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.

 

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.

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.

The two Hens in the Hockey House deliver the goods on the 2019 Stanley Cup champion Winnipeg Jets, the Rink Rat, Puck Finn, Sideline Sara, the Lickety Split Line and much more

We’re slightly more than a month into the Winnipeg Jets 2016-17 crusade, which means it’s time to check in with my two Hens in the Hockey House.

Take it away, ladies…

question-lady-and-answer-lady2Question Lady: The good times are rolling for our favorite team. The Jets really gave the Chicago Blackhawks a nasty wedgie on Tuesday night at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. Four-zip. Bravo. And now they’re second in the Western Conference and Central Division. Did you see this coming? Is it sustainable?

Answer Lady: Well, if you recall when we last talked, I said there was as much chance of the Jets qualifying for the Stanley Cup tournament as there is of me filling in for Frida or Agnetha at an ABBA reunion concert. Maybe I didn’t read the tea leaves accurately. Maybe I should clear my throat, do some vocal cord exercises and go to a thrift store and buy some 1970s outfits and big hair. I might have a singing gig come springtime.

Question Lady: So what are you saying now? That they will make the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Whoa, Nellie. The National Hockey League season is a marathon. But I will say this: It appears that the Jets will be in or near a playoff position by American Thanksgiving weekend and that means they ought to be in the conversation deep into the season. I still believe they’ll fall short, though. But that’s okay. It’s about the big picture for the Jets.

Question Lady: Meaning what?

Answer Lady: Meaning the 2019 Stanley Cup champions are beginning to look like—wait for it—like the 2019 Stanley Cup champions. Just as Ken Campbell of The Hockey News predicted. I was reminded of Campbell’s forecast after the Jets gave the Blackhawks that 4-0 paddywhacking. It appears that the local lads most assuredly have two of the three essential ingredients for your basic Stanley Cup stew: A stud centre-ice man, Rink Rat Scheifele, and a stud defenceman, Jacob Trouba. And they’ve added a stud winger into the mix, Puck Finn.

Really, the only box left to check for the Jets is stud goaltender. That might be Connor Hellebuyck, whose blanking of the Blackhawks is the high-water mark of his ongoing audition. It might be Eric Comrie, who’s on the farm. It won’t be Michael Hutchinson in the blue paint and it never was going to be Ondrej Pavelec, who, if he catches a late-career break, could find himself playing out the string in Glitter Gulch.

Jacob Trouba
Jacob Trouba

Question Lady: There’s just one thing wrong with that analysis…Trouba wants out of Winnipeg. Doesn’t that leave the Jets one stud short of a barn wall?

Answer Lady: Winning is a cure-all. Trouba isn’t going to bail if the Jets are knocking on hockey heaven’s door.

Question Lady: Don’t you think his plan to force a trade failed miserably? Do you think he’s learned his lesson?

Answer Lady: Jacob Trouba wanted a trade. He didn’t get it. In that sense, he failed. But because he signed for only two years rather than five or six—and for much less money than market value—doesn’t mean he failed. Maybe money isn’t as important to him as you think it should be. If he’s happy with $2.5 million and $3.5 million a season, who is anyone to criticize him and label him a failure? If he doesn’t want to commit to the Jets for more than two years, how does that make him a failure? Trouba’s negotiating tactic failed on one point and one point only—he didn’t get his trade.

Question Lady: So you’re saying he’ll still be around for a Stanley Cup parade in 2019?

Answer Lady: That’ll be up to the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men, headed by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. They’ll have to convince Trouba that this is the place to be. And there’s only one way to do that—win.

Question Lady: There’s no chance of Scheifele leaving us is there?

Answer Lady: None. Nada. Zilch. There will be no Scheifele Shuffle out of Dodge. The Rink Rat is a lifer. And he’s the real deal. I wouldn’t have said that two, three years ago. Heck, I wouldn’t have said it a year ago. You remember what he was like. He got knocked down more often than a head pin in a bowling alley. He was on all fours more than the Best of Show winner at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Some of us called him Bambi. Now he’s Rambi, a combination of Rambo and Bambi—solid as a brick outhouse but little, old ladies like me still want to pinch his cheeks.

Question Lady: Seriously? You’re telling me Scheifele is tough like Rambo?

Answer Lady: Naw. I’m saying opponents can’t knock him over anymore just by farting in his direction. The dude isn’t leading the NHL in scoring just because his skill set has improved. The dude’s a physical specimen, thanks to Gary Roberts and his boot camp.

Question Lady: I guess Patrik Laine is the real deal, too, right?

