The River City Renegade


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Dial 1-800-UR-5HOLE if you know a goaltender who can help the Winnipeg Jets

They’re baaaack! And one of them is totally PO’d with the Winnipeg Jets.

I refer, of course, to my two Hens in the Hockey House, who know all and aren’t afraid to tell all about the only National Hockey League club that apparently believes quality goaltending is an afterthought.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: I’m kind of nervous about getting into a discussion about the Jets with you…you look really sour. Kind of like the way Melania Trump looks every time The Donald tries to hold her hand. Are you not fond of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s handiwork?

Answer Lady: Does a vegetarian order a double Whopper with cheese? Is the White House fond of fake freaking news?

Question Lady: Oooooh, you are some kind of owly. But, hey, now that you’ve mentioned the White House, I note that the Pittsburgh Penguins say they’ll accept an invitation to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if President Trump tosses down the welcome mat to celebrate their Stanley Cup victory. Do you think Trump actually knows any of the Penguins by name?

Answer Lady: Probably just Evgeni Malkin. If there’s one thing Trump knows, it’s Russians. Actually, Malkin could become the first Russian to visit the White House during The Donald’s era who won’t have to hide in a closet.

Question Lady: So much has happened since the Penguins were feted for their championship. I don’t even know where to begin. I…

Answer Lady: Sorry to interrupt, but I guess that makes you just like the Jets—they don’t know where the hell to begin either! So far, their off-season has been brought to us by the letters W, T and F!

Question Lady: Ouch. That’s harsh.

Answer Lady: Harsh? You want harsh, girlfriend? Harsh is jacking up ticket prices at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie—and probably the cost of hot dogs and beer, too—and then doing sweet petite to improve a roster that wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs. That’s harsh. And flipping ballsy.

Question Lady: Okay, but what makes you think Chevy’s finished giving the club a makeover?

Answer Lady: Oh, get a grip, girl. He’s going to give his roster a makeover like Johnny Depp is going to break bread with the Trumps.

Question Lady: Geez, that’s your second or third Trump reference already. What’s up with you and The Donald?

Answer Lady: What can I say? I get a kick out of real life cartoon characters.

Question Lady: Okay, back to the Jets. What were you saying about Chevy?

Answer Lady: Chevy does the same thing every…freaking…summer. His scouts instruct him what pimple-poppers to claim in the NHL entry draft, then he does the Howard Hughes thing and becomes a recluse. He hides out at his cottage. But I don’t blame it all on Chevy. The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, is the commander-in-chief. Most people know that, even if mainstream media won’t mention it. Chipman is just like that new goomer in Phoenix who’s running everyone out of town. The only difference is that the Puck Pontiff isn’t as obvious as Andrew Barroway.

Question Lady: Were you surprised that Barroway got rid of Shane Doan, the last surviving member of the Jets original NHL franchise?

Answer Lady: Doan’s best-before date expired about the same time as Jaromir Jagr’s. But why is a guy who’s owned an NHL franchise for less than a month making that decision? What’s Barroway’s hockey background? What’s his hockey expertise? Don Cherry’s empty beer bottles have seen more shinny than Andrew Barroway. Shouldn’t Doan’s status be a general manager/head coach’s call? Whatever, a guy like Doan, who’d been the face of the Coyotes franchise for two decades, deserved better than an eight-minute chin-wag and a handshake from GM John Chayka in a coffee shop.

Question Lady: With Dave Tippett now the former head coach in Arizona, do you think Paul Maurice should be looking over his shoulder?

Answer Lady: Name me an NHL head coach who shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder. Other than Mike Backcock, that is. If the local lads soil the sheets in the first couple of months next season—and if Tippett is still available—cries of impeachment shall ring out from the rabble. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vegas bookies list Maurice as the odds-on favorite to be the next head coach fired, especially given that the Puck Pontiff and Chevy don’t seem interested in providing the poor sap with any new weapons. Like a freaking goaltender!

Question Lady: Come on, girlfriend. You don’t really believe the Jets will do nothing, do you?

Answer Lady: Here’s my prediction—their big free agent signing will be Chris Thorburn. Yes, that Chris Thorburn. Chevy gave credence to that possibility the morning after the Vegas Golden Knights laid claim to Thorbs’ bare knuckles in the expansion draft. Thorbs will be back. Remember where you heard it first.

Question Lady: Yikes! I think the rabble will be lighting torches and brandishing pitch forks if that happens. It’d be like a scene out of an old John Wayne western movie where the angry mob storms the sheriff’s office to get the bad guy and string him up.

Answer Lady: Like I said, little lady, remember where you heard it first.

Question Lady: What about that tall drink of water from Finland that the Jets plucked in the first round of the entry draft on Friday night? Can he help?

Answer Lady: Does Kristian Vesalainen play goal? Negative. Does he play defence on the left side? Negative. The Jets need goaltending help STAT. But the way other NHL outfits are gobbling up the available talent, they’ll have to settle for any old schmuck wearing a mask.

