What ails the Winnipeg Jets? It’s between the ears

The boys are back in town, perhaps somewhat discombobulated from their junket to Laineland, and now it’s time for the real Winnipeg Jets to declare themselves. Have they underachieved so far this National Hockey League season, or is what we’ve seen what we can expect the remainder of the way? Here to sort it all out are the two Hens in the Hockey House. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, how are you on this fine morning in November, girlfriend?

Answer Lady: Must admit that I’m a bit wonky. Maybe a little grumpy, too. I forgot to turn my clock back on the weekend. I still don’t understand why we do that. It messes me up. Spring forward, fall back…what’s that all about? The sodbusters in Saskatchewan have got it right. They leave their clocks alone. There’s no turning back for them.

Question Lady: I’ll bet Brendan Lemieux wishes he could turn the clock back. His cheap shot on Vincent Trocheck of the Florida Panthers last week has earned him an audience with the player safety police. Any chance he won’t be suspended?

Answer Lady: Meet Mr. Slim & Mr. None.

Question Lady: How many games do you think he’ll get?

Answer Lady: Two. I’d give him an extra game and make it three for being as dumb as a fence post, but you can’t penalize a guy for bad genes.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: It occurs to me that many among the rabble are less than thrilled with our hockey heroes 14 games into the current crusade. The Jets are 8-5-1, but that isn’t good enough. Apparently, they aren’t operating “on all cylinders.” Apparently, there’s “something missing.”

Answer Lady: Ya, there’s something missing. His name is Paul Stastny. After Stastny joined the Jets in February, they went 15-4-1, then won two playoff series before running out of petrol. His smarts and contributions on the scoresheet were substantial. Sans Stastny this outfit isn’t as good as the group that advanced to the Western Conference final in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. Some of us knew that going in. We had concerns about depth at centre ice. Still do.

Question Lady: That’s it? Paul Stastny is the difference?

Rink Rat Scheifele

Answer Lady: Do the math, girlfriend. Aside from Rink Rat Scheifele’s 13 points, look at the production down the middle: Bryan Little and Adam Lowry…five points apiece. Andrew Copp, two. A dozen points total. Three backliners—Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey—have more than double that. Before they dropped the puck in October, you asked me about weaknesses with this team. I mentioned two things: Depth down the middle and Twig Ehlers’ vanishing acts. Spot on. Move me to the front of the class, teacher.

Question Lady: Where does Jack Roslovic figure in all of this? Wasn’t he supposed to soften the blow of losing Stastny to the Vegas Golden Knights?

Paul Maurice

Answer Lady: Ya, except Paul Maurice is confused. Coach Potty Mouth hasn’t decided if Roslovic belongs at centre, on the wing, with the Manitoba Moose, or eating popcorn in the press box. And if Coach PoMo is confused, we can only imagine how the kid feels.

Question Lady: Maybe last week’s trip to Finland will turn things around for the Jets. There’s nothing like some good, old-fashioned team bonding, no?

Answer Lady: Bonding shmonding! Finland shminland! This is basically the same group—minus Stastny and Toby Enstrom—that got them to the Western Conference final. And you’re telling me they needed a pilgrimage to Finland to bond? As if. I call it the Finland Farce. All that junket to Finland did was give news snoops on the trip an opportunity to fatten up on reindeer stew, or whatever it is they eat over there in the dark. In terms of the team, it was nothing more than an exercise in putting the players’ body clocks out of whack for no reason other than Gary Bettman’s global goodwill.

Puck Finn

Question Lady: How can you say that? Patrik Laine snapped out of his scoring slump with four snipes. Are you telling me that means nothing?

Answer Lady: It was showtime for Puck Finn in front of family, friends and a fawning faithful. The kid was boffo. Now, if only the Jets could somehow manage to transport all those people to North America for the next 68 games. Might keep him motivated.

Question Lady: You’re down on Laine?

Answer Lady: Not really. Puck Finn’s special. But let’s face it, he’s great at one thing—scoring goals. The rest of his game, meh. With gusts up to atrocious.

Question Lady: Some people are a bit down on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. They talk like his game has taken a step or two in reverse. What’s your take?

Connor Hellebuyck

Answer Lady: Meh again. Look, here’s the deal with Hellebuyck and the rest of the Jets: They look, to me, like a team that’s bored with regular-season skirmishes. It’s as if the every-day hum-drum of the regular season is an inconvenience. I could be wrong, of course, because I don’t have access to the inner sanctum, but I see a team that thinks it’s too big for its britches. They know they’re good and believe they’ll qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament by default. Their play strongly suggests that’s their mindset.

Question Lady: So you’re saying the problem is between the ears?

The rabble

Answer Lady: Exactly. That and the loss of Stastny. But I have to make something quite clear: I don’t share the angst of the rabble. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Jets that a slight attitude adjustment won’t fix. Once they remind themselves that there are no freebe nights in the NHL, they’ll be fine.

Question Lady: At what point should we become concerned?

