The River City Renegade


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About the Winnipeg Jets secrecy in re-upping two guys without a playoff win…the Pope is on board…hockey discipline vs. tennis discipline…the ladies rock at the U.S. Open…the Vancouver Canucks odd youth movement…insults are Steve…and so long Steely Dan

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

Well, Darren Dreger and Elliotte Friedman were correct and both Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice have been rewarded for chronic nonachievement, which begs this question: Why the secrecy?

I mean, Dreger tells us that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman gave the only general manager the Winnipeg Jets have known a hearty pat on the back in the form of a contract extension “months ago.” Perhaps the deal was done scant days after the locals failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby for the fifth time in six whirls under Chevy’s watch. Or maybe it was in May, June or July.

Whatever the case, the Secret Society known as True North Sports & Entertainment chose to keep that morsel of information on the QT until this very morning.

Same with Maurice, the potty-mouthed head coach destined to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history sometime during the 2017-18 crusade. Apparently, his endorsement of a job not well done arrived more recently, which could mean June, July or August, but, again, the Secret Society chose not to share that tidbit with the very people who fill the Little Hockey House On The Prairie 41 days/nights each year and purchase all that merchandise with the Royal Canadian Air Force logo.

In other words, screw the rabble.

Try as I might, I cannot scare up a single reason why the Secret Society adopted a mum’s-the-word posture vis-a-vis extensions for the GM and head coach, except that the Puck Pontiff likely didn’t fancy the bother of detailing the rationale behind re-upping two men accustomed to standing on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the real fun begins in April. They’re a pair of oh-fers: 0-for-the playoffs. Zero wins. In six seasons for Chevy and 3.5 for Coach Potty-Mo. Tough to justify a reward for never failing to fail.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

But, hey, maybe this is a Winnipeg thing. After all, the Blue Bombers handed their GM, Kyle Walters, and sideline steward, Mike O’Shea, a fresh set of downs even though they’d never won a Canadian Football League post-season match. Received three-year add-ons, they did.

Which leads me to believe that contract extensions are like skeeters in Pegtown: You’re gonna get ’em whether you deserve ’em or not.

Did the work of either Chevy or Maurice warrant renewals? Well, it’s a results-driven business, and booking tee times at St. Charles or Glendale while those about you are still playing hockey isn’t anyone’s idea of getting the job done.

Clearly, something is broken.

If, as has been suggested by numerous pundits, Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled an array of blue-chip talent, why no playoffs? Must be the coach. If it’s the coach, why the extension? And if not the coach, who? The players? Can’t be, because we’re told they’re blue-chippers. Unless they aren’t blue-chippers, in which case Chevy’s at fault.

Would I have gone all-in on either Chevy or Maurice? Or both? I’m iffy on the former, because it’s uncertain how much interference he receives from on high, but I’m definitely not sold on the latter.

Paul Maurice

I’d have allowed Coach Potty-Mo to enter the 2017-18 fray on his existing deal, which had a shelf life of 82 more games. This is a show-me season for Maurice. Show us you can coach without Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart getting in the way. Qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament and you won’t have to change your postal code. Miss and we have some swell parting gifts for you.

Aha, you say. That would make him a lame-duck coach. Well, yes, it would. And your point is?

Delivering a contract extension to Maurice doesn’t make him a better coach. It doesn’t turn Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck into Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. It doesn’t improve the penalty kill. It doesn’t even buy Coach Potty-Mo more time. It’s on him either way. If the Jets aren’t part of the post-season fun next April, the Puck Pontiff will be paying Maurice not to coach.

I just hope they don’t keep it a secret when and if they let the guy go.

It’s about the Declaration of Principles that several hockey organizations, including the NHL, signed off on this week, with the endorsement of the real Puck Pontiff, Pope Francis of Vatican fame: I’ll believe in the vow of inclusiveness when NHL players (hello, Andrew Shaw and Ryan Getzlaf) cease using gay slurs as their go-to insults, and when I see women on NHL coaching, management and scouting staffs and openly gay men on NHL rosters. Women’s hockey at the highest level is inclusive, men’s hockey at the highest level not so much.

You want inclusiveness? Try big-time tennis. At the U.S. Open in Gotham, we’ve seen women sitting in the umpire’s chair during men’s matches. Sadly, one of those women, Louise Engzell of Switzerland, was called a “whore” and a “cocksucker” by Italian No. 1 Fabio Fognini. Although slow to respond to the verbal assault, tennis officialdom slapped Fognini with $24,000 in fines and instructed him to vacate the premises, even though he had advanced to the third round of doubles play. Soon, the other shoe shall drop. It’s possible that Fognini will be banned from future Grand Slam tournaments and fined upwards of $250,000. By way of comparison, when Disney Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf barked out the same C-slur during an NHL playoff game last spring, he was docked pocket change of $10,000 and permitted to play on.

