The River City Renegade


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

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

Take it away, ladies…

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

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

Question Lady: How so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Thorburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Cheveldayoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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About Mathieu Perreault’s loose lips…Toby Enstrom doing the Winnipeg Jets a favor…the NHL coaching carousel is spinning…and so long to Sudsy Sutherland

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

Mathieu Perreault

Either Mathieu Perreault is the most brutally honest player in the National Hockey League, or the filter between his grey matter and tongue is on the fritz.

I mean, it isn’t often that you hear someone label a teammate “selfish.” Perreault did. It’s equally rare in the team-first culture of hockey for a player who is not without his own flaws to cast stones of disapproval and blame at colleagues. Perreault did.

There he stood before a gathering of news scavengers on Sunday, less than 24 hours after he and the Winnipeg Jets had put another failed crusade to bed. His dark eyes at times hidden in the shadows from the peak of a black ball cap, the scruffy, bearded winger delivered bon mots about his season (“When I was playing my best, I feel like the team always had a better chance of winning.”), a possible future in Las Vegas, the Jets’ talented youth and…goaltending.

I think,” he submitted, “if we can get some saves…that was kind of a bit of a struggle for us. There’s no team in the playoffs that isn’t getting saves, so we’re gonna definitely need some saves.”

So there you have it, kids. If you’re looking for Connor Hellebuyck, Michael Hutchinson or Ondrej Pavelec today, you’ll find all three in a mangled mess under a transit bus. That’s where Mathieu Perreault tossed them.

It’s not that Perreault is off base about the oft d’oh-like work of the much-maligned men who stand in the blue ice. Puck-stopping surely is among the main reasons the Jets have conducted early exit interviews for the fifth time in six seasons. Here’s the question, though: Was he wrong to say it for public consumption?

Naturally, if you’re a collector of sound bites, you love Perreault. In a world of mostly bland, cookie-cutter quotes, his loose lips are manna. His candor is refreshing. He is, as they say in the rag trade, “good copy.”

If, on the other hand, you’re a teammate and he’s branded you “selfish” (hello, Jacob Trouba) or he’s got you pegged as the reason you aren’t participating in Stanley Cup skirmishing that commences this week, you might have to resist the urge to volunteer to sew those loose lips together and perhaps threaten to administer a painful noogie or two just to emphasize your point.

What Perreault said was blunt but true, and I can’t imagine any member of the Fourth Estate wanting him to bite his tongue. But, it’s understandable if the goaltenders are miffed, if not flat-out PO’d, because their accuser was MIA for the first three-quarters of the season.

I doubt they’d share their thoughts with the rabble, though. That would be too much like airing dirty laundry in public, which is Perreault’s shtick.

Sudsy Sutherland

I’m sorry, but unless Toby Enstrom has a burning desire to live in Glitter Gulch (which, apparently, he does not), there’s no reason why the veteran defenceman should waive the no-movement clause in his contract and, thus, allow the Jets to expose him to the Vegas Golden Knights in this summer’s expansion draft. To suggest he ought to do this out of some sense of loyalty to the team is daft.

And so it has begun. Lindy Ruff is out in Dallas, Tom Rowe is out in Florida, Willie Desjardins is out in Vancouver, Darryl Sutter is out in Tinseltown. Would you want any of those defrocked head coaches behind the bench for the Jets? No, no, no and…hmmm. Sutter is an intriguing possibility. But Paul Maurice isn’t going anywhere, despite what was hinted by one of the natterbugs on TSN’s The Reporters with Dave Hodge last week. Bruce Arthur suggested that “Paul Maurice is maybe in a little bit of trouble in Winnipeg.” Ya, Coach Potty-Mouth is in trouble like Alec Baldwin is the real Donald Trump.

So sad to learn of the passing of Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, former player, coach and general all-around good guy with the Winnipeg Jets. Spent many hours with Sudsy on the team bus, in the team hotel, at the rink and even made a couple of side trips with him from Philadelphia to the casinos in Atlantic City. A wonderful man.

