The River City Renegade


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About a 1980s redux for the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers…a Little good news from Bryan…pollywaddle from the Republic of Tranna…odds of bringing Stanley Cup home…playoffs or bust in Pegtown…and the Sedins love letter

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

Rink Rat Scheifele

So here’s what I’m thinking as the Winnipeg Jets embark on their seventh crusade: This might be a 1980s redux. You know, deja vu all over again.

The Jets, you see, have some nice pieces in place. Very nice pieces, actually. Hard to go wrong with Rink Rat Scheifele, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and a few others. Even a carnival barker like potty-mouth head coach Paul Maurice ought to be able to coax a playoff-worthy campaign out of that group, and the fact they were found wanting last season says more about him than them.

But let’s suppose the Jets’ universe unfolds as it should in 2017-18. Let’s say Steve Mason is the answer in goal—even though Coach Potty-Mo refuses to commit to him as No. 1 in the blue ice as the local lads open training camp—and Scheifele is top-five in scoring, Wheeler is top-10, Patrik Laine leads the National Hockey League in snipes, Jacob Trouba is in the Norris Trophy conversation, Kyle Connor is the top freshman, and Maurice learns that there’s life after Chris Thorburn. Then what? A playoff date with the Edmonton McDavids? Oh joy. It’s the ghosts of playoffs past—Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Anderson, Kurri et al revisited.

There are grown men who still wake up in the middle of the night—yowling like banshees—at the nightmarish horrors that the Edmonton Oilers imposed on the Jets during the 1980s. Seven times the locals qualified for the Stanley Cup derby. Five times, the Oilers put them out of their misery. They did it again in the spring of 1990. Sadists.

Jets fans saw too much of this in the 1980s.

And now, 27 years later, it appears that, once again, the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force, even as ownership squabbles with politicos and beats the drums about relocation should the city refuse to pony up substantial coin for a new shinny palace.

The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian prairies.

I have a suspicion the Winnipegs soon shall be able to handle the Flames. But the McDavids? Different deal. I mean, Scheifele is a delight. He’s got that boy-next-door thing going, the kind of guy you want your daughter bringing home for dinner. And he’s very good at hockey. But let’s face it, the Rink Rat is to Connor McDavid what Dale Hawerchuk was to Wayne Gretzky.

So it could be curses, foiled again.

Bryan Little isn’t going anywhere. Nice. The Jets have locked up their No. 2 centre and, although I’m surprised at the length of term (six-year extension), it’s a very good move because the 29-year-old Edmonton native is a very good player. Little was on board when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, and I don’t think he’s ever disappointed. Solid guy who operates under the radar.

Ignore the pure pollywaddle drifting from the Republic of Tranna, where the hockey club’s bandwagon is overbooked with keyboard blowhards who insist on using the words “Stanley Cup” and “Maple Leafs” in the same sentence, something that hasn’t been done since 1967. If a Canadian outfit is going to bring the Stanley Cup home for the first time in a quarter century, it will be the Edmonton McDavids. I’d even be inclined to suggest the Jets will win the NHL title before the Tranna Maple Leafs. Does that mean I’m now drinking the True North Sports & Entertainment Kool-Aid? That I’ve bought into the Secret Society’s propaganda? Negative. Not prepared to go there. But I do believe general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled better young talent than the Leafs, who have the benefit of playing in a soft division.

Today’s list: Odds on each Canadian team ending the Great White North Stanley Cup drought…
1. Edmonton McDavids: 3-1
2. Winnipeg Jets: 5-1
3. Calgary Flames: 5-1
4. Tranna Maple Leafs: 10-1
5. Montreal Canadiens: 20-1
6. Ottawa Senators: Fuhgeddaboudit.
7. Vancouver Canucks: You’re kidding, right?

I’ll say this for the Leafs, they have a couple of pains in the ass who can also play. Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov are gooey chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your shoes. The Jets need to add some of that to their makeup.

Interesting how the two Pauls—Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press—interpreted the party line delivered by Jets ownership/management last week.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

Friesen wrote: “For really the first time since buying the moribund Atlanta Thrashers and moving them lock, stock and Evander Kane to this Canadian prairie burg six years ago, the people in charge aren’t ducking expectation. Instead, they’re almost embracing it. From the new slogan inscribed on the team’s interview backdrop—Rise Together—to the words of the team captain, the GM and even the man who shelled out a good portion of the $180-million franchise price tag, it’s playoffs or bust.”

