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

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

Take it away, ladies…

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

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

Question Lady: How so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Thorburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Cheveldayoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Winnipeg Jets: Is Paul Maurice really that good a coach?

I lied. Sort of. Kind of. It wasn’t an intentional lie, understand. It wouldn’t even qualify as a little, white lie.

When I wrote last month that I was shutting down The ‘I don’t have a Basement but I’ve got a Blog’ Blog, I meant it. I was done after more than 40 years of scribbling about all matters on the Winnipeg sports landscape. Now, as you can see, The ‘I don’t have a Basement but I’ve got a Blog’ Blog is again very much up and running.

Perhaps I merely needed time away. Some space, as they say (whoever they are).

Paul Maurice
Paul Maurice

There have been things I wanted to write about in the presence of my own absence, most of them pertaining to the Winnipeg Jets, who continue to send front-line players to the infirmary yet still conspire to win games and make a genuine push toward participation in next spring’s Stanley Cup tournament.

I truly do not know what to make of this National Hockey League outfit. I mean, is Paul Maurice that good a coach? His backline has been ransacked, but he plugs the holes with spare parts provided by general manager Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff or the farm in Newfy Land and the beat goes on, tickety-boo.

I must confess that, until this week, I had aligned myself fully with the skeptics. There is, in hockey, an axiom that tells us “You are what your record says you are.” Well, that didn’t wash with me. I remained unconvinced that these Jets, a group with no post-season pedigree, were built of playoff brick and mortar. Then they skated into the Toddlin’ Town and laid a proper paddywhacking on the Blackhawks, 5-1. You win with that defence—Adam Pardy, Paul Postma, Jay Harrison, Grant Clitsome and Ben Chiarot? In Chicago?

That’s not to dismiss the sizeable contribution (literally and figuratively) of Dustin Byfuglien, the born-again blueliner who’s been wearing his happy face ever since coach PoMo freed him from his purgatory of right wing. Big Buff has been gobbling up ice time like burgers at a BBQ. He spent just under 28 1/2 minutes roaming the Madhouse on Madison freeze Tuesday evening, and he managed to do so without crippling calamity.

This, of course, is a notable departure from the past, when Byfuglien patrolled the blueline like he had a live grenade in his hockey britches. To say Big Buff was prone to pratfalls is to say Don Cherry is apt to wear loud clothing while dissing Europeans.

So now this is the question: What does coach PoMo do when Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart rejoin the fray?

He will, no doubt, do the right thing because Maurice seems to have a knack for doing the right thing.

None of this, by the way, should be taken as an indictment of coach PoMo’s predecessor as the Jets’ bench puppet master, Claude Noel. The club’s unexpected perch in a playoff position as we carve our Christmas turkeys does not mean Noel is a lousy coach. It merely confirms what many of us believed long before his dismissal last January—he was the wrong coach for this group.

Whereas these players zoned out Noel, Maurice has them in a zone.

Naturally, skeptics remain. At least one pundit, Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press, directs our attention to the Jets’ pre-break form chart which indicates they have feasted on sub-.500 outfits (12-1-3) and struggled vs. stronger sides (6-9-4).

“If they continue on the same trajectory, this team will fade down the stretch,” Gary La La writes, noting that the Winnipegs will line up against plus-.500 teams in 32 of their final 47 skirmishes.

Could be it’s an accurate assessment. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time this franchise has performed a faceplant in the back half of a once-promising crusade, and operating sans your top four defencemen surely will take a toll.

I’m still not convinced that we’ll see spring shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie after April 11, but I am sold on one thing: Paul Maurice. Apparently his players are, too.

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

Winnipeg Jets are good to go now that TJ No Dots is on board

Boy, you can’t slip anything past our man Kevin Cheveldayoff. No sir. It’s like trying to sneak the sun past a rooster. Or a blue-eyed blonde past Tiger Woods.

No surprise, therefore, that while 28 general managers were taking a mid-summer siesta and Marc Bergevin was distracted by that pesky P.K. Subban thing, Kevin the Possum swooped in and plucked TJ Galiardi from the bones of the 2014 free-agent carcass. He sure showed that Jim Nill dude in Dallas how to generally manage a hockey team, didn’t he?

And let’s make one thing perfectly clear: There’s no truth to the rumor that the Possum actually believed he was signing T.J. Oshie, not TJ Galiardi. Our man would never get confused like that. No way. No one need tell the Possum the difference between a T.J. with dots after his initials and a TJ sans dots. The Winnipeg Jets GM knew exactly what he was doing when he added TJ No Dots to the ingredients of his Possum Stew.

So what does this development tell us?

Well, it tells us that the Jets now have the second best TJ in the National Hockey League. Not only that, it tells us that the Possum is a myth buster. Oh…yes…he…is.

It has been suggested—ad nauseam—that free agents will avoid River City like Brits avoid the dentist. Uh uh. Not true. TJ is evidence that some players really do like us, and so what if he comes from the dregs of the bin and would have been happy to see a contract offer from any outfit this side of the Kremlin. Mathieu Perreault is additional evidence of the Possum’s myth-busting chops.

I guess I’ve been wrong about the Possum all along. I mean, he somehow sold Perreault on The Forks and a non-playoff team against Disneyland and a Stanley Cup contender. Imagine that. Winnipeg, the Magic Kingdom. Again, take that, Jim Nill.

***

I don’t know if the recruitment of Perreault and TJ No Dots represents the Possum’s final touch in advance of Camp PoMo a little more than a month hence, but when I look at this Jets outfit I see…well, gosh darn, if I don’t see Don Waddell and Rick Dudley. Still. Three and a half years after the caravan from Atlanta rolled into River City.

And, to think, some people say the Possum does nothing.

(Just a thought: In a game of river hockey, which team would win? My money would be on Waddell/Dudley, even with Ondrej Pavelec in goal.)

TEAM WADDELL/DUDLEY

Dustin Byfuglien

Evander Kane

Andrew Ladd

Bryan Little

Zach Bogosian

Toby Enstrom

Ondrej Pavelec

Jim Slater

Chris Thorburn

Blake Wheeler

Paul Postma

Mark Stuart

THE POSSUM’S STEW

Mark Scheifele

Anthony Peluso

Matt Halischuk

Mathieu Perreault

Eric Tangradi

Grant Clitsome

Keaton Ellerby

Adam Pardy

Jacob Trouba

Michael Hutchinson

Michael Frolik

TJ Galiardi

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