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


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While Winnipeg Jets’ ownership/management fiddles, careers of older players waste away

Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc.

That’s the unstoppable sound of the clock rapidly and relentlessly ticking down on the National Hockey League careers of certain able-bodied players whose bodies soon will begin to betray them, if that isn’t happening already.

Toby Enstrom will be 33 at this time next year. Dustin Byfuglien 32. Captain Blake Wheeler 31. Bryan Little 30. They were in, or about to enter, their prime playing years when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011 and the Thrashers morphed into the Winnipeg Jets. Since then, each has swallowed the Kool-Aid and put his signature on a long-term contract, convinced that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, and his obedient servant, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, would deliver on a promise of better days.

Toby Enstrom

Toby Enstrom

Well, those four men are still waiting for deliverance. Their biological clocks are still ticking. And they have every right to ask: When is when?

Except the Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff won’t, or can’t, provide a definitive answer. Unlike Enstrom, Byfuglien, Little and Wheeler, they aren’t on the clock, so they simply recite the draft-and-develop mantra and add more pimples than puck sense to their roster, all the while allowing four careers to waste away.

There is no urgency in ownership/management. The Little Hockey House on the Prairie is sold out every night. There’s a waiting list for season subscriptions numbering in the thousands. Many among the rabble remain in swoon, still giddy to have an NHL outfit to call their own, no matter how inferior the product. The Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment can’t sell enough $10 Jumbo Jet hot dogs, $10 pints of beer and $300 jerseys. That isn’t a hockey rink tucked between Hargrave and Donald in downtown Winnipeg. It’s a cash register.

Much of that money is, of course, funneled into player wages and, to be sure, the Jets’ on-ice workers are handsomely compensated. They draw enough pay to purchase every $10 Jumbo Jet dog ever put on the grill. But once the contracts are signed, sealed and delivered, it’s no longer about the number of zeroes behind the dollar sign. It’s about winning. Period.

Do you think Blake Wheeler is interested in a draft-and-development plan that won’t bear any fruit for another, say, four-five years? Indeed, head coach Paul Maurice spoke to that very issue last April, when he began sifting through the charred leavings of another dumpster fire that put the Jets on the outside when the real fun began in the Stanley Cup tournament.

If we put a really, really young lineup again in the Central (Division) and have a couple of tough nights, as long as those are the best guys we have then I’m all for it,” coach Potty-Mo told news snoops.

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler

At the end of the day, I don’t care who’s in that lineup, we’re going to try and figure out a way to win with that group. We’re going to put that expectation in our room, instead of saying, ‘Hey, just come out and try hard and follow us and then in five years we’re going to…’ Blake Wheeler doesn’t want to hear that, he doesn’t want to play like that.

Our expectations have to be higher. The players have to be under that pressure because I think they develop faster.”

But, as in the case of when is when, how fast is fast?

I mean, the Jets commenced their current crusade with two goaltenders still on training wheels. The tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson has crashed and burned. What’s old is new again, with Ondrej Pavelec back in the blue paint. And if he doesn’t return as the second coming of Dominik Hasek, what then? Back to Hellebuyck and Hutchinson?

I doubt that rate of development is fast enough for Wheeler and the others.

It is said today that 70 is the new 50 and 50 is the new 30, but it doesn’t work that way in hockey. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, 31 wasn’t considered old in the NHL. Today, 30 is the old 35 and 35 is the old 40. (No, that doesn’t explain Jaromir Jagr, but some things defy logic.) The point is, Wheeler cannot afford many more failed experiments and wasted seasons before rot sets in. None of the ‘old’ boys can. Their clocks keep ticking while ownership/management keeps talking. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff have failed them. Miserably.

Little wonder Wheeler seems to be owly much of the time.