Wiecek, meanwhile, tells us that Jets ownership/management remains wishy-washy in terms of expectations. They’re sending a message “that says that the 2017-18 Jets ‘can be’ a playoff team, but hey, these things take time and it’s still not a deal breaker if they don’t,” he writes.

Me? I’m with Friesen. I thought Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman made his thoughts absolutely clear the day he announced the re-upping of both his GM and head coach, saying, “Our expectation this year is to take a step forward in a meaningful way.” I don’t know how you can take that to mean anything other than he expects a playoff berth. There can be no other interpretation. Furthermore, in a conversation with John Shannon of Sportsnet at the draft lottery in May, Cheveldayoff stated flatly that “I’m not coming back” next year. Meaning, he doesn’t expect the Jets to be a lottery team in 2018.

The Sedin twins

That was so sweet of the Sedin twins to express their fondness and unwavering devotion to Vancouver in a love letter to The Players’ Tribune, but I just don’t see how warm and fuzzies advance the Canucks so-called youth movement. Say what you will about two players who’d rather stay in Vancity and loiter with the NHL also-rans rather than pursue the Stanley Cup elsewhere (for the record, I admire their stick-to-itness), but should Henrik and Daniel still be driving the bus? Some very dark and rainy days (years?) ahead on the West Coast.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

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About Steve Mason and platooning puck-stoppers…a coach’s wish list…the Maple Leafs and Oilers supposedly all-in…the Oilers and Connor McRichkid…hocus-pocus from the CFL commish…and a bummer for the Bombers

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

Steve Mason vows that he’ll play nice. It sounds like the Winnipeg Jets newly minted goaltender is a team-first dude who’s keen on sharing the blue ice with Connor Hellebuyck.

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

Steve Mason

In a conference chin-wag with newsies scant minutes after he had agreed to accept a two-year contract from the Jets, Mason talked a good game, suggesting he’ll happily work with incumbent Connor Hellebuyck and the two men would be “pushing one another” in the name of the greater good.

That, however, isn’t what he was saying in Philadelphia. In the world according to Steve Mason, there’s room for only one main man in the blue ice. Him. The other guy is his caddy.

Every single team needs a defined starter and backup goalie,” Mason told csnphilly.com in April, at which time he still harbored hope, albeit faint, for a contract offer from the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s shown throughout the league, (job sharing) doesn’t work. Tampa got rid of their situation. St. Louis got rid of their situation. You can’t be in and out, in and out. You have to have the flow. I believe, given that flow, I’ve done well with it.”

So there.

Don’t run off with the notion that the Jets will enter the 2017-18 National Hockey League fray with a No. 1 and No. 1A puck-stopping platoon. The new kid on the block expects to play Batman to Hellebuyck’s Robin. He’s Johnny Carson. Hellebuyck is Ed McMahon.

If general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice try to sell it any other way, pay attention to their noses. They’ll be growing.

We never really talked about what the work load is going to be,” says Cheveldayoff.

Really? You make one of your rare expeditions into the NHL free-agent market to address your outfit’s most-glaring flaw and you forget to mention to Mason that he’ll be expected to handle the heavy lifting?

Not only is Cheveldayoff’s nose longer than a telephone wire, his pants are on fire.

It’s a load of rubbish because Mason wasn’t lured to River City with the promise of playing wet nurse to Hellebuyck. Barring something freakish this summer—or a massive brain fart from Coach Potty-Mouth—Mason will be in the blue ice Oct. 4 when Auston Matthews and his supporting cast with the Toronto Maple Leafs come calling at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. He’ll start 60 games. Minimum.

There can be no other way.

Last week I mentioned that Maurice was sitting on the hottest seat in Jets Nation. Either the local lads qualify for the Stanley Cup derby next spring or he’s looking for work. In case there’s any doubt, consider this comment about the Jets defence from Cheveldayoff: “All the things on a coach’s wish list are there.” Well, Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty would be on my wish list, but I hear what Chevy is saying. Translation: Coach Potty-Mo has run out of wiggle room.

