So how’s that Columbus gig working out for you? After Monday night, I imagine it’s one of those “be careful what you wish for” things, eh?
I mean, you wanted out of Winnipeg for reasons that remain sealed, so the Jets peddled your disgruntled butt and your other-wordly one-timer to Columbus, and it doesn’t get much more backwater than that. At least not in hockey terms.
Hey, I’ve never set foot in the Ohio capital, so I can’t speak to its charms. I’m sure there are many. It’s just that when I think National Hockey League, there are 30 other locales I’d rather be. Actually, make that 29. Buffalo isn’t my idea of Shangri-la, either. I’ve been to Buffalo. The wings are fabulous. Otherwise, I’ll give it a hard pass.
Mind you, I’m guessing folks in Columbus and Buffalo think much the same of Winnipeg. Most of them couldn’t find Good Ol’ Hometown on a map, but they’d likely tell you that it’s the capital city of Middle Of Nowhere.
Anyway, Patty, you wanted to put River City in your rear-view mirror after four winters and 140 goals for the Jets. Your wish was granted. Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman obliged, sending you and Jack Roslovic to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois and some unknown kid who’ll probably never see the inside of the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
The early returns were favorable. You scored three goals in your first three games in Blue Jackets linen…then John Tortorella did John Tortorella. He glued you to the pine. In a tie game.
You spent the final 6:19 of the second period and the entirety of the third keeping backup goaltender Cameron Johnson company at the end of the bench on Monday night, both of you sitting there like a couple of garden gnomes. (Too bad they don’t allow PlayStation on the bench, eh Patty?)
Much like your reasons for desiring a new mailing address remain a matter of conjecture, no one outside the Blue Jackets man cave knows why Torts turned you into a garden gnome, Patty. Most of us thought it was punishment for dogging it on a Carolina Hurricanes goal, but the bully coach insisted there were elements more sinister involved.
He muttered something about “the discipline of being a pro” and “team concept” and “how we do things here,” which, translated, means the Torts Way or the highway.
“There’s a number of things that come into play with that,” he told news snoops. “That’ll stay in the locker room.”
Not to worry though, Patty. Torts also indicated that the two of you will have a fireside chat, and he’ll “listen” to what you have to say about discipline and being a pro and team concept and the way they do things in Columbus. Be sure of one thing, though: Torts will have the final word.
You can ask Pierre-Luc Dubois about that. Matter of fact, Patty, you might want to exchange notes with Dubois before your one-on-one natter with Torts. Given that Pierre-Luc was the bully coach’s whipping boy before you came along, he’d likely have some useful and usable insight.
The thing is, this clash of personalities was predictable, and most of us didn’t need the Houston Astros trash can lids to know it was coming.
In the meantime, it’s about you signing long-term with Columbus, Patty. Doesn’t seem like such a swell idea today, does it? By all accounts, you’re a laid-back kind of dude, so can you imagine spending the next 10 years or so with someone barking in your ear? If that’s what you want, just get married.
We know Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen wants you there for the duration, Patty, and I imagine he was gasping for air when he saw you twiddling your thumbs on Monday night. You were his target at the 2016 NHL auction of teenage talent, so it follows that he’d be prepared to move heaven and hell to keep you.
Question is: Will Jarmo move Torts if it becomes a case of irreconcilable differences?
I hope it all works out for you, Patty. I really do. I’m not among the rabble who take glee in your discomfort. You performed admirably for the Jets, and I wish there’d never been a parting of ways. So the last thing I want to see is you, or anyone, being bullied.
No, I don’t believe a benching is bullying, Patty. But when Torts says there’s more to it than just dogging it in the defensive zone, I fear the worst.
Plenty to unpack this morning, kids, so let’s get right down to business…
Well, the boys at TSN almost got it right, the operative word being “almost.”
I mean, they pieced together their all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and they’re trying to tell us that The Shoe, Larks-Erik Sjoberg, is not—repeat, is not—one of the top six blueliners to wear the local shinny side’s livery? Instead, they name him the “foundational” player?
Good gawd. That’s like giving Jesus Christ a participation badge for showing up at the Last Supper.
Speaking of Christians…it’s about Dave Christian. Fabulous guy. Part of the Miracle On Ice. Saw him score his first goal, seven seconds into his first shift in his first National Hockey League game. Crowd at the Old Barn On Maroons Road went bonkers. Led the team in scoring one winter. But no. He isn’t an all-timer.