Answer Lady: If the Jets aren’t in a playoff position when Americans carve their Thanksgiving Day turkeys, fear the worst. Until then, chill.

Question Lady: Any plans for the rest of the day?

Answer Lady: Ya, I’m gonna write my local MP and demand that we neither spring forward or fall back in the future. Then I’m gonna take a nap. Trouble is, I don’t know if I’m trying to catch up on an hour’s sleep lost or if I’m going to bed too early.

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Two Hens in the Hockey House: All about Sir Paul, the Rink Rat, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and how much the Winnipeg Jets will miss Paul Stastny

Let the games begin!

The Winnipeg Jets open their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade tonight against the Blues in St. Louis, and they have a tough act to follow. After advancing to the Western Conference final last spring, it has to be Stanley Cup final or bust for the locals.

Do they have it in them to take that next step? The Two Hens in the Hockey House have the answer. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, the quest is about to begin and I haven’t been this jacked up about anything since Paul McCartney stepped back on stage for a rousing encore the other night at the local hockey palace. How about you?

Answer Lady: You went to see Sir Paul in concert?

Question Lady: You bet your Beatles bubble gum cards I did. He’s been my main man since the lads first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. The guy’s a rock ‘n’ roll legend and can still get after it at 76 years of age. You don’t like Macca?

Answer Lady: Meh. His best post-Beatles work was Band On the Run. That was released in 1973. He’s been in a slump ever since. You know, kind of like the Jets since the World Hockey Association days.

WHA champion Jets, circa 1978-79.

Question Lady: Will you old farts ever let go of that Jets/WHA nonsense?

Answer Lady: Nonsense? You call it nonsense? Wash your mouth out with granny’s lye soap, girlfriend! Those were the glory days—three championships, five trips to the final in seven seasons, kicked the Russian Bear’s butt, best forward line in all of hockey…neither version of the NHL Jets has accomplished anything to compare. It’ll be 40 years next spring since the last victory parade rolled down Portage Avenue, and we haven’t had a whiff of glory since.

Question Lady: Which brings us to the current edition of the Jets. Plenty of buzz about these boys. They’re among the morning-line favorites to win le Coupe Stanley. Do you think the hype is warranted?

Answer Lady: Absolutely. All the ingredients seem to be in place. I believe they’ll romp through the regular season, maybe even win the President’s Trophy, and then, hopefully, they’ll borrow on the experience gained and lessons learned from last spring and get the job done next April, May and June.

Question Lady: Any chance of the Jets doing a face plant like the Edmonton McDavids performed last season?

Answer Lady: Sir Paul will be back in town with Ringo, John and George in tow before that happens, and since two of the Fab Four are pushing up daisies it ain’t gonna happen. There’s too much depth, too much talent. There aren’t any Looch’s in the Jets’ lineup to drag everybody else down. There’s no one like that anchor Milan Lucic in E-Town.

Question Lady: So this season will be a cake walk?

Answer Lady: Not at all. It’s not like the other outfits on this side of the continent have been twiddling their thumbs. The St. Louis Blues ought to be better. Ditto the Dallas Stars. San Jose Sharks upped their game with Erik Karlsson. The Nashville Predators are still nasty. But, ya, the Jets are the best of the bunch.

Bryan Little

Question Lady: Any weaknesses?

Answer Lady: Yup. Down the middle. Maybe. Rink Rat Scheifele is a legit No. 1 centre, but it’s iffy after that. I’ve long been a Bryan Little fan and I believe he’ll suitably fill the second slot. But what if his best-before date has already passed? Is Jack Roslovic a ready-for-prime-time centre? We don’t know. We can only guess. It could be a repeat of last season when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff felt obliged to seek help from beyond. We might be looking at another Paul Stastny scenario.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: What you’re saying is that this Jets team isn’t as good as the one that reached the Western Conference final last May?

Answer Lady: Do the math. Stastny gave the Jets 13 points in 19 regular-season games and, more significant, 15 points in the Stanley Cup tournament. Can either Little or Roslovic deliver that kind of production? From October through March? Sure. April-May-June I’m not convinced. And remember, it isn’t about the regular season for the Jets anymore. It’s about what goes down in the tournament. The playoffs, that’s their measuring stick. Everything else is window dressing.

Twig Ehlers

Question Lady: Any other misgivings?

Answer Lady: Twig Ehlers. The guy’s dynamic, but he’s a 35/40-goal scorer dressed up as a 25/29-goal scorer. His retreats into the twilight zone are mysterious and frustrating. Maybe it’s that whole PlayStation thing. Maybe the Vancouver Canucks are on to something by banning PlayStation and Fortnite on road trips.

Question Lady: Are you serious? You think Ehlers’ trips to la la land are linked to an obsession with video games? That’s crazy talk, girlfriend. Patrik Laine is one of those PlayStation goomers and he scored 44 goals last season.

