What ails the Winnipeg Jets? It’s between the ears

The boys are back in town, perhaps somewhat discombobulated from their junket to Laineland, and now it’s time for the real Winnipeg Jets to declare themselves. Have they underachieved so far this National Hockey League season, or is what we’ve seen what we can expect the remainder of the way? Here to sort it all out are the two Hens in the Hockey House. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, how are you on this fine morning in November, girlfriend?

Answer Lady: Must admit that I’m a bit wonky. Maybe a little grumpy, too. I forgot to turn my clock back on the weekend. I still don’t understand why we do that. It messes me up. Spring forward, fall back…what’s that all about? The sodbusters in Saskatchewan have got it right. They leave their clocks alone. There’s no turning back for them.

Question Lady: I’ll bet Brendan Lemieux wishes he could turn the clock back. His cheap shot on Vincent Trocheck of the Florida Panthers last week has earned him an audience with the player safety police. Any chance he won’t be suspended?

Answer Lady: Meet Mr. Slim & Mr. None.

Question Lady: How many games do you think he’ll get?

Answer Lady: Two. I’d give him an extra game and make it three for being as dumb as a fence post, but you can’t penalize a guy for bad genes.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: It occurs to me that many among the rabble are less than thrilled with our hockey heroes 14 games into the current crusade. The Jets are 8-5-1, but that isn’t good enough. Apparently, they aren’t operating “on all cylinders.” Apparently, there’s “something missing.”

Answer Lady: Ya, there’s something missing. His name is Paul Stastny. After Stastny joined the Jets in February, they went 15-4-1, then won two playoff series before running out of petrol. His smarts and contributions on the scoresheet were substantial. Sans Stastny this outfit isn’t as good as the group that advanced to the Western Conference final in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. Some of us knew that going in. We had concerns about depth at centre ice. Still do.

Question Lady: That’s it? Paul Stastny is the difference?

Rink Rat Scheifele

Answer Lady: Do the math, girlfriend. Aside from Rink Rat Scheifele’s 13 points, look at the production down the middle: Bryan Little and Adam Lowry…five points apiece. Andrew Copp, two. A dozen points total. Three backliners—Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey—have more than double that. Before they dropped the puck in October, you asked me about weaknesses with this team. I mentioned two things: Depth down the middle and Twig Ehlers’ vanishing acts. Spot on. Move me to the front of the class, teacher.

Question Lady: Where does Jack Roslovic figure in all of this? Wasn’t he supposed to soften the blow of losing Stastny to the Vegas Golden Knights?

Paul Maurice

Answer Lady: Ya, except Paul Maurice is confused. Coach Potty Mouth hasn’t decided if Roslovic belongs at centre, on the wing, with the Manitoba Moose, or eating popcorn in the press box. And if Coach PoMo is confused, we can only imagine how the kid feels.

Question Lady: Maybe last week’s trip to Finland will turn things around for the Jets. There’s nothing like some good, old-fashioned team bonding, no?

Answer Lady: Bonding shmonding! Finland shminland! This is basically the same group—minus Stastny and Toby Enstrom—that got them to the Western Conference final. And you’re telling me they needed a pilgrimage to Finland to bond? As if. I call it the Finland Farce. All that junket to Finland did was give news snoops on the trip an opportunity to fatten up on reindeer stew, or whatever it is they eat over there in the dark. In terms of the team, it was nothing more than an exercise in putting the players’ body clocks out of whack for no reason other than Gary Bettman’s global goodwill.

Puck Finn

Question Lady: How can you say that? Patrik Laine snapped out of his scoring slump with four snipes. Are you telling me that means nothing?

Answer Lady: It was showtime for Puck Finn in front of family, friends and a fawning faithful. The kid was boffo. Now, if only the Jets could somehow manage to transport all those people to North America for the next 68 games. Might keep him motivated.

Question Lady: You’re down on Laine?

Answer Lady: Not really. Puck Finn’s special. But let’s face it, he’s great at one thing—scoring goals. The rest of his game, meh. With gusts up to atrocious.