And on what planet known to man is Rink Rat Scheifele superior to Alexei Zhamnov? Only Planet TSN.
Andrew freaking Ladd? Talk about losing the plot. Freddy Olausson? Great kid, scattershot game. Paul Maurice? Are they spoofing us now?
Look, I realize this exercise by TSN was meant to generate chatter at a time when there isn’t a whole lot of sports to chatter about and, on that score, I suppose it’s mission accomplished. And, as mentioned, they struck most of the right notes. But their gaffes were as big as Ondrej Pavelec’s five-hole.
Start with The Shoe.
I don’t know the makeup of the TSN selection panel, but apparently none of them saw Sjoberg play. Here’s how I described him in a recent essay: “Squat like a fire hydrant, The Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.”
And this from Ron Chipperfield of the Edmonton Oilers: “I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the (World Hockey Association) five years.”
Here are some of Sjoberg’s bona fides: Team captain in both the WHA and NHL; three WHA titles; most outstanding defenceman in WHA (1977-78); first team all-star (’77-78); member of WHA Hall of Fame; member of Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame; member of Jets Hall of Fame.
Apparently all that escaped the notice of the boys at TSN, who slotted Olausson into the starting six instead. Hey, Freddy was a treat. Always quick with a smile. But if he was a better defenceman than The Shoe, then a bowl of Cheerios is a cure for COVID-19. We won’t see the day when Freddy’s name and number are raised to the rafters at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie beside The Shoe’s banner.
Now let’s move on to Scheifele v. Zhamnov. No comparison.
Zhamnov was slick, inventive, clever and did things with the puck that Rink Rat can only pull off with a PlayStation or Xbox joystick in his hand. The Russian finished third in NHL scoring one season, behind Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros, and he averaged 1.14 points per game with the Jets. Scheifele’s PPG is .855. Zhamnov also knew his way around the defensive end of the freeze, something that is too often a concept foreign to Scheifele.
Meanwhile, it’s about Paul Maurice.
Coach Potty Mouth is TSN’s choice as bench puppeteer, even though he’s accomplished squat. They trumpet his longevity and a .579 win/loss percentage, but ignore the reality that his Jets had their noses pressed to the window looking in at the Stanley Cup tournament three times in his first six crusades. When they did qualify for the spring runoff, his win/loss percentage is .407. That’s beyond lame.
Bobby Kromm should be the coach. Regular season record: .621; playoff record, .697; WHA titles, 1.
Finally, part of the TSN all-time team criteria was a checking unit. So, you remove Ladd and Christian from their lineup and insert Bill Lesuk, and Willy Lindstrom, who flank Thomas Steen.
The most talented of all Jets was Kent Nilsson, but the Swedish maestro wasn’t eligible due to a lack of games played. Kenta wore Jets linen for just two seasons before being taken hostage by the Atlanta Flames, and they were memorable. Both ended in WHA championships, he produced 107 points in each, and he was a two-time award winner (top rookie, most gentlemanly player).
Some might be surprised that I included Lesuk on my all-time team. Don’t be. When it came to dogging opposing forwards, no Jet did it better than the Tractor. He was like an extra layer of skin on foes, and also one of the nicest men in hockey.
Quick sidebar on Lesuk: After a particularly harsh critique in which I suggested the Jets had been wearing Pampers in a lopsided loss, the Tractor pulled me aside for a quiet chat the following day. “I don’t mind you being critical when we deserve it, but is it really necessary to write that we’re wearing diapers? I’m sure you can do better than that.” No screaming, no ranting, no confrontation. Just a reasoned comment. I’d never received such a polite dressing down. And, of course, he was correct.
By the way, I’m not alone in my rejection of TSN’s all-time Jets team. Old friend and longtime broadcaster Joe Pascucci and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun took to Twitter to provide their choices. I’ll let you decide if they’re flawed. (Hint: They are.)
Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie made his pitch for great gobs of cash ($30 million-$150 million) to the feds the other day, and he leaned heavily on syrupy sentiment, telling members of Parliament that private owners in our three-downs game aren’t in it for fame and certainly not fortune. “Sports philanthropists,” is how he described people like David Braley in B.C. and Bob Young in the Hammer, while Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment purchased the Tranna Argos out of “love,” don’t you know. There was also the predictable mention of “Canadian culture” and how much the CFL means to the masses. Except, according to a recent Angus Reid poll, the rabble doesn’t appear to be all-in on our quirky game. Asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled, here are the numbers:
Manitoba: 63 per cent
Saskatchewan: 61 per cent
Alberta: 45 per cent
B.C.: 34 per cent
Quebec: 31 per cent
Ontario: 28 per cent
Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent
As you can see, a huge majority of folks in Eastern Canada really don’t give a damn about the CFL and, in fact, they’ll be more disappointed if the National Football League season is trashed.
No COVID-19 vaccine, no herd immunity, no large gatherings in B.C. Which means no pro football. “The B.C. Lions need to have bums in the seats. I don’t see that happening,” Premier John Horgan said last week. So it won’t happen. The Leos’ bankroll, David Braley, isn’t going to pay his players to perform in front of empty pews at B.C. Place Stadium without cash flowing his way. Which begs the question: Will the Lions ever return, given the indifference that already exists on the Left Flank?
Just a thought: If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers don’t survive the COVID-19 pandemic, how long will it take for David Asper to hop on a white steed and rescue the franchise?
Now that Brendan Leipsic has been used as a pinata the past three days (justified) and the Washington Capitals have washed their hands of the fringe forward (also justified) for his dreadful, callous comments about women, let me just say this about that: I hope he enjoys hockey in Russia. The KHL, of course, is a haven for those with a sordid past. For evidence, see: Voynov, Slava. See: Peters, Bill. Hey, perhaps the Peters-coached Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg can provide a soft landing for Leipsic. Mind you, can there be anything “soft” about a place called Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast. Sounds like 200 square miles of hard labor.
Not all young, testosterone-fueled hockey players think of women as nothing more than meat on the hoof, but no one should be surprised that Leipsic and buddies harbor a mindset that belongs in another century. Their vulgar, body-shaming natter simply underscores the reality that misogyny and sexism in male sports remains as commonplace as chin whiskers at playoff time. And don’t run off with the notion that it’s limited to the locker room. It exists in the pews, or have you forgotten about the “Sedin sisters” and “Cindy” Crosby?
Former player Brett Hull has weighed in on Leipsic and pals, offering these thoughts: “We did the same things, we said the same things, but there was no way to get caught. We can go out after games, we can go to strip clubs, we can go to bars, and we could do whatever we wanted, and it would all be hearsay. The fun is gone. The game is not fun anymore to me.” Yes, hockey was so much more fun when the lads could spend their down time on the QT, hooting and hollering at a woman while she peeled off her clothing. Sigh.
Although the intimate details re locale and principals are sketchy, I recall standing on the fringe of a circle of Winnipeg Jets one winter, all of us loitering in an airport boarding area while awaiting a connecting flight. The topic du jour was trash talk. Although not a lengthy natter, it produced one nugget of insight: Players can rag on each other about anything—“Except wives, girlfriends and kids; they’re off limits.” I’m thinking it was Peter Sullivan who said it, but, as stated, my memory is iffy. It might have been Lyle Moffat or Kim Clackson. Doesn’t matter. Leipsic called Vancouver Canuck forward Tanner Pearson’s bride Meaghan “fat,” and that’s breaking an unwritten code.
My favorite tweet re L’Affaire Leipsic was delivered by Melissa Martin of the Drab Slab: “To be honest, I’m super burned out on writing about shitty men in sports. So I wrote about some awesome women instead.” Melissa’s column is top drawer, and hers is one of the few mainstream media female voices heard in the discussion. Which is most unfortunate. Only women can speak to the very heart of this issue, given that they’ve spent a lifetime listening to such bile, so we need more of them in jock journalism. Not just on the print side, understand. On air, too. As it is, it was left for Jeff O’Dog, Jamie McLennan, Ray Ferraro and Bryan Hayes to do the blah, blah, blah thing on TSN Overdrive. And what did they discuss? Leipsic not being welcomed back into the Capitals locker room and privacy issues/social media. There was very little mention of misogyny. Hayes feels “horrible for Tanner Pearson and his wife,” but he and the others expressed scant concern for the other woman trashed by Leipsic and fellow cads.
Worst take had to be a Twitter exchange between Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and a reader/follower. The latter called the former “a fat looking nerd” and the former responded by calling the latter “a garbage human being.” Good grief. Are we back in Grade 5, boys?