Answer Lady: I’m just spitballing, girlfriend. If Puck Finn scores 44 goals every winter they’ll let him play Fortnite until his thumbs fall off. But there must be a reason why Twig vamooses for chunks of time. I mean, four goals after March? Zero in 15 playoff games? And people thought Howard Hughes disappeared. Maybe that’s what I should call Ehlers instead of Twig—Howard.

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: You’re being kind of hard on the kid, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: All I’m saying is he has 35-goal talent (or more) and his Invisible Man routine is beginning to wear thin. On the plus side, he’s young and can learn about the mental side of the game from a guy like captain Blake Wheeler.

Question Lady: Speaking of Wheeler, do you see another 91-point crusade out of him?

Answer Lady: I don’t see why not. Playing with Rink Rat Scheifele and Kyle Connor, he ought to get a point a game by accident. The guy’s a stud.

Question Lady: Any bold predictions?

Patrik Laine

Answer Lady: Yup. Puck Finn will win the Rocket Richard Trophy with 57 goals. The Rink Rat will reach the 100-point plateau and finish second to Connor McDavid in scoring. Connor Hellebuyck will win the Vezina Trophy. Paul Maurice will be a finalist for coach of the year.

Question Lady: What about the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Can’t say. Too much can change by then, and I expect it will. Chevy will do something at, or just before, the trade deadline. It’ll involve centres and defencemen.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. I’d say let’s do lunch, but I’m going home for a soak and to listen to the latest McCartney album. How about you?

Answer Lady: I think I’ll just watch old film of the Jets’ last WHA championship.

 

 

About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.

About Public Enemy No. 1 in Winnipeg…Trouba’s gone…the Summer of Chevy…Johnny Rotten and Crescent Street in Montreal…Tiger, Tiger burning bright…and other things on my mind

Two eggs overeasy, toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

Kurt Overhardt

Tough to tell who’s Public Enemy No. 1 in Good Ol’ Hometown today, Jacob Trouba or his paid mouthpiece, Kurt Overhardt.

I do believe, however, that Overhardt is ahead by a nose.

Here’s a small sampling of what the rabble has been saying since a National Hockey League arbitrator advised the Winnipeg Jets that they must compensate Trouba to the tune of $5.5 million in their next crusade, a pay bump of $2.5 million.

With a different agent Trouba could have had a much happier outcome.”

“Trouba has an overinflated sense of self worth.”

“Mistake by Trouba. He is back to arbitration in one year. He could have gotten a big signing bonus plus long-term contract. His agent may need to be replaced.”

“He could have taken a (Matt) Dumba-type contract. Seems like he feels like he is worth more than he is.”

“Are we sure his known douchebag agent isn’t the problem?”

“Overhardt is overpricing him and giving him more bad advice.”

“He’s a bald-faced liar, a poor teammate, and not that great a player. Oh, and did I mention fragile?”

“Trouba has been wrongly directed by his controversial agent Overcharge.”

“Trouba has a fool for an agent and should have fired this doofus a long time ago.”

“He is not a Peg kind of guy.”

I’m quite uncertain what a “Peg kind of guy” is, except to suggest he likely has a cottage, shops wholesale, sucks on Slurpees and caves to the whims and desires of his employer. Apparently that ain’t Trouba.

Thus, the horse opera between the 24-year-old defenceman and les Jets continues, with guys in black hats and guys in white hats and no end in sight.

No palm trees here.

I must confess that I missed my guess on the Trouba-Jets dance. I thought they’d agree to a six-year partnership, then he’d ship out as an unrestricted free agent still at the peak of his powers. But I stand by what I wrote in early November 2016: “There’s as much chance of Jacob Trouba finishing his career in Jets livery as there is of palm trees sprouting at Portage and Main in January. He’s gone. It’s just a matter of when.”

Consider this, then cringe: It’s quite possible that les Jets will enter their 2018-19 crusade with a third defence pairing (Tyler Myers/Dmitry Kulikov) that earns more coin ($9.83 million) than its top pairing of Trouba/Josh Morrissey. This is good management of money how?

Paul Stastny

The Summer of Chevy has been hit-and-miss. Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s preference was to keep Paul Stastny in the fold, but he wasn’t willing to pay the veteran centre’s sticker price. He wanted to lock up Trouba long term, but he wasn’t willing to pay the sticker price. He did, however, manage to find the coin to keep goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, defenceman Tucker Poolman, press box squatter Marko Dano, and forwards Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev happy. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a happy Stastny and Trouba than Lowry and Poolman.

If you’re scoring at home, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen surrendered just four points in a 38-20 romp over the Argonauts on Saturday in the Republic of Tranna. A week earlier, it was 20 points, which will win you 97 per cent of Canadian Football League matches. So, do we still want to fire defensive coordinator Richie Hall?

Mix some things together and they don’t always end well: Gasoline and fire; drinking and driving; Johnny Manziel and Crescent Street in Montreal. Not predicting that the Alouettes newly minted quarterback will go bonkers in Ville-Marie, but there’s great temptation in them thar streets, especially for a frat boy.

