About those “rotten to the core” Winnipeg Jets…cranking up the gossip mill…putting Wheeler and others on ignore…parting gifts instead of banners for the Habs…nothing but bridesmaids in Canada?…talking about Ponytail Puck…and lady golfers at Augusta

Another Sunday smorags-bored…and you are under no obligation to grow a beard during the Winnipeg Jets playoff run…

Apparently, the local hockey heroes have issues.

They might be Dr. Phil-level issues. They might be let’s-drag-Oprah’s-couch-out-of-storage-and-give-everyone-in-the-audience-a-gift issues. They might be order-another-pint-and-vent-to-a-bartender issues. Whatever the case, after a week of stick-shattering hissy fits, an airing of grievances behind closed doors, giving news snoops the cold shoulder, and canceled practices for the airing of additional grievances, we’re advised that the Winnipeg Jets are not right in the head.

It’s nothing specific, understand. No details. Just a strong suggestion from the boys on the beat at the Drab Slab that les Jets have come undone like a school kid’s shoelace.

And we all know what happens with kids and undone shoelaces, don’t we. That’s right. Face plants.

So I suppose Jets Nation should fear the worst as Winnipeg HC preps for its opening salvo of Beard Season vs. the St. Louis Blues. I mean, it can’t be very comforting for the rabble to learn that the behind-the-scenes situation with their favorite National Hockey League club is “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy” as they enter the Stanley Cup runoff.

That, at least, is the picture painted by Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press, and you can choose to believe him or pooh-pooh his take on the local lads. I mean, he ought to have some insider intel because he’s been dogging the local lads across North America since October, but, at the same time, Double M fell short of providing anecdotal evidence of squabbling in the inner sanctum. He merely referenced Multiple Sources who, along with Reliable Sources, is every reporter’s go-to informant when no one is willing to say what needs to be said out loud.

Let’s accept that he’s accurate, though, and Winnipeg HC is a house divided. Does that mean les Jets best-of-seven playoff assignment vs. St. Louis beginning Wednesday at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie is a no-hoper? Not at all.

Allow me to direct your attention to the Winnipeg Jets circa 1978-79.

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

Those of a certain vintage will recall the unique makeup of that outfit, in that it was actually two teams in one. On the heels of their second World Hockey Association title, les Jets were scuttled by a number of defections, most notably Ander Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to Gotham. To shore up a depleted roster, management purchased the nucleus of a Houston Aeros franchise that had gone belly up, with Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich and Scotty Campbell among the recruits.

It was a stroke of genius. Except for one thing: To say the Houston guys and the Winnipeg holdovers got along is to say hard-core Beatles fans were giddy when the dreaded Yoko Ono showed up on John’s arm one day. Some, myself included, still think of that as the day the music died, but I digress.

The Aeros-Jets had been fierce rivals on the freeze, and the residue of bitterly contested battles won and lost still existed when they began to share a changing room. Larry Hillman, the head coach of the day, could do nothing to achieve détente, in part because the Houston portion of the amalgamated roster was doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

“You don’t think the rest of the players in this league don’t know that?” Robbie Ftorek said one night after he and the Cincinnati Stingers had laid a licking on les Jets.

Tom McVie

It wasn’t until Tom McVie arrived in River City, bull whip in hand behind the bench, that the boys clued in and began working in concert, a collaboration that resulted in an unlikely third WHA championship.

“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich told me the night the Jets put away the Edmonton Gretzkys to gain permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”

“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski confirmed.

So, when they drop the puck for the Jets and Blues skirmish, I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the “rotten to the core” home side. Even squabbling outfits can get the job done.

Mind you, it would help if these Jets had Ruskowski, Lukowich, Preston and Campbell on board.

Coach Potty Mouth

You can dismiss McIntyre’s essay as nothing more than click-bait sensationalism, if you like, but my only issue with him is this snippet: “I’m not about to start feeding the rumor mill…” Good gawd, man, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Use the terms “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy”—especially without supporting quotes and/or facts—and you’ve got rumor and innuendo running faster than a scalded dog. Are the players PO’d because Patrik Laine spends more time playing Fortnite than backchecking? Has coach Potty Mouth lost the dressing room? Whose track suit is Dustin Byfuglien dunking in the ice tub? Gossip, gossip, gossip. And if les Jets don’t get past the Blues, it’ll really crank up.