There’s talk of former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson returning to the ring at age 53 to fight Kiwi boxer-turned-rugby star Sonny Bill Williams. But apparently Williams began to have second thoughts when Tyson looked at him and said, “My, what big ears you have.”
Is it just me, or does anyone else look at TSN’s UFC guy Robin Black and see an aging Eddie Munster? I swear, Eddie and Robin were separated at birth, and Herman and Lily Munster probably don’t even know about it.
And, finally, how big a star was Little Richard, who died on Saturday? Well, the Beatles and Rolling Stones once were his opening acts. Yup, that big. My favorite Little Richard tune is Long Tall Sally, and rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t get much better than the Beatles’ version. Paul McCartney really gets after it on vocals and Ringo gives his Ludwig drum kit a fearsome thrashing. The lads recorded Long Tall Sally in one take, and it’s the last song they ever performed on tour.
Whether the rogue rearguard was rag-dolling foes, or simply having a rollicking good time playing unharnessed pond hockey rather than the rigid north-south style preferred by coaches who frowned on freelancing, Big Buff was the whole nine yards.
Many years from now, folks will gather around the campfire and talk about him as some mythical creature, if they aren’t already.
They’ll speak in hushed tones, describing a man-beast on blades, untamed and as tall as a grain silo, as wide as the Canadian Prairies, hairy and swift and capable of Paul Bunyanesque feats of strength. And they’ll talk about his habitat, how he roamed from one fishing hole to the next, catching muskellunge and walleye and trout while the smaller and less adventurous of his hockey species grazed on golf courses or took root in front of their PlayStations.
“I was there the night Big Buff rag-dolled those two Vegas Golden Knights,” someone will whisper with due reverence. “Took one of ’em in each of his big paws and yanked ’em right out of a scrum. Shook ’em and dragged ’em around like they were pom-poms.”
“Same thing one night against Nashville,” another will say, nodding. “Took two Predators by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and shook ’em like salt-and-pepper shakers.”
The folklore will include tales of derring-do, rink-length dashes by this hulking figure of few words, a force the likes of which had never been seen on a National Hockey League freeze. There’ll be mention of an ice tub and Evander Kane’s clothing, and the sonic boom of a slapshot that served the Winnipeg Jets so well for eight winters.
And it’ll all be true, even if delivered with a side order of embellishment.
Big Buff truly was unique. He didn’t have a pregame meal like the rest of the Jets. They simply tossed him a salt lick. That’s what you do when a guy is 6-feet-8 (on skates) and 260 pounds, give or take a late-night snack.
I always thought the whole Big Buff shtick would have made for a great sitcom. He could have played himself, except he’d have had to speak, and we all know Big Buff has less to say than a street mime with a mouth full of cotton. It’s kind of tough to do a talkie when the leading man won’t talk. Still, he’s got that impish grin and his peculiar ways, which certainly became more peculiar in the past eight months.
Big Buff’s divorce from the Jets, official on Friday, is the part of the legend that didn’t produce any yuks.
More to the point, Byfuglien was robustly villainized by many among the rabble and some news snoops when he took a powder on the eve of training camp last September. The Jets wanted and expected Big Buff to play hockey, but his druthers were to gaze at his navel while squatting in an ice-fishing hut. His adios left Winnipeg HC in a penny pinch, in that his $7.6 million cap hit was still on the books, and he put them in an on-ice pickle, with a hole the size of his appetite on the right side of the defence. For that he was branded “selfish” and an ingrate.
Well guess what? Life happens. Flames flicker out.
If we are to believe the way Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells the tale, Big Buff’s passion for banging heads, quarterbacking the powerplay and goofing around with the guys had run its course. To paraphrase a Yogi Berraism: Buff came to a fork in the road and he took it. Family and fishing won out over Winnipeg HC and shinny.
Was the most popular of the Jets guilty of bad timing? I don’t think Buff was guilty of anything. His life, his timetable. But, sure, from the club and fan perspective he could have picked a better time to bug out. No doubt there would have been a different twist to Chevy’s off-season tactics had he known about Buff’s Tour de Navel before September, except the universe doesn’t always unfold as an NHL GM would like it to.
I don’t know if Buff plans to confirm or deny Chevy’s version of events now that the divorce is a fait accompli, but I’m guessing the big defender will let us inside his head about the same time Lake Winnipeg runs dry.
