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.
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 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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
Well, the Winnipeg Jets have laid waste to the Nashville Predators, winning 5-1 in Game 7 of their National Hockey League playoff series, so it’s time to check in with my two Hens in the Hockey House, who’ve come out of hibernation to join the rabid rabble as the Jets continue on their Stanley Cup crusade.
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: Oh, happy day! I’m so giddy! It’s the merry month of May and the Jets are still playing hockey! Round 3 of the playoffs coming up! Can you believe it, girlfriend?
Answer Lady: Yes, I’m a believer. I also now officially believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, that Donald Trump really is president of the United States, and there are now skating rinks in hell. For sure, hell has frozen over.
Question Lady: Is that the best you can do? Sarcasm? Can’t you at least show some enthusiasm for the city and the Jets?
Answer Lady: Hey, I’m as happy as a cottage owner on the May long weekend. The Jets paddywhacking the Predators is the best thing to happen to Good, Ol’ Hometown since the Guess Who did that Pan-Am Games gig in 1999. Which reminds me: I still can’t believe those boys aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Question Lady: Oh, I know. Totally criminal. I mean, Bon Jovi…Journey…Isaac Hayes…those slugs are in the Rock Hall and it’s still on Randy, Burton, Jimmy and Garry’s bucket list? That’s like leaving the meat out of a Sals cheese nip. Do you think it’s true what Jets captain Blake Wheeler was saying last month: Everything flies under the radar when you play in Winnipeg?
Answer Lady: That’s total bunk if you’re talking about the Jets. But apparently it applies to rock bands.
Question Lady: Okay, enough of the Guess Who. We’re here to talk NHL playoffs. Who and what has impressed you during the Jets’ march to the third round of the NHL’s spring runoff?
Answer Lady: Start with Stacey Nattrass. Sorry to keep it on a music theme, but she kicked some high-priced country bumpkin butt as an anthem warbler during the Nashville-Winnipeg series. Can you believe Lady Antebellum gagging on the words to the American anthem down there in Twang Town last week? Talk about your Star-Spangled Bummers. Tells me all I need to know about today’s crop of country crooners. Brutal. But I digress. I’ll answer your question with a question: What’s not to like about the local hockey heroes?
Question Lady: Nice to finally hear you singing from a different page in the song book.
Answer Lady: What’s that supposed to mean?
Question Lady: Let me refresh your memory, girlfriend…one year ago, I made this bold prediction for the Jets—and I quote: “I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?” You rejected me like an overcooked steak at 529 Wellington. Your answer was—and, again, I quote: “One, coaching. Two, goaltending.” You wanted Paul Maurice canned. You called him Coach Potty-Mouth and a snake oil salesman. You also submitted that Connor Hellebuyck was a backup goalie at best. As I recall, you said Bucky was to goaltending what Homer Simpson is to quality parenting. You also wanted Dustin Byfuglien traded. What say you now? Other than “D’oh?”
Answer Lady: Just my luck. I’ve got a girlfriend with a memory like an elephant and she takes great glee in pointing out that I’m Dumbo the elephant. We’ll have to rethink our living arrangement. Anyway, I’ll tell you who made Maurice a better head coach—Pekka Rinne.
Question Lady: Are you off your nut? Did somebody spike your latté? I mean, how in the name of Georges Vezina did the Predators goaltender make Maurice a better bench boss?
Answer Lady: Were you not paying attention? Rinne sprung more leaks than Wiki. He got the hook not once, not twice, but three times. In seven starts vs. the Jets. That has to be a first. NHL general managers are going to have a four-egg omelette on their faces when he’s handed the Vezina Trophy next month in Las Vegas.
Question Lady: So you still aren’t sold on Maurice?
Answer Lady: I’ll give him this: He somehow convinced Byfuglien and the others to stop playing dumb-dumb hockey vis-a-vis undisciplined penalties. That’s huge. This Jets outfit plays with, as Brian Burke describes it, anger and hostility. They can be very belligerent. They’re tough. They’re defiant. They have a subtle arrogance that I really like. They swarm. They’re the go-go gang. They win the one-on-one skirmishes. Skill overrides all else, and they seldom come mentally unhinged. Very impressive. That, and Hellebuyck’s emergence as an elite goaler, are the reasons why there’ll be another meaningful match at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Saturday night.