Question Lady: Hey, Batman wears a mask! Maybe he can play goal for the Jets!

Answer Lady: It’s even too late to get him. Batman just died.

Question Lady: Holy five-hole and kaPOW! I guess Chevy will have do it via free agency or trades.

Answer Lady: Trades? Chevy isn’t allowed to make trades without pontifical blessing. All he does is talk about the trades he almost made.

Question Lady: Is there anything about the Jets that you like?

Answer Lady: Of course. Absolutely. This isn’t a hot mess like in Vancouver. I like the Jets’ incredible young talent. Boffo kids. They’ve got game. Unfortunately, the decision-makers don’t. They’re afraid of their own shadows. That’s why I’m frustrated and PO’d. I see GMs in other NHL towns plugging holes, filling gaps and fleshing out their rosters, but all we hear in River City is the sound of crickets.

Question Lady: Well, I must take my leave. Time to travel and enjoy summer. You?

Answer Lady: No plans. I guess I’ll see you in October. Until then, don’t forget your sunblock and, if you stumble upon anyone wearing a mask in your travels, tell him to call 1-800-UR-5HOLE pronto. That’s the Jets’ goaltender hotline.

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 the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Model…the Blue Bombers and soccer…the Puck Pontiff going into hiding…and what the women on the tennis tour think of our Genie

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

When the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, purchased his new play thing in 2011, he turned his eyes due south, directly toward Twang Town U.S.A., and found himself a role model for his team to be named later.

The Nashville Predators,” he mused. “I wanna be just like those pesky Predators.”

Now, it’s quite unlikely that the Puck Pontiff spilled those exact words, but he did confirm that the plan for the outfit he later named Winnipeg Jets was (still is?) to follow the blueprint laid out by Nashville, now in its 18th National Hockey League season and still winners of exactly nothing.

That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg,” he supposed.

Yup. Strange like hiring Justin Bieber as a life coach strange. Strange like wanting to dress like Don Cherry strange. I mean, Nashville is like that Dwight Yoakam song—guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With a whole lot of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry tossed into the mix. But hockey? Come on, man.

They’ve done it methodically,” the Puck Pontiff advised news snoops in springtime 2012, “they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”

That team” he spoke of so fondly failed to qualify for the next two Stanley Cup tournaments, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a misguided notion.

The point is, the Puck Pontiff likes to think of his fiefdom as Nashville North sans Dolly, Carrie and Little Big Town, so, with the Predators awaiting a dance partner in the Western Conference final for the first time in club history, let’s take a look at them to see if they tell us anything about the Jets.

  • The Predators were built from scratch, as a 1998 expansion team. They missed the playoffs their first five crusades.
  • The Jets were a pre-fab outfit built in Atlanta, but the Puck Pontiff operated it like an expansion franchise, gutting the management side down to the studs. They’ve missed the playoffs in five of their six seasons.
  • The Predators have known just one general manager, David Poile, who learned at the knee of Cliff Fletcher in Calgary then earned his chops as GM of the Washington Capitals for 15 years.
  • The Jets have known just one (official) general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who apprenticed under Stan Bowman in Chicago and has done the Puck Pontiff’s bidding for six years.
  • The Predators have had two head coaches, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. Poile didn’t ask Trotz to leave the building until 15 years had passed.
  • The Jets have had two head coaches, Claude Noel and Paul Maurice. It only took about 15 months before Noel was asked to leave the building, but it’s apparent that the Puck Pontiff is prepared to stay the course with Coach Potty-Mouth for 15 years.
  • The Predators, under Poile’s direction, preached the draft-and-develop mantra from the outset.
  • The Jets talk about nothing but draft-and-develop.
  • The Predators can be found in the lower third of the pay scale.
  • The Jets can be found in the lower third of the pay scale (if not at the bottom).

So there are your commonalities: Methodical, consistent, patient, steady-as-she-goes, loyal (to a fault for the Jets) and frugal.

Where do the Predators and Jets part company? In the GM’s office.

David Poile

Poile is unafraid to deliver bold strokes. He dared to send a first-round draft pick, defenceman Seth Jones, packing in barter for Ryan Johansen, the top-level centre he required. He shipped his captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for flamboyant P.K. Subban. He somehow pried Filip Forsberg out of Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. His captain, Mr. Carrie Underwood, and James Neal came via trade. Yannick Weber is a free-agent signing.

By contrast, Cheveldayoff is only allowed to make significant troop movements when backed into a corner (see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew).

So what do the Predators teach us about the Jets? Well, if the locals follow the Nashville Model to the letter, we can expect to see meaningful springtime shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie as early as next season. As for arriving in the Western Conference final, put in a wakeup call for 2030.

