The River City Renegade


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About Marko Dano moving to Glitter Gulch…silence from the Winnipeg Jets…no whining from the Pittsburgh Penguins…Mike O’Shea calling Drew Willy to have him come back…empty seats in the Republic of Tranna…best CFL coach ever…lack of star power in golf…and gays in pro sports board rooms but not in dressing rooms

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

So, Marko Dano’s new mailing address might be Glitter Gulch, and this is a problem for the Winnipeg Jets how?

Seriously, all the teeth-gnashing and angst about which player the Vegas Golden Knights plan to pluck from a Jets roster not good enough to qualify for the recently concluded Stanley Cup tournament is so much ado about nil.

Marko Dano

Does anyone truly believe that the local hockey heroes can’t get along without Marko Dano? Or Michael Hutchinson? Or any of the lads available to Vegas in the National Hockey League expansion draft?

Exposing Dano to the whims of the new kid on the block is not a deal-breaker. If his name is called when the players selected by Vegas are revealed on Wednesday, it will have zero impact on the Jets. Zero. They missed the postseason with Dano, they can miss it without Dano.

Having said that, I don’t get the Jets’ infatuation with Andrew Copp. I see him as a fringe NHLer. A fourth-line forward who shouldn’t get more than 10 minutes of ice a night. If it was a choice to protect Copp or Dano from the Vegas vultures, I’m keeping the latter.

The Dallas Stars need a goaltender, they get one. The Carolina Hurricanes need a goaltender, they get one. The Calgary Flames need a goaltender, they get one. The Montreal Canadiens need scoring, they get some. The Golden Knights need draft picks, they’re collecting them like a squirrel stashing away acorns. The Jets need…well, apparently nothing. Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, will lay claim to a whack of freshly scrubbed teenagers later this month at the NHL entry draft, then hit the snooze button for the rest of the summer (except perhaps to gift Chris Thorburn with a fresh three-year contract).

It’s about Paul Maurice. Remember all that “oh, woe are we” whining about the schedule we heard from the Jets head coach when his outfit was required to play 32 games in 60 days at the start of the 2016-17 crusade? Well, the Pittsburgh Penguins just played 25 games in 61 days. I think we can agree that playoff hockey is a different animal than shinny in October, November and December. It’s much more intense, demanding, draining and flat-out brutal. It’s sort of like dog years, but not quite. That is, I’d say one playoff game is equal to three regular-season assignments, so the Penguins actually played 75 games in 60 days en route to their second successive Stanley Cup title. Yet not once did I hear their head coach, Mike Sullivan, sniveling about the schedule.

Drew Willy

What does Marc Trestman know about quarterbacks that Mike O’Shea doesn’t. Plenty apparently. I mean, it took O’Shea two complete Canadian Football League seasons and five games into a third crusade to realize Drew Willy wasn’t the answer at quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It took Marc Trestman less than one half of one exhibition game to arrive at the same conclusion for his Toronto Argonauts, thus he pink-slipped the former Bombers starting QB on Saturday. You don’t suppose O’Shea has already placed a call to Willy’s agent, do you? Talk about a frightening prospect.

Donald Trump will stop using Twitter before I part with money to watch exhibition football, and it seems that 99.9999 per cent of folks in the Republic of Tranna are of a similar mindset. The announced head count for the Argos’ one dress rehearsal at BMO Field was 5,532. I once saw that many clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle at the Shrine Circus when I was a kid.

I’ve heard and read a lot of “Don Matthews is the greatest head coach in Canadian Football League history” since the Coach of Many Teams died last week. Well, I beg to differ. I mean, what’s the measuring stick? Total victories? Wally Buono beats him. Winning percentage? Hugh Campbell, John Hufnagel, Marc Trestman, Bud Grant, Ralph Sazio and Buono beat him. CFL titles? Campbell, Buono and Frank Clair have as many, and Campbell did it in six seasons compared to Matthews’ 22. The best head coach ever? I’ll take Hugh Campbell or Bud Grant over The Don any time.