Question Lady: Some people are a bit down on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. They talk like his game has taken a step or two in reverse. What’s your take?

Connor Hellebuyck

Answer Lady: Meh again. Look, here’s the deal with Hellebuyck and the rest of the Jets: They look, to me, like a team that’s bored with regular-season skirmishes. It’s as if the every-day hum-drum of the regular season is an inconvenience. I could be wrong, of course, because I don’t have access to the inner sanctum, but I see a team that thinks it’s too big for its britches. They know they’re good and believe they’ll qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament by default. Their play strongly suggests that’s their mindset.

Question Lady: So you’re saying the problem is between the ears?

The rabble

Answer Lady: Exactly. That and the loss of Stastny. But I have to make something quite clear: I don’t share the angst of the rabble. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Jets that a slight attitude adjustment won’t fix. Once they remind themselves that there are no freebe nights in the NHL, they’ll be fine.

Question Lady: At what point should we become concerned?

Answer Lady: If the Jets aren’t in a playoff position when Americans carve their Thanksgiving Day turkeys, fear the worst. Until then, chill.

Question Lady: Any plans for the rest of the day?

Answer Lady: Ya, I’m gonna write my local MP and demand that we neither spring forward or fall back in the future. Then I’m gonna take a nap. Trouble is, I don’t know if I’m trying to catch up on an hour’s sleep lost or if I’m going to bed too early.

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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 hocus-pocus with Mike O’Shea…is it west or east for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?…are the B.C. Lions for real?…the McDavid-Matthews debate is over…fancy stats on Twig Ehlers are bogus…Puck Finn is no Finnish Flash…Josh Mo is the Winnipeg Jets main man on D…let’s play ball…and other things on my mind

If it’s Sunday, it must be time for another sports smorgas-bored…all opinions are mine except those that the devil made me write…

Top o’ the morning to you, Mike O’Shea.

Has the fog lifted? Can you see clearly now? Do you recognize what’s in front of you? Ya, that’s right. A playoff spot. It’s there for the taking, like a nerdy school kid’s lunch money. Just beat the suddenly very beatable Calgary Stampeders on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry and your Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in.

Mike O’Shea

So here are your instructions, Mikey: Now is not the time for one of your dumb-ass brain farts.

You know what I’m talking about. But just so we don’t have a failure to communicate, I’ll spell it out for you: Do not attempt a field goal from 61 yards out unless Hurricane Helen is at Justin Medlock’s back; do not fake a punt when a) scrimmaging deep inside your end of the field, and b) when holding a lead.

In other words, Mikey, stay the hell out of your own way.

Now, I realize that you’re fond of hocus-pocus football, but here’s the deal: You’re a football coach, not Penn & Teller. Darcy Oake isn’t your special teams coordinator. Still, I’m guessing you’ll feel the urge to attempt some trickery and gimmickry vs. the Stampeders. Well, fight it off like Chris Walby pushing away from the dinner table when there’s still chicken and dumplings on his plate. If you can’t, just use your smoke and mirrors at the right time and place.

Aside from that, Mikey, you’re on your own.

Darcy Oake

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t trust the Winnipeg FC head coach to steer clear of his own mad scientist impulses. During O’Shea’s five-year run as sideline steward in River City, he’s made a habit of allowing his kooky notions to interfere with logic. In both the 2016 and ’17 West Division semifinals, for example, he self-destructed with flim-flammery. Canadian Football League champions are seldom born of magic acts. Unless, of course, your quarterback is named Doug Flutie. Thus, O’Shea would be wise to get the ball into Andrew Harris’ hands early and often and leave the illusions to Penn, Teller and Oake.

So, pick your poison. Would you rather have Winnipeg FC try their playoff luck on the Prairies or take the scenic route in the east? Finish third and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Stampeders are in front of them on the road to the Grey Cup game. Cross over into Ontario and the Bytown RedBlacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats lie in ambush. My advice: Go west, young men.