Connor McDavid

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek on the Jets, Maple Leafs and the Edmonton McDavids. The Winnipeg Free Press scribe laments Chevy’s roster tinkering, describing the acquisitions of Mason and blueliner Dmitry Kulikov as “modest moves” compared to the bold strokes of his counterparts in the Republic of Tranna and the Chuck. “To use a baseball analogy,” he writes, “the Oilers and Leafs have decided to swing for the fences in 2017-18, while Cheveldayoff is squaring up to bunt.” Well, I’m not a Chevy apologist. I find his methods—mostly management by paralysis—irritating and frustrating in the extreme. I’d much rather he be more Jim Nill and less Kevin Cheveldayoff. But, hey, he needed a starting goaltender. He got one. He needed a defenceman who shoots from the left side. He got one. He needed to unload a truckload of deadwood. He did it. Aside from botching the entry draft, he’s done what was required this off-season to get the Jets back into the playoff discussion.

I’m not convinced that Chevy is afraid to use bold strokes. I submit that when it comes to lavish spending and derring-do on the trade market, the GM doesn’t make the call. The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, does.

So here’s what I find myself wondering in the wake of that $100 million McWhopper contract the Oilers gave Connor McDavid: Will the Puck Pontiff and his deep-, deep-, deep-pocketed partner, David Thomson, be willing to part with that kind of coin were they to land a generational player of the McDavid or Sidney Crosby ilk?

Sorry, but I don’t see how Edmonton signing Connor McRichkid to an eight-year contract is a special stroke of genius. It’s more like, well duuuh. I mean, the Jets did the same thing last summer with their franchise centre, Rink Rat Scheifele, securing him for eight years at the bargain-bin price of $49 million. And, given that McDavid will still be working at his original rate of pay come October, I fail to see how a contract that doesn’t kick in until the autumn of 2018 means they’re all-in for 2017-18.

Nice to see someone from Good Ol’ Hometown get the top job in the Canadian Football League, but, unless Randy Ambrosie is holding back on administrative skills that include hocus-pocus, I don’t see how anything short of hypnosis can convince folks in the Republic of Tranna that the Argonauts are a good buy. Right now, the Boatmen are No. 6 on the pecking order in the Centre of the Universe, behind the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors, Toronto FC and Drake, and it shows in the pews. When the soccer side plays, BMO Field is alive and full. When the Argos are the main event, it becomes Empty Seats Stadium.

Matt Nichols

Quick thoughts on the heels of the 29-10 paddywhacking the Calgary Stampeders delivered to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry: Bombers running back Andrew Harris insisted that he and his mates in blue-and-gold “are better than this.” Okay. Prove it…Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea is “not interested in historical data of whatever number in a row.” We are, Mike. Like, Winnipeg has been a Grey Cup-free zone for 26 years in a row. Do something about that and the rest of us will ignore historical data, too…Oh no. Is Matt Nichols becoming the new Henry Burris without the Grey Cup rings? You know, Good Hank, Bad Hank? I mean, what we saw Friday night definitely was Bad Matt. Really Bad Matt. End zone interception and pick-six Bad Matt. You aren’t going to beat anyone, let alone the Stampeders, with that level of quarterbacking.

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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My Two Hens in the Hockey House deliver the goods on the Winnipeg Jets and Kevin Cheveldayoff’s addition by subtraction

Well, look who’s dropped in for an unexpected chit-chat about all things Winnipeg Jets. That’s right, it’s the Two Hens in the Hockey House, who, when last seen, were breaking away to enjoy summer. Turns out they delayed their good, ol’ summertime frolic to discuss the most recent goings-on with their fave National Hockey League outfit and its general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: What gives, girlfriend? I thought we were going to give our jaws a rest until October. What happened to a summer sans chit-chat about the Jets?

Answer Lady: Kevin Cheveldayoff happened, that’s what.

Question Lady: How so?

Answer Lady: Well, once they put the NHL entry draft to bed, I was convinced he’d become Rip Van Chevy and snooze the summer away, like he always does. Remember? Way back in April, I predicted this would be Chevy’s seventh annual Summer of Nothing. So what does the guy do? Instead of heading to the cottage to dip his fishing line into the lake, he dips his toes into the free-agent pool. He goes all GM on us. Go figure.

Question Lady: So, what are you telling me, that you were wrong?

Answer Lady: Yes, I was wro…I was wro…geez, I’m like the Fonz on Happy Days. I can’t say the word wro…oh, pooh. I was mistaken about Chevy. This time. Every other time I was unmistaken.