Question Lady: That’s it? Discipline and goaltending?
Answer Lady: No, major tip of the bonnet to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. And his bird dogs—especially his bird dogs. Chevy has talked, ad nauseum, about the draft-and-develop blueprint, and his amateur scouts have done boffo business from the day they told him to select Rink Rat Scheifele with their first shoutout at the entry draft in 2011. But it’s Chevy’s bartering that has rounded off this roster. Look who scored in the 5-1 win over Nashville in Game 7 on Thursday night: Tyler Myers, reeled in as a major piece in the Evander Kane trade; Paul Stastny, two goals, brought in on deadline day. Chevy worked at a glacial pace, which was frustrating, but when he was motivated to make bold strokes they were the right strokes.
Question Lady: What do you see for the Jets going forward?
Answer Lady: A Stanley Cup parade.
Question Lady: Really? You’re saying the Jets will win the Stanley Cup?
Answer Lady: Oh ya, baby. As sure as Puck Finn has a really, really bad beard, it’s a done deal. Like Eddie Olczyk said about Stanley on the Day of the Long Faces in 1996—“It’s coming back to Winnipeg!” Nashville was the big nut to crack. Now the Jets have home-fans advantage the rest of the way. The Little Hockey House On The Prairie will be a graveyard for the Vegas Golden Knights and the Eastern Conference survivor.
Question Lady: You’re not convinced that Vegas is the real deal?
Answer Lady: Sure they are. They’re jitter-bugs on ice. But the local lads will overwhelm them. The Jets are too fast on the puck, too hard on the puck, they bring too much back pressure, they’re too hostile, they’re too much of everything. And they’ll have a better anthem singer.
Question Lady: I’m not so sure about that. Apparently country crooner Carrie Underwood has offered to sing the anthems at one of the games in Las Vegas. Can’t beat that, can you?
Answer Lady: Ha! Fat lot of good she was for the Predators. The Golden Knights can have her. We’ll stick with Stacey…or maybe drag Burton Cummings and the Guess Who out of mothballs. Maybe Neil Young. Maybe Bif Naked. Maybe Chantal Kreviazuk. Maybe Jennifer Hanson in her little red dress!
Question Lady: So how many games will it take the Jets to give Vegas a paddywhacking in the Western Conference final?
Answer Lady: Six. Jets in six. Then you and I will party at Portage and Main.
Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 3 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on the Sabbath…
Pregame blah, blah, blah: After Game 2, I suggested divine intervention was one of only two things that could prevent les Jets from taking out the Wild. So does a major spring blizzard in Minneapolis/St. Paul count as divine intervention?…Ma Nature dumped 30-40 centimetres of the white stuff on Minny/St. P. How much is that in English? Sorry, I’m old school when it comes to measurements…Can’t see the snow storm having a negative impact on les Jets. It’s not like they’re playing outdoors. I realize, of course, that the white stuff meant a return to Winnipeg on Saturday after two hours on a tarmac in Duluth, but the weather is simply something for news snoops to blah, blah, blah about and nothing more..Donald S. Cherry was in his bully pulpit on Saturday night, doing his yadda, yadda, yadda thing, and the way Grapes has it figured les Jets did themselves no favors by engaging the Wild in extra-curricular activity (read: fistic exchanges, pulling, tugging and face palming) in the final seconds of Game 2. “They’re so used to losing they get a little giddy because they won the game,” Cherry said on his Coachless Corner segment of Hockey Night in Canada. “(Minnesota) was all set to go to sleep, fold the tents up just silently…I’ll tell ya one thing, they got the team stirred up. I said before the game, before the series started, they’re gonna win. They’ll still win, but they just made it hard on them.” Okay, duly noted: The Jets will win, but it won’t be easy because they got too frisky. Like, when did frisky become a bad thing?…All these years on Hockey Night In Canada and not once has Ron MacLean closed the show by tossing a pen or a pencil…Can’t start any game in the U.S. and A. without a salute to the military.