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


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If the Winnipeg Jets have sent an SOS to Ondrej Pavelec, it must be fake news

We now take you inside the Winnipeg Jets’ changing room, where the third players-only meeting in less than a week is in progress…

Dustin Byfuglien: “Okay, guys, let’s make it snappy. I wanna get outta here and get up to Lockport for some ice fishing. I got my hut set up and I hear the catfish are biting real good.”

Captain Blake Wheeler: “Ya, sure Buff. We’ll make the meeting as short as your attention span on the ice.”

Byfuglien: “You dissing me, Wheels?”

Wheeler: “Just saying. You seem to be in a bigger hurry to get to your fishing hole than you are to get back to our end after another one of your colossal blunders in the O-zone.”

Byfuglien: “Hey, my bad pinches and brain cramps wouldn’t seem so bad if Beavis and Butthead sitting over there in the corner would stop the puck once in a while. I’m not half as bad as those two make me look.”

Ondrej Pavelec giving up a goal.

They shoot, they score on Ondrej Pavelec.

Wheeler: “Don’t blame Bucky and Hutch for your screwups, Buff. Besides, help is on the way. They’re bringing Pavs back.”

Byfuglien: “The hell you say!”

Wheeler: “True story. Ondrej Pavelec is starting in goal Wednesday night when we play the Arizona Coyotes.”

Mark Scheifele: “That’s fake news! Fake news, fake news, fake news! That’s Donald Trump-level fake news! I won’t believe it until I see Pavs flopping and flailing in the blue paint.”

Wheeler: “I’m telling all you guys that Pavs is coming back. He’ll be here in five, 10 minutes.”

Scheifele: “Whose brain fart was that?”

Wheeler: “You ever heard that saying about how crap flows down from the top? Figure it out. Starts at Chipper, trickles down to Chevy, trickles down to coach PoMo, then the steaming mess stops in here.”

Bryan Little: “Stops in here? Nice to know someone in this room can make a stop!”

Wheeler: “Boys…boys…boys. Let’s not be sniping at one another. If you want to bitch and bark at someone, save it for the media. They’ll be in here as soon as our meeting is over. I’ll have to talk to the sons of B’s ’cause I wear the C. The rest of you guys can draw straws to see which two have to join me. Buff, you just hide in the showers as always.”

Chris Thorburn: “Why does Buff always get to duck out on interviews? That ain’t fair?”

Byfuglien: “Who asked you, Thorbs?”

Thorburn: “I’ve got a right to speak! I’m great in the room! Everybody knows that. If I wasn’t great in the room, you think I’d still be in the National Hockey League?”

Byfuglien: “If you’re so great in the room, maybe you should just stay in the room and let someone else have your five minutes of ice time.”

They shoot, they score on Michael Hutchinson.

They shoot, they score on Michael Hutchinson.

Wheeler: “Knock it off, you two! I told you, save your cattiness for the media.”

Jacob Trouba: “Wheels is right. We’ve lost four games in a row and we’re quickly losing contact with the wild-card playoff teams. We’ve all gotta haul together. One for all, all for one.”

Mathieu Perreault: “Oh, isn’t that rich? Look who’s talking about pulling together. It’s Mr. Trade Me, Mr. Holdout. It was nice of you to join us halfway through November, Troubs. What happened, mom finally kick you out of the house?”

Trouba: “Eat my shorts, Matty! You’re the most overpaid waste of skin in this room. I hope you and your 13 points enjoy playing in Las Vegas next year.”

Ondrej Pavelec enters the changing room…

Wheeler (standing to greet the Jets’ longtime scapegoat goaltender): “Pavs! Get over here, you big lug! Man, are we glad to see you, dude!”

Byfuglien: “Nobody’s happier to see you than me, Pavs. The two guys we’ve had in goal this season…we’d have been just as well off with that little twerp Justin Bieber in net. Every time I wave my stick at someone instead of actually trying to check them, the puck seems to end up in our net. Can’t be my fault, ’cause coach PoMo never benches me.”

