Quick takeaways from Day 1 of the National Hockey League’s annual grab bag of free agents…
It’s true what the pundits are saying: Because the bean counters couldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul Stastny, the Winnipeg Jets aren’t as good today as they were on May 20, the night the Vegas Golden Knights ushered them out of the Stanley Cup spring runoff.
Fortunately for the rabble, they don’t have to be as good today.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has until October to ferret out a reasonable facsimile of Stastny, an efficient and productive, albeit aging centre-ice man who has taken the money and skedaddled to Glitter Gulch, leaving les Jets with a significant vacancy in the middle of the rink.
Stastny, of course, was les Jets main person of interest when the National Hockey League opened its grab bag of free agents on Sunday, but keeping him in the fold was always an iffy proposition.
This was always going to be about salary cap, and it wasn’t enough that Cheveldayoff shipped hard-luck, backup goaltender Steve Mason and his burdensome $4.1-million sticker price to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to clear space. With a list of restricted free agents as long as a Winnipeg winter, the bean counters determined there simply wasn’t enough spare change in the piggy bank, otherwise Stastny would be returning to River City next autumn to help les Jets finish what was left undone in May.
It doesn’t really matter if the Golden Knights, at $6.5 million for each of the next three crusades, overpaid to lure the 32-year-old Stastny away from Portage and Main to the Vegas Strip. At issue is the hole he leaves down the middle.
Jack Roslovic would be my choice to slide between Twig Ehlers and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine on the No. 2 forward unit, at least when the local lads gather for training exercises in September. He’s no Stastny—not yet—but Roslovic plays with tempo and imagination. I think he’d be a suitable fit in what could become les Jets version of the Kid Line.
If Roslovic doesn’t work out, Bryan Little come on down! Again, Little is no Stastny, but, hey, it’s not like he’s Milan Lucic bad.
The point is, Cheveldayoff and the bean counters have all summer and September to figure this out. If neither Roslovic or Little is the answer, they can do something at the trade deadline, same as last season when they brought Stastny on board.
Brian Burke was part of the all-gab gang on Sportsnet’s coverage of free agent day, and he mentioned something about Cheveldayoff doing “too good a job,” hence the GM’s challenge of fitting financial square pegs into round holes. There’s certainly some truth to that. But here’s the real sticking point for Chevy: Rink Rat Scheifele’s team-friendly, steal-of-a-deal contract. Les Jets could have matched the Vegas offer of $6.5 million annually to keep Stastny on board, but they can’t have their aging, No. 2 centre ahead of their young, productive No. 1 centre at the pay window. Scheifele’s annual take is $6.125 million. So that’s the ceiling for Jets forwards. They could not have offered Stastny a penny more.
That ceiling will, of course,rise when Chevy re-ups his captain and best player, Blake Wheeler, about to enter the final year of a contract that makes him the third-highest wage earner among forwards at $5.6 million. Only Scheifele and Twig Ehlers ($6M) earn more, which, given Wheeler’s performance and importance to the team, is ridiculous. He should be rewarded as the highest-paid player. The real mystery is what they do when it’s time for Chevy and the bean counters to re-up Puck Finn, who comes out of his entry level deal next summer.
The oddsmakers at BetOnline like what they see in les Jets, even sans Stastny. After the Tranna Maple Leafs (+600) and Nashville Predators (+900), the local lads and Tampa Bay Lightning were listed on Sunday at +1000 to win the Stanley Cup. It’s a bet I wouldn’t make today, not with the iffiness of the No. 2 centre slot, but I might want to make it next spring. (Surprisingly, the Detroit Red Wings were the longest shot on the BetOnline board, at +10000. Are they really that bad?)
The gab gang on Sportsnet suggested John Tavares left money on the table when he chose to abandon the New York Islanders and accept $77 million to join the Maple Leafs. In other words, it was a hometown discount because his childhood dream was to play in the Republic of Tranna. Well, excuse me, but in whose universe is $77 million a discount?
The Leafs get Tavares and his 84 points, the Islanders get Leo Komarov and his 19 points. Do the math. And will the last person to leave Long Island please turn out the lights?
It’s fine that the rabble in the Republic of Tranna are going ga-ga over Tavares, but here’s something they should keep in mind: He doesn’t make Jake Gardiner or Ron Hainsey better defencemen.
So, add Tavares to the Leafs roster and take Stastny from les Jets roster and who has the better team? Still the Jets, mainly because of the blueline and in goal.
Do the Los Angeles Kings have anyone under age 30 on their roster?
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football. Johnny Magic. Johnny Be Good. Johnny Rotten. Johnny Backup. Johnny TMZ.
By any name, it’s all Johnny all of the time, and even media giants in the Republic of Trump are taking notice of our quirky brand of football now that Johnny Manziel is using his hands for something other than providing fingerprints for police, hoisting shot glasses and hitting women.