Since the CFL insists on allowing the woman-beating Johnny Rotten to play the three-down game, the ideal landing spot for the former Heisman Trophy winner would have been the Republic of Tranna, where the Argonauts need fans as desperately as Donald Trump needs approval. Only 10,844 sets of eyes were in BMO Field on Saturday to watch the Bombers rout the Boatmen, prompting this tweet from Troy Westwood of TSN 1290 in Pegtown: “Bombers 14, Attendance 12.” That’s funny.

While most followers of three-down football are still wondering if Johnny Rotten has what it takes to make a go of it in the CFL, at least one pundit, Dan Barnes of Postmedia Edmonton, has already given him the seal of approval. “In Johnny Football, Montreal gets a legit quarterback,” he writes, “the crucial piece of the puzzle that it hadn’t been unable to unearth in the wake of Anthony Calvillo’s retirement four years ago.” There’s zero evidence to support Barnes’s belief, but whatever.

Manziel has yet to take his first official snap on Canadian soil and already his first CFL jersey is a collector’s item. Saw one on ebay this morning for $129.99—or best offer.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (5-0): The juggernaut continues to roll.
2. Winnipeg (3-3): That’s more like it.
3. Edmonton (3-2): Took the week off, no damage done.
4. Saskatchewan (3-2): Brandon Bridge looking better at QB.
5. Ottawa (3-2): Hard to get a good read on these guys.
6. Hamilton (2-3): Suddenly, oh woe are the Tabbies.
7. B.C. (2-3): Tough way to go out for Wally Buono.
8. Toronto (1-4): Nothing without Ricky Ray.
9. Montreal (1-4): Still awful in either official language.

Tiger Woods

Quick takeaways from the Open Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland: I honestly thought I would never again see the name Tiger Woods atop the leaderboard of a golf major, but there it was on Sunday morning. Then came the 11th and 12th holes and reality for the 14-time Grand Slam winner. Too bad. A Tiger win would have been a terrific story. Mind you, he likely would have been a bit of a dink about it and whinged about all the naysayers who’ve written him off…Clearly, the one thing that helped power Woods during his heyday—intimidation—no longer exists. Nobody cowered once he took the lead…The champion, Francesco Molinari of Italy, has the kind of golf game we all should have—steady, risk-free. But, geez, it’s bloody boring…The Carnoustie course looks like a cow pasture with green spots…Is it my imagination, or was there an unsually large number of commercials during the broadcast? It seemed like there was 10 minutes of ads for every five minutes of golf…I no longer golf, but I can relate to something NBC gab guy Johnny Miller said during the final round Sunday: “Golf seduces you into trying things you have no business trying.”

And, finally, it’s about those fans who stood and cheered at Miller Park in Milwaukee when Brewers relief pitcher Josh Hader took the mound: Seriously? A standing O for a guy exposed as a racist, a bigot, misogynist and homophobic just days earlier? I won’t get into the gory details because the things Hader tweeted six years ago are vile, but saluting him as some sort of conquering hero is every bit as disgusting. It’s a bad look, Milwaukee.

About the Winnipeg Jets being built on free agents…the ice fishing is great, right Big Buff?…Richie’s a Hall of a coach this week…pigging out in the (hot) dog days of summer…media friendly Vic Peters…Caroline Cameron gives Tim & Sid a fresh voice and look…those wacky Wimbledon women…don’t diss Ronaldo…and a sports scribe who preaches one thing but writes about another

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Welcome to Winnipeg, armpit of the National Hockey League.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how shinny scribes Scott Burnside and Sean McIndoe worded it when Paul Stastny chose Glitter Gulch over Good Ol’ Hometown, but that was the sentiment of each pundit’s analysis—River City sucks. Still. Otherwise Stastny wouldn’t have vamoosed from the Winnipeg Jets to the Vegas Golden Knights scant seconds after the NHL opened its grab bag of free agents a week ago this very morning.

Here’s Burnside of The Athletic:

“While he did choose to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Jets at the trade deadline, Stastny’s departure as an unrestricted free agent merely reinforces the idea that, as good as the Jets are—and they are really good—they still aren’t at the stage where they are a destination for free agents. Not yet at least.”

Here’s McIndoe of Sportsnet:

“They were a darn good team before Stastny arrived, and they’ll be a good one with him gone. But seeing a top UFA walk away will reinforce the old idea that the Jets are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting top players.”

Paul Stastny

Both scribes stopped short of stereotypical jabs about the dark, the cold, the crappy WiFi, the pothole-to-person ratio, and summer skeeters the size of a Zamboni in River City, but the gist of their analysis is unmistakable, and this Winnipeg-as-NHL armpit narrative is oh so dog-eared. Also wearisome.

I mean, I’d buy it if Stastny had gone on record saying he defected to Sin City because “Winnipeg is a garbage dump with a lousy zoo and an ugly museum.” But no.

“In the end,” the 32-year-old centre-ice man told the Las Vegas Sun, “sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it’s just one of those things that is the best fit, hockey-wise, family-wise and everything in between.”