Question Lady: Actually, you weren’t wrong, girlfriend. You predicted that Chevy would be active once the free-agent bell rang. You said he’d sign at least one player. Remember which player?

Answer Lady: Oh, ya, Chris Thorburn. D’oh! Can you believe the St. Louis Blues actually reeled that sluggo in for two years, at 900K per? Were they not paying attention? Thorbs is a five-minutes-a-night forward with zero upside.

Question Lady: Aren’t they buying his bare knuckles? You know, to replace Ryan Reaves? One goon for another?

Answer Lady: Oh, ya, like that’s going to fly with the faithful in St. Loo. Thorbs is a fighter like I’m Jennifer Aniston’s stand-in. He drops his gloves and holds on like barnacles clinging to the hull of a rusty, old ship. He had what, 13 scraps last season? And threw maybe four punches. By the way, they don’t call players like Reaves and Thorbs goons anymore. They’re energy enforcers, don’t you know.

Chris Thorburn

Question Lady: I’ll try to keep that in mind. Meanwhile, won’t Thorbs be missed?

Answer Lady: Ya, like a yeast infection. Thorbs and Anthony Peluso have long been my measuring sticks for the Jets’ progress. I said in June 2015 that the presence of either in the lineup served as a retardant to the development of the young players, and only when Thorbs and Joe Palooka were told to vamoose would we see actual progress. They’re both gone—hallelujah!—so I guess it’s game on.

Question Lady: Is Steve Mason going to be the answer in goal next season?

Answer Lady: I’d feel a whole lot better about Mason if he wasn’t coming over from Philadelphia. I mean, the Flyers know goaltending like Gary Bettman knows the North End of Winnipeg. They haven’t had anyone who could stop a sniffle since Ron Hextall was acting like a one-man SWAT team in the 1980s. Talk about a guy off his nut. And now Ronnie Axe-tall is the Flyers GM. Who’d have thunk that?

Question Lady: Shouldn’t we be concerned that if Hextall has no use for Mason, Cheveldayoff could have done better than a recycled Philly Flyer?

Answer Lady: I’m going to cut Chevy some slack here. Yes, he’s goalie blind. As goalie blind as the Flyers. And it’s of his own doing that he found himself sifting through the dregs of the goaltenders who became available in the past 2½ months. But…at least he did something. Finally. Even a Philly Flyers reject has to be better than what Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson delivered last season.

Question Lady: You don’t think Hellebuyck is the real deal?

Answer Lady: Is Homer Simpson the poster boy for good parenting? Does the Pope skip mass? If Hellebuyck played in New Jersey or Columbus or San Jose, no one in Jets Nation would be talking about him. I mean, it’s not like everyone in the NHL is saying, “Geez, if we could pry that Hellebuyck guy out of Winnipeg we’d be a shoo-in to win the Stanley Cup.” I think Hellebuyck will be an upgrade on Hutchinson as a backup. That’s as half full as I can make that glass.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question Lady: What do you know about the defenceman Chevy reeled in, Dmitry Kulikov?

Answer Lady: I know he’s a Russian, he shoots left, he spent an awful lot of time in the repair shop last season, he’s buddies with Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele, he’s overpaid, and he could use one more vowel in his first name.

Question Lady: That’s it? That’s all you have to say about him?

Answer Lady: What else is there to say? The guy was a bust in Buffalo, but the Jets believe he’ll be boffo paired with Buff. Now stop me before I OD on alliteration.

Question Lady: So are you giving Chevy a passing grade for his off-season tinkering?

Answer Lady: Mostly, it’s been addition by subtraction. Gone are Thorbs, Peluso, Ondrej Pavelec, Mark Stuart, Paul Postma…that’s all good. Meanwhile, the Jets are better with a Mason-Hellebuyck combo than Hellebuyck-Hutchinson and, if buy-a-vowel Dmitry works out, the blueline is improved. But Chevy gagged at the expansion/entry drafts by dropping 11 slots in the first round just to protect fringe players on a non-playoff roster. And, he still hasn’t dealt with the elephant in the room—Jacob Trouba’s desire to get out of Dodge. Getting Trouba’s signature on a long-term contract ought to be priority No. 1. Overall, I’d give Chevy a passing grade C, for getting the goalie and for what he unloaded. He’s probably earned a week or two of down time at the cottage.