Sideline Sara doing her thing with Blake Wheeler.
Sideline Sara doing her thing with Blake Wheeler.

Answer Lady: Does the Pope wear a pointy hat? Is Donald Trump orange? If Puck Finn isn’t the real deal, Hillary Clinton has never told a fib. Which reminds me, I’ve got a bone to pick with Sara Orlesky.

Question Lady: How so? Are her pants on fire?

Answer Lady: No, but Sideline Sara stood in front of a TSN camera last week and told her audience that “no one predicted this kind of start” for Puck Finn. I did. I said Patrik Laine would have 11 goals by the time Trouba came crawling back to the Jets. Well, Trouba returned on Nov. 8 and Puck Finn scored his ninth, 10th and 11th goals that very night. So, either Sideline Sara doesn’t read the crap I write or she’s a Blogger Snob.

Question Lady: What’s a Blogger Snob? It sounds like something you cough up or wipe away with a Kleenex when you have a nasty cold.

Answer Lady: A Blogger Snob is a member of mainstream sports media who looks down his or her nose at bloggers. I hate to say that about Sideline Sara, because she strikes me as a delightful, young lady, but I call ’em like I see ’em.

Question Lady: What did you expect her to do, tell her viewers that you’re the only person in this entire country who knew Laine would take the NHL by storm? Are you really that vain?

Answer Lady: Naw. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read the crap I write.

Question Lady: Okay, get over yourself and let’s get back on topic. Let’s say the Jets had first shout rather than second choice in last June’s NHL entry draft. Who do you think GM Chevy would have taken, Patrik Laine or Auston Matthews?

The Lickety Split Line celebrates another goal.
The Lickety Split Line celebrates another goal.

Answer Lady: Puck Finn. No doubt. He already had his stud centre in Rink Rat Scheifele, so he’d have gone for Laine. I bet he felt like a kid at Christmas when the Toronto Maple Leafs passed on Puck Finn and took Matthews. And look how it’s worked out. The line of Rink Rat, Puck Finn and Nikolaj Ehlers is doing boffo business. I call it the Lickety Split Line.

Question Lady: What was your take on the ‘own’ goal that Ehlers scored in overtime in that loss to the Avalanche in Colorado the other night? His fault or Michael Hutchinson’s fault?

Answer Lady: Hutch wears the goat’s horns for that one. He dozed off. Coach Pa Ingalls called it right when he said that puck has to be stopped. Hutch’s fault. Totally.

Question Lady: Why do you call Paul Maurice Pa Ingalls?

Answer Lady: Because that’s the only way to explain how Alexander Burmistrov is still on the team. The coach must have adopted him when they were both in Russia.

Question Lady: Last question…is Chris Thorburn adopted, too?

Answer Lady: Naw. Thorbs is Chris the Cockroach. Try as you might, you just can’t get rid of him. But he’s become kind of like the family pet.

Question Lady: Okay, see you in about a month, just before Christmas.

Answer Lady: It’s a date. We can give out our annual goal or coal gifts for the naughty and nice. Should be fun.

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.

My Hens in the Hockey House are talking about the Winnipeg Jets

Can’t let the puck drop yet, folks. Not until the Question Lady and the Answer Lady have had their say.

They’re my go-to girls. Consulting with them always is my final order of business before the Winnipeg Jets strike out on a fresh National Hockey League crusade, because, unlike some of our mainstream media friends, they don’t feel obligated to play nice for fear of offending the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men in the inner sanctum at True North Sports & Entertainment.

question-lady-and-answer-lady2The Hens in the Hockey House are unplugged and unfiltered. Always. If they see a spade, they don’t just call it a shovel. They tell us what kind of muck is on the shovel and how it got there. I would say they’re two female Donald Trumps, except they don’t have orange skin or horrible hair and they don’t brag about grabbing the groins of unsuspecting females.

So here they are, always gossipy, always glib and always prepared to deliver the goods to Jets Nation. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Where to begin? With Jacob Trouba? With Ondrej Pavelec? With all those rookies? I guess Jacob Trouba is as good a place to start as any. Are the Jets going to miss his presence on the blueline?

Answer Lady: Like I miss ABBA. I loved ABBA. I don’t love the Jets D. I mean, look at the third defence pairing they’ll have Thursday night when the Carolina Hurricanes come calling at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie—Mark freaking Stuart and your choice of Paul Postma or Ben Chiarot. And they’ve got a greenhorn, Josh Morrissey, in the top pairing with Dustin Byfuglien. Will big Buff be babysitting or freelancing? Defence will be the Jets’ Waterloo, which, by the way, is a boffo ABBA tune.