First Period: Something tells me that Jets goaler Connor Hellebuyck will be required to take a shower after this game, unlike the two in Winnipeg…The crowd at the Something Or Other Center (really dislike corporate names on hockey barns) is ramped up and the boys are fractious in the early skirmishing, so it’s evident that the Wild have decided to get engaged. Apparently there’ll be wearing skates tonight instead of showshoes…Chintzy, chintzy call on Matt Cullen of the Wild. It was a love tap. Zebras have discovered their whistles, which probably won’t be a good thing…Blake Wheeler scores what Paul Romanuk describes as a “greasy dog of a goal” from a horrible angle on the powerplay. Jets 1-zip…Guaranteed the Jets will be flagged for the next infraction, after two weak calls against the Wild. Guaranteed…Yup, there goes Ben Chiarot to the bin, followed immediately by Adam Lowry, giving Minny a 5-on-3 PP. Jets survive the 5-on-3, but Mikael Granlund levels the score before the second penalty expires…Chiarot takes another penalty…Zach Parise scores on the PP. Wild 2-1…Guaranteed the Wild will be shorthanded before the end of the period. Yup, there goes Matt Dumba to the hoosegow. Refs are too involved for my liking.
Second Period: If Wild have any plans to get back into this series, they’ll have to get ‘er done now, because Jets own the third period…There’s Matt Dumba putting Minny up by two on a shot from the point. Not sure Hellebuyck saw it, but he has to shut the door now. He has to be perfect the rest of the way…Tyler Myers scores for the second game in a row, beating Devan Dubnyk to the far side again. Innocent looking play. Dubnyk looks off his game. Two suspect goals…Wild 3-2…Jets seem to be finding their skating legs (about time), but Dubnyk no longer looks off his game. He stone-cold stuffs both Twig Ehlers and Bryan Little from his doorstep…Sloppy giveaway by Dustin Byfuglien ends up behind Hellebuyk, Eric Staal pulling the trigger. This game is over. No way the Jets rally…Now rookie Jordan Greenway makes it 5-2 Wild. Only question is whether Jets coach Paul Maurice gives Hellebuyck the rest of the night off now or waits until the end of the period. I’d wait…Foligno scores and Maurice sticks with Hellebuyck…Ouch. Myers goes down for the count. He heads for the repair shop and it doesn’t look good…Only noticed Paul Stastny once through 40 minutes, and Mark Scheifele could have stayed home in Winnipeg for all the good he’s done. Jets didn’t have any passengers in Games 1 and 2, tonight they’ve got half a dozen. Maybe more…Wild 6, Jets 2.
Third Period: During the intermission, Twig Ehlers tells Scott Oake the Jets are “playing the right way.” Sorry, kid. You’re never playing the right way when it’s 6-2 after two periods…Steve Mason (remember him?) takes over in the blue paint for the Jets. Not saying this was Hellebuyck’s fault, but he had to be flawless after it was 3-2. Instead, Dubnyk was the perfect goaltender from that point on…Myers is done for the night, but what about the rest of the series?…This is quite boring…Oh my, I actually nodded off. Just woke up to see and hear Maurice talking about this stinker. Don’t think he’s going to enlighten me. If he tells us that Marcus Foligno was the best player on the freeze, either side, I would agree. All credit to Foligno and the Wild for a 6-2 win…How many Foligno boys play in this league? Can’t keep track…Well, okay, Jets are allowed one stinker. But only one. They still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 and remain 14 wins away from a Stanley Cup parade…Don’t think they have to go back to the drawing board. They just have to remember to drive the net and use the body in Game 4 on Tuesday. And keep their feet moving. And someone better give Stastny a wakeup call.
Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 1 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Wednesday night…
Pregame blah, blah, blah: Love living on the West Coast. Game time is 4 o’clock, meaning it should be over at about 7 chimes, which is bedtime for moi. Don’t know what I’ll do if it goes to OT…Just for the record, yes, I have a rooting interest in this series—rah, rah, rah for Good Ol’ Hometown—but, no, I am not wearing white…That’s quite the scene in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and outside on Donald Street in downtown Pegtown. I haven’t seen that much white since Donald Trump released the official White House staff photo…The Winnipeg whiteout tradition has always struck me as kind of Halloweenish, kind of creepy. But whatever works, I guess. Oh, wait. I forgot. The whiteout has never worked for the Jets, this version or the original NHL version…As I recall, there was no need or desire for this whiteout gimmickry at the Old Barn on Maroons Road during the 1970s. You know, when the Jets actually won playoff series and championships…I note reseller tickets for this Wild-Jets opener were being offered on StubHub for as much as $1,026 U.S. Geez, for $1,026 U.S. you can book a seven-day Las Vegas vacation and wear whatever color clothing you want…Am I supposed to be disappointed that Sportsnet has put Paul Romanuk, rather than Bob Cole, behind the play-by-play microphone? Well, I’m not. Romey doesn’t have Cole’s pipes, but I’ve always liked his call. The guy’s got energy. He’s got game. He’s also got Garry Galley with him in the chat room, which is probably a good thing. I mean, say what you will about Galley as a color commentator, but he’s got at least one thing in his favor—he’s not Greg Millen…Ron MacLean delivers sad news: The lovely young Dayna Brons, trainer for the Humboldt Broncos, succumbed to injuries suffered in last week’s fatal team bus accident. That raises the death toll to 16. Damn…Nice job on the anthems by Stacey Nattrass, who, of course, is rockin’ the white. You’d never know Stacey’s been awake since 5:30 in the morning. I’ve often wondered if anthem singers hang around to watch the game or leave for another gig…Time to drop the biscuit.