Doesn’t sound damning to me.

Yet those of the Burnside/McIndoe ilk trot out the woe-is-Winnipeg refrain every time someone gives Good Ol’ Hometown the cold shoulder, mainly because it’s a convenient and lazy plot line that plays to the ill-informed among the rabble and, at the same time, ignores history. Yes, history.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

Go ahead, kids. Name the most significant free-agent signing—ever—in professional hockey. That’s right, the name is Hull, Bobby Hull. And where did that game-shaping event take place? At the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, where a flock of thousands gathered to witness Robert Marvin Hull, fresh off his fifth 50-goal season for the Chicago Blackhawks, scrawl his John Hancock on a Winnipeg Jets contract on June 27, 1972. This was the NHL’s glam guy, choosing Pegtown over Chitown. The sport and salaries were forever altered by one free-agent signing.

More to the point, the very foundation of the Winnipeg Jets was built exclusively on free agents, guys who willingly came to River City to form the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise.

Ab Mcdonald, Joe Daley, Sudsy Sutherland, Ernie Wakely and others from the ‘hood came home from hither and yon to wear Jets linen. Anders Hedberg chose Winnipeg over Toronto. Kent Nilsson chose Winnipeg over Toronto and Atlanta. Willy Lindstrom could have played anywhere in North America. He chose Winnipeg. Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg chose Winnipeg. Peter Sullivan chose Winnipeg. Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

So enough of the tired, old refrain about Pegtown being a shinny leper colony.

Big Buff

Are there guys who’d rather not play in River City? Absolutely. We’re told Good Ol’ Hometown makes most no-trade lists. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov. But, hey, John Tavares rejected 30 cities just last week, so it’s not like Winnipeg is unique. Look, players talk about three main things when wrestling with free-agency options: 1) Money; 2) the opportunity to win; 3) location. Well, Ben Hatskin wasn’t paying Hull $2.7 million in Monopoly or Canadian Tire money in 1972, and David Thomson and Mark Chipman aren’t paying Dustin Byfuglien $7.6 million per annum in food stamps with the present-day Jets. Competitively, les Jets were a final four team in this past spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. As for location, the ice fishing is boffo, thank you. Just ask Big Buff. So what’s not to like?

Just wondering: Are we still calling for Richie Hall’s head to roll? Probably not. Hall is the much-maligned man tasked with mapping out strategy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen, whose deficiencies were exposed like a porn star’s privates in two of their first three skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade. Then along came the B.C. Lions with a benign offence designed to heal whatever ails a wonky defence. So I assume Winnipeg FC’s 41-19 victory over the Leos on Saturday evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry means it’s safe for Hall to go grocery shopping and pump his own gas this week. Just to be safe, though, he should have Adam Bighill tag along.

Joey Chestnut

Here’s something to chew on: Joey Chestnut celebrated the dog days of summer by successfully defending his Nathan’s hot dog eating title, scarfing down 74 tube steaks in 10 minutes. It’s believed that no one has ever gone through that many dogs. Except the Edmonton Oilers, of course.

Richard Deitsch of The Athletic asked this question of jock journos on Twitter: “Who is the most media-friendly athlete you have dealt with?” For me, that’s a no-brainer: The late Vic Peters, with about 100 other curlers tied in second. Vic, in the grand scheme of jockdom, was a smooth-edged gem on a beach full of sharp stones. A most obliging, engaging man, he had time for us all. Always.

Sid Seixeiro and Caroline Cameron

Loved the new look and sound on the Tim & Sid show last week. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary. Caroline Cameron has been sitting in for the vacationing Sid Seixeiro on the Sportsnet gabfest, and they’re as different as a pit bull and a kitten. I mean, Sid’s shtick is to talk tough. He dresses the part, too. He looks like he belongs on the set of a gangster movie, skulking around with Luca Brasi and nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if Eliot Ness is on his tail. He wears his sneer on his sleeve. He’s prone to prop humor and theatrical orations that would earn him a failing grade in a high school drama class, and his rants are usually about as sincere as a Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll. Caroline, on the other hand…we’re talking Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Polished, professional, knowledgeable, smiling, impeccable, pretty, a girl making her way and succeeding in a guy’s world. A lot of viewers (read: guys) pooh-pooh women on sports talk TV as empty heads. Well, Caroline Cameron is compelling evidence that there should be more female voices in the jock gab game. She’s very good.

Yes, now that you mention it, the goings-on in London are very strange, most notably on the women’s side of Wimbledon. They’re spitting out seeds like it’s a baseball dugout. Gone are nine of the top 10 seeds and 25 of 32 overall. Wimbledon has never seen such carnage. Serena Williams will have to break both legs and carry her baby on her back to lose this tournament. Even at that, she could probably win the thing and claim her 24th tennis Grand Slam title on crutches.