Travis Lulay

Okay, I confess, I had the B.C. Lions written off halfway through this CFL crusade, yet the Leos qualified for the Grey Cup runoff with a thoroughly convincing victory over the Edmonton Eskimos on Friday night. So why is it that I’m still not convinced they’re legit? Perhaps it’s because the starting QB, the very capable Travis Lulay, is as brittle as a piece of burnt toast.

Having said that, I think the Grey Cup would be a lovely parting gift for Leos head coach Wally Buono.

The discussion has begun about the Bombers nominee for most outstanding player. If I had a vote, which I do not, it would go to beastly linebacker Adam Bighill. I’m confident that the boys and girls on the Winnipeg FC beat will get it right.

Connor McDavid

On the subject of outstanding jocks, it’s about the Connor McDavid-Auston Matthews who’s-the-best debate: Both Sidney Crosby and Rink Rat Scheifele have entered the fray and say McDavid is the National Hockey League’s leading man.

Here’s Crosby: “I think McDavid has set himself apart just based on the awards and the accolades he’s gotten and the consistency he’s had. I think it’s fair to say it’s an easy pick just because of that. It’s hard to argue (against McDavid). He’s been really consistent, he’s won scoring titles, MVPs. So, ya, that’s an easy one to pick.”

Here’s the Rink Rat: “Matthews is a star in this league and he’s going to get better. But he’s not at McDavid’s level just yet.”

That’s good enough for me. Case closed.

Question about the Winnipeg Jets: Is Bryan Little dragging down Twig Ehlers and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine, or are they dragging him down? Please discuss among yourselves.

Twig Ehlers

Out of curiosity, I read one of Andrew Berkshire’s offerings in the Winnipeg Free Press last week and, not surprisingly, it included a whack of numbers and a couple of charts to interfere with all the words. Basically, those numbers and charts were designed to assure the rabble that all is well with Twig Ehlers. “He’s doing all the right things to create goals,” Berkshire wrote. He added that Twig is “One of the most dangerous players (in the NHL) once the puck crosses the blue line.” Well, sure…if your idea of “dangerous” is zero goals and three points in eight games. That translates into a 30-point season. I have no quarrel with the crunching of fancy numbers in hockey, but Ehlers is paid $6 million a year to provide offence, and no amount of fancy stats can sugar-coat the reality that Twig isn’t delivering. Zero goals is zero goals. Those are the only numbers that matter. No charts required.

Puck Finn

Still can’t get over the play of Ehlers and Puck Finn on the goal that gave the Edmonton McDavids a 5-4 extra-time win over les Jets last Tuesday. It was shocking. I mean, it’s one thing to make an ill-advised pass (Ehlers) that turns the puck over to Darnell Nurse in the Edmonton end of the freeze. Hey, brain cramps happen. But the effort by both Jets forwards once Nurse arrived at the home side’s blueline was pathetic. Puck Finn made a feeble, ultra-lazy, one-handed wave of the stick, as if trying to tickle Nurse, then coasted. Ehlers performed an Ice Capades routine inside the zone, making a quick side step and a dainty wave with his stick. Unacceptable effort. Yo! Boys! That isn’t PlayStation hockey. It’s the NHL. Hard work isn’t an option. It’s mandatory.

Am I wrong to suggest Laine is a great goal-scorer but an average player? That’s my reading on him this month. At times he’s looked lazy, at times he’s looked very slow, at times he’s looked clumsy, at times he’s looked out of shape, at times he’s looked like he doesn’t have a clue. And, to think, many were calling him Finnish Flash II when he arrived in River City. That was an insult to Teemu Selanne then and it is today.

Weed became legal in Canada on Wednesday. The striped shirts handling the Vancouver Canucks-Jets joust the following night celebrated by stinking out the joint.

Josh Morrissey

If I’m the people in Seattle and I’m allowed to take any of les Jets defenceman to start my expansion club, it’s Josh Morrissey. Kid’s got game. When I look at the tea leaves, I see numerous 50/60-point seasons ahead for the young rearguard. With gusts up to 70-75 points.