Fognini’s mea culpa was priceless. “I have nothing against women,” he insisted. “I have been called sexist, which I am not. I am a family man, I have a wife, a mother, a sister. I have always loved women, I have always respected them.” Reminds me of the homophobes who defend their actions and use of anti-gay slurs by saying, “I have gay friends.”

Sloane Stephens

Three thoughts on the U.S. Open this morning: 1) The women’s draw has been much more compelling than the men’s, especially with the prospects and hopes of a Rafa Nadal-Roger Federer skirmish dashed by Juan Martin Del Petro. 2) I think it’s terrific that four American women have advanced to the semifinals of their national tournament. 3) Some of the women can really whack a tennis ball and get around the court (love Sloane Stephens), but how does Serena Williams ever lose?

This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad: Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden says his club’s “focus is on youth.” Right. Two-thirds of the Canucks’ No. 1 forward unit, the Sedin twins, are 37 years old. They just reeled in Thomas Vanek. He’s 33. The other two featured off-season recruits, Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto, are 28 and 27, respectively. Their big catch a year ago was Loui Eriksson, 32. If that’s putting the focus on youth, then Don Cherry is a spring chicken.

The question must be asked: Does Donovan Bennett of Sportsnet actually watch Canadian Football League games? I mean, the guy does weekly power rankings and he’s somehow determined that the Edmonton Eskimos are the No. 2 outfit. That would be the same Edmonton group that has been totally dismantled by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders in consecutive weeks. Bennett had the Eskimos ranked No. 3 a week ago, then they were blitzed by the Stampeders and he moved them into the No. 2 slot. I don’t know if Bennett is embarrassed, but he ought to be.

Todd Bertuzzi

Speaking of totally losing the plot, Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver announced it will feature Todd Bertuzzi, he of Steve Moore infamy, on its air every Tuesday on The Starting Lineup, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia used the occasion to totally trash West Coast media with a completely unfounded statement of non-fact. You know, much like his piece about Phil Kessel and hot dogs. “One of the truly dumb things about Vancouver,” he tweeted. “It never took the Steve Moore incident seriously. Never covered it. Never shouted about it.” He later referenced “Vancouver Twitter idiots.” Apparently ignoring facts and name-calling is what passes for a national sports columnist these days. The great Trent Frayne and Jim Coleman must be spinning in their graves.

Can’t even guess the number of hours I’ve spent listening to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan. Brilliant stuff. Becker died last weekend and we’re left with the music. These are my five favorite Steely Dan tunes…
1. Bodhisattva
2. Deacon Blues
3. Peg
4. Hey Nineteen
5. Do It Again

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 Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice’s job status…No. 3 centre Mark Scheifele…too much ice for Big Buff…too much whinging about the schedule…and a Grey Cup for the Stampeders

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

What’s that chirping I hear? Crickets? Nope. It’s the natterbugs.

They’ve begun to make noise about Paul Maurice, who, should the Winnipeg Jets’ current funk stretch beyond five games, soon will be described as a much-maligned man. No surprise there, really. I mean, the Jets went 0-for-the road last week, so it must be the head coach’s fault. Surely, his best-before date is about to expire.

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice

Well, you can put the pitch forks and torches away. Pa Ingalls isn’t going anywhere.

When Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his College of Yes Men headed by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff chose to go all-in on the greening of the Jets at the commencement of this National Hockey League crusade, they were telling us that their expectations vis-a-vis the playoffs were low and, short of mutiny, nothing was going to move Maurice from behind the bench. Ownership/management were giving him a Mulligan before he took his driver out of the bag.

Think about it. They saddled the guy with a gaggle of greenhorns. By my count, there were half a dozen rookies at the start of business. More youth joined the fray due to various owies. What did you expect would happen?

This is the nature of the youth beast: All-world one night, all-woe the next five.

The same scenario is unfolding in the Republic of Tranna, where the Maple Leafs tease then torment the rabble, and in Buffalo, where the Sabres show promise then perform a faceplant, all the while wondering if the other shoe will drop on Evander Kane. And, of course, we watched it in Edmonton, where the Oilers were a decade-long, class-action joke and remain erratic, even with Connor McDavid on board.

So get used to it, Jets Nation. This season will have more ups and downs than the Trans-Canada Highway through the Rocky Mountains.