Craig Button of TSN had this to say about les Jets in advance of the Stanley Cup tournament: “They’re a weak team giving up a lot of goals. They’re the weakest (Western Conference) team going into the playoffs.” Ouch. That’s “anything but rosy.”

Blake Wheeler

After all the pomp, the praise, the worship, the Sportsnet headlines, the tributes, the mattress commercials, and the blah, blah, blah about John Tavares, he finished with three fewer points than Blake Wheeler’s 91. Now, I don’t buy the pre-fab bunk that players in Good Ol’ Hometown fly under the radar, because people around the league know what Wheeler has done. But I will submit that les Jets captain gets ignored. But, then, so do other elite performers with Canadian-based outfits. Five of them—Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Johnny Gaudreau, Mitch Marner and Wheeler—outscored Tavares this season, yet all but McDavid received less than half the ink devoted to the Tranna Maple Leafs centre by national media. Just saying.

If you’re keeping score at home, another of the over-ballyhooed Leafs, Auston Matthews, scored at a clip of 1.07 points per game. Twenty players were as good or better. Again, just saying.

Just wondering: Can Dave Poulin of TSN talk without holding a pen in his hand?

Sam Pollock

I keep hearing pundits say this was a successful season for the Montreal Canadiens. I’m sorry, but I don’t follow. I mean, the Habs will be on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the playoff fun commences this week. When did parting gifts replace championship banners as a suitable reward for the most storied franchise in NHL history? It’s like Tom Hanks being happy about losing an Oscar to Adam Sandler. I swear, ol’ Sammy Pollock must be spinning like a lathe in his grave.

Really strange headline No. 1: “Jets’ Patrik Laine evolves from sublime scorer to all-around player.” Ya, Puck Finn is an all-around player like a box of Timbits is a seven-course meal.

Really strange headline No. 2: “Even Oilers not stupid enough to trade Connor McDavid.” No, the Edmonton Oilers would never be so dumb as to deal away Connor McDavid. You know, just like they would never be so dumb as to trade away Wayne Gretzky.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith. A truly gifted writer. It’s just that sometimes he totally loses the plot. Like his take on the rise of Canadian tennis teens Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov: “Our tennis was becoming like everything else this country does on the international stage—a strong second.” Right. We’re always the bridesmaid in sports like hockey and curling. As if. And Brooke Henderson, Penny Oleksiak, Clara Hughes, Donovan Bailey, Mike Weir, Virtue and Moir, Mikael Kingsbury, Percy Williams, Daniel Nestor, Lennox Lewis, Barbara Ann Scott, Nancy Greene, the Crazy Canucks, Cindy Klassen, Susan Nattrass, Jim Elder, Northern Dancer, Steve Nash, Larry Walker, Jacques Villeneuve, etc….I guess they all finished second best, too. Come on, man, give your head a shake.

So nice of mainstream media to finally notice women’s hockey in a non-Olympics year. Too bad it took the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to grab their attention. I think their newly discovered interest in Ponytail Puck was best summed up in a tweet from Diana Matheson, a member of our women’s national soccer side: “Speaks volumes to the problem that my initial response to a discussion about women’s hockey on the radio, is to be surprised they are talking about it.” Now we’ll see if the MSM attention span lasts long enough to actually cover whatever teams emerge from the ashes of the CWHL.

And, finally, scientists say Canada is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. In other weather news, women golfed at Augusta National this weekend, so hell just froze over.

About therapy for the Tranna Maple Leafs jugger-not…the price ain’t right for Willy…boneheaded coaching in the CFL…Johnny’s still rotten and having a hissy fit…CFL power rankings down the stretch…Johnny Miller pulling the plug…Johnny Mo bidding adios…RiRi keeping her clothes on…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in three, two, one…

The bloom is off the petunia in the Republic of Tranna.

We know this to be so because it finally has occurred to easily swayed news snoops in The ROT that Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr don’t actually skate with the Maple Leafs.

Auston Matthews

Turns out it was a case of mistaken identity. Auston Matthews is actually Auston Matthews, not No. 99. Morgan Rielly is actually Morgan Rielly, not No. 4. Les Leafs are actually a work in progress, not the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. Pond hockey is fun to watch but not actually sustainable. The juggernaut is actually a jugger-not! Who knew?

Certainly not the scribes and natterbugs in The ROT who’d been howling hosannas about Matthews and Rielly at a deafening and, yes, annoying volume. It was as if the two youthful Leafs had invented vulcanized rubber, the Zamboni and Coach’s Corner.