On a whim, I visited the Winnipeg HC website to see what, if any, tickets were available for the Saturday afternoon set-to vs. the Arizona Coyotes. Turns out there were plenty. Lowest single-ticket price $59.90; top price $235. If you wanted to take a date, though, you were looking at a $206-$470 hit (for two tickets). My reaction: What kind of a loser has $470 to spend and takes a date to see the Coyotes?

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Suitable that the turning point in the Boston Red Sox-Houston Astros series was the grand slam surrendered to Jackie Bradley Jr. by Roberto Osuna in Game 3. Houston ownership/management, which trumpets a zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence, believed they needed Osuna’s right arm to successfully defend their Major League Baseball title. They found out differently. So the question now is this: How long before the hypocritical Astros unload their woman-beating relief pitcher like he’s yesterday’s potato peelings?

And, finally, we have a throwback World Series, featuring the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the favored team of my youth. For me, this is like comfort food. Two traditional outfits, wearing the same classic unis as they did in the 1960s, and frolicking in two of the three oldest ballparks in MLB. Buy me some peanuts and crack me a beer. Let’s play ball! (And go Dodgers!)

About a suspension for Big Buff…homerism in the River City media…another Drab Slab sports columnist bites the dust…Paul Wiecek’s parting cheap shot at former colleagues…Winnipeg Blue Bombers getting lost in Winnipeg Jets hype…a hissing contest in Lotus Land…Rink Rat Scheifele the writer…coach PoMo is No. 10 with a bullet…and more hypocrisy in the media

A Sunday smorg on Turkey Weekend in Canada…

Dallas Stars 5, Winnipeg Jets 1…I guess the local hockey heroes will have to settle for an 81-1 record this season.

Since you asked, yes, Dustin Byfuglien should have been given the remainder of the night off after his attack on Dallas defenceman Connor Carrick on Saturday.

Big Buff

Got a kick out of the biased, homer reaction to the Byfuglien assault on Carrick. Troy Westwood of TSN 1290 tweeted “Atta boy Buff,” and Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press described it as a “careless cross-check.” As if. This was a brutal attack—from behind—on an unsuspecting, defenceless foe whose face was planted into the boards by Big Buff. Well after the whistle. Somehow I doubt Ol’ Lefty Westwood or McIntyre would pass it off as a meh moment had it been one of the Stars attacking, say, Josh Morrissey from the rear and driving his kisser into the woodwork. They’d be squawking about a match penalty, a game misconduct and a suspension, which Byfuglien deserves. But, hey, when you work for the broadcast rights holder or the official paper of the Jets, I guess you see a different game.

Speaking of the Freep, the Drab Slab chews up and spits out sports columnists like sunflower seeds in a baseball dugout.

If my scorecard is correct, Paul Wiecek is the fourth guy to either walk away from—or be pushed out of—the position since 2004, so once a newbe is on board it’ll be five in 14 years. That’s an alarming amount of foot traffic for such a highly coveted gig.

Now, I understand that the rag trade has changed greatly this century and the rats continue to scurry from what appears to be a sinking vessel (meaning the overall print business, if not the Freep). Jock journos across the continent have abandoned newspapers in favor of digital enterprises or they’ve defected to pro sports outfits, and the Drab Slab has been hit as hard, if not harder, than most sheets.

Here’s who the Freep has lost in recent years:

1) Tim Campbell (went to nhl.com);
2) Gary Lawless (went to TSN 1290 before the Vegas Golden Knights);
3) Ed Tait (went to bluebombers.com);
4) Wiecek (he’s going for a long walk on a beach).

That’s a big wallop. And it would seem the columnist gig in the Freep’s toy department doesn’t hold the stature it did in the days of Maurice Smith and Hal Sigurdson.

Ed Tait

Not at all surprised that Wiecek couldn’t resist the urge to take one final cheap shot, but I thought his target would have been one of his favorite whipping boys, Mike O’Shea and his “goofy shorts” or Jacob Trouba (“liar, liar”). Instead, he took aim at former colleagues Campbell, Lawless and Tait, each of whom defected from the Freep and now puts food on the table by working for pro outfits.