Once upon a time—and not so long ago—the first question you’d ask during one of golf’s major tournaments was “What did Tiger shoot?” and you’d expect to hear that Tiger Woods was at, or very near, the top of the leaderboard. The second question would be “What about Phil?” and you’d likely be told that Phil Mickelson was in striking distance of the lead. Those two were the heartbeat of the men’s pro tour. They were the latter-day version of Arnie and Jack. Now? The men’s tour is a mosh pit, with an assortment of players alternating as flavor of the month. It was Rory McIlroy, then Jordan Spieth, then Jason Day, then Dustin Johnson. Trouble is, there isn’t a swashbuckler among them. None has polarizing or riveting appeal. I wouldn’t say the PGA Tour has become a bore, but it ceased being must-see TV about the same time Woods got caught with his pants down and drove his car into a tree.

Quiz me this, kids: Why was the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s a good thing and the Golden State Warriors’ dominance the past few years a bad thing for the National Basketball Association?

Laura Ricketts

The president and chief operating officer of the NBA-champion Warriors, Rick Welts, is openly gay. One of the co-owners and a board member of Major League Baseball’s reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs, Laura Ricketts, is an out lesbian. Two openly gay people in power positions with championship teams and yet gay players are still afraid to come out of hiding. I’d say that tells us all we need to know about the 1950s culture that still exists in the dressing rooms of the top four major sports leagues in North America.

I sometimes subscribe to the old bromide that our mothers often delivered: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So I’m not going to say anything about the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather dust-up.

Add 3-on-3 hoops to Steve Simmons’ growing list of sports he doesn’t fancy. The Postmedia scribe writes this: “Coming to the next Summer Olympics. Three on three basketball. Honest. With a 12-second shot clock. Games are 10 minutes in length or end when the first team has 21 points. Somebody out there in Olympic land—or many IOC members—have lost their minds.” So, if you’re keeping score at home, Simmons wants 3-on-3 hoops, trampoline and women’s hockey eliminated from the Olympics. And he wants the best tennis players in the world to cease participating in mixed doubles at Grand Slam tournaments. The reality that the Summer Olympics now will include mixed relays in athletics and swimming, as well as mixed competition in triathlon, table tennis, judo and archery must keep him awake at night. I mean, the poor sap might have to write about a female ping pong player if a Canadian does well.

I note that Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps plans to race against a great white shark. Man vs. animal is nothing new, though. Jesse Owens raced thoroughbred horses. Former National Football League receiver Dennis Northcutt raced an ostrich. NFLers Chris Johnson and Devin Hester raced a cheetah. And, of course, numerous men fought Mike Tyson.

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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Winnipeg Jets never had a five-year plan…smoking weed…rewarding failure…and a lame-duck coach

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

When, oh when, will people stop prattling on about the Winnipeg Jets’ five-year plan?

The latest to trot out this mouthful of mystical misinformation is Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist Paul Wiecek, who writes: “What was originally a five-year plan now looks more like a 10-year plan…”

fish wrapI challenge Wiecek, or anyone for that matter, to produce a documented sound bite from either Jets co-bankroll Mark Chipman or his right-hand man, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, that confirms they had a self-imposed mandate of five years to develop a roster that would qualify for the Stanley Cup derby on an annual basis.

Sorry, but said sound bite does not exist. It is as fictional as Peter Pan, Harry Potter and Ondrej Pavelec’s Vezina Trophy-winning season (bet you never thought you’d see the names Ondrej Pavelec and Vezina Trophy in the same sentence).

Here’s what Chipman told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun in September 2013, scant seconds after he had bestowed a two-year contract extension on his GM, one year for each of Chevy’s first two failed seasons as steward of the National Hockey League club:

We will have success. I’m convinced of that. I wish I could give you a date and a definition of what that is exactly, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

That was then. This is what he told Tim Campbell of the Freep on Friday:

I believe the path we’re on is the correct one. It’s difficult but I’m more than happy to be patient.”

So there. Don’t hold your breath, because Chipman isn’t.