Question Lady: Before we go, what did you think of the TSN and Sportsnet coverage on free-agent day?

Answer Lady: I mostly watched TSN and their talking heads did boffo business, although I cringe every time I see Aaron Ward. Still can’t get past that domestic violence issue. As for Sportsnet, was it bad-hair day on the panel, or what? I mean, what’s up with the mops on Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos? Friedman looked like he had half a head and Kypreos looked like he had his hair cut at Coif du John Deere. I swear, he must have laid down on the lawn and let someone run over his head with a riding mower. And the glare from John Shannon’s coke-bottle glasses blinded me. I’m still seeing double. Other than that, it was all good. Both groups were on their games.

Question Lady: Okay, that’s it. Time to do summer. See you in October.

Answer Lady: Sounds like a plan. Have fun and don’t forget your sunscreen.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About the “True North!” tribal chant…Ducky talks up the Rink Rat…Winnipeg Jets are signing jockeys…salute to Doc Holliday and Mad Dog…and a concussed sports scribe

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

I understand why the faithful who flock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie bow to a corporate god by shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets matches.

Honest, I get it.

Ol’ Lefty, Troy Westwood

I mean, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his deep-pocketed co-bankroll, David Thomson, delivered a National Hockey League franchise to them after so many bleak winters in the wilderness, thus the giddy rabble is grateful and the full-throated “True North!” cry has become their tribal chant.

But (you knew there was going to be a but, right?)…

As much as I promote freedom of expression and I get where Jets Nation is coming from, the “True North!” ritual has a cringe-inducing element to it. Whenever I hear the salute to their corporate god, True North Sports & Entertainment, it sounds rather nerdy. If not flat-out cheesey.

I am reminded of this due to a sparring match between Troy Westood and Jeff Veillette in the cesspool of anger and ugliness known as Twitter.

Westwood, of course, is among the stable of talking heads at TSN 1290 in River City and, like most talking heads, he sometimes shoves his left foot (the same one he once used to hoof field goals for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers) into his mouth. Veillette, meanwhile, works out of the Republic of Tranna as an editor/writer at Leafs Nation and managing editor of hockey content for the Nation Network.

Here is their weekend to-and-fro:

Veillette: “Someone just TRUE NORTH’d the anthem at the Toronto FC game. Worst tradition in all of pro sports. Get that out of this stadium.”

Westwood: “Jeff, I believe I speak for the majority of Manitobans here while inviting you to go outside and play hide and go f yourself. #TRUENORTH.”

I assume Ol’ Lefty uses that mouth to kiss his loved ones, but, hey, we’re all adults on Twitter and F-bombs and insults are as commonplace as Jets loyalists who believe the Puck Pontiff can do no wrong, regardless how much he charges for a glass of beer at TLHHOtheP or how often he feeds at the public trough.

Not surprisingly, the Westwood-Veillette thrust-and-parry aroused the rabble, and their respective Twitter feeds featured a few more F-bombs and much banter that came across as the squawkings of school kids whose mothers wear army boots and whose dad can beat up the other guy’s dad. Seriously. Toronto sucks…Winnipeg sucks…Toronto sucks…Winnipeg sucks.

For the record, I don’t think either city sucks. I just prefer not to live there. Or there.

At any rate, Veillette got up a whole lot of Peg noses with his pooh-poohing of the “True North!” tribal chant and calling it the “worst tradition in all of pro sports.” (I can think of at least one worse tradition—annually failing to win a professional shinny title for 50 years. Mind you, Veillette wouldn’t know much about Maple Leafs lethargy because he’s barely off his mother’s breast milk, so we shouldn’t confuse him for someone whose hockey knowledge extends beyond knowing Auston Matthews’ sweater number.)

What I wonder is why Peggers get so bent out of shape whenever some dude from the Republic of Tranna slags Pegtown. So Jeff Veillette isn’t fond of the tribal chant. Boo flipping hoo. You want to shout “True North!” then do it. Even if the rest of the country thinks it makes you sound like a bunch of doofuses. You and I know there’s plenty to like about good, ol’ Hometown, and if I can find time between sandbagging for the annual springtime flood and swatting mosquitoes I might be able to think of some of them. (Oh, relax. I’m just kidding. I don’t want or need Ol’ Lefty lobbing F-bombs in my direction.)