First Period: Why is Cassie Campbell-Pascall wearing a white top? A really fashion-challenged white top? She’s working the game for Sportsnet, a national network. She’s supposed to be impartial. Yo! Cassie! You don’t see Scott Oake in white, do you? You aren’t a member of the Jets organization. Knock it off…Garry Galley says the underdog role is a “new look” for Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau. I don’t know about that. He’s still short, still wide and still has a very red face…It’s 15 minutes into the match and I’m not seeing a lot of nasty out there. There’s definitely big-boy bodychecking, but no nasty…Mathieu Perreault crashes the Minny blue paint and Devan Dubnyk dumps him on his britches. Good for Dubnyk. Goaltenders shouldn’t take any crap…Refs are keeping the whistles tucked away. Wonder how long that’ll last…Are the Wild playing for a tie? I mean, four shots?…Zip-zip after 20 minutes, but I’m already convinced that Minny has one chance to win this best-of-seven series. His name is Devan Dubnyk.
Second Period: If I had a hockey stick, I’d leave it outside on the porch tonight…Ka-runch! Dustin Byfuglien snot bubbles Joel Eriksson Ek and Mikko Koivu returns the favor with a broadside on Perreault. Maybe that’ll turn on the nasty switch…Perreault is a gamer, but I’m not convinced his body is made for NHL playoff hockey. If he survives the night, he won’t survive the series…Loved Romanuk’s call on a Bryan Little dash toward the Minny goal: “A dazzling, buccaneering play from Little.”…Rink Rat Scheifele scores on the powerplay to put the Jets up 1-zip. Wild are paying so much attention to Puck Finn (Patrik Laine) that they’re ignoring Scheifele in the high slot. Something to keep in mind as the series moves on…Is Paul Stastny even playing? Or has Jets bench boss Paul Maurice decided to give him the night off? And here I thought they brought the guy over from St. Louis specifically for the playoff push.
Third Period: No surprise. Perreault is in the repair shop and done for the night. Poor guy took a fearsome pounding…What’s this? The Wild put two pucks past Connor Hellebuyck, first Matt Cullen then Zach Parise. There is no joy in Mudville, only silence and a 2-1 Minny lead…Not to worry, Puck Finn pulls the locals even “like the predator he is,” as Romanuk put it. And, hey, look who fed him the puck with a nifty drop pass—Stastny. Nice to see Maurice recognizes that Stastny has a pulse…Adam Lowry definitely is built for playoff hockey. He arrives at the rink with flared nostrils and in a bad mood, and he plays with a take-no-prisoners mentality…Who had Joe Morrow in the game-winning goal pool? Anybody see that coming? Jets up 3-2 and I’d say they’re home and cooled…Boudreau gives Dubnyk the night off two minutes and 30 ticks from time. Kind of early to yank your goalie, but the Jets use that 2:30 to ice the puck six times. Or was it seven? They need to work on their empty-net skills and not much else…Don’t know who chose the three stars at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, but Dubnyk, not Lowry, was the best player on the ice…Final score: Jets 3, Wild 2. No way this series goes past five games if the Jets are going to pour 40 shots on goal every game. It might even be a sweep…Okay, it’s past my bedtime. See you Friday for Game 2.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Paul Stastny. For real?