Ronaldo and Messi

A lot of British accents on our flatscreens during the World Cup, one of them belonging to Danny Dichio, former forward in the English Premier League. Sportsnet trotted him out as an analyst during the group stage of the event, and he had this exchange with Jesse Fuchs…

Fuchs: “People love to compare Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo…Messi missed a penalty earlier in the tournament, now so has Ronaldo. And it ends up costly, as Portugal are held to a draw. Is it fair at all to criticize CR7?”

Dichio: “No. Not at all fair.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The president of the United States, the Pope, Queen Liz, the Beatles, any journalist you care to name, and Jesus Christ himself are fair game for a roasting when they cough up a hairball, but Ronaldo, a guy who’s supposedly god’s gift to soccer, is untouchable when he gags on a shot from the 12-yard spot? As if. Dichio gets a red card for being a nincompoop.

Kaitlyn Lawes and Jennifer Jones

And, finally, based on his scribblings over the years, it’s apparent that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press does not harbour a healthy fondness for professional athletes. He often writes of them with resentment, contempt and scorn, painting them with one broad brush stroke—they’re all money-grubbing elitists who look down on the rabble from their perch of privilege.

“A tiny cadre of coddled millionaires,” is how he described the Jets players in one of his tamer remarks.

Therefore it wasn’t out of character that he assailed play-for-pay jocks—defrocked Jets goaltender Steve Mason in particular—while making the case that the amateur athletes in our great nation are underfunded by the feds and underappreciated by the unwashed masses.

“Such is the deification that we accord professional hockey players in this country that we think nothing of paying the washouts millions not to play, while at the same time throwing chump change at our amateur athletes and then scolding them if they dare return home without Olympic medals every four years when we remember again that they exist,” he writes.

He calls financial support for our top amateurs “laughable” and “a complete joke.”

Mike O’Shea

Actually, the joke is a sports columnist prattling on about underfunding and underappreciation for amateurs when 95 per cent of his yearly material is devoted to his personal hot-button issues like Jacob Trouba’s attitude, Mike O’Shea’s “goofy” short pants, and Mark Chipman’s past life as a used-car salesman. His own newspaper treats amateur athletes like they have the cooties. Unless, of course, they’re holding a curling rock in one hand and a broom or sliding apparatus in the other. Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones, Mike McEwen, Reid Carruthers and other pebble people get the jock star treatment from the Freep. The rest? Basically bupkus.

Here’s the professional/amateur story scorecard from the past seven editions of the Drab Slab: 140-13. Granted, seven days of sports sections is a small sample size, but just 8.5 per cent of all articles was devoted to amateurs.

In that same seven-paper time frame, Wiecek wrote three columns: his apples-to-oranges argument about amateur funding vs. greedy professional jocks getting too much coin for not enough work; the Blue Bombers lousy defence and firing lousy coaches O’Shea and Hall; and, once again, greedy pro athletes.

What’s that you say? Some sports scribes must be overpaid, underworked and coddled, too? Who knew?

About filling a hole up front for the Winnipeg Jets…Scheifele’s salary the ceiling…oddsmakers like the Leafs, Preds, Jets and Lightning…a $77 million hometown discount…Canada’s best team…and an old folks home in L.A.

Quick takeaways from Day 1 of the National Hockey League’s annual grab bag of free agents

It’s true what the pundits are saying: Because the bean counters couldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul Stastny, the Winnipeg Jets aren’t as good today as they were on May 20, the night the Vegas Golden Knights ushered them out of the Stanley Cup spring runoff.

Fortunately for the rabble, they don’t have to be as good today.

Paul Stastny

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has until October to ferret out a reasonable facsimile of Stastny, an efficient and productive, albeit aging centre-ice man who has taken the money and skedaddled to Glitter Gulch, leaving les Jets with a significant vacancy in the middle of the rink.

Stastny, of course, was les Jets main person of interest when the National Hockey League opened its grab bag of free agents on Sunday, but keeping him in the fold was always an iffy proposition.

This was always going to be about salary cap, and it wasn’t enough that Cheveldayoff shipped hard-luck, backup goaltender Steve Mason and his burdensome $4.1-million sticker price to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to clear space. With a list of restricted free agents as long as a Winnipeg winter, the bean counters determined there simply wasn’t enough spare change in the piggy bank, otherwise Stastny would be returning to River City next autumn to help les Jets finish what was left undone in May.

It doesn’t really matter if the Golden Knights, at $6.5 million for each of the next three crusades, overpaid to lure the 32-year-old Stastny away from Portage and Main to the Vegas Strip. At issue is the hole he leaves down the middle.

Jack Roslovic

Jack Roslovic would be my choice to slide between Twig Ehlers and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine on the No. 2 forward unit, at least when the local lads gather for training exercises in September. He’s no Stastny—not yet—but Roslovic plays with tempo and imagination. I think he’d be a suitable fit in what could become les Jets version of the Kid Line.

If Roslovic doesn’t work out, Bryan Little come on down! Again, Little is no Stastny, but, hey, it’s not like he’s Milan Lucic bad.