Barrie Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk

Really enjoyed the Sportsnet Q&A between Luke Fox and Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk. Ducky, head coach of the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League, provided some good insight on present-day Jets centre Rink Rat Scheifele: “He was a dream kid coming into junior hockey. His attitude surpasses so many people’s. He loves walking into the rink, grinning ear to ear, and can’t wait to work hard. He almost makes the coach’s job easier because he pushes the pace all the time, and everyone tries to keep up. People don’t know this: They think I really steered Winnipeg onto Mark. No. Winnipeg called me once. They said, ‘We just interviewed this kid. Is he really for real?’ That was their only question. I said, ‘Oh, ya. He’s the real deal.’ He blows you away when you meet him—you see the passion in his personality, and he brings it out in his game.”

I note the Jets have signed Sami Niku, a Finnish defenceman who weighs less than the food on Dustin Byfuglien’s dinner plate. Seriously. One hundred and 68 pounds? I guess that makes him Toby Lite. Not to worry, though. If the hockey thing doesn’t work out for Niku, they’re always looking for jockeys at Assiniboia Downs.

Speaking of the Downs, which went to the post for its 60th season on Sunday, there’s a 4-year-old filly out there called Dink of the Year. Who knew that someone would name a race horse after Ryan Kesler?

Paul (Mad Dog) Robson

Nice to see old friend and former newspaper colleague Bob Holliday earn the Historical Award for his work with the St. Vital Museum, and Paul Robson, my former bossman (publisher) at the Winnipeg Sun and one-time general manager of the Blue Bombers is to be invested into the Order of Manitoba. One day during his stewardship at the Sun, Robson overheard me mention that Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron and Chris Walby were “really good guys.” He stepped forward to join myself and a few other sports scribes in our little corner of the newsroom and said, “Let me tell you something about football players. They’re all a–holes. Every one of them. It’s just that some of them are bigger a–holes than the others. Don’t let those guys fool you into thinking they’re not a–holes.” That from a guy whose nickname when he played for the Bombers was Mad Dog. I still don’t agree with Robson. Westwood, Cameron and Walby were among the good guys in football. And so was Paul (he was also my favorite publisher).

Did I read Steve Simmons right? Did he actually label former players involved in a concussion lawsuit against the NHL “opportunists?” And they’re hopping on “an apparent gravy train?” Yup, that’s what he wrote. Farther down in his Postmedia column, however, he submits, “In my view, the current players are not properly protected by the NHL system.” I see. Former players whose coaches shoved them back onto the ice scant seconds after suffering head trauma (shake it off, kid; it’s a long way from your heart) are “opportunists” looking to make an easy buck, but it’s today’s players who are being mistreated. Seems to me there’s a least one sports writer who’s been concussed and needs to spend some time in the quiet room.

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: Ripples on the water and the Zen of Chevy

Okay, here’s what we learned during 46 minutes and 37 seconds of a smoke-blowing to-and-fro between Kevin Cheveldayoff and news snoops on Monday:

  1. The Winnipeg Jets general manager has had a tete-a-tete with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman about a contract extension that would allow Chevy (“I love this organization.”) to complete the restoration project he began in 2011, when the Puck Pontiff purchased a fixer-upper known as the Atlanta Thrashers with $170 million of David Thomson’s pocket change.
  2. Head coach Paul Maurice and all his accomplices (yes, kids, we said all…of…them) will return for the 2017-18 National Hockey League crusade.
  3. Nobody’s perfect, not even Maurice.
  4. If you drop a pebble in water, Grasshopper, it will create ripples.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

So, if it was insight, enlightenment, revelation or specifics you sought about your fave National Hockey League outfit, you came to the wrong place.

That’s not to say Chevy didn’t speak. Boy, did he ever flap his gums. The Puck Pontiff’s right-hand dude reminds me of a joke former Jets coach and funny man Tom McVie used to tell us about a friend who had a serious case of the yadda, yadda, yaddas: “Ask him for the time of day and he’ll tell you how to build a watch.”

Well, Chevy didn’t instruct the assembled diggers of nuggets how to build a timepiece, but he assured one and all that the Puck Pontiff’s and his way of constructing an NHL winner/champion is the right way, albeit the long way (patience, Grasshopper, and you too shall one day see the ripples on the water).