In rooting through archives, I stumbled upon a most interesting discovery: Once upon a time, the Puck Pontiff spoke to his loyal subjects. Honest. Chipman actually stood at a podium and did the season-over, chin-wag thing with news snoops in April 2012, at which time the city was still in swoon and the rabble didn’t much care that there’d be no playoffs. He has since become Howard Hughes, hiding himself in a room somewhere, no doubt eating nothing but chocolate bars and drinking milk. I found one remark he made at the 2012 presser to be rather troubling: “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, ’cause I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.” I wish I could believe that he allows the hockey people to make the important hockey decisions, but I can’t.

I note the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking to branch out into another sport and secure a franchise in a proposed Canadian pro soccer league. Ya, that’s just what Winnipeg needs—more dives.

Carolina Hurricanes have had goaltending issues. Ditto the Dallas Stars. Double ditto the Jets. So ‘Canes GM Ron Francis uses a third-round draft choice to acquire the rights to Scott Darling, then signs him to a four-year contract. Stars GM Jim Nill uses a fourth-round pick to secure the rights to Ben Bishop, then lock him in for six years. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, do nothing. Don’t you just hate the sound of crickets?

I look at the Ottawa Senators, who ousted the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup derby on Tuesday night, and I mostly see smoke and mirrors. Yes, they have Erik Karlsson, the premier player on the planet at the moment, and Craig Anderson often provides the Sens with stud goaltending. But beyond that, it’s largely a ho-hum roster. Where is the stud centre? You don’t win championships without a stud centre. At least not since the New Jersey Devils. My guess is that the Senators’ fun is soon to end.

Here’s one way of looking at this year’s Stanley Cup tournament:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genie Bouchard proved nothing with her win over Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open this week, except that she can beat a player who had been away from elite tennis for almost a year and a half. And that she can’t win gracefully. I don’t like rooting against Canadian athletes, but our Genie has become increasingly difficult to embrace. Branding Sharapova a “cheater” and suggesting she ought to be banned for life due to a drug violation is good copy, but surviving a second-round match and acting like you’ve just won Wimbledon because you have a hate-on for your opponent is bad form.

Bouchard claims that a number of players on the Women’s Tennis Association tour approached her on the QT prior to her match with Sharapova, wishing her bonne chance. Simona Halep of Romania was not among those women. “I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually,” Halep advised news snoops. “She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.” Ouch.

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 the difference between the Jets and Leafs…Sportsnet talking Stanley Cup in the Republic of Tranna…rapping with Rink Rat Scheifele…two gasbags in Pegtown…a five-year plan…and a thank-you to the media

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

I don’t know about you, but while observing the recently concluded skirmish between the pesky, upstart Toronto Maple Leafs and the accomplished Washington Capitals, I kept asking myself the same question: Why not the Winnipeg Jets?

I mean, shouldn’t the Jets be part of the Stanley Cup derby? What do the Leafs have that the local hockey heroes don’t?

Brendan Shanahan

Well, okay, the Leafs have a team president, Brendan Shanahan, who actually performed in the National Hockey League and won the Stanley Cup (make that plural). The Jets have an executive chairman, Mark Chipman, who once sold cars and whose sole claim to fame as a jock was participating in one Canadian Football League exhibition game before being cut by legendary coach Cal Murphy.

So there’s that.

What else? Well, the Leafs have a general manager, Lou Lamoriello, who has won the Stanley Cup (make that plural). And they have a head coach, Mike Babcock, whose name is also etched on hockey’s holy grail and whose resume includes Olympic Games gold medals (yes, plural). The Jets, meanwhile, have Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice, winners of zero Stanley Cups as GM and head coach, respectively.

So there’s that, too.

Anything else? Well, there’s goaltending. The Leafs have it in Frederik Andersen. The Jets don’t.

Oh, one more thing: The Leafs have one pain in the ass (see: Kadri, Nazem) who can also score 30 goals, and another pain in the ass (see: Komarov, Uncle Leo) who’s basically a nasty rash on every opponent’s skin. The Jets most definitely do not have a pain in the ass, never mind two.

What about Auston Matthews you say? The Leafs have him. The Jets don’t. Fine. Except when I looked at the NHL scoring leaders at the close of regular-season business, only six players were ahead of Mark Scheifele and none of them was named Auston Matthews. (The separation between Matthews and Scheifele—today, not 10 years from now—is as thin as the sparse playoff whiskers on the Toronto rookie’s chinny-chin-chin.)

Lou Lamoriello

As for the rest of the on-ice personnel…if you say Jake Gardiner, I say Jacob Trouba. If you say Morgan Rielly, I say Dustin Byfuglien. If you say Nikita Zaitsev, I say Josh Morrissey. If you say Mitch Marner, I say Patrik Laine. If you say William Nylander, I say Nikolaj Ehlers. If you say Tyler Bozak, I say Bryan Little. If you say James van Riemsdyk, I say Blake Wheeler. Etcetera, etcetera.

Clearly, the Jets are more than a talent match, the exceptions being one goaltender and two pains in the ass. So, again, why were they not part of the playoff hijinks this spring like the Leafs?

I’ll let you discuss that among yourselves, but I suggest you start at the top of the totem pole by asking how involved Puck Pontiff Chipman is in the day-to-day operation of the Jets, then work your way down to ice level, specifically behind the bench.