Alas, troubled times have arrived.

Les Leafs seemingly became National Hockey League d’oh! boys overnight. There were zero goals in a stumble against the Pittsburgh Penguins. There was one score in a faceplant vs. the St. Louis Blues.

Mike Babcock

In an attempt to dig to the root of these missteps, les Leafs, normally off duty on the Sabbath, were summoned and assembled yesterday. Not for a practice, though. This was what multi-millionaire head coach Mike Babcock described as a “reality therapy meeting.”

No word if Dr. Phil was brought in as a guest coach, or if Oprah was on standby with her couch.

So when les Leafs arrive at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie for their Wednesday night skirmish with the Winnipeg Jets, be gentle with them, kids. They’re in therapy, don’t you know.

Les Leafs, of course, come to town sans gifted forward William Nylander, who remains back home in Europe awaiting a contract offer he can’t refuse. I hope he isn’t holding his breath. I mean, let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that reports of the unsigned restricted free agent’s asking price are accurate. Hmmm, $8.5 million. That’s Leon Draisaitl money. Well, just because the Edmonton Oilers are stupid doesn’t mean the Maple Leafs have to be.

Mike Sherman

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Montreal Alouettes were down to their final play on Saturday afternoon, scrimmaging on the Tranna Argonauts’ 48-yard stripe, thus it was Hail Mary time in a 26-22 game. And what does Larks head coach Mike Sherman do? He yanks his starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel, and inserts a cold Antonio Pipkin behind centre because he had “fresh legs.” What exactly did Sherman expect Pipkin to do? Toss the football with his feet? Unless Johnny Rotten is incapable of flinging a football 50 yards, Sherman’s reasoning makes no sense at all. It was boneheaded coaching.

Johnny Manziel

Manziel showed us what he’s all about when he dashed away in a huff the moment Pipkin’s fresh legs failed to avoid the Argos’ pass rush and he was sacked on the final play in the Larks’ loss. No mingling with the boys on the field after the fact. No hand shakes or job-well-done words for his mates and foes. Just sprint and pout (his legs look real “fresh” as he ran away). Hey, I don’t blame the guy for being PO’d, but scurrying off in a hissy fit is a bad, spoiled-brat optic. And it confirms that Johnny Rotten is all about Johnny Rotten.

An unidentified Canadian Football league coach or GM delivered this gem to Kirk Penton of The Athletic: “Manziel’s better than you think. No quarterback can win with that group of offensive linemen Montreal is putting out there.” Not true. Pipkin won two of four starts with the O-lineman that the Alouettes are “putting out there.” It’s just the 0-6 Johnny Rotten who can’t win with them.

Why is the CFL keeping the head count for the Als-Argos skirmish at BMO Field a secret? I mean, so what if you see more people at Chris Walby’s backyard BBQ? Give us the attendance figure already.

This week’s CFL power rankings…
1. Calgary (12-4): Still the team to beat.
2. Saskatchewan (11-6): Where did that offence come from?
3. Winnipeg (9-7): Back to work this week.
4. B.C. (9-7): Winning for Wally.
5. Ottawa (9-7): A playoff bye for Bytown?
6. Hamilton (8-8): Losing Speedy B is huge.
7. Edmonton (8-9): Wholesale changes are a-coming.
8. Toronto (4-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-13): Yadda, yadda, yadda.

If you’re a parent with a child playing football, you might want to take a peek at the latest issue of The Manitoba Teacher, where you’ll find an excellent feature by one of my favorite people and former colleague Judy Owen. She gets into the safety measures local leagues are taking in an attempt to curb injuries, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers greats Chris Walby and Troy Westwood offer input. It’s good stuff.

Still no freshly minted sports columnist to replace the departed Paul Wiecek at the Winnipeg Free Press. I thought they’d have had someone in place the moment Wiecek walked out the door, because a sports section without a columnist is like a church without prayer. A pub without pints. Sinatra without a song. As good as the Drab Slab’s foot soldiers are in the toy department—and they are good—the section needs a lead voice. Someone to arouse the rabble. And I need someone to critique.

Johnny Miller

So, Johnny Miller plans to pull the plug on his golf analyst gig with NBC Sports after the Phoenix Open in early February next year. Shame. Although pompous, Miller is blunt and goes directly to the point. He’s never been afraid to ruffle feathers. He and tennis great John McEnroe are the two most honest game analysts/color commentators on sports TV. Apparently Paul Azinger will move into Miller’s seat at NBC. He’s good, but he’s going to hear a lot of “He’s no Johnny Miller” when he cushions his comments.