The Winnipeg Jets actually pried Paul Stastny away from the St. Louis Blues? And they didn’t have to twist his arm? No fuss, no muss, no whinging about mosquitoes, spring flooding, crime, potholes, brown tap water and the Arctic winds at Portage and Main?
Something doesn’t add up here.
I mean, nobody goes to Winnipeg. Except on a dare. Or unless they’ve lost a bet. Cripes, man, even the premier of the province, Brian Pallister, gets out of Dodge as often as he can.
I think Billy Mosienko was the last hockey player who went to Winnipeg voluntarily. That was in 1955, when the locals were still riding around in streetcars. Mosie had an excuse, though. Pegtown was his ‘hood. He knew all about the potholes, Arctic winds and skeeters the size of a Zamboni, so they weren’t going to scare him away.
But there’s no explaining this Stastny thing. Except to say he must have missed the memo. You know the one. Certain members of the San Jose Sharks sent it out earlier this National Hockey League season. River City is cold. River City is dark. And don’t even think about WiFi service. You want to text a friend? Here’s your carrier pigeon, kid.
The thing is, a lot of us know Winnipeg isn’t the backwater burg most folks make it out to be. It’s a boffo place. And the winters don’t seem quite so long, dark and cold when les Jets are putting on the ritz at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
Will Stastny’s willingness to disregard his no-trade clause influence others to regard Good Ol’ Hometown as a favorable destination? Perhaps not, but it’s worth revisiting something general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said last summer, scant seconds after convincing goaltender Steve Mason and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov that River City is an NHL hot spot.
“Ultimately,” he said, “when it comes to free agency, the players want to know that they have a chance to win.”
Prior to last Monday’s NHL trade deadline, TSN natterbug Jamie McLennan had this caution for Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “You never want to mortgage the future. There’s no weaknesses whatsoever in this lineup. All you can ask for really is health. You want Adam Lowry back. You want Jacob Trouba back. I believe this team is built to go on a Stanley Cup run. They’re that good. But, if you want to tinker at the deadline, add some depth, add a little Stanley Cup experience, absolutely, but do not mortgage the future with those young players.” So, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy surrendered college kid Erik Foley, their first-round pick in the 2018 entry draft and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2020 for Stastny, plus a fourth-rounder this year for rearguard Joe Morrow. Did they mortgage the future? Nope.
Now that the Buffalo Sabres have rid themselves of the headache known as Evander Kane, what do they have to show for the original deal with les Jets that sent the sometimes wacky winger to upstate New York? Not much. If my math is accurate, here’s how the February 2015 trade now shakes down: Winnipeg has Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, Jack Roslovic, Brendan Lemieux and a sixth-round pick in the NHL entry draft this summer (for Drew Stafford); Buffalo has Zach Bogosian, Danny O’Regan, Jason Kasdorf, a conditional pick in 2019 (first or second round) and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020. It’s still a total fleece job by Cheveldayoff.
With the exception of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, I can’t think of a partnership that’s lasted as long as Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones. What’s it been? Twenty-three years? Twenty-four? Thus, when Officer announced her intention to retreat from full-time competition next season, it was a big deal. She’s one of the most-decorated curlers in Manitoba history, with nine provincial titles (two in Junior), seven Canadian titles (one in Junior), one Olympic Games gold medal, and one world championship. Only six women have played in more games at the Canadian Scotties than Officer. And there’s a park named in her honor in North Kildonan. All that and, unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Sun completely ignored the story. Shame, shame.
The Sun’s snub of Officer is the latest example of the tabloid’s near-total abandonment of curling coverage by local scribes. The Sun didn’t have a reporter on the scene at last month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, nor does it have feet on the ground in Regina for this week’s Brier. Coverage is being handled by Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton and Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post. By way of comparison, the Winnipeg Free Press continues to do it the right way. Melissa Martin was in Penticton and Jason Bell is in Regina. And the Freep posted the Officer story on its website at 11:05 a.m. Friday, and followed with a video interview in the afternoon. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.
Holy hissing contest, Batman! Broadcaster Elliotte Friedman, whose home base is the Republic of Tranna, went on Sportsnet 650 last week to discuss the steaming mess of dog hooey that is the Vancouver Canucks, and it turns out that it’s the media’s fault. Also the fans’ fault. Everybody’s to blame except the team president, Trevor Linden, and the GM, Jim Benning.