You’ll probably find your answers there.

Only in the Republic of Tranna: The Leafs qualify for the postseason party for the second time in 12 years and Sportsnet, which often reads like a Maple Leafs blog, is already talking about a Stanley Cup in The 416. “Maple Leafs need to strike while in unique Stanley Cup window” is the headline on a piece by Chris Johnson, who advises us that the Leafs “are currently much closer to behaving like a Stanley Cup contender than they’re comfortable admitting publicly.” I believe the last time I heard Maple Leafs and Stanley Cup used in the same sentence, Punch Imlach was still coaching, Humpty Harold Ballard had yet to be caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and Trudeau the First was still playing second fiddle to Lester Pearson.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Speaking of Sportsnet, they actually managed to squeeze a piece featuring somebody other than one of the Maple Leafs onto their website. True story. Luke Fox had a lengthy and insightful tete-a-tete with Rink Rat Scheifele and, by all accounts, it was a pain-free exercise for the young centre. Imagine that. One of the Jets doing the chin-wag thing without a team PR flack lurking in the background.

Among the interesting nuggets in the Fox-Scheifele to-and-fro was this: “You never sewer a teammate,” said the Jets assistant captain. He might want to mention that to Mathieu Perreault, who doesn’t hesitate to toss his comrades, most notably the goaltenders, under a convenient bus. For his part, the Rink Rat had this to say about the much-maligned men tasked with the duty of stopping pucks for the Jets—Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson: “There’s always something that happens before a goal, and the goalies are just the last line. They take the brunt of the blame because they’re goalies and that’s what they signed up for and they’re crazy like that. But you can’t point the blame at our goaltenders. They both worked hard and never gave up on us. We all have to take blame for our weakness.”

I’m not sure what to make of this, but Kevin Chevldayoff and Paul Maurice are hot-aired gasbags compared to their counterparts with the Maple Leafs. Here’s the scorecard from their season-over chin-wags with news snoops:

Cheveldayoff: 47 minutes, 37 seconds.
Maurice: 26:45.
Lou Lamoriello: 10:36.
Babcock: 8:49.
Combined totals:
Cheveldayoff/Maurice—1 hour, 14 minutes, 22 seconds.
Lamoriello/Babcock—19 minutes, 25 seconds.

I guess the Jets brass had more explaining to do. Either that or they just had a whole lot more smoke to blow up the media’s butt.

Mike Babcock

I find it interesting that Shanahan, Lamoriello and Babcock don’t hesitate to put themselves on the clock. That is to say, Lamoriello went on record as saying the Leafs are operating on “a five-year plan.” In other words, Leafs Nation can expect to see a perennial playoff participant by then (they’re now two years into the plan). Puck Pontiff Chipman and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, have never dared to offer Jets devotees a similar time frame on their “process.” What are they afraid of?

Here’s another interesting comparison between the outlooks of the two teams: Asked about the Leafs roster next season compared to that which was eliminated in six games by the Capitals, Babcock said, “There’ll be changes.” Maurice answered a similar question by saying next season’s Jets are “gonna look an awful lot like this team but five months older.” Pushing forward in TO, same old-same old in Pegtown.

Got a kick out of Lamoriello’s parting words to the assembled news snoops in the Republic of Tranna: “Thank you for making it an enjoyable year.” I think he was serious. Who in professional sports does that?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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About what a hockey town looks like…NHL teams that actually make trades…old man Sudsy…Coach Potty-Mouth’s smugness…a steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver…and blaming it all on Canada’s sad-sack hockey fans

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

In the department of really, really, really dumb headlines, Sportsnet takes the prize for this: “Oilers fans ready to show us what a hockey town looks like.”

Edmonton Oilers fans perfected the jersey toss.

Just wondering, would those be the same fans who, only two years ago, were hurling Edmonton Oilers jerseys onto the ice in disgust? Those people are going to show the rest of us how it’s done? That’s like hiring Don Cherry as a wardrobe consultant. Or Meryl Streep recruiting Adam Sandler as an acting coach.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. Oilers fans are terrific. When they aren’t tossing $200 orange-and-blue clothing onto the freeze.

I doubt there’s anything Oilers loyalists can teach the faithful in the other six National Hockey League ports-of-call in Canada, with the possible exception of Vancouver, where the locals like to play with matches and try to reduce the town to ashes whenever the Canucks lose a playoff series. I mean, what can the rabble in Montreal, for example, learn from their counterparts in The Chuck? Zilch, that’s what.

Officially, Roman Catholicism is the main religion in Montreal. But we know better, don’t we. It’s hockey, specifically les Canadiens. The team jersey (which no one tosses on the ice surface) is known as La Sainte-Flanelle—the Holy Flannel. The Habs’ former home, the fabled Forum, wasn’t a hockey rink. It was a cathedral. Carey Price isn’t a goaltender. He’s deity. If he backstops les Glorieux to their 25th Stanley Cup title, he, like Patrick Roy, will achieve sainthood. At the very least, he becomes the Pope.