Johnny Mo

John Morris tells Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that his hurry-hard days in men’s curling are done, and he’ll now focus on mixed doubles. That’s one of those good news, bad news things. It’s good that Johnny Mo will continue to curl, because he’s a colorful guy who knows how to fill news snoops’ notebooks and deliver quality sound bites. But, since mixed doubles is still in its infancy and sits on the periphery of the game, he won’t be as visible. So file that part of his decision under not so good.

The low-key, subdued farewell is among the quirks of world-class curling. Johnny Mo steps away from the men’s game and there’s no fanfare, even though he is among the most-decorated Pebble People of all time. Intense (sometimes to a fault) and combative, Johnny Mo did it all on the pebble. This is a hall of fame curler. His resumé includes multiple Olympic, world and Canadian championships and, of course, he collaborated with Kaitlyn Lawes to reach the top step of the podium in the inaugural mixed doubles event at the Winter Games in South Korea last February. But there will be no teary-eyed press gathering like we see when a hockey, football, baseball or hoops great bids adios. Legends like Morris, Kevin Martin, Jeff Stoughton, Elisabet Gustafson, Colleen Jones, Dugie et al go quietly into the night. Or to the broadcast booth. It’s the curler’s way.

And, finally, Rihanna apparently rejected an offer to headline the halftime show at next year’s Super Bowl, so we’re stuck with Adam Levine and Maroon 5. Personally, I’m not into either performer’s music, but I know whose wardrobe I’d like to see malfunction.

Hey, Winnipeg Jets fans! Chevy knows hockey, so keep your shirt on!

So, how bad was it? Well, let’s put it this way: As the end approached, I thought perhaps someone was about to give the Winnipeg Jets the shirt off his back.

That is to say, it was sweater-toss worthy.

I mean, the local hockey heroes delivered a frustrating, now-you-see-us, now-you-don’t performance against a road-weary Calgary Flames outfit that ought to have been running on fumes at the tag-along end of a six-game journey. So, surely the resulting 4-1 beatdown Sunday evening would fuel fury. Passion. And the hurling of a piece of clothing in protest.

But no. We weren’t in Edmonton or Toronto, Dorothy. Nary a piece of linen fluttered to the freeze at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. By the time everyone stepped out into the darkening River City night, no one had surrendered their Jets jersey.

Not even Chris Thorburn, Anthony Peluso or TJ No Dots. Oh drat.

This tells me one of three things:

  1. Hey, Winnipeg is known as Wholesale City. It’s not that we’re cheap. We’re just looking for a better deal. So when we’re forced to buy something at retail price, like a $200-plus tax Jets jersey, we don’t do it so the Zamboni driver’s kid can find something special under the Christmas tree.
  2. We just can’t decide what do do first—throw away our Jets jerseys or our Bombers jerseys.
  3. Those who occupy the pews at the shinny cathedral at Donald and Hargrave can’t get enough of the True North Kool-Aid and have fully bought into a draft-and-develop strategy that, to date, has been nine parts draft and one part develop.

 

If you fall into category No. 3, I hope this doesn’t come as a news bulletin, but it’s a very risky business that can take a very wrong turn.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m on side with draft-and-develop. To a degree. I just think there’s more to building a year-in, year-out competitive outfit than collecting National Hockey League wannabes and never-will-bes, and I point to theLos Angeles Kings as evidence. The group that won the Stanley Cup tournament last June was a collection of shrewd draft selections, workers acquired in barter and others recruited through free agency.

At the opposite end of the measuring stick, I give you the Edmonton Oilers. Here’s what a pure draft-and-develop plan has delivered (aside from eight years of emptiness):

The Oilers have had18 first-round picks this century. Five of those players are on the Edmonton roster today. Only one, Taylor Hall, is worth a damn.

And have I mentioned the Copper and Blue haven’t qualified for post-season play since 2006?

Little wonder they’re hurling sweaters on the ice at Rexall Place.

It’s easy to say the Oilers have been operated by a collection of managerial misfits like Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish. But how can we be convinced that Jets general manager Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff has more shinny smarts?

Based on a history of zero playoff appearances and the early returns this season, he doesn’t. But, hey, it’s early. So keep you shirt on, right?

Well, right now that’s the only difference between what’s going on in Edmonton and Winnipeg: We keep our clothes on.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.