Indeed, ESPN and USA Today dispatched news snoops to Timbits Field for Manziel’s debut with the home-standing Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night, while other outlets—Dallas Morning News, NBC Sports, New York Daily News, New York Post, etc.—have been dutifully recording his every move since he became the Canadian Football League’s latest American reclamation project.
Manziel, of course, was a total washout with the Cleveland Browns in the National Football League. He was even more of a washout as a human being. Drugs. Booze. Bar brawls. Beating up women. Arrests. A grand jury. Court appearances. We need not go into the gory details. Suffice to say, he was Prince Charming like Roseanne Barr is Miss Manners. He was, by numerous accounts, a snot-nose rich kid.
So now that someone has tidied him up, Manziel is on our side of the great U.S.-Canadian divide, at his Last Chance Saloon, and the media are on a feeding frenzy.
Manziel did nothing extraordinary as a backup quarterback in the Tiger-Cats loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night. He flung the football 11 times, with nine completions for 80 yards and zero points on the board, but Johnny Ordinary still appeared at the top of the page on the TSN website—with nine freaking videos! Sportsnet had him at the top as well, with two videos. He made the ESPN front page. Ditto USA Today. Also the Dallas Morning News. He was the lead football story on the New York Post website. Etcetera.
And let’s be clear here: This was a flipping exhibition football game, the most mind-numbing, sleep-inducing exercise in sports! Manziel was the backup QB! In a flipping exhibition game!
The sports media has lost whatever was left of its mind.
I don’t think Manziel should be in the CFL. You beat up a woman, you don’t qualify. But, hey, I didn’t get a vote. Just like I didn’t get a vote when they allowed bad actors Dexter Manley, Lawrence Phillips and Ricky Williams to cross the border back in the day. Is the CFL really so desperate that any player with a salable name is welcome, regardless what it says on his rap sheet? And are jock journos so desperate for a story that they gleefully play along with the CFL’s folly?
Totally dumbest comment about Manziel was delivered by Matt Dunigan, the CFL on TSN gab guy who talks like he’s still in a locker room. After Manziel’s do-nothing performance, Dunigan absolutely gushed, saying, “On the off-script plays, boy, it’s magic, it’s Flutie-esque.” Oh FFS. He actually compared a backup QB to Doug Flutie, arguably the best player in CFL history. Shut the hell up, Matty. At least Milt Stegall was honest in his assessment of Manziel. “Not bad,” the Hall of Fame receiver said.
The absurdity of the Manziel fixation reached its peak when Matthew Scianitti of TSN took to Twitter last week and posted a play-by-play account of the backup QB’s performance—complete with passing statistics—in practice. Seriously? Play-by-play and passing stats from a training exercise with the Ticats second team offence and defence? You might want to think about getting a life, Matthew.
Speaking of overhyped athletes, Danica Patrick has taken her leave from the world of fast car racing, and she did so, perhaps appropriately, in a mangled wreck on the 68th lap of the Indianapolis 500. The bottom line on her exaggerated, 13-year career behind the wheel: 307 starts, one victory (1-for-116 in IndyCar, her sole victory coming in a skeletal, 18-car field in 2008; 0-for 191 in NASCAR with zero top-five finishes and only seven top-10s). If she led either series in anything, it was self-indulgence and hissy fits. She was never involved in an accident that she couldn’t blame on another driver. “More than anything I just hope they remember me as a great driver,” Patrick said prior to the Indy 500. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Many framed the GoDaddy girl as a pioneer who would lead other women to the race track, but it simply hasn’t happened. Unfortunately, she was Anna Kournikova with Quaker State motor oil under her fingernails.
Had Serena Williams won the French Open, she wouldn’t have broken new ground as a Grand Slam-winning mama, but she would have been in select company. Margaret Court became the first mother to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament in the open era, claiming the Australian, French and U.S. Opens in 1973, a year after giving birth to her first child. Another Aussie, the graceful and delightful Evonne Goolagong Cawley, won the Aussie Open the same year (1977) she gave birth to her first child. And Kim Clijsters gave birth to the first of her three children in 2008 and won the U.S. Open the following two years and the Australia Open in 2011.
I suppose this is treasonous to say, but I have great difficulty watching our guy Denis Shapovalov play tennis. Bouncing the ball between his legs and bouncing on the balls of his feet before every serve is mildly annoying, but his fist-pumping after every winning point is too much. I swear, that boy is going to suffer a nervous breakdown right on court.
Canada’s gift to Glitter Gulch, songstress Celine Dion, is so excited about the Vegas Golden Knights being in the Stanley Cup final that she wore a team jersey during a recent performance. Trouble is, she forgot to put on the rest of her clothes. Nice legs, though.