Pavelec: “Well, I should warn you all, I haven’t gotten any better in my time with the Manitoba Moose. Check out my numbers. Just so-so. Same as my nine years in the NHL.”

Scheifele: “Ya, I guess the brass recalling you is kind of like offering a drowning man a drink of water. But Buff’s right. It’s been brutal. You can’t be any worse.”

Pavelec: “You have a short memory, Scheifs.”

Connor Hellebuyck giving up a goal.

They shoot, they score on Connor Hellebuyck.

Connor Hellebuyck: “Excuse me. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hutch and I are in the room. We can hear you.”

Byfuglien: “Nice to know something is working for you guys. Maybe you should have been trying to stop the puck with your ears.”

Wheeler: “Okay, enough! Time to draw straws and see who has to deal with those knobs in the media. They’ll wanna ask you all their dumb questions, Pavs. You in?”

Pavelec: “Just call me Strawman!”

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


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About a Hall pass for “hell-ya!” girl Hayley Wickenheiser…keeping it behind closed doors for the Winnipeg Jets…fickle fans…and a new turn for the CFL quarterback carousel

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

I suppose the manner in which Hayley Wickenheiser walked away from hockey says something about the women’s game, if not her: Under-stated. Under the radar.

Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser

There was no ballyhoo. No emotion-charged, tear-jerker live press gathering on TV or streaming across the Internet. Just a simple tweet from Wickenheiser at 4:02 in the afternoon on a Friday the 13th , stating, “Dear Canada. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Time to hang ’em up!! Thank you!”

In the world’s greatest hockey nation, that’s how the greatest of all our female players bid adieu. A 22-word tweet, almost one for each of the 23 years the product of Shaunavon, Sask., wore the Maple Leaf with Canada’s national women’s team. As farewells go, you can’t do it at a lower volume than that, unless you say nothing at all.

That’s the nature of the beast, though.

I don’t believe I’d be off the mark were I to submit that female hockey operates under the radar three out of every four winters. We get geeked up about the girls’ game only when the Olympics arrive. Then it roars into our consciousness, like a hell-bent Hayley Wickenheiser dropping a shoulder and driving to the net against those always troublesome American girls.

Think Sochi 2014. Anything at those Games more dramatic, breath-halting and inspiring than the finish to the women’s gold-medal game? Nope. At least not for us. Our neighbors to the south, no doubt, don’t share such romantic sentiments.

The point is, we genuflect in the direction of the women’s game during the five-ring circus that is the Winter Olympics, otherwise it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind venture.

The two main organizations in North America—the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the National Women’s Hockey League that operates in the northeastern U.S.—basically function in anonymity. I mean, until the Wickenheiser tweet on Friday, the only headlines in female shinny this season were the coming out of Harrison Browne, a transgender forward with the Buffalo Beauts, and the Edward Scissorhands-like slashing of NWHL salaries.

Not many people were shocked to read about a transgender hockey player or a 50-per cent cut in wages—they were gobsmacked to learn that something called the NWHL actually existed.

I doubt many are aware that the CWHL, in which players are not paid, is enjoying its 10th season.

All hail Hayley.

All hail Hayley.

So, Wickenheiser doing her thing on the down low was rather in lockstep with the women’s game, but no doubt any and all tributes that accompany her into retirement won’t be so muffled.

Wickenheiser is deserving of fanfare, not merely because of the unprecedented numbers (168 goals, 379 points in 276 games with the national side) or the gold trinkets she collected at the Olympics (four) and world hockey championships (seven). Most significant, it’s about what she has done for girls and women who wish to play hockey without being viewed as freakish or not quite right.

It wasn’t so long ago when boys wore the black skates and girls wore the white skates with the toe picks. It was considered the natural order of things. Any deviation was viewed with cynicism, if not open ridicule and bullying. Indeed, Wickenheiser speaks of her early days on the frozen ponds of Western Canada, when she felt obliged to conceal her identity in order to play hockey.