“I also won’t be taking a job as a shill for a sports team or league, as so many others now seem to do,” he wrote in his farewell column. “There is journalism and then there is everything else. Any former reporter who tries to tell you that having their paycheque now signed by the same people they are covering ‘really isn’t all that different’ is hoping to delude you. And if they actually believe that nonsense, then they’re deluding themselves, too.”

Can you say arrogant, kids?

Knuckles Irving

Interesting that Wiecek would dump on someone like Tait when longtime and greatly respected voice of the Bombers, Bob Irving, is saying this about the former Freep and Winnipeg Sun football scribe: “He is fair, objective and even critical of the team he works for when it’s warranted. A consummate pro and incredibly respected as such across the land.” That was after Tait had worked with Knuckles on CJOB’s broadcast of the Bombers-Bytown RedBlacks skirmish in Ottawa on Friday night. Irving’s description of Tait is spot on. Wiecek, on the other hand, is full of crap.

Jacob Trouba: One of Paul Wiecek’s favorite whipping boys.

When Wiecek first landed the columnist gig at the Drab Slab, I applauded his appointment. He’d been a terrific reporter on both newsside and on numerous sports beats, and he’s a very good writer. I quite enjoyed his early offerings. They were pointed, opinionated and seldom shy. Over time, however, his copy grew increasingly bitter, angry and deeply mean-spirited in tone. It had a haughty, elitist, my-stuff-doesn’t-stink vibe. He used his print pulpit for obscene and unrelenting attacks on Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach O’Shea and Jets young defenceman Trouba (he’s “a liar, petulant, a malcontent, impetuous, the biggest loser, reckless, greedy, phony, selfish, a problem”). They were personal in nature and totally unprofessional. He never disguised his complete contempt for bloggers, newspaper defectors like the aforementioned Campbell, Lawless and Tait (“flacks and hacks”), and professional athletes (“coddled millionaires”). Reading him in the past year, I often got the impression that he was merely “mailing it in.” He became a blogger with personal axes to grind, rather than a journalist.

So here’s what I’m wondering this fine October morning: With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers heating up as it cools down, will the rabble notice?

I mean, the frost is fresh on the pumpkin and these crisp, autumn days and nights are made for football. The kind of football we saw Friday from Ottawa, where the Bombers were required to work extra time before subduing the Bytown Redblacks, 40-32. It was remarkable, entertaining theatre that left you wanting more. And I expect the Bombers to deliver more of same in the remaining three assignments on their Canadian Football League calendar.

But here’s the rub: The boys are back in town.

That is to say the Jets juggernaut invites its first sacrificial lamb of the 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Tuesday, and my fear is that Winnipeg FC is about to be swallowed whole by Scheifele, Wheeler, Laine et al, plus an unfortunate bit of scheduling.

The Bombers’ next skirmish is Saturday vs. the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Should be a sizable head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. But then what? Due to a bye week, the large lads are out of sight and out of mind for 13 days, during which time les Jets have half a dozen home dates, including a visit from the Tranna Maple Leafs. I’ll be shocked if the Bombers are anything more than an afterthought by the time the Calgary Stampeders roll into town on Oct. 26. What will that game attract, 20,000? Less?

I hope I’m wrong because the Bombers are on a significant roll that would stretch to four successive Ws with a win over Gang Green on Saturday, so they’re worthy of our attention.

Jonathon Jennings

That’s a nasty bit of business going on between B.C. Lions general manager Ed Hervey and the agent for quarterback Jonathon Jennings. If you missed it, Hervey called out Jennings during a chat with Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver, saying: “Will he reach elite status? That’s in his hands. That comes down to how much time you commit to pre- and post-practice film work and working with the coaches. I’ve been around some good quarterbacks and they lived around the (practice) facility. The good ones usually do. No knock on Jonathon, but you rarely see him around the facility enough to give you any indication that he’s ready to take it to that level.” To which agent Bardia Ghahremani responded: “Jonathon is one of the first to arrive to work every day. Ed would know this if Ed weren’t one of the last.” Total burn. The end result will be Jennings getting a new postal code next season.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Enjoyed Rink Rat Scheifele’s column on the TSN website last week. Among other things, the Jets centre offered this nugget: “You haven’t done anything until you’ve won a Stanley Cup. When you get that close, anything short of the ultimate goal is failure.” Now, if one of the boys on the beat had written that, the rabble would be calling the news snoop a negative SOB, or something less flattering. But since it’s Scheifele, everything’s cool.