Is anyone actually watching the National Hockey League championship series between the Golden Knights and the Washington Ovies? I must confess that I tuned out the moment les Jets de Winnipeg were ushered out of the Stanley Cup runoff. Haven’t watched a minute of the final. If I had any rooting interest, it would be behind the Washington bench, where Barry Trotz paces. He’s a homebrew who cut his coaching teeth at the University of Manitoba and with Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
How do we know the Jets had a successful season? Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice had less to say at their exit chin-wags with news snoops. Last year, general manager Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth held separate gab sessions and flapped their gums for a total of one hour, 14 minutes and 22 seconds. This year, they sat side-by-each. Total chin-wag time: 0:32:20.
Jets very capable defenceman Jacob Trouba tells the rabble that his desire is to remain in Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul. “The quicker the better,” he told news snoops when asked about signing a long-term deal before they drop the puck next autumn. Paul Wiecek says he’s a liar. Yup. Says Trouba’s pants are on fire. Says he’s a regular Pinocchio. “I was struck how excited everyone was that Trouba told reporters he really wants to stay in Winnipeg and play for the Jets,” Wiecek wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press. “For the record, that is the exact same thing Trouba told me at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in 2016—a week before his agent announced he wanted out and Trouba proceeded to hold out for four weeks of the 2016-17 season. Trouba told reporters what they wanted to hear this week—his agent will be telling Chevy something very different, which is that if the Jets want to lock down Trouba for years to come it is going to cost them, big time.” Little wonder the relationship between athletes and scribes is often adversarial.
Worth repeating: “We have some good young players,” Chevy said in April 2017. “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.” That day is here, Chevy.
Someone might want to give Dan Lett a lesson in local hockey lore. The political scribe at the Freep, Lett had this to say in a recent siss-boom-bah, rah-rah-rah piece about the Jets and Winnipeg “Before they bolted for Arizona, the previous incarnation of the Jets was a source of frustration and, at times, embarrassment. There were some good teams, but they always fell to teams from cities that seemed larger, more successful, more complete. Our second-rate team seemed to reinforce the idea that Winnipeg was a second-rate community.” Yo! Danny boy! That “second-rate team” won three World Hockey Association titles. I suppose Lett can be forgiven, though. He’s from the Republic of Tranna. What could he possibly know about championship hockey?
Seriously? Evander Kane signs with the San Jose Sharks for $49 million over seven seasons? For real? He’s never had a 60-point season. He’s scored 30 goals once. He’s.never played an entire 82-game schedule. Kane, now 27, just completed his most productive season, with 57 points. By way of comparison, Kyle Connor of the Jets ( 31-26-57) did that as a 20-year-old rookie. Twig Ehlers, 22, already has two 60-point seasons and two 82-game seasons. Puck Finn has had 64- (36 goals) and 70-point (44 goals) seasons as a teenager. Rink Rat Scheifele, 25, has had three 60-point seasons and a 32-goal season. They all collect less coin than Kane. Either Chevy is a genius or Sharks GM Doug Wilson is a fool.
Okay, officially the Tranna Blue Jays are no longer a baseball team. They’re a novelty act. I mean, Russell Martin playing shortstop? Kendrys Morales pitching? “We really don’t have a true shortstop on the team,” says beleaguered manager John Gibbons. That’s a fine job Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have done since since defecting from Cleveland to take the wheel of our country’s Major League Baseball outfit. They’ve turned an American League East Division champion into a clunker in less than three seasons.
Donald Trump tells National Football League players who kneel during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner that “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” I’ll agree that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful only when I see people in pubs put down their pint mugs and stand when they’re watching a game on TV. And how many guys haul their big butts off the sofa to stand for the anthem at home? None that I know.
Meaningful hockey in the merry month of May? At the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? Who’d have thought? Not many. So, while there were long faces when the Winnipeg Jets’ Stanley Cup crusade ground to a halt on Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, there was also a feel-good vibe among the rabble. My Two Hens in the Hockey House are here to discuss what went wrong in the Western Conference final vs. Vegas, what went right and what lies ahead for les Jets.
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: Well, what was on the breakfast menu for you this morning, girlfriend? Humble pie or bowl of crow?
Answer Lady: Neither. I just had two slices of toast.
Question Lady: Toast. How appropriate. The Jets are toast, too. Can’t say I’m surprised, but I know you are. As I recall, you picked them to take out the Golden Knights in six games, then win the Stanley Cup. You said something about the Jets being too fast, too quick, too deep, too tough, too every blah, blah, blah thing. Turns out it was just the opposite. Did you underestimate the Golden Knights or oversell the Jets?
Answer Lady: I don’t think I considered the fatigue factor. The Jets didn’t have the usual zippity-do-da in their stride at the end. They lost their lickety-split. Their oomph. At times they were skating with hunched shoulders against the wind. The Nashville Predators took more out of them in the second round than I thought. They were plum tuckered out.
Question Lady: Really? Fatigue did them in?