I remember when I was a kid, I hid in the bathroom and tucked my hair up so no one would know I was a girl,” the 38-year-old told Donna Spencer of The Canadian Press. “I just went through hell really, to play. Girls don’t have to go through hell anymore to play hockey.”

No they don’t. And much of that is Hayley Wickenheiser’s doing.

Does she belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hell ya, girl! And that will be worth more than a 22-word tweet.

I’m not sure what’s worse, being paddywhacked 7-4 by the Montreal Canadiens or surrendering four first-period goals to the Arizona Coyotes. I mean, the Desert Dogs are the only National Hockey League outfit that has yet to reach double digits in wins this season. They’ve collected nine Ws in 41 assignments. But here’s the deal: The Winnipeg Jets, in dropping a 4-3 verdict to the ‘Yotes on Friday night, now have 22 losses for their 2016-17 crusade. Only one club, the Colorado Avalanche, has more Ls. Grim.

So, the Jets were late in allowing news snoops to enter their inner sanctum at Gila River Arena on Friday, because they thought it would be a swell idea to discuss their misgivings amongst themselves before captain Blake Wheeler surfaced to share a terse bon mot with the media. Next up was a chin-wag with head coach Paul Maurice on Saturday morning in Tinseltown. It’s official, then: The Jets have had more emergency meetings than wins this week.

It has come to my attention that there are those among us in Jets Nation who believe much-maligned goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is the remedy for what ails the local hockey heroes. Yes, oh ye fickle fans, and Donald Trump will fix the great racial divide in the U.S.

Oops newspaper headline of the week comes from the Winnipeg Sun: “Jets catching Canadiens at right time.” D’oh. I’m guessing Paul Maurice would disagree, since coach Potty-Mo has expressed nothing but four-letter displeasure in the wake of the 7-4 wedgie the Habs gave the Jets at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on Wednesday night.

I note there might be a starting quarterback vacancy in Saskatchewan, where Roughriders’ chief cook and bottle washer Chris Jones parted company with Darian Durant by dispatching him to the Montreal Alouettes for a song. One line of logic suggests this is an opening for Matt Nichols, potential free agent QB. That might make sense if not for the fact Jones tossed Nichols into the dumpster when they were both with the Edmonton Eskimos. Once the Canadian Football League QB carousel stops spinning, I believe you’ll find Nichols where he was last year—behind centre with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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

 


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Winnipeg Jets: Putting Chevy-speak into plain English

Depending on which River City rag you read, Kevin Cheveldayoff sat down with either two news snoops or a group of news snoops on the weekend for some fireside blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Naturally, the Winnipeg Jets general manager droned on in Chevy-speak, so, as a public service, we have hired a professional linguist to translate and distill his comments. Here, then, is the Reader’s Digest condensed version (3,160 words reduced to 1,050) of Chevy’s state-of-the-union chin-wag…

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Kevin Cheveldayoff

How would you assess your team just past the halfway point of the National Hockey League season?

“Are you kidding me? All those kids in our lineup, those two goaltenders, the schedule that Paul Maurice keeps complaining about, all those injuries…I’m surprised we’re even in the post-season discussion. I mean, I wrote this season off before it even started because of our youth movement, so it’s a bit of a bonus that we’re so close to the playoff line.”

Your head coach, Paul Maurice, says there should be an asterisk beside your record because of the schedule and all the injuries. What say you?

“Damn straight!”

What’s your take on Maurice’s work?

“Paul said it best when he said, ‘You are who your record says you are.'”

What level of job security does Maurice have?

“Look, Mark Chipman told me that it was time for a full-scale youth movement. He’s the Puck Pontiff, and I do what I’m told. So it was out with the old and in with the new. I saddled Paul with a very young team. He didn’t necessarily like it. But he knew what he was getting into when he signed on. He knew it wasn’t going to be all flowers and roses. This season is a gimme for Paul. I’m not going to toss him under the bus. But, at the end of the day, you are who your record says you are.”