A tip of the bonnet to Coach Potty Mouth, Paul Maurice. The losingest coach in NHL history is now the 10th winningest coach in NHL history with 649 Ws. If nothing else, you have to admire the guy’s stick-to-itness. Coach PoMo should pass both Mike Kennan and Pat Quinn to move into eighth place before the current crusade is in the books.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s ABH in the Major League Baseball playoffs—Anybody But Houston. Can’t root, root, root for a team that hired a guy who beats up women.

And, finally, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna hopped on a horse called Faux Righteousness this weekend, calling out Brian Burke of Sportsnet for “hypocrisy.” If anyone knows about hypocrisy, it’s Simmons. He dumps all over Ray Rice for beating up his wife, yet he writes about Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s “dignity” and glorifies the champion boxer, even though he’s a convicted wife beater. He brands John Farrell a traitor for defecting from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Boston Red Sox, even though he defected from the Calgary Sun to the Calgary Herald to the Toronto Sun.

Two Hens in the Hockey House: All about Sir Paul, the Rink Rat, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and how much the Winnipeg Jets will miss Paul Stastny

Let the games begin!

The Winnipeg Jets open their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade tonight against the Blues in St. Louis, and they have a tough act to follow. After advancing to the Western Conference final last spring, it has to be Stanley Cup final or bust for the locals.

Do they have it in them to take that next step? The Two Hens in the Hockey House have the answer. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, the quest is about to begin and I haven’t been this jacked up about anything since Paul McCartney stepped back on stage for a rousing encore the other night at the local hockey palace. How about you?

Answer Lady: You went to see Sir Paul in concert?

Question Lady: You bet your Beatles bubble gum cards I did. He’s been my main man since the lads first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. The guy’s a rock ‘n’ roll legend and can still get after it at 76 years of age. You don’t like Macca?

Answer Lady: Meh. His best post-Beatles work was Band On the Run. That was released in 1973. He’s been in a slump ever since. You know, kind of like the Jets since the World Hockey Association days.

WHA champion Jets, circa 1978-79.

Question Lady: Will you old farts ever let go of that Jets/WHA nonsense?

Answer Lady: Nonsense? You call it nonsense? Wash your mouth out with granny’s lye soap, girlfriend! Those were the glory days—three championships, five trips to the final in seven seasons, kicked the Russian Bear’s butt, best forward line in all of hockey…neither version of the NHL Jets has accomplished anything to compare. It’ll be 40 years next spring since the last victory parade rolled down Portage Avenue, and we haven’t had a whiff of glory since.

Question Lady: Which brings us to the current edition of the Jets. Plenty of buzz about these boys. They’re among the morning-line favorites to win le Coupe Stanley. Do you think the hype is warranted?

Answer Lady: Absolutely. All the ingredients seem to be in place. I believe they’ll romp through the regular season, maybe even win the President’s Trophy, and then, hopefully, they’ll borrow on the experience gained and lessons learned from last spring and get the job done next April, May and June.

Question Lady: Any chance of the Jets doing a face plant like the Edmonton McDavids performed last season?

Answer Lady: Sir Paul will be back in town with Ringo, John and George in tow before that happens, and since two of the Fab Four are pushing up daisies it ain’t gonna happen. There’s too much depth, too much talent. There aren’t any Looch’s in the Jets’ lineup to drag everybody else down. There’s no one like that anchor Milan Lucic in E-Town.

Question Lady: So this season will be a cake walk?

Answer Lady: Not at all. It’s not like the other outfits on this side of the continent have been twiddling their thumbs. The St. Louis Blues ought to be better. Ditto the Dallas Stars. San Jose Sharks upped their game with Erik Karlsson. The Nashville Predators are still nasty. But, ya, the Jets are the best of the bunch.