The point is, Cheveldayoff and the bean counters have all summer and September to figure this out. If neither Roslovic or Little is the answer, they can do something at the trade deadline, same as last season when they brought Stastny on board.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Brian Burke was part of the all-gab gang on Sportsnet’s coverage of free agent day, and he mentioned something about Cheveldayoff doing “too good a job,” hence the GM’s challenge of fitting financial square pegs into round holes. There’s certainly some truth to that. But here’s the real sticking point for Chevy: Rink Rat Scheifele’s team-friendly, steal-of-a-deal contract. Les Jets could have matched the Vegas offer of $6.5 million annually to keep Stastny on board, but they can’t have their aging, No. 2 centre ahead of their young, productive No. 1 centre at the pay window. Scheifele’s annual take is $6.125 million. So that’s the ceiling for Jets forwards. They could not have offered Stastny a penny more.

That ceiling will, of course, rise when Chevy re-ups his captain and best player, Blake Wheeler, about to enter the final year of a contract that makes him the third-highest wage earner among forwards at $5.6 million. Only Scheifele and Twig Ehlers ($6M) earn more, which, given Wheeler’s performance and importance to the team, is ridiculous. He should be rewarded as the highest-paid player. The real mystery is what they do when it’s time for Chevy and the bean counters to re-up Puck Finn, who comes out of his entry level deal next summer.

The oddsmakers at BetOnline like what they see in les Jets, even sans Stastny. After the Tranna Maple Leafs (+600) and Nashville Predators (+900), the local lads and Tampa Bay Lightning were listed on Sunday at +1000 to win the Stanley Cup. It’s a bet I wouldn’t make today, not with the iffiness of the No. 2 centre slot, but I might want to make it next spring. (Surprisingly, the Detroit Red Wings were the longest shot on the BetOnline board, at +10000. Are they really that bad?)

The gab gang on Sportsnet suggested John Tavares left money on the table when he chose to abandon the New York Islanders and accept $77 million to join the Maple Leafs. In other words, it was a hometown discount because his childhood dream was to play in the Republic of Tranna. Well, excuse me, but in whose universe is $77 million a discount?

John Tavares

The Leafs get Tavares and his 84 points, the Islanders get Leo Komarov and his 19 points. Do the math. And will the last person to leave Long Island please turn out the lights?

It’s fine that the rabble in the Republic of Tranna are going ga-ga over Tavares, but here’s something they should keep in mind: He doesn’t make Jake Gardiner or Ron Hainsey better defencemen.

So, add Tavares to the Leafs roster and take Stastny from les Jets roster and who has the better team? Still the Jets, mainly because of the blueline and in goal.

Do the Los Angeles Kings have anyone under age 30 on their roster?

Two Hens in the Hockey House: It’s about humble pie…the plum tuckered out Winnipeg Jets…Connor Hellebuyck’s delusional take on goaltending…backing up the Brinks truck for Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey…re-upping Blake Wheeler…and dining on Kentucky Fried Crow

Meaningful hockey in the merry month of May? At the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? Who’d have thought? Not many. So, while there were long faces when the Winnipeg Jets’ Stanley Cup crusade ground to a halt on Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, there was also a feel-good vibe among the rabble. My Two Hens in the Hockey House are here to discuss what went wrong in the Western Conference final vs. Vegas, what went right and what lies ahead for les Jets.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, what was on the breakfast menu for you this morning, girlfriend? Humble pie or bowl of crow?

Answer Lady: Neither. I just had two slices of toast.

Question Lady: Toast. How appropriate. The Jets are toast, too. Can’t say I’m surprised, but I know you are. As I recall, you picked them to take out the Golden Knights in six games, then win the Stanley Cup. You said something about the Jets being too fast, too quick, too deep, too tough, too every blah, blah, blah thing. Turns out it was just the opposite. Did you underestimate the Golden Knights or oversell the Jets?

Answer Lady: I don’t think I considered the fatigue factor. The Jets didn’t have the usual zippity-do-da in their stride at the end. They lost their lickety-split. Their oomph. At times they were skating with hunched shoulders against the wind. The Nashville Predators took more out of them in the second round than I thought. They were plum tuckered out.

Question Lady: Really? Fatigue did them in?

Answer Lady: It just seemed to me that their usual split-second sharpness deserted them, both physically and mentally. At this level, even a nanosecond of hesitation means your shot is redirected by a stick, or the puck is in the back of your net. Especially against the Golden Knights. Those boys are cobra quick. They pounce on mistakes faster than CNN can poke holes in a Donald Trump tweet.

Connor Hellebuyck

Question Lady: Speaking of holes, a lot of the pundits are saying this series was decided in the blue paint. Marc-André Fleury did boffo work in goal for Vegas and Connor Hellebuyck was leaking oil at the other end of the rink. Agree?

Answer Lady: To a point. It’s not like Hellebuyck was Ondrej Pavelec bad, but he had too many iffy moments that were extremely damaging. At no time was he gobsmackingly good. Fleury was gobsmackingly good most of the time.