And, really, he doesn’t owe us the skinny on everything that went down since September. Nor is there any obligation for him to convince us that he isn’t a complete numbskull for walking away when there was a sizable chunk of change ($14 million) still on the table for his taking.
He leaves on his own terms (some of us can relate to that) at age 35, and we should just let it be part of the folklore.
I don’t really like to say I told you so, but sometimes I can’t resist the urge. So, I’ll remind you that this is what I wrote on Oct. 9 last year: “Retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC.” So there, I told you so.
Byfuglien has been called a riddle. An enigma. A puzzle. But is he really that hard to figure out? Okay, he’s a hockey hybrid. He has ox-like strength and no one his size has any business looking so light on his feet while skating on two blades barely wider than a butter knife. But that made him unique, not complicated. He also did a lot of freelancing, which led to crippling brain farts that resulted in pucks in the wrong net. But that made him a defensive liability, and there’s an abundance of those players in the NHL. So what is it about Big Buff that’s so confounding? Well, he seemed to play the game with a wink and a nod and, often, with a kid-like glee. He shunned news snoops like they’d give him cooties, but he was aw shucks and warm and fuzzy with a fawning faithful. It’s been oft written and said that he marched to the beat of his own drum, and hockey players aren’t programmed to go their own way. But the only truly unusual thing he’s done is turn his back on $14 million. That doesn’t make him an enigma. It makes him real.
Quick question: Will the rabble think differently about Big Buff if he takes his eroding talents to another NHL outfit? Seems to me they might. The storyline will go from “he didn’t want to play hockey anymore” to “he still wanted to play hockey, just not for the Jets.” Which means some might add another descriptive to the big man: Phony. But I don’t see him playing again.
Over at the Drab Slab, there seems to be some confusion about Big Buff’s legacy, at least that’s the way I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the matter. Here’s what he’s written:
Feb. 3: “A re-charged and rehabilitated Byfuglien was expected to be a pillar on the back end. Instead, his selfish actions created nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Byfuglien, the entire soap opera has tarnished the legacy of one of the most unique athletes we’ve ever seen in the city.”
April 17: “Forgive me if I have a hard time painting anyone who willingly walks away from US $14 million as selfish,” and “In my eyes, no legacy has been tarnished here, nor should it be.”
So he’s selfish, but he isn’t selfish. He’s tarnished, but he isn’t tarnished. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.
Frankly, I doubt Big Buff gives a damn what jock journos think or write about him. Just like they don’t give a damn what he thinks about them or their scribblings. It’s a mutual Don’t Give A Damn Society.
Hey, check it out. My man young Eddie Tait has a book out, For the W, the story of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gallop to the Grey Cup last year. If young Eddie’s doing the scribbling, you know it’s a top-drawer product, and I’m told he has a boffo editor in Rheanne Marcoux. Winnipeg FC radio voice Knuckles Irving of CJOB says the book is “sensational,” and that’s good enough for me. It sells for $54.99 and you can grab a copy at the Canadian Football League club’s shop or online.
This week in jock journalism…
I make an early-morning tour of newspapers and sports websites hither and yon, always searching for something fresh and different, and I found it in a Rob Tychkowski column. Rob’s with Postmedia E-Town, and he did a parody on the recent conference call between Donald Trump and various pro sports leaders. It’s laugh-out-loud funny…I never know what to expect when I call up the Winnipeg Sun, but some issues are more disappointing than others. Today, for example, there are eight pages of sports. Total number of local stories: 0. Total number of local bylines: 0. Total number of bylines from the Republic of Tranna: 4…No, I don’t think sports is important while COVID-19 has us in lockdown, but if you insist on doing it, do it right for gawd’s sake…Not sure what the dumbest story of the week was, but here are the candidates, all from the Drab Slab: 1) Andrew Berkshire’s graphs and numbers-crunching on the Jets’ odd-man rushes and counter-attack plays last season; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s top-10 goals in Jets 2.0 history; 3) Mad Mike’s suggestion that the entire NHL (all 31 teams) gather in Good Ol’ Hometown to complete the 2019-20 season sometime this summer. My vote goes to article No. 3. It’s just stupid.
And, finally, Scott Billeck went from the toy department to newsside for the Winnipeg Sun when COVID-19 took grip, and his work has been boffo. Bruce Arthur has done the same thing for the Toronto Star. I’m not sure how many sports scribes could pull that off, but Scott and Bruce are getting it done.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, as Cactus Jack used to say, it turned out nice again…
There are two things I really like about Patrik Laine: 1) his shot; 2) his age.