You decided to go with the kids, Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, in goal and waived the incumbent, Ondrej Pavelec, then shipped him to the minors. How’s that working so far?

“The fact none of the other 29 teams claimed Pavs on waivers ought to tell you all you need to know about him. I like Pavs, but it was the right thing to do. As for Connor and Michael, do the math. Why do you think coach PoMo tossed them under the bus a week or so ago? Paul is right…we don’t have a No. 1 goaltender. Not yet. We’re building toward the future. Is the future here yet? No. When is the future? Your guess is as good as mine.”

What say you about Patrik Laine, your prize rookie?

“God bless those bouncing ping pong balls at the draft lottery! Sometimes you need a horse shoe up your butt instead of skill. I mean, eight teams passed on Nikolaj Ehlers at the 2014 NHL draft. Eight teams passed on Jacob Trouba in 2012. Having the ping pong balls fall our way last year meant we were getting either Patrik or Auston Matthews. We got the player we wanted.”

Pictures on a wall say it all.

Pictures on a wall say it all.

Now that you mentioned Jacob Trouba, how is your relationship with him after his trade demand and failure to attend training camp?

“I still have pictures of Jacob and I shaking hands at the 2012 draft on my office wall. What does that tell you about our relationship?”

Dustin Byfuglien signed a five-year, $38-million contract last summer. Are you getting enough bang for your buck?

“Buff is earning his keep. But if coach PoMo keeps playing him 29-30 minutes a game, there’ll be nothing left of Buff by the final year of that contract. Quite frankly, I’d like to see some of Buff’s minutes go to Jacob Trouba. As it is, Buff is all over the map. Nothing’s really changed since this team arrived in Winnipeg in 2011. Buff is still being Buff.”

Tylers Myers has missed most of the season due to injury. Any chance of bringing in help to shore up the back end?

“You mean trades? Hey, after I fleeced the Buffalo Sabres in the Evander Kane deal and fleeced the Chicago Blackhawks in the Andrew Ladd deal, you think anyone wants to deal with me? Seriously, though, I think everyone knows I don’t do anything unless there’s the proverbial gun to my head.”

Has Blake Wheeler been a suitable replacement for Ladd as team captain?

“Are you kidding me? Did you see what he did after Patrik Laine scored that selfie against the Vancouver Canucks? He wrapped his arm around him and whispered sweet nothings in his right ear. Awwwww.

What have you to say about the progress of Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey?

“Like I said, eight teams passed on Nikolaj at the draft. D’oh! We’re extremely happy those eight teams all had a Homer Simpson moment. As for Josh…he’s been a revelation. He ought to receive extra pay just for cleaning up Buff’s mess every night. I imagine it’s kind of like cleaning up after the elephants at the circus. That’s not a cheap shot on Buff’s size, by the way. Just saying.”

Bye bye Burmi.

Bye bye Burmi.

How difficult was it to put Alexander Burmistrov on waivers? He’s a former top-10 draft pick.

“Whoa Nellie! Don’t pin that rap on me. I didn’t draft Burmi. That was Rick Dudley or Don Waddell or one of those other nitwits who left the cupboards bare when Chipper bought the Atlanta Thrashers. I thought I’d washed my hands of Burmi when he defected to Russia, but coach PoMo took a fancy to him and kind of adopted him. Guess that’s why they call him Pa Ingalls. Whatever, the Arizona Coyotes are welcome to him. It’s kind of ironic, though. I mean, going from Winnipeg to Phoenix is the first time Burmi has gone north-south his entire career.”

How will next summer’s expansion draft for the Las Vegas franchise impact the Jets?

“They’ll get a player to be named later. That player won’t be named Laine or Ehlers or Scheifele or Trouba or Little or Morrissey or Wheeler or Connor or Roslovic or…well, you get the picture.”