As is his norm, the GM spoke in Chevy-speak, meaning word count was maximized (why use a dozen words when 10 dozen will do?) and content required decoding. With that in mind, we give to you the Zen of Chevy, what the Grand Master said and what he really said.

What Chevy said about Puck Finn, fab Finnish rookie Patrick Laine…

He’s a wonderful person, he cares deeply about his game, he cares deeply about the team’s game and he’s got a passion to want to learn, a passion to want to keep getting better, a passion to want to be the best. He’s a driven individual and a proud individual and a humble individual. For us, as a franchise, it’s a big, key piece in helping us get to where we want to get to.”

What Chevy really said: “You talk about your craphouse luck. I still cannot believe those ping pong balls bounced our way at the draft lottery last year. You think we can fall into that same dung heap and come up smelling like orchids again? Karma, baby.”

What Chevy said about Maurice and a contract extension for the third-losingest coach in NHL history…

“Paul Maurice is the coach of this hockey team. What, where, how we go to the next steps, we’ll have discussions as we go. For me, Paul ‘s got my full support. I think it really goes to what we’ve asked Paul to do over his period of time here and, again, this hasn’t been something that we’ve knee-jerked and said ‘We’re gonna go in this direction now’ or ‘We’re gonna change and go in this direction.’ When Paul and I talked when he took over the team, we talked about the steps that were going to be necessary in order to build this franchise and continue to push it in the direction that we wanted. It was really at that point in time his enthusiasm and his willingness, for a veteran coach, to take on that task and understand that it wasn’t going to be smooth. You know, there’s gonna be steps along the way that you’d like accelerated and there’s gonna be steps along the way…some coaches that maybe aren’t as secure in their own skin or belief or where they’re at in their careers wouldn’t want to take on, they wouldn’t want to maybe take some of the youth, opportunities we had in front of us and really not coach for the best interests of the team. Paul’s coached for the best interests of this team and the best interests of the future of this team as we’ve asked him. He’s a leader. Is he perfect? No. We’re all not perfect here.”

What Chevy really said: “I like this Maurice dude almost as much as I like Chris Thorburn.”

What Chevy said about the positives he takes from a season in which the Jets failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament for the fifth time in six tries…

“We talk about the youth and we talk about the development of this organization. When we took over, we were clamoring to be able to have young players that we could look at and say ‘Hey, we want to build this franchise with (him).’ That has taken time. It’s taken time not only to draft them and unfortunately you don’t get that opportunity to draft all your players all at once. Sometimes you have to wait, sometimes as we have seen the wait is definitely worth it. But you can only implement what you have when you have it. And when you do have it, you should be looking at pushing it forward. Again, if you’re looking for the greater goal of trying to achieve something, you want to build a core, you want to build it as big as you can. You have to be able to go through that process to be able to do it. Drafting and developing is the way that we chose. That’s what we set out to do and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

What Chevy really said: “I can’t think of any positives right now. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Connor Hellebuyck

What Chevy said about the Jets goaltending this season…

“I think anybody who can manage in hindsight is a better manager than anybody that’s in pro sports. You don’t manage in hindsight, you learn from experiences and you certainly grow from experiences. But you also need to understand that you have to take steps to move forward. You have to make decisions. You don’t sit and try and say ‘Well I hope.’ You make that decision. It’s not unlike a skater. You have to give them that opportunity to grow. The decision that we made to move forward with the goaltending and how we chose to do it this year, it was not done in a vacuum. It was done with lots of conversation within the group, understanding that if we didn’t do it at that point in time that, one year forward, we would be sitting here today, tomorrow meaning at the beginning of the season, saying ‘Can Connor Hellebuyck take us to that next level? Is he going to be that No. 1?’ Well, if we didn’t give him that opportunity to play the games this year, we don’t know. Well, we better give him those opportunities in order to find out. We made that decision. You have to make decisions. You have to make choices. We made that choice. For a player like Connor, the sky’s the limit. Can he grow into being that No. 1? Ya, for sure he can.”

What Chevy really said: “We rolled the dice and we crapped out.”

What Chevy said about the need for a veteran goaltender…

What direction we choose to go, we’ll look at all the different options that are available to us. We will look at a lot of different scenarios to see if there’s a chance to push it, to move forward with it, whether it’s a veteran, whether it’s a young guy. Again, these are things that I can’t sit here and tell you in a hundred per cent certainty what’s going to happen. But, again, we’re going to look at all the different options.”