I don’t want to sound like an apologist for Maurice. I’m not. It’s just that I believe he’s been set up to fail this season. The Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men went younger by design, and I don’t think they expect the Jets to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Is the goaltending Maurice’s fault? I doubt Cheveldayoff would recognize elite puckstopping if Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur were playing pond hockey in his back yard. How, then, can ownership/management or anyone else lay the blame at the coach’s feet? They can’t. Thus, he stays.

None of this is to say Maurice is fault free. He juggles his forward lines like he’s a street busker. His unwavering faith in, and reliance on, Chris Thorburn remains as much a mystery as how they get the caramel inside a Caramilk chocolate bar. Mark Stuart belongs on an NHL roster like Don Cherry belongs on the cover of a Moscow tourism brochure. Then there’s coach Pa Ingalls’ adopted son, Alexander Burmistrov. Can we not send him back to the Russian orphanage?

Mark Scheifele

Mark Scheifele

I don’t know about you, but I often detect a whiff of haughtiness in many of Maurice’s chin-wags with news snoops. There’s just something about his way with words that suggests a self-declared upper-crustacy. But can he really be the smartest man in the room when he spouts the kind of nonsense he delivered on the heels of a recent loss to the Carolina Hurricanes? “Bryan (Little) played four shifts for us this year, so our No. 1 centreman is out,” he said. “Matty Perreault’s been gone for a while, that’s our No. 2 guy.” Either Maurice thinks we’re stupid, or he’s actually the dumbest man in the room. If he truly believes that Mark Scheifele, the NHL’s leading point collector at the time, is his third-line centre and will be slotted as such once Little and the do-nothing Perreault return from the repair shop, he should be fired immediately.

If Dustin Byfuglien is this bad in the first go-round of his five-year contract, how bad will he be in the 2020-21 season, at which time he’ll be 36 years old and likely weigh about 300 lb.? It’s clear that Byfuglien is getting far too much ice time from Maurice, who, much like his predecessor Claude Noel, treats Big Buff with kid gloves. Sit him down, for cripes sake. He’s not Bobby Orr. Give the top-pairing minutes to Jacob Trouba.

I’ve heard enough whinging from Maurice and the rabble about the Jets horrible, unfair, cruel, hardship, blah, blah, blah schedule. Yes, it’s a grind, but no more so than what the Calgary Flames or Edmonton McDavids are dealing with this month. The Flames will play 16 games in November, 11 on the road and four back-to-backs. The McDavids play 15 games, 10 away from home. The Jets will be 16 and 10. The Dallas Stars play 16 games. So, don’t talk to me about the schedule. It’s a copout.

Does Sportsnet know that the 104th Grey Cup game will be played this afternoon in the Republic of Tranna? There were exactly zero stories about the Canadian Football League title match on the front page of the Sportsnet website when I brought it up at 5 o’clock this morning. Zero. There were more than a dozen on the TSN front page.

I know it’s the easy pick, but I’ve got to go with the Calgary Stampeders in the large football match this afternoon. I’m thinking it’ll be a whupping, and only garbage points by the Ottawa RedBlacks in late-game skirmishing will make it seem closer than the reality of a rout. Calgary 32, Ottawa 19.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


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Winnipeg Jets: Don’t listen to the experts, lend an ear to the Two Hens in the Hockey House

Okay, we’ve heard from all the “so-called” experts, many of whom have sifted through the tea leaves and now are forecasting a rather splotchy future for the Winnipeg Jets.

No playoffs for you!” they yelp.

Well, stop it right there. Most of your “so-called” experts have no more “so-called” expertise than most lumps sitting on a bar stool. Oh, sure, having a byline or holding a microphone under an athlete’s chin is cool, but all it really tells us is that they get paid for their prognostications, however hallucinatory those prophecies might be. False prophets, that’s what they are.

what if lady answer lady2For the real poop on the Jets as they set out on a fresh National Hockey League crusade Thursday night against the not so big, bad Bruins in Beantown, I sought my favorite go-to girls—The What If Lady and The Answer Lady, fondly known as the Two Hens in the Hockey House.

They’ve got the gossip, they’re glib and they deliver the goods. So take it away, ladies…

What If Lady: What if the Jets’ prized freshman Nik Ehlers wins the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie this season? Does that make general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff a genius?

Answer Lady: Actually, our Danish Delight prefers to be called Nikolaj, not Nik. So let’s nip Nik in the bud and make it Nikolaj. Can Nikolaj win the Calder Trophy? Sure. If Connor McDavid breaks a leg or retires. So Chevy still won’t be a genius.

What If Lady: Are you surprised that the Jets are letting Andrew Copp wear No. 9?

Answer Lady: I’m absolutely shocked! I mean, I thought Dustin Byfuglien threw that sweater in the ice tub with the rest of Evander Kane’s clothing.