And Edmonton is going to show Montreal what a hockey town looks like? As if.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! Did you notice who scored twice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their double OT victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night? That’s right, Kasperi Kapanen, acquired as part of the Phil Kessel trade. And did you notice who assisted on both of Kapanen’s goals, including the overtime winner? That’s right, Brian Boyle, acquired just before the trade deadline for a minor leaguer and a conditional second-round draft choice. So you see, Chevy, there’s more to being an NHL general manager than draft and develop. It’s actually permissible to improve your Winnipeg Jets roster via barter, whether it means surrendering spare parts or an elite performer, as the Leafs did with Kessel.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler would excel in playoff hockey.

I don’t know if Blake Wheeler has been watching first-round Stanley Cup skirmishing, but, if so, I’m guessing it must really gnaw at the Jets captain that he isn’t included in the fun. This is his kind of hockey—intense, ballsy, belligerent, hostile, up-tempo, elite. Wheeler would excel on that stage. As for his colleagues, I wonder how many of the Jets could compete in that environment. It would be nice to find out sometime this decade. Well, wouldn’t it, Chevy?

Unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Free Press ignored the passing of Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, a member of the original Word Hockey Association Jets team and assistant/head coach of Jets 1.0 in the NHL. Sudsy’s death doesn’t warrant a mention? Not even a paragraph or three on one of the truly good guys in Jets lore? That’s totally lame.

Funny story about Sudsy from Joe Watson, a teammate with the original Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. After scoring the first goal in franchise history in Oakland, Sudsy and the Flyers returned home for their season debut at the Spectrum, on Oct. 19. Here’s how Watson remembered it for csnphilly.com: “We’re coming through the building and the security guards were there and we are all walking through and all of us are looking kind of young and Billy was looking older and the security guard says, ‘Where are you going? Billy says, ‘I’m a player.’ And the security guard says, ‘You can’t be. You’re too old.’ He was 36 at the time.” As it happened, Sudsy scored the only goal that night in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had lifetime security clearance thereafter.

I’m not sure what was more astonishing at Paul Maurice’s season-over chin-wag with news scavengers, his unvarnished arrogance or his smugness. Asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun why, given the head coach’s track record, Jets fans should be confident that he is the right man to “turn this (team) around,” Coach Potty-Mouth declared “It doesn’t need to be turned around. It’s already headed in the right direction.” Well, excuuuuse us all to hell. And here we thought the Jets missed the playoffs. Again. Later, Maurice twice refused to allow TSN’s Sara Orlesky to complete a question about acquiring a veteran goaltender, interrupting her both times with a smug response. I will say one thing for Coach Potty-Mo, though: At one point, he confessed to lying to the media. I’m sure they take considerable comfort in knowing they shouldn’t believe anything he tells them.

While it remains uncertain if the Jets are, indeed, “headed in the right direction,” as Maurice submits, I’ll take their roster over that steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver. Do the deep-thinkers with the Canucks (hello Trevor Linden and Jim Benning) even have a clue? Basically, they fired their head coach, Willie Desjardins, because the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, had the bad manners to get old, and former GM Mike Gillis mangled half a dozen entry drafts.

To underscore how fortunate the Jets were at the draft lottery last April, consider this: By the odds, they should have picked no higher than sixth in the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers. Patrik Laine would have been gone by then and they likely would have settled for Keith Tkachuk’s boy Matthew. The difference between Puck Finn and Tkachuk? Twenty-three goals, with Laine scoring 36 and Keith’s kid 13 for the Calgary Flames. Of the top 10 youngsters chosen last year, only three—Laine, Tkachuk and Auston Matthews—played full time in the NHL this season. That’s how lucky the Jets were at the lottery.

Blame it on the fans.

Paul Wiecek of the Free Press offers an interesting theory in explaining why NHL outfits from the True North have failed to bring the Stanley Cup home since 1993—it’s your fault, Josephine and Joe Phan. “My theory,” Wiecek writes, “is that we’re to blame—every sad-sack hockey fan in Canada who continues to fill the arenas in this country and pay huge bucks to watch mediocre (at best) hockey. Our strength as a hockey nation is also our biggest weakness when it comes to the NHL: our passion for the sport—and our willingness to be separated from our money in support of it, no matter what—provides no incentive for our NHL teams to be anything more than exactly what they are: Just good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly good enough to actually win a Cup.” The alternative, I suppose, is to stop supporting Canadian-based teams and let them all move to the southern U.S. How did that work out for Winnipeg the first time?

An odd bit of analysis on the Jets was delivered by Jeff Hamilton, one of the young scribes at the Drab Slab. “It makes little sense at this point to start pointing fingers,” he writes in the Freep. Really? If the media isn’t prepared to critique the local hockey heroes and assign responsibility for failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby, who will? Certainly not the fans, who, as Wiecek submits, happily part with their money for the opportunity to watch mediocrity. It’s the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to hold the Jets’ feet to the fire, and a talented writer/reporter like Hamilton surely knows that.