What Chevy really said: “After the entry draft in June, I’ll take the rest of the summer off. You know, same as I always do.”

What Chevy said about the challenge of signing all his young talent in the future…

Salary cap management is probably one of the biggest and foremost responsibilities for a general manager at the National Hockey League level. Certainly at the situation we’re in, when you look to acquire young talent and they have excelled under the staff that’s here and the opportunities that are given them, that’s a good thing. Again, if you have young talent that doesn’t challenge you and push you from a contractual situation, then maybe you’d be a little concerned. Are they the right people to push us moving forward? We’ve been very conscious in trying to understand that one bad decision, one long-term financial decision can have major ramifications and ripples all the way through. It’s like when you drop a little pebble into a water, you get the small ripples maybe happen right there but they keep getting bigger and bigger and expand the longer you go out. You want to make sure the decisions you make today…again, instant gratification is something that we all think is just the be all, end all and that there’s that magic pill, there’s that magic cure to cure all ills with respect to your team, but no team has found it yet. We have some good young players. We will make the necessary steps and necessary decisions to keep those good young players. That’s been our promise, that’s been our mandate, that’s been something we’ve said since day one. And that day is coming.”

What Chevy really said: “We’re totally screwed financially in another year or two.”

Jacob Trouba

What Chevy said about Jacob Trouba, who delivered a trade request last May and withdrew his services at the start of last season…

We’ve never deviated from the fact that, when we talk about Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, we believe that those two players are going to be the ultimate drivers on this team. I can’t sit here and tell you we’re gonna open contract negotiations tomorrow. We might. Those are things that do unfold and stay behind the scenes, close to the vest.”

What Chevy really said: “Have you seen the pictures from Jacob’s draft day that I have on my office wall? Sweet.”

What Chevy said about another “wasted” year for soon-to-be-greybeard and captain Blake Wheeler…

I think, again, you can’t help but get excited about some of the youth that’s here. I think whether you’re in sports or whether you’re in school or whatever it is, when you have the potential to do something great you want it to happen now. So…again, the players, Blake…they all play this game to try to get to this point to try to win the Stanley Cup. One thing that is very certain in this league, you do not know what the future holds. You do not. And whether you’re a young player that wins a Stanley Cup at 18 years old and thinks that it’s going to happen each and every year…you know, you may never get back there. So, again, for Blake you empathize with those kind of players that lay it out there every night, provide the examples. But I think deep down you relish that opportunity knowing that how much you have helped those young guys is, again, gonna point them in the right direction. Blake’s passion, Blake’s desire will never be questioned. Certainly, it’s what drives me as well. When I sit there…when I sat there and talked to Blake the last time we did his contract extension, I gave them my commitment, I gave them my promise that I was going to do what’s necessary to push this team not only to try to win but to try to win the big prize. That ultimately is what they want. When I get a chance to speak with Blake, we’re gonna go over that as well.”

What Chevy really said: “Hey, it’s like the ripples on the water. Eventually, they fade away, so you drop another pebble in the water and new ripples appear. Unfortunately for Blake, he isn’t one of those new ripples.”

What Chevy says to Jets Nation…

They’re gonna get an opportunity to see a team that has grown. You know, the process was started…from the moment that we took over, the idea of what we were going to do and how we were going to do it…the seeds were planted. Those seeds took a while to germinate. They took a while to start growing. We have one of the best ownership groups in the league, because they know that there’s a plan in place and they know that they’re gonna stick to that plan.”

What Chevy really said: “We have a plan with no beginning and no end, Grasshoppers.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.


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My Hens in the Hockey House want Jacob Trouba to stay long term and Big Buff to stay short term

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

Take it away, ladies…

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

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

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

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

Question Lady: You think?

Sean Spicer

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

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

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

Question Lady: You’re kidding me, right?

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

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

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

Canucks cult figure Harold Snepsts.

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

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

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

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

Question Lady: No Dustin Byfuglien on that list?

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

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

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

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

Jacob Trouba

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

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

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

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

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

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.


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

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

Take it way ladies…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question Lady: Care to expand on that?

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

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

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

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

Scotty Bowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question Lady: Will Chipman kick Maurice to the curb?

To Russia, with Cherry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.