I’d probably like him as a person, too, because he strikes me as a nice young man with wry humor and a blunt honesty that’s uncommon among play-for-pay jocks. He seems like a cool kid.
But I’m here today more to discuss Puck Finn the hockey player, not the cool kid and his passion for PlayStation and whatever other techno gizmos and gadgets that have caught his fancy and keep the Winnipeg Jets winger occupied when he isn’t lighting lamps at one end of the freeze and handing out free pizzas at the other.
I recognize some Kent Nilsson in Laine, on and off the ice.
Kenta was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon in a one-horse town. He was also blessed with a wicked sense of humor. (Nilsson once sneaked up behind a scribe tapping away at his computer keyboard in the Calgary Saddledome press box and said, “How could so much shit come out of such a little machine.”)
In terms of pure skill, though, there’s no comparison between Laine and Nilsson. I maintain to this day that no one who’s worn Jets linen was, or is, more gifted than the slick Swede. Not the Golden Jet, Ulf or Anders. Not Ducky. Not the Finnish Flash. If you’d like to debate the issue, consider that Wayne Gretzky once said Nilsson “might have been the most skilled hockey player I ever saw in my career.” That’s good enough for me.
In the mood, Magic Man Nilsson was a maestro. The game was played at his tempo. On his terms. It was best to toss a second puck onto the ice so the other 11 guys had something to play with.
Trouble is, Kenta was an enigma. That is, engaged one minute, disinterested the next. And the rabble recognized both his other wordly talent and his indifference.
When Nilsson scored 131 points for the Calgary Flames in 1980-81 (fewer than only Gretzky and Marcel Dionne), expectations became heightened to the point of delusional. The faithful assumed there would be more of the same. There wasn’t. The best Nilsson could do for an encore was 104 points, ninth in National Hockey League scoring, and that just wasn’t up to snuff for the Flames faithful. Those 104 points would have/could have/should have been 134.
“If only he applied himself all the time like Gretzky,” they would moan.
In that sense, Puck Finn is a Nilsson doppelganger. He introduced himself with 36- and 44-goal seasons, so he’s boxed himself in at those numbers. Anything less and frustration and much braying ensues.
At present, Laine’s sitting on 25 snipes, best among les Jets. But you’d swear he’s stuck on 10 goals.
Trade him! Ship him to the farm! Stick him with the fourth-line sluggos! Get him a skating coach! Take his Fortnite game away! Oh, yes, the lunatic fringe is in full throat.
Let’s call a timeout on that, though.
I mean, it’s fair to be critical of Laine. Been there, done that. But give the kid a new postal code? Send him down the hall at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and tell him to suit up with the Manitoba Moose? Sure, and maybe we should think about bringing Pokey and the Bandit back to stand in the blue paint.
Let’s get a grip here, people.
Yes, Laine is seriously lacking in certain essentials. There’s very little lickety-split in his stride, he’s prone to boneheaded blunders, and he’s been known to zone out mentally. And, like Nilsson, he’s maddeningly frustrating because there isn’t a fire burning in his belly at all times. Those flaws are easy to overlook or forgive when he’s scoring. When not, the rabble feels cheated.
But repeat after me: Puck Finn is 20 years old. That isn’t an excuse. It’s a fact.
Nilsson produced his benchmark season at age 24. Teemu Selanne delivered his at age 22. Mario Lemieux had his most productive year at age 23. Gretzky topped out at age 25.
I say we give Laine a chance to grow his game before heaving him onto the dung heap.
I found Brian Burke’s take on Puck Finn’s game interesting. In a chin-wag about Laine’s earning potential once he becomes a restricted free agent, Burke had this to say on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon: “I’m not as big on Patrik Laine as a lot of people are. I don’t like his 5-on-5 game. Wonderful goal scorer and I’d have him on my team in a heartbeat, but there’s some holes in his game, too. Now, we know we pay goal scorers. We can find guys to offset those deficiencies. I can find a winger to play with Patrik Laine, to do the backchecking, do some of the things he’s not proficient at. But it’s gonna be north of ($9 million), it’s gonna start with a one. We have always paid snipers. We have always paid snipers. I can bitch all I want about certain deficiencies in his game…he can play on my team tomorrow. I do think he’s a good kid…I do feel when he’s not scoring he’s a liability.” I’d say that’s spot on.