Question Lady: A lot of people think the Jets should send Trouba a message by letting him rot, rather than cave to his trade demand. What do you think?

Answer Lady: If by “rot” people mean let him sit out the entire season or go play in Europe, how does that benefit the Jets? Everyone seems to think general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has the winning hand in this game of Winnipeg Hold ‘Em, but I don’t necessarily agree. If Trouba digs in his heels—really digs in—and Chevy refuses to lower his sticker price in trade discussions, he runs the risk of having wasted a first-round draft choice on Trouba. I don’t think he’s prepared to let that happen. Chevy wants Trouba playing, not rotting. Something has to get done.

Question Lady: A lot of the media say Trouba has been given bad advice by his agent, Kurt Overhardt. What do you think?

Answer Lady: The media would know this how? I doubt Trouba and Overhardt invite news snoops to join their intimate chin-wags. Unless they wiretap his phone, they have no way of knowing what’s been said and to whom. Yet they paint Overhardt as the bad guy or Trouba as a spoiled brat. This isn’t about bad guys and good guys. It’s about people doing business.

Question Lady: Okay, enough of Trouba. The Jets will be icing a lineup that includes rookies Patrik Laine, Brandon Tanev, Kyle Connor, Morrissey and goalie Connor Hellebuyck. And Nikolaj Ehlers is a sophomore at 20. Does this broad-stroke youth movement mean the Jets are in tank mode right from the get-go this season in the hopes of landing Nolan Patrick at next year’s draft?

Kevin Cheveldayoff
Kevin Cheveldayoff

Answer Lady: Let me answer that question with a question…would you rather lose with Kyle Connor and Connor Hellebuyck or Anthony Peluso and Ondrej Pavelec? This is the natural order of things. I think it can be said that the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men have conceded that this season won’t end well, but the players won’t tank. Ever. Not even for Nolan Patrick.

Question Lady: One writer, Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, suggests that this is the first year of Chevy’s second five-year plan. Does than mean another five years of losing?

Answer Lady: There never was a first five-year plan, so this cannot be the second five-year plan. Chevy will never put himself on the clock. Only the Puck Pontiff can do that. As I’ve said before, the plan is a plan of no beginning and no end. It’s all very zen. We will see the results when we see the results, grasshopper.

Question Lady: But won’t owner Mark Chipman eventually run out of patience with Chevy if the team keeps missing the playoffs?

Answer Lady: The Puck Pontiff’s patience will expire if the Jets are losing and no one is there to see it happen.

Question Lady: Is coach Paul Maurice’s job safe, too?

Answer Lady: What do you think? They’ve saddled the guy with a bunch of kids who were asking Drew Doughty for his autograph six months ago. Now they’re expected to beat him one-on-one. Do the math.

Question Lady: I don’t know about that. Seems to me the Jets have a nice blend of youth and experience, no?

Answer Lady: You mean like Chris friggin’ Thorburn and Mark freaking Stuart? Good luck with that.

Question Lady: No, I mean like Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Bryan Little, Matty Perreault and Blake Wheeler. I think Wheeler is a great leader and will make a great captain, don’t you?

Answer Lady: I suppose Wheeler was the right choice as captain. For now. He won’t be here in another three years, though, so they should have given the C to Mark Scheiffele. He’s a Jets lifer.

Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine

Question Lady: What do you expect out of Patrik Laine in his rookie season?

Answer Lady: Good quotes.

Question Lady: No, I’m talking about production.

Answer Lady: So am I.

Question Lady: Be serious. Can Laine duplicate what that other fab Finn did for the Jets?

Answer Lady: If you mean Teemu Selanne, of course not. If you mean Hannu Jarvenpaa, let’s bloody well hope not. I mean, Hannu was a great guy, but he scored the grand sum of 11 goals for the Jets. I suspect Laine will have that many by the time Jacob Trouba comes crawling back, is traded or he starts playing in Europe.

Question Lady: What’s an acceptable number for Laine?

Answer Lady: First of all, let’s stop all foolishness. Laine is not the second coming of the Finnish Flash. Don’t call him Finnish Flash 2.0 or Finnish Flash the Sequel. If he develops into the Flashy Finn, fine. But I’d say a good over/under for him as a rookie is 20 goals. If he scores 20 or more, I’m sure the Jets will be delighted. Anything less, not so much.