Answer Lady: It just seemed to me that their usual split-second sharpness deserted them, both physically and mentally. At this level, even a nanosecond of hesitation means your shot is redirected by a stick, or the puck is in the back of your net. Especially against the Golden Knights. Those boys are cobra quick. They pounce on mistakes faster than CNN can poke holes in a Donald Trump tweet.
Question Lady: Speaking of holes, a lot of the pundits are saying this series was decided in the blue paint. Marc-André Fleury did boffo work in goal for Vegas and Connor Hellebuyck was leaking oil at the other end of the rink. Agree?
Answer Lady: To a point. It’s not like Hellebuyck was Ondrej Pavelec bad, but he had too many iffy moments that were extremely damaging. At no time was he gobsmackingly good. Fleury was gobsmackingly good most of the time.
Question Lady: Hellebuyck kept talking about ‘luck’ as if there was nothing more to Fleury’s game than rabbit’s feet, horse shoes and four-leaf clovers. A bit of a sore loser, wouldn’t you say?
Answer Lady: He sounded like a teenage punk who’d light up a smoke at the dinner table. The kind of nogoodnik that no parent wants their daughter dating. Totally disrespectful. Anyone who knows a puck from petunias will tell you Fleury was the superior ‘tender. If Hellebuyck doesn’t want to throw himself under the bus, fine. But sometimes you just have to accept that the other guy was better. Given enough time for sober second thought, Hellebuyck might agree. Probably not, though. He’ll continue to be a doorknob about it.
Question Lady: Kind of harsh, don’t you think?
Answer Lady: Not really. Just kind of the truth. Hey, I like it when athletes speak out of turn, but Hellebuyck is delusional and his disrespect is most objectionable.
Question Lady: Do we agree that the Jets have a legitimate No. 1 goaltender?
Answer Lady: Based on Hellebuyck’s entire body of work this season, for sure. But it would help if they had a backup ‘tender who can go more than two minutes without visiting the repair shop. Steve Mason is as fragile as a sports writer’s ego. Who made his body, Royal Doulton? He’s brittle like the burnt toast I ate this morning. They’re paying him what, $4 million to be an innocent bystander? Nice gig.
Question Lady: Why such emphasis on a capable caddy for Hellebuyck?
Answer Lady: Again, the fatigue factor. Hellebuyck played 67 games in the National Hockey League regular season and another 17 in the Stanley Cup tournament. That’s 84 games. He played 56 games total last year. He’s never carried this demanding a workload. By way of comparison, Fleury was in the blue paint for 46 and 15 games. That’s a whole lot less wear and tear. Which of the two looked the most spry and alert to you by the end of Game 5?
Question Lady: What are the Jets other pressing needs?
Answer Lady: I’ll parrot exactly what I said in April 2017—convincing Jacob Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. That ought to be priority uno. He and Josh Morrissey are cornerstone defencemen.
Question Lady: I wonder if there’s still residue from the Trouba-Jets contract stare-down of two years ago. Remember, he wanted out of Dodge. On the surface, everything’s cool now, but that might be window dressing. What happens if there’s still a bit of bitterness bubbling beneath the surface?
Answer Lady: I guess we’ll find out shortly. Trouba’s a restricted free agent. Either he signs another one of those piddly, two-year deals, or he’s in it for the long haul, which is to say six or more years.
Question Lady: What’s it going to cost the Jets to re-sign him?
Answer Lady: Back up the Brinks truck, girlfriend. The Trouba camp might try to hardball the Jets. He’s been playing at a bargain-basement rate for the past two seasons, so they might be looking for payback. And he’s arbitration eligible. We’re not talking lunch money or the spare change David Thomson finds under the cushions on his sofa. Trouba won’t become the highest-paid Jet, but it’ll be obscene if he’s making a dime less than the $6 million Twig Ehlers is due. Actually, it’s an obscenity that Ehlers will be earning more coin than Blake Wheeler next season. That simply does not compute.
Question Lady: No kidding. Like, what exactly did Ehlers accomplish in these playoffs?
Answer Lady: Squat. He did diddly. He does diddly faster than most players, but it’s still diddly. I’m not really a fan anymore. His flash-and-dash game is built for the regular season. Or Ice Capades. Wheeler, on the other hand…complete pro, except when he’s barking and snarling at news snoops. Seriously, it’s criminal that he’ll be making less money than Twig next season. I think they ought to re-up Wheeler. Add a couple years to the one he has left.
Question Lady: A few of the lads are due raises, no?
Answer Lady: Yup, and Josh Morrissey is among them. He and Trouba became the Jets top defensive pairing, and there probably wasn’t a better blueline bargain in the NHL. Combined they earned less than $4 million. That total is going to more than double. And if the Jets want to lock them in long term, it’ll take some serious gymnastics by the bean counters to keep Trouba-Morrissey under $10 million.
Question Lady: Any chance Paul Stastny will stick around?