What If Lady: Did Copp call Bobby Hull and ask his permission to wear No. 9 like Kane did a few years back?

Answer Lady: That would be like George Strombouloupouloupoulous calling Ron MacLean to ask permission to use really bad puns. Or like P.J. Stock calling Don Cherry for permission to turn his granny’s drapes into a sports jacket. No one requires B. Hull’s permission to do anything.

What If Lady: That’s disrespectful. What if Hull hadn’t signed with the World Hockey Association in 1972?

Answer Lady: There’d be no Jets 2.0. But that’s down to Ben Hatskin more than Hull. Benny is the father of pro hockey in River City as we know it. There should be a statue of him inside or outside the Little Hockey House on the Prairie.

What If Lady: I see where the New Jersey Devils are erecting a statue to honor Martin Brodeur. What if the Jets erected a statue of a player? Who would it be?

Answer Lady: They had a statue years ago. His name was Sergei Bautin. When last seen, he was part of the rubble after the wrecking ball whacked the old Winnipeg Arena.

What If Lady: Getting back to Evander Kane, what if he scores 50 goals for the Sabres this season? Does that mean Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made a bad trade when he shuffled our resident bad boy off to Buffalo?

Answer Lady: Bartenders and servers at pubs and restaurants in Winnipeg won’t think so.

What If Lady: Don’t you think Kane got a bit of a bum rap in Winnipeg with all that dine-and-dash stuff? There was never any proof that he weaseled out on his tabs, was there?

Answer Lady: Nope. He got the bum’s rush for a bum rap.

What If Lady: Speaking of paying or not paying, both Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien become unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. What if the Jets can’t afford to keep both of them?

Answer Lady: They’ll unload big Buff because he’ll fetch far more in return. Chevy won’t let happen to Byfuglien what he let happen to Michael Frolik, which is to say let him skate away for zip.

What If Lady: The Jets will definitely miss Frolik because he was a Jack of all trades kind of guy. Do you think Alexander Burmistrov can fill that Swiss army knife role?

Answer Lady: Ah, yes, the prodigal son. Born-again Burmi. It’s almost like he’s a rookie again. After two years in Mother Russia, it’s uncertain what he’ll deliver. Hopefully, it won’t be a bad attitude. I always liked the guy. If the bolts in his neck are screwed on tight, I see him as a Fro Lite.

What If Lady: Speaking of light, I note that Mark Scheifele has put on 15 pounds of muscle. Does this mean he’ll no longer fall down as often as Bambi?

Answer Lady: Once a Bambi always a Bambi. But I have an inkling that this will be a true breakout season for Scheifele. Dancing Gabe will be doing the Scheifele Shuffle in the aisles. It’ll be all the rage at Whiskey Dix.

What If Lady: What are you saying? That the Jets are a bunch of post-game party boys?

Answer Lady: Hey, they’re young. They’re wealthy. As far as I know, they all like young women and young women like young, wealthy hockey players. If the skate fits…

What If Lady: I can’t imagine any of them being as bad as Keith Tkachuk or that Kane kid in Chicago, but what if the team veterans can’t keep the youngsters on the straight and narrow?

Answer Lady: I think we all know what happens when one of the Jets’ young stallions strays from the herd. That’s right, his track suit ends up in the ice tub. I really don’t see it as an issue or a concern.

What If Lady: What are your concerns heading into this season?

Answer Lady: Two words: Chris Thorburn. Two more words: Anthony Peluso.

What If Lady: Seems to me a couple of spare parts should be of little concern, so why them?

Answer Lady: Goons in hockey have rapidly gone the way of the bare-faced goaltender, yet here we have the Jets with not one but two low-talent, back-alley thugs on the roster. They bring nothing but bruised bare knuckles to the table.

What If Lady: But what if there’s nobody to ride shotgun for smaller, skilled guys like Ehlers and Nic Petan?

Answer Lady: You don’t need that kind of guard dog today. What’s Peluso going to do if someone runs one of the Smurfs? Throw his box of popcorn at the ruffian from his perch in the press box?

What If Lady: You mention Ehlers and Petan. Are those two, along with guys like Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry and Copp, proof positive that Cheveldayoff’s draft-and-develop blueprint is a stroke of genius?

Answer Lady: Good grief. You sound like someone who writes for the official newspaper of the Winnipeg Jets. Look, it’s not like Chevy invented sliced bread or the curved blade. Sam Pollock did that. To date, though, it would seem that Chevy’s bird dogs have flushed out some dandy prospects. I can’t say that there’s a Jimmy Mann or Sergei Bautin in the bunch.

What If Lady: Last question…what if the Jets are out of the playoffs this season?

Answer Lady: Can you say Auston Matthews?

 

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