Bryan Little

Question Lady: Any weaknesses?

Answer Lady: Yup. Down the middle. Maybe. Rink Rat Scheifele is a legit No. 1 centre, but it’s iffy after that. I’ve long been a Bryan Little fan and I believe he’ll suitably fill the second slot. But what if his best-before date has already passed? Is Jack Roslovic a ready-for-prime-time centre? We don’t know. We can only guess. It could be a repeat of last season when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff felt obliged to seek help from beyond. We might be looking at another Paul Stastny scenario.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: What you’re saying is that this Jets team isn’t as good as the one that reached the Western Conference final last May?

Answer Lady: Do the math. Stastny gave the Jets 13 points in 19 regular-season games and, more significant, 15 points in the Stanley Cup tournament. Can either Little or Roslovic deliver that kind of production? From October through March? Sure. April-May-June I’m not convinced. And remember, it isn’t about the regular season for the Jets anymore. It’s about what goes down in the tournament. The playoffs, that’s their measuring stick. Everything else is window dressing.

Twig Ehlers

Question Lady: Any other misgivings?

Answer Lady: Twig Ehlers. The guy’s dynamic, but he’s a 35/40-goal scorer dressed up as a 25/29-goal scorer. His retreats into the twilight zone are mysterious and frustrating. Maybe it’s that whole PlayStation thing. Maybe the Vancouver Canucks are on to something by banning PlayStation and Fortnite on road trips.

Question Lady: Are you serious? You think Ehlers’ trips to la la land are linked to an obsession with video games? That’s crazy talk, girlfriend. Patrik Laine is one of those PlayStation goomers and he scored 44 goals last season.

Answer Lady: I’m just spitballing, girlfriend. If Puck Finn scores 44 goals every winter they’ll let him play Fortnite until his thumbs fall off. But there must be a reason why Twig vamooses for chunks of time. I mean, four goals after March? Zero in 15 playoff games? And people thought Howard Hughes disappeared. Maybe that’s what I should call Ehlers instead of Twig—Howard.

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: You’re being kind of hard on the kid, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: All I’m saying is he has 35-goal talent (or more) and his Invisible Man routine is beginning to wear thin. On the plus side, he’s young and can learn about the mental side of the game from a guy like captain Blake Wheeler.

Question Lady: Speaking of Wheeler, do you see another 91-point crusade out of him?

Answer Lady: I don’t see why not. Playing with Rink Rat Scheifele and Kyle Connor, he ought to get a point a game by accident. The guy’s a stud.

Question Lady: Any bold predictions?

Patrik Laine

Answer Lady: Yup. Puck Finn will win the Rocket Richard Trophy with 57 goals. The Rink Rat will reach the 100-point plateau and finish second to Connor McDavid in scoring. Connor Hellebuyck will win the Vezina Trophy. Paul Maurice will be a finalist for coach of the year.

Question Lady: What about the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Can’t say. Too much can change by then, and I expect it will. Chevy will do something at, or just before, the trade deadline. It’ll involve centres and defencemen.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. I’d say let’s do lunch, but I’m going home for a soak and to listen to the latest McCartney album. How about you?

Answer Lady: I think I’ll just watch old film of the Jets’ last WHA championship.

 

 

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.

Hens in the Hockey House: Big deals on Wheels for the Winnipeg Jets

My two Hens in the Hockey House have surfaced from their summer hibernation, just in time to deliver some blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda on the Blake Wheeler signing. The Winnipeg Jets captain has agreed to a five-year contract extension that will average $8.25 million per season, at which time he will be into his hockey dotage at age 37.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, girlfriend, what’s your take on the Deal on Wheels? Too much money? Too much term? Too little money? Too little term?

Answer Lady: The question isn’t whether or not the Jets gave Wheeler too much of this or too little of that. It’s this: When does the captain go into the inevitable decline?

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: What makes you so sure his game’s heading south?