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: Ripples on the water and the Zen of Chevy

Okay, here’s what we learned during 46 minutes and 37 seconds of a smoke-blowing to-and-fro between Kevin Cheveldayoff and news snoops on Monday:

  1. The Winnipeg Jets general manager has had a tete-a-tete with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman about a contract extension that would allow Chevy (“I love this organization.”) to complete the restoration project he began in 2011, when the Puck Pontiff purchased a fixer-upper known as the Atlanta Thrashers with $170 million of David Thomson’s pocket change.
  2. Head coach Paul Maurice and all his accomplices (yes, kids, we said all…of…them) will return for the 2017-18 National Hockey League crusade.
  3. Nobody’s perfect, not even Maurice.
  4. If you drop a pebble in water, Grasshopper, it will create ripples.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

So, if it was insight, enlightenment, revelation or specifics you sought about your fave National Hockey League outfit, you came to the wrong place.

That’s not to say Chevy didn’t speak. Boy, did he ever flap his gums. The Puck Pontiff’s right-hand dude reminds me of a joke former Jets coach and funny man Tom McVie used to tell us about a friend who had a serious case of the yadda, yadda, yaddas: “Ask him for the time of day and he’ll tell you how to build a watch.”

Well, Chevy didn’t instruct the assembled diggers of nuggets how to build a timepiece, but he assured one and all that the Puck Pontiff’s and his way of constructing an NHL winner/champion is the right way, albeit the long way (patience, Grasshopper, and you too shall one day see the ripples on the water).

As is his norm, the GM spoke in Chevy-speak, meaning word count was maximized (why use a dozen words when 10 dozen will do?) and content required decoding. With that in mind, we give to you the Zen of Chevy, what the Grand Master said and what he really said.

What Chevy said about Puck Finn, fab Finnish rookie Patrick Laine…

He’s a wonderful person, he cares deeply about his game, he cares deeply about the team’s game and he’s got a passion to want to learn, a passion to want to keep getting better, a passion to want to be the best. He’s a driven individual and a proud individual and a humble individual. For us, as a franchise, it’s a big, key piece in helping us get to where we want to get to.”

What Chevy really said: “You talk about your craphouse luck. I still cannot believe those ping pong balls bounced our way at the draft lottery last year. You think we can fall into that same dung heap and come up smelling like orchids again? Karma, baby.”

What Chevy said about Maurice and a contract extension for the third-losingest coach in NHL history…

“Paul Maurice is the coach of this hockey team. What, where, how we go to the next steps, we’ll have discussions as we go. For me, Paul ‘s got my full support. I think it really goes to what we’ve asked Paul to do over his period of time here and, again, this hasn’t been something that we’ve knee-jerked and said ‘We’re gonna go in this direction now’ or ‘We’re gonna change and go in this direction.’ When Paul and I talked when he took over the team, we talked about the steps that were going to be necessary in order to build this franchise and continue to push it in the direction that we wanted. It was really at that point in time his enthusiasm and his willingness, for a veteran coach, to take on that task and understand that it wasn’t going to be smooth. You know, there’s gonna be steps along the way that you’d like accelerated and there’s gonna be steps along the way…some coaches that maybe aren’t as secure in their own skin or belief or where they’re at in their careers wouldn’t want to take on, they wouldn’t want to maybe take some of the youth, opportunities we had in front of us and really not coach for the best interests of the team. Paul’s coached for the best interests of this team and the best interests of the future of this team as we’ve asked him. He’s a leader. Is he perfect? No. We’re all not perfect here.”

What Chevy really said: “I like this Maurice dude almost as much as I like Chris Thorburn.”

What Chevy said about the positives he takes from a season in which the Jets failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament for the fifth time in six tries…

“We talk about the youth and we talk about the development of this organization. When we took over, we were clamoring to be able to have young players that we could look at and say ‘Hey, we want to build this franchise with (him).’ That has taken time. It’s taken time not only to draft them and unfortunately you don’t get that opportunity to draft all your players all at once. Sometimes you have to wait, sometimes as we have seen the wait is definitely worth it. But you can only implement what you have when you have it. And when you do have it, you should be looking at pushing it forward. Again, if you’re looking for the greater goal of trying to achieve something, you want to build a core, you want to build it as big as you can. You have to be able to go through that process to be able to do it. Drafting and developing is the way that we chose. That’s what we set out to do and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

What Chevy really said: “I can’t think of any positives right now. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Connor Hellebuyck

What Chevy said about the Jets goaltending this season…

“I think anybody who can manage in hindsight is a better manager than anybody that’s in pro sports. You don’t manage in hindsight, you learn from experiences and you certainly grow from experiences. But you also need to understand that you have to take steps to move forward. You have to make decisions. You don’t sit and try and say ‘Well I hope.’ You make that decision. It’s not unlike a skater. You have to give them that opportunity to grow. The decision that we made to move forward with the goaltending and how we chose to do it this year, it was not done in a vacuum. It was done with lots of conversation within the group, understanding that if we didn’t do it at that point in time that, one year forward, we would be sitting here today, tomorrow meaning at the beginning of the season, saying ‘Can Connor Hellebuyck take us to that next level? Is he going to be that No. 1?’ Well, if we didn’t give him that opportunity to play the games this year, we don’t know. Well, we better give him those opportunities in order to find out. We made that decision. You have to make decisions. You have to make choices. We made that choice. For a player like Connor, the sky’s the limit. Can he grow into being that No. 1? Ya, for sure he can.”