Question Lady: Speaking of the Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne is coming in for the Heritage Classic when the old Jets play the old Edmonton Oilers. He’s only been retired for one year. He’s probably still in game shape. What if he upstages Wayne Gretzky?

Answer Lady: Dave Semenko will beat him up.

Question Lady: Last question…do the Jets have any chance of making the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Well, two years ago, I said they wouldn’t and they did. Last year at this time, I said they would and they didn’t. This year, I say they have as much chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup tournament as I have of filling in for Frida or Agnetha at an ABBA reunion concert. Enjoy the season.

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.

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/sports/hockey/jets/jets-hoping-this-season-is-a-young-mans-game-396706101.html

About the Winnipeg Jets betting their scouts got it right…the Buck and Hutch Show…Nolan Patrick…and the boys skate down memory lane at The Pint

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

Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine

Be careful what you wish for, Jets Nation. You might get it.

Actually, you’ve already got it. Connor Hellebuyck is in goal. Josh Morrissey is on defence. Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Brandon Tanev and Nikolaj Ehlers are up front. The first five are National Hockey League rookies. The latter is a sophomore who can’t order a beer in the United States until February.

The Jets are greener than a nauseous Kermit the Frog on St. Patty’s Day.

That’s okay, though. That’s what you wanted. That’s the new NHL order and you wouldn’t want your hockey heroes to be left behind, right? And they won’t be. Not as long as general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s bird dogs have flushed out more blue-chippers than scouts with the other 29 outfits in a league where fewer and fewer players are old enough to grow a respectable playoff beard.

That’s really what the Jets are betting on, isn’t it? Their talent sleuths. The guys who roam the terrain like so many truffle hogs seeking to unearth hidden treasure.

I mean, it’s not like the Jets invented the light bulb, sliced bread or the dot.com. The draft-and-develop blueprint is older than the back of Jaromir Jagr’s head. The trick, therefore, is to do it better than the other guy(s), and we like to think the Jets’ scouts have assembled a glittering collection of raw, untapped talent. Better than most, if not all. Ah, but loyalists of the Edmonton Oilers likely thought much the same thing at different times during the past decade.

If the Jets bird dogs did their job, the kids will be alright. Perhaps not this season, but eventually.

I like what the Jets have done. I don’t see it as risky business. Not even in goal. Technically, Hellebuyck isn’t a rookie. He stood in the blue paint 26 times during a Jets crusade that fell off the rails last winter, so he won’t be eligible for the Calder Trophy. But let’s face it, he’s a freshman. Michael Hutchinson isn’t, but he’s no one’s idea of a No. 1. He was given ample opportunity to supplant everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Ondrej Pavelec, and he couldn’t do it, which probably should tell you all you need to know about him. But, really, the Buck and Hutch Show doesn’t need to be all-world. Anything above average is an upgrade.

Nolan Patrick
Nolan Patrick

Can you say Nolan Patrick, kids? The Jets can. Unless I miss my guess, the local shinny side will finish closer to the back end rather than the front of the pack this winter and, given another stroke of good fortune when the NHL makes the numbered ping-pong balls go bouncy-bouncy at the draft lottery next spring, Patrick might be the Jets’ reward. The bonus, of course, is that the Brandon Wheat Kings forward is a homebrew.

Oh, the good times (not to mention the brown pop) will be flowing at The Pint on Fort Street next Thursday night (Oct. 20) when yesterday’s heroes gather to tell tall tales and swap fibs at the Heritage Classic Launch Party. A great number of former Jets dating to the World Hockey Association glory days shall be on site, as will the Avco World Trophy. At the same time, it’s a sad reminder that we’ve lost some people along the way. I hope they take a moment to remember CBC voice Don Wittman, Jets radio legend Friar Nicolson and former Winnipeg Free Press hockey scribe Reyn Davis. Friar, Reyn and I were the only three news scavengers to work the Jets beat, home and away, during the final WHA season. It was a hoot. The Jets were a real good bunch of guys, too. They made my job enjoyable. It was a privilege and a pleasure to cover that team.

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.

About the Winnipeg Jets spending more big bucks…the Blue Bombers’ winning formula…”gutless” comments…and other things on my mind

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

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.
Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

It’s no surprise that the Winnipeg Jets have tossed top dollar at Mark Scheifele.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, the Jets operate on the chintz. In any payroll search of National Hockey League clubs, you’ll always find the locals nearer the bottom of the heap than the top. This is a “budget” team.

Yet the Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment contradicts itself. That is, it is not a big spender, yet it has never been shy about spending big.

