroll with les Jets, David Thomson, and says, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?”

I mean, if Willy Boy Nylander is worth $10.3 million in signing bonuses and $45 million over six years to the Tranna Maple Leafs, what’s the sticker price for Finn Almighty? Consider: Willie Boy has never scored more than 22 goals in an entire NHL season. Laine has 21 in just two months. By your basic, unfancified numbers, Willie Boy isn’t in the same league as Laine.

Laine:       180 games 101 goals   158 points
Nylander: 185 games   48 goals   135 points

Then there’s Kyle Connor. He’s already delivered a 30-plus goal year to Winnipeg HC, and he’s on his way to another. He’s played 64 fewer games than Willie Boy but has lit the lamp just five fewer times.

Certainly Laine is destined to become the highest-paid worker with les Jets and, depending on the final goal tally this crusade, we might be talking about an eight-figure wage. Let’s ballpark it at $10 million. Meanwhile, if Connor produces a second 30-goal year, surely the bankroll buddies can’t pay him less than Willy Boy. So we’re talking about $17 million for two players. Ouch.

Patrick Roy

Oddball comment of the week was delivered by Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic. Noting that Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux each had scored 11 goals in a four-game run during their hall-of-fame careers, he wrote: “That was at a time when goalies either had zero clue what they were doing or very little idea.” Excuse me? The Great Gretzky and Super Mario played in the 1980s and ’90s. Dominik Hasek didn’t have a clue? Martin Brodeur didn’t have a clue? Patrick Roy didn’t have a clue? Ed Belfour? Well, someone doesn’t have a clue, and it isn’t any of those ‘tenders.

Really strange headline in the Winnipeg Free Press after les Jets lost to Pittsburgh last week: “Penguins ground high-flying Jets.” High-flying? Winnipeg HC had lost two of three games leading to the skirmish vs. Sid and Co.

Those third Jets jerseys really have to go. Someone at True North needs to suck it up and admit those logo-less threads are the biggest miss since Sergei Bautin. And for those of you not familiar with comrade Sergei, be advised he was GM Mikhail Smith’s idea or Bobby Orr, only he turned out to be more like SpongeBob.

Auston Matthews

Apparently, Auston Matthews rejoined the Maple Leafs this past week. You never would have known it by the Sportsnet website. I mean, there were only 14 Leafs-centric stories/videos about Matthews and his playmates the morning after his triumphant return from the repair shop. Yes, 14. My goodness, had prodigal winger Willy Boy Nylander come crawling back the same night, I’m sure Sportsnet would have blown up the internet. Seriously. Why don’t they just change the website name to LeafsNet and get on with it?

After watching the Calgary Stampeders and Bytown RedBlacks slip and slide all over the Commonwealth Stadium skating rink last Sunday, I’m fully on board with the Canadian Football League bumping up its schedule by three weeks. The Grey Cup game should be played no later than the first weekend in November. And make it a Saturday skirmish.

The football operations salary cap coming to the CFL is totally dumb. It won’t do anything to level the playing field. It just puts good people out of work.

Paul LaPolice

So, the Argonauts have invited Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to the Republic of Tranna for a chit-chat about their head-coaching vacancy. And they’ve already done the chin-wag thing with DeVone Claybrooks, defensive guru with the Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders. Sorry, but I fail to see how either of these career assistants is an improvement over the guy the Boatment just booted, Marc Trestman. But, then, a lot of what the Argos do makes little sense. Not that anyone in The ROT notices.

Was running back Kareem Hunt fired by the Kansas City Chiefs because he shoved and kicked a woman, or because he lied about shoving and kicking a woman? Either way, he’s out of the National Football League for the remainder of this season, and perhaps forever. Not to worry. I’m sure there’s room for him in commish Randy Ambrosie’s CFL. Hey, here’s a thought: Hunt can join noted woman-beater Johnny Manziel in the Montreal Alouettes backfield. They can compare TMZ videos.

And, finally, the River City Renegade has reached a high-water mark this year, surpassing 21,700 reads. If you’re among those who’ve stopped by for a visit on Sunday and/or Monday mornings, my thanks. After all, if not for this blog I’d have little else to do and likely would be a hermit-like old lady living with a dozen cats.

About a bummer night for the Winnipeg Jets…an amber alert for Puck Finn…Twig snaps his goal drought…Republic of Tranna media getting it wrong again…and much ado about nothing for NBC

If the Jets and Leafs are playing, it’s worth writing about…

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Paul Maurice

Bummer, eh? A 4-2 loss to the Tranna Maple Leafs wasn’t what you, your hired hands or the rabble were looking for on Wednesday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. But, hey, sometimes life bites.

Like, it must really bite for Puck Finn right now. I mean, Patrik Laine looks as lost as a guy trying to find a crosswalk at Portage and Main. He plays five-on-five hockey like a milking cow plays the piano. Clumsy? It’s like he’s skating with a sawed-off peg leg he borrowed from Long John Silver. If he doesn’t find his game soon, you’ll have to issue an amber alert for the kid.

What’s that you say, Coach PoMo? You really don’t know what to do with Puck Finn?

Puck Finn

Well, here’s a thought: Don’t ever, under any circumstances, play him on the left flank again. Except on the powerplay, of course. I’m not sure what you were thinking when you had him skate with the Winnipeg Jets big dogs—Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler—vs. les Leafs, but a card-carrying democrat would be a better fit at a Trump rally.