What Chevy really said: “We rolled the dice and we crapped out.”

What Chevy said about the need for a veteran goaltender…

What direction we choose to go, we’ll look at all the different options that are available to us. We will look at a lot of different scenarios to see if there’s a chance to push it, to move forward with it, whether it’s a veteran, whether it’s a young guy. Again, these are things that I can’t sit here and tell you in a hundred per cent certainty what’s going to happen. But, again, we’re going to look at all the different options.”

What Chevy really said: “After the entry draft in June, I’ll take the rest of the summer off. You know, same as I always do.”

What Chevy said about the challenge of signing all his young talent in the future…

Salary cap management is probably one of the biggest and foremost responsibilities for a general manager at the National Hockey League level. Certainly at the situation we’re in, when you look to acquire young talent and they have excelled under the staff that’s here and the opportunities that are given them, that’s a good thing. Again, if you have young talent that doesn’t challenge you and push you from a contractual situation, then maybe you’d be a little concerned. Are they the right people to push us moving forward? We’ve been very conscious in trying to understand that one bad decision, one long-term financial decision can have major ramifications and ripples all the way through. It’s like when you drop a little pebble into a water, you get the small ripples maybe happen right there but they keep getting bigger and bigger and expand the longer you go out. You want to make sure the decisions you make today…again, instant gratification is something that we all think is just the be all, end all and that there’s that magic pill, there’s that magic cure to cure all ills with respect to your team, but no team has found it yet. We have some good young players. 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.”

What Chevy really said: “We’re totally screwed financially in another year or two.”

Jacob Trouba

What Chevy said about Jacob Trouba, who delivered a trade request last May and withdrew his services at the start of last season…

We’ve never deviated from the fact that, when we talk about Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, we believe that those two players are going to be the ultimate drivers on this team. I can’t sit here and tell you we’re gonna open contract negotiations tomorrow. We might. Those are things that do unfold and stay behind the scenes, close to the vest.”

What Chevy really said: “Have you seen the pictures from Jacob’s draft day that I have on my office wall? Sweet.”

What Chevy said about another “wasted” year for soon-to-be-greybeard and captain Blake Wheeler…

I think, again, you can’t help but get excited about some of the youth that’s here. I think whether you’re in sports or whether you’re in school or whatever it is, when you have the potential to do something great you want it to happen now. So…again, the players, Blake…they all play this game to try to get to this point to try to win the Stanley Cup. One thing that is very certain in this league, you do not know what the future holds. You do not. And whether you’re a young player that wins a Stanley Cup at 18 years old and thinks that it’s going to happen each and every year…you know, you may never get back there. So, again, for Blake you empathize with those kind of players that lay it out there every night, provide the examples. But I think deep down you relish that opportunity knowing that how much you have helped those young guys is, again, gonna point them in the right direction. Blake’s passion, Blake’s desire will never be questioned. Certainly, it’s what drives me as well. When I sit there…when I sat there and talked to Blake the last time we did his contract extension, I gave them my commitment, I gave them my promise that I was going to do what’s necessary to push this team not only to try to win but to try to win the big prize. That ultimately is what they want. When I get a chance to speak with Blake, we’re gonna go over that as well.”

What Chevy really said: “Hey, it’s like the ripples on the water. Eventually, they fade away, so you drop another pebble in the water and new ripples appear. Unfortunately for Blake, he isn’t one of those new ripples.”

What Chevy says to Jets Nation…

They’re gonna get an opportunity to see a team that has grown. You know, the process was started…from the moment that we took over, the idea of what we were going to do and how we were going to do it…the seeds were planted. Those seeds took a while to germinate. They took a while to start growing. We have one of the best ownership groups in the league, because they know that there’s a plan in place and they know that they’re gonna stick to that plan.”

What Chevy really said: “We have a plan with no beginning and no end, Grasshoppers.”

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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My Hens in the Hockey House want Jacob Trouba to stay long term and Big Buff to stay short term

Once again, I present to you my two Hens in the Hockey House, who are down on Winnipeg Jets ownership/management but bullish on a number of players.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, this is our final gum-flapper of the hockey season. We’ve already dumped on the Fiddle-Farters Three, so what do you want to talk about now?

Answer Lady: Hey, this is Buffalo West. What do you think we’re going to talk about? In other National Hockey League locales, they talk about the now, which is to say the start of a playoff series, but not in Buffalo West, where one of the unfailing rites of spring is failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup shindig.