Answer Lady: Oh, honey, everything heads south. Just take a look at what gravity has done to our bodies. We know Wheeler’s skills will decay and no tummy tuck is going to change or fix that. As sure as there’s wind at Portage and Main, he’ll experience a drop in productivity. What we don’t know and can’t predict is when, and how rapid, the retreat will be.

Question Lady: We’re pretty confident that his game won’t take a detour south this winter, are we not?

Answer Lady: I’d say that’s a safe bet. I mean, it might not be another 91-point season, but as long as he has Rink Rat Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Big Buff, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn as playmates he ought to deliver a point a game by accident. Here’s something we must keep in mind, though: Wheeler will be working on his existing contract in the 2018-19 National Hockey League season. At $5.6 million, he’s a bargain. Maybe the best bargain in the game. But he won’t be so much of a bargain if it’s 55 points and $8.25 million four years from now. Guaranteed the rabble will be bitching a blue streak about his contract being an anchor if that happens. I already hear grumbling about the term on this extension.

Question Lady: Are you surprised that the Jets gave a 32-year-old forward an extra five years?

Answer Lady: To be honest, two years ago I was convinced that Wheeler would play out his current contract then vamoose out of Dodge in pursuit of a championship. That changed last spring when the Jets advanced to the Western Conference final in the Stanley Cup runoff. But an additional five years? Ya, totally unexpected. I was thinking three tops.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question Lady: Do you think Wheeler left money on the table for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the bean counters to divvy up between Puck Finn, Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba?

Answer Lady: Since I wasn’t invited to join Wheeler and Chevy for the cup of coffee that led to this deal, I can’t answer that. But I think an argument can be made that he’d have gotten more coin on the open market next summer. So, in those terms, ya, he sold himself short. But, hey, how much is enough? If a guy can’t get by on $8.25 million per annum, he’s got issues that we probably don’t want to know about.

Question Lady: Doesn’t Wheeler strike you as the kind of guy who would take one for the team, so to speak?

Answer Lady: Ya, he does. Never met him, but the guy’s a pro’s pro by all accounts. About the only negative thing I could say about the captain is that he is sometimes—too often—prickly with news snoops. But dealing with jock journos is part of the package when you wear the C, so get over it.

Question Lady: Best-case scenario, of course, is that Wheeler hoists the Stanley Cup next spring or the year after that. What’s the worst-case scenario?

Answer Lady: That he turns into the Looch—Milan Lucic, owner of the most-onerous contract in the NHL. I mean, the Edmonton McDavids are paying the Looch $6 million a year to lurch up and down the left wing like a guy dragging an ATM machine, and he’ll be on their books until 2023. He’ll be the world’s oldest 34-year-old by then, likely scoring five goals a season instead of the 10 he had last winter. How happy do you think they’ll be paying that ball-and-chain $1.2 million per goal? I don’t see that ever happening to Wheeler and the Jets, though. He still has plenty of game. At least three, perhaps four more years as a top-flight forward. But you asked me for the worst-case scenario and I can’t think of anything more grim than him morphing into a right-wing version of the Looch.

Question Lady: The Wheeler signing means much of the heavy lifting is done and, really, there’s only Morrissey without a contract. What’s the holdup there?

Answer Lady: It has to be term. I’m only spitballing, but Chevy’s track record suggests that length of service is the sticking point. He has some kind of cult-leader sway with these guys. He serves them the Kool-Aid and before you can say Pokey and the Bandit they’re locked in for six years or more at a team-friendly rate. It worked with Rink Rat Scheifele and Twig Ehlers and Hellebuyck, so it’s my guess that he’s attempting similar powers of persuasion with Morrissey.

Question Lady: And if Josh doesn’t swallow the Kool-Aid?

Answer Lady: Then he’ll do what Trouba did—sign for two years and carry on carrying on until such time as he’s in a more favorable bargaining position.

Question Lady: Let’s end it with a question about Trouba. What’s his shelf life with the Jets?

Answer Lady: Two years tops, then adios, amigos.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go and enjoy what’s left of summer. Any plans for you?

Answer Lady: At my age, I don’t make plans or buy green bananas.