“I see your market right now and I think it’s a really brutal place to be,” Friedman said. “These guys feel like they are under siege…like they’re getting torn apart by wild dogs.”
He described the situation in Vancity as “toxic” and “edgy” and “nasty” because of the media.
Not surprisingly, Vancouver news scavengers and opinionist sprung into action, including old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia.
“Why would Elliotte Frickin’ Friedman care so passionately about the Vancouver market, and why would he launch such an impassioned defence of Linden and Benning from The Big Smoke?” Willes asked. “Fair questions, yes? As for the answers, we’d suggest they lie somewhere in the towering arrogance of Toronto’s media titans and the uncomfortable relationship that exists between ‘insiders’ and their sources. Friedman is a made man in that world but his information sometimes comes at a cost. Consider his radio diatribe a down payment on his next scoop.”
Totally dumb tweet of the week comes from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star and Sportsnet: “Remember the old days when independent media used to ask serious, critical questions when NHL expanded. Now there’s mostly just cheerleading. Yay, Seattle, look how many tix you sold. Yay, more shitty teams, more diluted NHL hockey. It’s a sad thing.” Ya, those Vegas Golden Knights are a real “shitty” team, Damien. But, hey, if it makes you happy, perhaps we can go all the way back to the six-team days when goaltenders played with their bare faces hanging out and Charlie Burns was the only NHL player who wore a helmet.
Sad to hear of the passing of former Winnipeg Blue Bombers (interim) head coach Urban Bowman. Had many enjoyable chin-wags with Bowman during his time subbing for Cal Murphy, who was away getting a new heart. Urban had a folksy, cowboy charm that made him the Bum Phillips of the Canadian Football League, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear him talk of chickens, cattle and such instead of Xs and Os. He did, mind you, have one memorable quote about football. “We’re going to breathe our nasty breath on those folks,” he said prior to a playoff game. “Yes, sir, we’re going to breathe our nasty, bad breath on those folks.” Urban was a good man…with bad breath.
So, I’m watching Pardon the Interruption on TSN the other day and the boys, Keith Olbermann and Tony Kornheiser, are gasbagging about Johnny Manziel potentially getting a second chance in the National Football League. “Why not?” asks Olbermann, who’s all in on the return of Johnny Football. “He’s a misdemeanor case.” That’s what we’re calling woman beaters these days? A misdemeanor case? Is there some sort of TV rule that says you must be a complete goomer to talk sports? I mean, two weeks ago NBC gab guy Mike Milbury referred to former Los Angeles Kings defenceman Slava Voynov’s brutal assault on his wife as an “unfortunate incident.” Now a man putting the boots to a woman is a “misdemeanor case.” Clearly, the culture of misogyny extends from the clubhouse to the old men in the press box.
Watched Pride of the Yankees the other day. A total tear-jerker. But I got a kick out of the “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech Gary Cooper delivered at the end of the movie. “I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up there behind the wire in the press box, my friends, the sportswriters,” Coop said in his role as New York Yankees legendary first baseman Lou Gehrig. An athlete’s “friends?” Sportswriters? That has to be the biggest fib on the face of the earth.
Let’s give Rosie DiManno big points for honesty. In her wrap from South Korea, the Toronto Star columnist admits that the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports is about “sports some of us only cover every four years but, of course, feign instant expertise at.” Totally true. And it showed, especially with the guys who attempted to cover curling. Dave Feschuk of the Star, for example, wrote about curling guru “Russ” Turnbull, but the late Moosie’s actual name was Ray. And Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail prattled on about Rachel Homan burning a rock when it was actually one of the Canadian skip’s opponents who inadvertently touched a stone while sweeping it into the rings.
And, finally, this week’s Stevie-ism from the ever-bombastic Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The list of all-time Canadian Olympic greats is not particularly long. In summer, you start with Percy Williams and Donovan Bailey and turn somewhere to Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle and lately Penny Oleksiak. In winter, there is a place for Cindy Klassen and Catriona Le May Doan and Marc Gagnon and Hayley Wickenheiser and a few others.” Excuse me? Clara Hughes, the only Olympic athlete to earn multiple medals in both Winter and Summer Games, doesn’t qualify? Her two cycling (bronze) and four speed skating (gold, silver, two bronze) medals aren’t enough? Sorry, Stevie, but any list of Canada’s great Olympians has to begin with the smiling redhead from Winnipeg.