I mean, any outfit willing to compensate a lowly foot soldier like Chris Thorburn to the tune of $1.2 million per annum isn’t afraid to chuck the change around. Co-bankroll David Thomson likely found enough to pay Thorbs’s salary hidden behind and beneath the cushions of his sofa.

The point is, stuffing $49 million (US) into Scheifele’s piggy bank doesn’t represent a seismic shift in how True North does business. The Jets have a history of showing a willingness to deliver term and top-market compensation to those they deem their most valued workers. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.

Earlier this year, the Jets committed $38 million to defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. Two days ago, it was $16.5 million for Mathieu Perreault, a generous stipend for a guy who might be playing third-line minutes. None of this is chump change. Nor was the $93.1 million they doled out to three players—Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian—three years ago this month. Thirteen months before that, they agreed to pay Ondrej Pavelec $19.5 million over five years (ignore the reality that it was money not wisely spent on their much-maligned goaltender).

So no one should be surprised that the Jets went all-in with an eight-year, $49 million contract for Scheifele. It wasn’t a debunking of a “cheapskate tag,” as the Winnipeg Free Press suggests. It’s what they’ve done and will continue to do. Nothing has changed.

Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler

I have one question about the Jets signing of Scheifele: Why didn’t they name the 23-year-old centre team captain at the same time? While prevailing sentiment suggests Wheeler ought to wear the C, Scheifele will be doing his thing at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie for the next eight winters. Wheeler, whose birthday cake next month will feature 30 candles, won’t be.

In Florida, owners of the Panthers talk about winning the Stanley Cup. “They expect a Stanley Cup and we have a duty to bring the best team possible to our fans,” general manager Tom Rowe says of owner Vincent Viola and vice-chairman Doug Cifu. In Winnipeg, meanwhile, His Holy Hockeyness, Mark Chipman, and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, talk about a “process.”

Nice to see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally found a winning formula—play a team that will commit six turnovers. That’s what went down when the Bombers bettered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-24, Thursday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer. The trick now, of course, is to find a few more teams as inept as the Tabbies.

On that note, who stole the real Hamilton Tiger-Cats and what have you done with them? Not to discredit the Bombers, who’ll take Ws in any shape or size, but the Tabbies were gawd awful and aren’t even a reasonable facsimile of the outfit that has been a Canadian Football League force since Kent Austin put his hands on the till. Yes, I realize the starting quarterback, Zach Collaros, is in sick bay, but that’s no excuse for the Keystone Kops routine.

Just wondering: Did South African High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa give her “fallen hero” Oscar Pistorius a hug and a kiss before shipping her “broken man” off to jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, or did she settle for an autograph?

fish wrapCathal Kelly is among the finer wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism, but I fear he’s lost the plot when it comes to tennis. Scribbling in the Globe and Mail, he mentions “the golden era of Canadian tennis” and cites Genie Bouchard’s march to the 2014 ladies’ final at Wimbledon and Milos Raonic advancing to the gentlemen’s semi-final round before bowing to Roger Federer that same summer. That’s Kelly’s idea of a golden era? One fortnight on the lumpy lawns of the All England Club? I’m sorry, but there’s nothing “golden” about one exceptional-yet-unsuccessful run at a tennis Grand Slam, then operating on the periphery of the sport’s elite. I would suggest that if Raonic topples Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final on Sunday morning, we can begin talking about a “golden” era of Canadian tennis. But not before he’s actually won something of note.

Shame on Steve Simmons, Postmedia sports columnist and TSN gab guy who this week on The Reporters with Dave Hodge advised us that Kevin Durant has “no spine” and his signing with a stacked Golden State Warriors outfit was “gutless.” In case we didn’t hear him the first time, he repeated his reckless “no spine” insult in his weekly three-dot column. Yo! Stevie! I’ll tell you what takes “no spine” and is “gutless.” Sitting in the shelter of a faraway TV studio or in your home office and slandering one of the top five performers in the National Basketball Association. Stand on a chair, look Durant in the eyes and then say he’s spineless and gutless or don’t say it at all.

I’m liking two new features in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department: 1) Paul Wiecek’s Sticks and Stones column (a string of brief opinion blurbs can make for a bright and breezy read; 2) TV columnist Brad Oswald’s take on the sports shows we watch. I’m anxious to see if Oswald will critique sports scribes freelancing as broadcasters or treat them like sacred cows. I’m betting it’s the latter, because people in the toy department don’t tend to eat their own.

It’s about that Trivago guy who shows up in all those commercials during sports programs: Someone has to tell him to stop dancing. He’s smooth like JLo is ugly.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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.