The good news is, you and Puck Finn have ample time to figure this thing out. You’re only 10 games into the National Hockey League crusade, so eventually the light will go on, figuratively and literally.

You know, like it finally did for Twig Ehlers.

I don’t know what you told the boys after two periods on Wednesday night, Coach PoMo, but I have a hunch you went all potty mouth on them. That’s what a hockey coach did back in the day, you realize. If his team was soiling the sheets—which your Jets surely had done through 40 minutes—he’d blister them and peel some paint off some walls with language not suitable for the dinner table or mixed company. They’d have first-degree burns to their egos.

Twig Ehlers

What’s that? What do I know about back in the day? Listen, Coach PoMo, I was watching hockey 10 years before your mama wrapped you in your first diaper. Hey, I’m an old lady. Old enough to share my apartment with two dozen cats and not notice. Trust me, I’ve seen some things, including hockey when bodychecking was allowed.

But I digress. It’s about Twig Ehlers.

Whatever message you conveyed to the fellas in those gawdawful aviator blue unis during their second recess apparently registered with Twig. It wasn’t just that he scored for the first time in 27 assignments, he played like he was a bit PO’d.

I think Laine needs to play like he’s a bit (or a lot) PO’d, Coach PoMo.

Anyway, Twig’s goal was the sole positive takeaway from a bummer of a night. But, hey, you get another crack at les Leafs in the Republic of Tranna on Saturday night.

You know what we called Saturday night back in the day, Coach PoMo? Bath night. Yup, we’d get ourselves freshly scrubbed behind the ears, then hunker down to watch les Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens on our black-and-white TV screens. The Habs and Leafs usually cleaned up in those days, too. Won the Stanley Cup 13 times in 14 springs (1956-69).

They’re thinking that way in The ROT again, Coach PoMo. Silly people. You and I both know that your Jets are the best bet to hold a Stanley Cup parade in Canada.

It would help, of course, if you could do something to spruce up Puck Finn’s game. But, like I said, there’s ample time. And I don’t think anyone’s prepared to throw the kid out with the bath water just yet.

Just to refresh, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn combined for 73 goals last season. Today they have four, all three of Laine’s coming on the powerplay. Thus, they’ll need to average a goal a game between them to match their 2017-18 total. Tall order but doable.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

I think it’s swell that folks hither and yawn have noticed les Jets, but I wish wordsmiths and natterbugs in The Republic of Tranna would get their facts in order before spewing nonsense about Good Ol’ Home Team.

Consider, for example, old friend and genuinely good guy Lance Hornby’s recent take on Winnipeg HC:

“Bobby Hull’s record $1-million deal in their second season of 1972-73 angered the NHL establishment—led by Harold Ballard—and got the Golden Jet booted off Team Canada while truly stirring anti-Eastern sentiment,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe scribbles. “Hull inspired two other 100-point players, Christian Bordeleau and Norm Beaudin, but the big bang was a year later, when the Nordic invasion of Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Velli Pekka-Ketola and Heikki Riihiranta occurred.”

Wrong. The 1972-73 crusade was the Jets’ first, not their second, in the World Hockey Association. The “big bang” of the Swedes and Finns, meanwhile, followed two seasons later, not one.

Nick Kypreos

Next we had Nick Kypreos weighing in on les Jets:

“Kyle Connor. Nobody’s really mentioned the fact that this guy is quietly gonna lead them in scoring—again,” he crowed on Hockey Central @ Noon on Sportsnet.

Wrong. Connor has never led the Jets in scoring.

Here’s Kypreos on Laine: “When it’s all said and done, this guy’s gonna end up with 30 goals again, easy. He’s not been used in Winnipeg as a No. 1 guy. Think about that for a second. If you really go and study his numbers…he’s been a second-line kinda guy his whole career, short career in Winnipeg. You kind of look at him and go “What happens if he was on another team and they use him like Ovechkin?’ So, maybe he only ends up with 28 or 30 goals this year. Maybe he does have that kind of secondary result off of that type of ice time. There’s some nights he’s played 13-14 minutes. He’s not an 18-to-20-minute guy and probably won’t be. He’ll always be in that kind of secondary…he’s a powerplay guy but he’s also secondary, you know, Ehlers, Little.”

Wrong. I don’t know what numbers Kypreos was talking about but, prior to the engagement with les Leafs, Laine spent an average of 16-plus minutes on the ice in the Jets first nine assignments, not 13-14. His low-water mark was 15:25. He topped out at 21:20. He was averaging 19 shifts per game. Against les Leafs, it was 22:23 and two dozen shifts.

You’ll have to forgive me if I fail to understand why some mainstream media made a large deal about NBC coming to River City to broadcast the Leafs-Jets joust. At best, it’s a footnote. Yet the Winnipeg Free Press came across like the Country Bumpkin Times by splashing it on the sports front, with a feature article by Mike McIntyre. The Winnipeg Sun, on the other hand, devoted exactly one sentence to The Peacock Network’s presence. The tabloid gave it appropriate play. The broadsheet lost the plot.

Department of Irony: On its website, the Freep trumpeted the McIntyre NBC piece as one of its Above the Fold features, yet in the actual print newspaper it ran the story below the fold. Go figure.

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.