Answer Lady: Age tells me no if he’s looking long term, and who isn’t? Stastny’s 33 in December. The Jets already have Bryan Little tied up for six years. Unless you’re convinced you can win the Stanley Cup right now, you don’t want two 30something centres clogging up development down the middle for the next five/six years.
Question Lady: It’s going to be an interesting summer for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. Think he’ll have anything interesting to say at his exit presser?
Answer Lady: Oh, it’ll all be Chevy-speak, but this time it won’t come across as a phony bill of goods. The Jets were the real deal this season. It was a fun ride.
Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. Let’s stay home tonight. Maybe watch a replay of the royal wedding. Instead of cooking dinner, we can order in. Maybe a bucket of Kentucky Fried Crow for madame?
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
There’s been considerable teeth gnashing, hand wringing and chin wagging devoted to the flawed National Hockey League playoff schematic in the past week, all of it an echo of the squawking we heard during the spring runoff a year ago.
The Tranna Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins meeting in Round 1? Stupid.
The Winnipeg Jets, henceforth known as Canada’s (Only) Team, and the Nashville Predators obliged to engage in hostilities in Round 2. Also stupid.
Apparently, it isn’t “fair” either.
Well, excuse me, but I must have missed the memo that says sports is supposed to be fair.
Is it fair that Connor McDavid is stuck in Edmonton? Is it fair that Brent Burns has that magnificent beard and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine has the world’s worst collection of chin whiskers? Is it fair that Michael Phelps has flippers instead of feet? Is it fair that Secretariat had a heart the size of a keg of beer while most other race horses have hearts the size of a shot glass. Is it fair that 5-feet-7 Spud Webb had to climb a stepladder to look 7-feet-7 Manute Bol in the eye?
Expecting fairness in sports is a fanciful notion.
Ask New York Islanders fans about fair. If sports was meant to be fair, someone not named Garth Snow would be generally managing their NHL club. Instead, they’re still saddled with him, 12 years in.
Ask Jets Nation about fair. Every time Dale Hawerchuk and the boys were feeling their oats in the 1980s, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and pals were eating their lunch. (Les Jets and Edmonton Oilers played 19 games across five series in the ’80s. Final tally: Edmonton 18 Ws, Winnipeg 1.)
I think the last truly “fair” thing in sports was Elin Nordegren’s divorce settlement with Tiger Woods.
In an ideal world, sure, the Preds and Canada’s (Only) Team wouldn’t meet until Round 3 of the Stanley Cup tournament. They, after all, collected the most points in the regular season, finishing 1-2, respectively. But, hey, it’s not like the NHL has a monopoly on stupid. The National Football League, Canadian Football League, Major League baseball…all dumb.
The NFL has been known to reward sub-standard outfits with home playoff dates simply because they had the good fortune of competing in a turtle division. The CFL is worse. The East Division has been without a plus-.500 team since 2015, but the Ottawa RedBlacks and Tranna Argonauts won the past two Grey Cup games in large part because they were granted a bye and home field in the playoffs. In Major League Baseball, both the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates had more Ws than two of the three National League division champions in 2015, yet they were required to compete in a wild-card game.
None of that’s fair. Sports was never meant to be fair.
You want to talk about fairness in sports? Any club other than the Oilers winning the right to choose Rasmus Dahlin at the NHL entry draft in June…that’s fairness in sports. I mean, what was the most oft-heard conversation once the ping-pong balls stopped bouncing at the draft lottery on Saturday in The Republic of Tranna? Try this:
“Thank gawd those messed-up, misfit SOBs in Edmonton don’t get another first pick overall.”
“You got that right, man. ABO—anybody but the Oilers.”
It’s bad enough that the Oil Drop gets the 10th shoutout in June (it’ll be their eighth top-10 pick this decade if you’re keeping score at home), but a fifth No. 1 would have brought serious calls for entry draft reform. As it turns out, the Buffalo Sabres will get Dahlin (not wild about that; was hoping for the Vancouver Canucks).
Did the NHL Department of Tsk-Tsking really call the Boston Bruins and instruct them to instruct Brad Marchand to stop licking opposing players? Marchand, you’ll recall, was observed licking Leo Komarov of the Tranna Maple Leafs on the neck during their just-concluded Stanley Cup series. What’s the big deal? Everybody’s been licking the Leafs since 1967.
Interesting times in the 6ix, which, I’m told, is what the happening people who hang out with Drake call The Republic of Tranna. Les Leafs, of course, have put away the pucks in favor of more seasonal pursuits, but they couldn’t retreat from The ROT without Nick Kypreos tossing a lit match into the dumpster of another crusade that ended in wanting. “Babcock lost Matthews,” he told the boys on Sportsnet 590’s Starting Lineup. “I don’t know what happened, but he lost him. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews.” Kypreos failed to offer a shred of evidence to support his thesis that head coach Mike Babcock and his main stud, Auston Matthews, were/are at odds, except to mutter something about “body language.” Lame, lame, lame. This story will lose some of its giddyup over the summer, but it’ll be a fresh brush fire when les Leafs reconvene in autumn, with the possibility of gusts up to an inferno. Simply because Kypreos opened his gob and out fell innuendo, then reporters and opinionists chased after it.