Question Lady: Boy, that’s a word you don’t hear too often anymore—shindig. You think youngsters in the audience know what it means?

Answer Lady: We have an audience? And there are youngsters in it? Who knew? Anyway, in River City, much like Buffalo where the Sabres make an annual early exit from the fray, we talk about the future because that’s all the Jets have to peddle—hope. That’s what both general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice will be selling next week at their respective season-end chin-wags with news snoops—hope. Both men will wax on about the “process” and the “long haul” and “patience” and new players “fitting in,” but neither will say when the future becomes the now.

Question Lady: You think?

Sean Spicer

Answer Lady: Listen, it’ll be Chevy/Coach Potty-Mouth doing Sean Spicer without the finger-pointing and schoolyard bickering. They’ll probably  deliver some interesting alternative facts, too. By the time they’re finished blah, blah, blahing and yadda, yadda, yaddaing, they might have some of the rabble convinced that the Jets actually made the playoffs.

Question Lady: Okay, let’s forget about those two because, you’re right, it’s all going to be hollow, preach-the-party-line blather. So you tell me, are the Jets about to turn the corner?

Answer Lady: I’m not sure they can even see the corner.

Question Lady: You’re kidding me, right?

Answer Lady: Not at all. Look, the Jets have incredible, top-end talent that I’m sure some other outfits envy. You think George McPhee wouldn’t like to hit the ground running with the top end of the Jets’ roster in Vegas? I’d venture to say that Vancouver Canucks ownership would swap rosters with the Jets—even-up—faster than you could say “Harold Snepsts is a cult figure.” I mean, would you want to step into the future with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine or with the Sedin twins? So, ya, the Jets have some fab pieces in place. But ready to turn the corner? Not without first navigating a whole lot of potholes. Frankly, I can see them in the same situation a year from now.

Question Lady: I find that hard to believe. I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?

Answer Lady: One, coaching. Two, goaltending. Three, unless Dame Fortune looks very favorably on the Jets when the ping pong balls start bouncing in this year’s draft lottery, their first choice in the auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers will be a two- or three-year project. Maybe longer. I’m not saying he’ll be as bad a choice as last year’s panic pick, Logan Stanley, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll step in immediately like Laine did this season.

Canucks cult figure Harold Snepsts.

Question Lady: Is Laine going to win the Calder Trophy as top rookie?

Answer Lady: I think Puck Finn could finish this crusade with back-to-back hat tricks and it still wouldn’t be enough to sway the eastern bloc vote. The Calder is Auston Matthews’ bauble. He deserves it. But it’s no bigee that Laine won’t win. Connor McDavid wasn’t rookie-of-the-year. Nor was Sidney Crosby—he received only four first-place votes. The Hockey Hall of Fame is full of players who don’t have their names inscribed on the Calder. Guys like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Mark Messier, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, St. Patrick Roy.

Question Lady: Laine is a keeper for sure. What other Jets do you consider untouchables?

Answer Lady: There are no untouchables…there are players I would least like to move—Puck Finn, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey, Bryan Little.

Question Lady: No Dustin Byfuglien on that list?

Answer Lady: They should have sent him packing last year, when he was positioned to become an untethered free agent. He would have brought a boffo return. So it was a missed opportunity. He’d still be the first guy I’d try to deal away, but his contract makes it very difficult, if not impossible. I’m afraid the Jets are stuck with him, although I’m sure they don’t look at it that way.

Question Lady: What’s the most-pressing issue the Jets face vis-a-vis the roster?

Answer Lady: Convincing Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. He’s the stud defenceman you build around. He has just one year left on the under-market-value deal he signed to end his contract impasse last November, and the Jets don’t want to go there again. I don’t know if there’s negative residue on either side from their standoff, but I want Trouba happy, healthy and wealthy.

Question Lady: What do you think owner Mark Chipman and Chevy will do?

Jacob Trouba

Answer Lady: It’s like the to-and-fro between a man and a woman. The guy’s always going to be interested in the girl, but if the girl isn’t interested in the guy it’s a non-starter. Same with the Puck Pontiff and Trouba. Chipman can pitch woo and Chevy can have a gazillion pictures of Trouba on his office wall, but the kid’s heart might be set on playing in another market, come hell or high income.

Question Lady: That’d be a bummer. Any other thoughts on the Jets before they shut down for the season?

Answer Lady: Ya, I kind of feel sorry for guys like Wheeler and Little. As I’ve written, their career clocks are ticking and they can’t afford many more wasted years while the Fiddle-Farters Three continue to fiddle-fart around by selling hope. Wheeler is very good at hockey. He’s the Jets’ best player. And Little goes about his business in an admirable, understated way. They deserve playoff hockey.

Question Lady: Agreed. Well, that’s it for me, girlfriend. I’m out of here until the entry draft in June.

Answer Lady: Ditto. Enjoy the playoffs. Or do what I do—break out the hot dogs and watch baseball.

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.