As for Cheveldayoff, the best anyone has gotten out of him is, “We have a plan. It’s a process. We’re on the right path.”

So here’s the Jets’ plan in its simplest form: They will draft and develop, all the while hoping they draft and develop better than 29 other NHL outfits. They will arrive as a bonifide contender when they arrive, not a moment sooner.

It would, of course, be folly for Cheveldayoff to start his own clock, because he would be setting himself up for failure. That aside, though, this ongoing belief that there was a five-year plan is nothing but pink ponies and flying pigs, and a quality jock journalist like Wiecek ought to know better than to perpetuate the myth.

A fixation for Chris Thorburn.

A fixation for Chris Thorburn.

I suppose some found the chin-wag between the Official Paper of the Winnipeg Jets and Chipman interesting, but I thought it to be an exercise in blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. That’s because Tim Campbell of the Freep was playing lob ball instead of hard ball. Why he didn’t ask His Holy Hockeyness to articulate the depth of his involvement in roster decisions (trades, contract negotiations, team captaincy, etc.) is as much a mystery as Paul Maurice’s fixation for Chris Thorburn. Campbell didn’t have to go all Mike Wallace on Chipman, because they were, after all, talking hockey not ISIS, but it isn’t a provocative question. It’s a fair question. So ask it already.

I’ll say this for Paul Wiecek: He doesn’t shy from adopting an unpopular posture. It’s one of the reasons he’s among my favorite sports scribes. But to submit that Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea warrant rewards as GM and head coach, respectively, of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is, shall I say, ballsy in the extreme. As a tandem, they are 12-24 over two Canadian Football League seasons. It is a results-driven business, the sole measuring stick being wins-losses. You win, you stay. You lose, you get a new postal code. Yet here’s Wiecek on the not-so-dynamic duo: “The Bombers should also extend the contracts of general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea—and they should do it before the new season begins. (You read that right: a duo who missed the playoffs in their first two seasons should get contract extensions before we even get to see what they’ve put together for 2016. Yes, marijuana is basically legal at this point. No, I’m not smoking it by the bale.)” He might not be smoking weed by the bale, but Wiecek’s advocating that the Bombers reward colossal failure suggests he is, at the very least, sprinkling something more mind adjusting than sugar on his Corn Flakes.

Cal Murphy

Cal Murphy

In supporting his argument, Wiecek directs our attention to “long-term academic studies of college football, the NHL, and Italian soccer” that conclude switching coaches “does not measurably improve a team’s performance, it frequently makes it worse.” Really? Well, let’s see:

  • In 1957, the Bombers changed coaches (Bud Grant) and went to the Grey Cup game that year, then won the CFL title four of the next five seasons.
  • In 1983, the Bombers changed coaches (Cal Murphy) and won the Grey Cup in ’84.
  • In 1987, the Bombers changed coaches (Mike Riley) and won the Grey Cup in ’88 and ’90.
  • In 2007, the Saskatchewan Roughriders changed coaches (Kent Austin) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2008, the Calgary Stampeders changed coaches (John Hufnagel) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2008, the Montreal Alouettes changed coaches (Marc Trestman) and went to the Grey Cup game, then won the title in ’09 and ’10.
  • In 2012, the Toronto Argonauts changed coaches (Scott Milanovich) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2012, the Roughriders changed coaches (Corey Chamblin) and won the Grey Cup in 2013.
  • In 2013, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats changed coaches (Kent Austin) and advanced to the Grey Cup game that season and the next two.
  • In 2014, the Edmonton Eskimos changed coaches (Chris Jones) and reached the West Division final that year, then won the Grey Cup in 2015.

What does it all mean? Constantly changing coaches isn’t the reason the Bombers haven’t held a Grey Cup parade since 1990. It’s due to the fact they’re constantly hiring the wrong person.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun did the chin-wag thing with Kyle Walters, who, among other things, said: “I believe in Mike (O’Shea) wholeheartedly.” Apparently, wholeheartedly means letting O’Shea walk into the 2016 CFL season as a lame-duck coach.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.