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


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If newspapers don’t like pro sports franchises controlling the message, then do something about it

Let’s not be naive about this controlling-the-message business.

We all do it. Or at least we attempt to do it. Government does it. Coca-Cola does it. McDonald’s does it. General Motors does it. The Catholic church does it. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills do it. Parents do it. Professional sports franchises do it.

And—I hope this doesn’t come as a bulletin—newspapers do it, too. Every day.

peg papersWhat do you think is happening in most newsrooms in North America this very day? I’ll tell you what: Editors are gathering around a large table (or small, depending on the size of the sheet) and, either in person or via conference call, they’re deciding what message(s) to send to the great unwashed. Not only that, they are deciding how to torque said message, depending on the whims and biases of the editorial board and/or ownership.

A member of the Winnipeg Jets has a slight brush with the law?

Who’s the player?” a managing editor demands to know.

Patrik Laine,” the sports editor advises him.

Oh. We like him. He has 20 goals. We can’t bury a nice kid like Laine. We’ll bury the story instead. Report the facts but, remember, he’s just a kid. Kids make mistakes. Be gentle with him.”

There’s one more thing…Ondrej Pavelec was with Laine. They both got arrested.”

Perfect. Pavelec is in the minors now, so we don’t give a damn about him. There’s your lede—young, impressionable Laine’s being led astray by former Jets goaltender who once spent a night in jail on a drunk driving charge and kept it a secret from the club while negotiating a multi-million-dollar contract. We’ll bury Pavs.”

Yes, newspapers can be that deceitful and conniving, and the faster they get that click bait on their website the better.

There’s more.

Newspapers control the content in the Letters to the Editor section. They control the online comments that accompany articles to the point of censorship. The Winnipeg Free Press is forever running propaganda pieces about rising readership and circulation, even as print newspapers and their ink-stained employees throughout North America are falling like bowling pins. The Winnipeg Sun will do the same if the numbers are favorable.

Spin. It’s all about spin. Promoting and protecting the brand.

So, can newspapers tsk-tsk the Jets or Winnipeg Blue Bombers from dictating club spin and vigorously controlling the club message if the dailies are doing that very thing? Seems to me it’s a goose and gander situation.

In our 140-character, dot.com, Snapchat, Instagram world, the divorce rate between pro sports outfits and newspapers has advanced rapidly, and breaking up is not hard to do for the clubs. They have devised a method of spreading their gospel that is brilliant in its simplicity: Poach the best available print journalists from local rags and pay them to do the their official bidding on the team website. Presto! You’ve strengthened your product and lessened your reliance on theirs.

They won’t stop there, either. Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties.

newspapers2What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Jets’ coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative.

The way the Sun and Freep work the Jets and Bombers beats is dog-eared. Dated. They still cover the two clubs the way we did it in the 1970s and ’80s. It seemingly hasn’t occurred to them that the traditional game story died the moment a fan could reach into a pocket or purse and place a breaking news story in the palm of her or his hand. Really, is anyone waiting for a newspaper to land on their doorstep in the morning so they can read about something they watched and heard on a hand-held gadget 12 hours earlier?

Same old, same old doesn’t work in this push-the-send-button climate. Coverage needs to be more off-beat and upbeat, with more personality and cheek. Snappier and snazzier. More bloggish, if you will. Hit ’em with hot takes rather than an antiquated reliance on monotone, rehearsed quotes in a comatose post-game story that drones on. Have some fun with it, even if it puts noses in ivory towers out of joint.

And newspapers must remember that they have the greatest weapon of all in their arsenal—harsh truths.

Truth sells. Ditto opinion. Not the kind of lap-dog opinion that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or Bombers CEO Wade Miller want to read. We’re talking opinion that readers among the rabble want. Unvarnished, unharnessed and honest truths that you’ll never find on a club website.

Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing their business.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.