What’s the difference between a sloth and Zdeno Chara? Two toes on each foot. I mean, to say that Chara is sloth slow would be an insult to dawdling mammals everywhere. I swear, if a fire alarm went off, a sloth would beat Chara out the door. Incredibly, the Bruins captain continues to get the job done and, at age 41, he gobbles up more minutes for head coach Bruce Cassidy than the mere mortals on the B’s blueline. I just wonder if it’s sustainable through three more rounds of the Stanley Cup tournament. I don’t see it happening, but more power to him if he can pull it off.
I sometimes think Damien Cox of the Toronto Sun/Sportsnet and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna/TSN were separated at birth. Seriously. They must be blood related. How else do we explain their shared penchant for the absurd? Last week, for example, Cox wrote: “The (Nashville Predators) have always been competitive under the only GM they’ve ever had, David Poile.” Apparently, “always competitive” means missing the playoffs eight times. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs in the first five years of the franchise’s existence. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs as recently as both 2013 and ’14. Cox then doubled down on his “D’oh!” boy hockey analysis by submitting that the Maple Leafs defence was “fine” in a 7-4 Game 7 loss to the Bruins on Wednesday. Fine? Jake Gardiner was totally inept. His game was like a spring day in Winnipeg—minus-5. It was biblical in its awfulness. The puck was a live grenade on his stick. He wanted no part of it. (Neither, for that matter, did his equally inept goaltender, Frederik Andersen.) It’s hard to imagine any player inflicting so much damage on his own side during 24 minutes of ice time, but, according to Cox, a defence that featured Gardiner was “fine.” At the end, I found myself wondering what the Leafs could possibly fetch in barter for Gardiner during the off-season. Certainly no one who’s breathing.
I used to enjoy listening to the boys banter on Hockey Central at Noon, but it has become a chore now that Cox seems to have secured a regular seat on the soup-and-sandwich-time gabfest. The man is an interruptive, insufferable, eye-rolling, lip-licking, fact-fudging, ego-driven, know-it-all squawkbox who talks down to people and gets agitated at the slightest suggestion that his might not be a persuasive or prevailing opinion. Other than that, Cox is “fine.”
Word out of Russia is that disgraced wife-beater Slava Voynov will seek re-entry to North America and the NHL, and his wish list includes the Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and—horrors—Winnipeg. I think maybe Slava might want to scratch the Jets off his list. They took heat for inducting Bobby Hull into their Hall of Fame, so I can’t see them flopping down the welcome mat for the former Los Angeles Kings defenceman who spent two months in the brig and was deported from the U.S. for kicking the crap out of his wife.
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The brother you don’t hear about, Keith Gretzky, left the Boston Bruins after the 2016 season to join his friend, Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton. But here’s what Gretzky left behind as scouting director: Future Norris Trophy winner Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo. He passed on Mathew Barzal. Stuff happens. Name another team that’s drafted better?”
Okay. I’ll name another team: The Winnipeg Jets—Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jack Roslovic, Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku, Kristian Vesalainen.
Second, Gretzky’s work in the first round of the 2015 entry draft can’t be written off as “stuff happens.” Ya, he got the B’s a keeper in Jake DeBrusk, but he used picks 13-14-15 to claim Jakub Zboril, DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn when Mathew Barzal (16th) Kyle Connor (17th), Brock Boeser (23rd), Travis Konecny (24th) and Jack Roslovic (25th) were there for the taking.
Third, Gretzky didn’t draft Grzelyck for the Bruins. He was taken in 2012, two years before the Great One’s brother became the B’s top amateur bird dog.
Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.
And, finally, it’s about Canada’s (Only) Team: Peggers are already partying like it’s the 1970s again—when Ben Hatskin was hijacking Bobby Hull and the Jets were riding in championship parades as a regular routine—but will the cross-country rabble rally ’round the flag and adopt an outfit from little, ol’, out-of-the-way Winnipeg as Canada’s team as the NHL playoffs lurch along? I have my doubts. I mean, sure, there’ll be pockets of hosers across our vast land whose patriotic pangs will inspire them to root, root, root for Tinytown North, because beating the beasts of the south and returning Hockey’s Holy Grail to its rightful home is a compelling, warm-and-fuzzy narrative. But I can’t imagine les Jets catching the fancy of the masses in The Republic of Tranna, Ottawa and all points east. Nor on the far side of the Rocky Mountains, where locals mourned the passing of the Sedin twins with much reverence for a respectful 48 hours then returned to the shade of their palm trees and regularly scheduled patio lattés. I’m thinking nothing shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup final will stir up national fervour for Canada’s (Only) Team. But it’s never too early or too late for outriders to hop on the bandwagon.
Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 5 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Friday night…
Pregame blah, blah, blah: At the outset, I wrote: “No way this series goes past five games if the Jets are going to pour 40 shots on goal every game. It might even be a sweep.” Well, I was wrong about the sweep, but here we are at Game 5 and there’s no Ryan Suter, no Zach Parise and no hope for the Wild…I note that good guy Scott Campbell is also writing off the Wild. “The Wild can make it interesting when they play their best game—when they’re not, you’re just counting down the time until the next Jets goal,” the former Jets defenceman scribbles in his Winnipeg Free Press column. “With their season on the line and a hurting Jets blue line, I expect we’ll see everything they’ve got Friday night. I just don’t think it’s enough.”…Jets, of course, enter the fray sans one defender who was in his work clothing when the best-of-seven skirmish commenced—the suspended Josh Morrissey. Also still unavailable are blueliners Toby Enstrom and Dmitry Kulikov. Tyler Myers returns, though, so it isn’t as bleak as it might have been. Good thing. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps les Jets would have to send out an SOS to Perry Miller. Last time I saw Percy, he was still in game shape. Mind you, that was in the 1990s and the game was mixed slo-pitch…Winnipeg and its indoor/outdoor Whiteouts continue to get considerable play from national media outlets. Wonder if anyone at the Free Press has noticed, or are they still whinging about River City being ignored beyond the borders of the Keystone province?…Breaking News: Twig Ehlers has been lost to les Jets due to a mystery owie. So who’ll skate in pretty circles? Certainly not Matt Hendricks, who replaces Twig in the locals’ lineup. He’s more of a north-south guy…We’ve got Stacey Nattrass to sing the anthems at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, so I’m wondering what country crooners they’ll trot out in Twang Town when the Jets and Nashville Predators hook up in the next round of this Stanley Cup tournament. Mike Fisher’s bride, Carrie Underwood, has her groove back, so perhaps we’ll hear her Star Spangled Bannering.
First Period: I really like seeing those vintage Jets jerseys in the stands. Classic. Wish they were still on the players’ backs, too…Jacob Trouba scores 31 seconds into the joust. Jets 1, Wild 0. Stop this senseless slaughter!…Now Bryan Little scores on a Dustin Byfuglien missile. Jets 2, Wild 0. This is going to be an embarrassment for the Wild…Hey, moneybags David Thomson is in the house. And why not? Without his bankroll, the Little Hockey House On The Prairie wouldn’t exist. Neither would les Jets…Geez, Louise, is it the Minnesota Wild or the Keystone Kops? The Minny players are tripping over each other and they’re almost scoring own goals. Total disarray…Now Brandon Tanev scores on a Minny turnover. Devan Dubnyk whiffed on it. Jets 3, Wild 0…And now Joel Armia gets in the way of a Big Buff shot and it goes past Dubnyk. Once again, the Evander Kane trade pays off for the home side. Jets 4, Wild 0…Head coach Bruce Boudreau is a compassionate man. He gives Dubie, Dubie Dubnyk the rest of the night off.
Second Period: What are the odds of les Jets keeping the pedal to the metal? Zero. It’s going to be a boring 20 minutes…Armia is gone with an upper back owie. No biggie…Yup, this is boring. Les Jets have decided to take the period off, except for the keeper, Connor Hellebuyck…Most exciting discovery is that A&W teenburgers are on sale for $3.50 until April 29. Those are my fave burgers, but only because there’s no Harvey’s in downtown Victoria…Actually, I could go for a Sals cheese nip right about now. Drat. We don’t have the Sals in Victoria either…When did the Wild last score a goal? Seems to me it was sometime in March. Still 4-zip Jets.
Third Period: Rink Rat Scheifele scores on the powerplay, just to rub salt into the wound, I guess. Jets 5, Wild done like dinner…Like I said, no more than five games. Good call…My memory isn’t shot, but there are some significant gaps and, try as I might, I can’t recall the 1987 series when les Jets took out the Calgary Flames. Don’t remember a thing, but the boys in the booth and between the benches assure me that it was the last time les Jets won a playoff series…Here’s the good news for the home side (aside from advancing to the second round): A bunch of guys named Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Fuhr, Anderson et al aren’t laying in wait…Garry Galley asks, “Do these fans deserve this?” Yup, they do. Have to be happy for Good Ol’ Hometown. When I make my once-a-week visit to my favorite watering hole Saturday, people will talk about les Jets instead of “Winterpeg.” Nice.
Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 2 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Friday the 13th…
Pregame blah, blah, blah: Is it true that Queen Liz has been observed loitering outside The Pint pub on Garry Street? If so, let’s have a toast to Her Royal Pintness…Locals are Doing the Donald on Whiteout Way outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie again, only this time city officials have added a stretch of pavement and a park to accommodate more revelers to the downtown block party. Should be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 of the rabble milling about on Whiteout Way (otherwise known as Donald Street) during the joust. I swear, we haven’t seen that many Winnipeggers left out in the cold since—well, since the NHL gave the city the cold shoulder in 1996…Cold is the operative word, because winter refuses to surrender to spring in Good Ol’ Hometown. Minus-18 windchill at 7:30 this morning, minus-15 overnight. Even the Golden Boy is still wearing his longjohns…Apparently, it’s costing the Secret Society Known As True North Sports & Entertainment $20,000 per night for the Whiteout Way bash, which is roughly what Puck Finn Laine and Twig Ehlers were paid (combined) to tie their skate laces each night during the past season. That 20 large might not be pocket change for Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, but it is for David Thomson…No Matty Perreault for les Jets tonight, but Jack Roslovic is in. The Evander Kane trade three years ago is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Official attendance for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series was 15,321, but veteran scribe Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail reports that there were actually 16,345 in the barn. Where were those extra 1,024 folks when Roy did his head count? Stuck in the beer line?
First Period: TheWild are looking to be “a little more assertive” in Game 2 according to centre Eric Staal. They are more assertive in the early skirmishing…Can’t believe the Wild aren’t leaning heavy on Twig Ehlers, like they did Matty Perreault in the opener. Ehlers is more difficult to track down because he bounces around the rink like a pinball on uppers, but he’ll burn them if they don’t slow him down…Hey, what happened to Cassie Campbell-Pascall’s whiteout outfit? Guess she finally got the memo that she’s supposed to be impartial. So she’s wearing a black jacket over a top with every color of the rainbow. Hideous…Dustin Byfuglien makes me nervous. He hasn’t done anything boneheaded. Yet. But he makes me nervous…Breaking news (speaking of boneheads): Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs is gone for three games. Good. Kadri is the kind of pain in the ass every team can use, but he’s a stupid pain in the ass. He’s also a dangerous loose cannon who clearly attempted to hurt Tommy Wingels of the Bruins in Game 1 of the Tranna-Boston series…Paul Romanuk really is an excitable little guy, isn’t he?…Less than three minutes to go and it seems to me that the Jets have stopped “moving their feet.” (One bad cliché allowed per period.)…Best period of the series for Minny. Zip-Zip.
Second Period: Donald S. Cherry is given the night off. Maybe that’s why Cassie Campbell-Pascall is wearing her wacky outfit…Wow, the Jets are definitely “moving their feet” this period. Somebody throw another puck on the ice so the Wild have something to play with. Guaranteed Minny takes a penalty if the Jets keep moving at this pace…There you go. Jonas Brodin yanks down Mark Scheifele and Jets go on the powerplay…Oh. My. Goodness. If Big Buff makes me nervous, how does Mikko Koivu feel about the big man? I mean, Byfuglien totally stapled him to the end boards. How do these guys get back on their feet after something like that? Totally nasty…Bound to happen—Jets score. Tyler Myers makes like a very tall, gangly Bobby Orr and sifts through the Wild defenders, beating Devan Dubnyk to the far side. Jets 1, Wild nil. And look who assisted on the goal. Yup, it was Myers from Roslovic. Did I mention that the Evander Kane trade is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Yikes. Puck Finn misses the net from 10 feet. Should be 2-zip…Complete domination by the home side. They’re absolutely pounding the wild. Order the full-body ice packs.
Third Period: Jets are too fast, too big, too skilled. This is a rout dressed up as a 1-0 game…Not for long. Paul Stastny scores to make it 2-zip…So Joe Morrow gets the winner in Game 1 and now Stastny lights the lamp. Take a bow, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for those two trade deadline deals…Roslovic sets up an Andrew Copp goal for two assists in his baptism in the NHL’s beard season, and Garry Galley is absolutely correct: The Wild are running on empty. They are spent. The Jets are beating the hell out of them…Dubnyk makes a magnificent glove save on a Byfuglien howitzer. “Holy snappin’ eyeballs!” Romanuk squawks. Love it…Have you ever wondered what it would be like if one team wore skates and the other team wore snowshoes? Now you know. It’s 4-zip thanks to Puck Finn, and Myers gets a helper. So, if you’re keeping score at home, Roslovic has two assists and Myers a goal and an assist. One more time: The Evander Kane trade is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Observation from Galley: The Wild can’t get anything going and “I think the Jets are the reason.” Ya think? What was your first clue, Serpico?…Zach Parise spoils the shutout. Whatever. It took the Wild 15 minutes to get their first shot…Hey, there’s a fight. I thought that only happened in baseball. And now another fight. Stupid…Jets have outshot Minny 83-37 through 120 minutes of ice-tilted shinny, goaltender Devan Dubnyk has been the Wild’s best player in both games—and they’re 0-2…Jets 4, Wild 1. Off to Minny Ha Ha for Game 3 in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
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.
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.
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.
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 prefer 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.