Question Lady: Hellebuyck kept talking about ‘luck’ as if there was nothing more to Fleury’s game than rabbit’s feet, horse shoes and four-leaf clovers. A bit of a sore loser, wouldn’t you say?

Answer Lady: He sounded like a teenage punk who’d light up a smoke at the dinner table. The kind of nogoodnik that no parent wants their daughter dating. Totally disrespectful. Anyone who knows a puck from petunias will tell you Fleury was the superior ‘tender. If Hellebuyck doesn’t want to throw himself under the bus, fine. But sometimes you just have to accept that the other guy was better. Given enough time for sober second thought, Hellebuyck might agree. Probably not, though. He’ll continue to be a doorknob about it.

Question Lady: Kind of harsh, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: Not really. Just kind of the truth. Hey, I like it when athletes speak out of turn, but Hellebuyck is delusional and his disrespect is most objectionable.

Question Lady: Do we agree that the Jets have a legitimate No. 1 goaltender?

Answer Lady: Based on Hellebuyck’s entire body of work this season, for sure. But it would help if they had a backup ‘tender who can go more than two minutes without visiting the repair shop. Steve Mason is as fragile as a sports writer’s ego. Who made his body, Royal Doulton? He’s brittle like the burnt toast I ate this morning. They’re paying him what, $4 million to be an innocent bystander? Nice gig.

Question Lady: Why such emphasis on a capable caddy for Hellebuyck?

Answer Lady: Again, the fatigue factor. Hellebuyck played 67 games in the National Hockey League regular season and another 17 in the Stanley Cup tournament. That’s 84 games. He played 56 games total last year. He’s never carried this demanding a workload. By way of comparison, Fleury was in the blue paint for 46 and 15 games. That’s a whole lot less wear and tear. Which of the two looked the most spry and alert to you by the end of Game 5?

Jacob Trouba

Question Lady: What are the Jets other pressing needs?

Answer Lady: I’ll parrot exactly what I said in April 2017—convincing Jacob Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. That ought to be priority uno. He and Josh Morrissey are cornerstone defencemen.

Question Lady: I wonder if there’s still residue from the Trouba-Jets contract stare-down of two years ago. Remember, he wanted out of Dodge. On the surface, everything’s cool now, but that might be window dressing. What happens if there’s still a bit of bitterness bubbling beneath the surface?

Answer Lady: I guess we’ll find out shortly. Trouba’s a restricted free agent. Either he signs another one of those piddly, two-year deals, or he’s in it for the long haul, which is to say six or more years.

Question Lady: What’s it going to cost the Jets to re-sign him?

Twig Ehlers

Answer Lady: Back up the Brinks truck, girlfriend. The Trouba camp might try to hardball the Jets. He’s been playing at a bargain-basement rate for the past two seasons, so they might be looking for payback. And he’s arbitration eligible. We’re not talking lunch money or the spare change David Thomson finds under the cushions on his sofa. Trouba won’t become the highest-paid Jet, but it’ll be obscene if he’s making a dime less than the $6 million Twig Ehlers is due. Actually, it’s an obscenity that Ehlers will be earning more coin than Blake Wheeler next season. That simply does not compute.

Question Lady: No kidding. Like, what exactly did Ehlers accomplish in these playoffs?

Blake Wheeler

Answer Lady: Squat. He did diddly. He does diddly faster than most players, but it’s still diddly. I’m not really a fan anymore. His flash-and-dash game is built for the regular season. Or Ice Capades. Wheeler, on the other hand…complete pro, except when he’s barking and snarling at news snoops. Seriously, it’s criminal that he’ll be making less money than Twig next season. I think they ought to re-up Wheeler. Add a couple years to the one he has left.

Josh Morrissey

Question Lady: A few of the lads are due raises, no?

Answer Lady: Yup, and Josh Morrissey is among them. He and Trouba became the Jets top defensive pairing, and there probably wasn’t a better blueline bargain in the NHL. Combined they earned less than $4 million. That total is going to more than double. And if the Jets want to lock them in long term, it’ll take some serious gymnastics by the bean counters to keep Trouba-Morrissey under $10 million.

Question Lady: Any chance Paul Stastny will stick around?

Paul Stastny

Answer Lady: Age tells me no if he’s looking long term, and who isn’t? Stastny’s 33 in December. The Jets already have Bryan Little tied up for six years. Unless you’re convinced you can win the Stanley Cup right now, you don’t want two 30something centres clogging up development down the middle for the next five/six years.

Question Lady: It’s going to be an interesting summer for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. Think he’ll have anything interesting to say at his exit presser?

Answer Lady: Oh, it’ll all be Chevy-speak, but this time it won’t come across as a phony bill of goods. The Jets were the real deal this season. It was a fun ride.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. Let’s stay home tonight. Maybe watch a replay of the royal wedding. Instead of cooking dinner, we can order in. Maybe a bucket of Kentucky Fried Crow for madame?

Answer Lady: Funny girl.