Andrew Berkshire doesn’t share my thoughts on Burke’s assessment of Laine. In the Drab Slab, he writes: “Former NHL executive and current Hockey Night In Canada/Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke has said Laine gives you goals, but nothing else. Goals are pretty significant in the NHL, and I would say that statement is remarkably harsh.” Harsh? You want harsh? The headline on Berkshire’s piece labeled Laine “a D-zone disaster” and the stats geek described Puck Finn’s work in the defensive zone as “disastrous.” Now that’s “remarkably harsh.” Again, why the Winnipeg Free Press runs Pie Chart Boy’s graphics is a mystery to me. He simply uses them to confirm what a lot of us already know. Bring back Scotty Campbell.
Speaking of the Drab Slab and its stable of scribes, I guess it’s official that Mike McIntyre is the new sports columnist. I wish him well, because it’s a tough gig and the rabble is never shy about reminding you that you’re a total moron.
For those of you scoring at home, McIntyre is the fifth sports columnist at the Freep this century, the others being Scott Taylor, Randy Turner, Gary Lawless and Paul Wiecek. Over at the Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, they’ve had one—Paul Friesen. You might not find the turnover rate at the Drab Slab interesting, but I do.
Is there a goaltending controversy with les Jets? Well, yes, in the stands, in watering holes and among news snoops. But until I hear it from the inner sanctum (read: head coach Paul Maurice, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman), it doesn’t exist. Connor Hellebuyck is their guy, and Laurent Brossoit is the other guy.
So, there won’t be a World Cup of Hockey in 2020. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to ignoring it.
Interesting to note that Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols has cut cheeseburgers and other greasy grub from his diet. Does that mean the Calgary Stampeders will continue to eat his lunch? Is he still the Bombers’ meal ticket? Is he going to lay another egg? Whatever the case, it’s food for thought and gives us something to chew on. OMG! I just overdosed on really bad, cornball clichés/puns. Someone slap me silly so I’ll stop.
If Rachel Homan isn’t the best female curler on the planet, she’s definitely the best pregnant curler. Rachel’s down there in Glitter Gulch today, helping the North American side attempt to subdue the World group in the Continental Cup, and she’s very preggers. Her due date is June 14 and here’s what I’m wondering: If Rachel wins the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the world championship while pregnant, will news snoops give her the same over-the-top, “mother of all mothers” glorification that they heaped upon tennis player Serena Williams? I very much doubt it. After all, most news snoops ignore the Pebble People until an Olympic year arrives. A real shame that.
And, finally, it’s a big day for one of the truly good guys in Good Ol’ Hometown—Joe Daley. He’ll be honored this afternoon at my old stomping grounds, Bronx Park Community Centre, when mucky-mucks unveil a mural featuring the former Jets goaltender. Such a nice tribute to a nice man. Really pleased for him.
Many years from now, when people of a certain vintage gather to advise young’uns what it was like “back in the day,” Patrik Laine surely will occupy a place in the spinning of yarns.
The tales the elders tell will be tall and, no doubt, embellished to the point whereby Puck Finn is remembered as a larger-than-life National Hockey League player who, when not scoring goals, rescued babies from burning buildings and single-handedly dug a mile-wide trench around Duff’s Ditch to spare River City from cataclysmic spring flooding.
“I was there when he dug that trench,” they’ll swear. “Took him a week. And danged if he didn’t go out an hour after putting down his shovel and score five goals on five shots. I was there when that happened, too. Still have the ticket stub to prove it.”
And that’s okay. It’s what us old farts do. We traffic in folklore and expect whippersnappers to accept that everything “back in the day” was better than everything today.
I recall my oldest son, for example, sitting at the dinner table in the mid-1980s and pooh-poohing the notion that Gordie Howe might have been a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky.
“What did Howe ever do that was so great?” he asked with considerable adolescent cheek and a smirk that needed to be wiped from his face.
“Excuse me? What did Gordie Howe do?” I replied, almost choking on my pork chop. “You mean aside from the six scoring titles, the six MVPs, the four Stanley Cup rings, the five goal-scoring titles, the most goals and points in the history of hockey, the 20 all-star teams? You mean aside from all that? And let me tell you something else…Gretzky was spoiled as a kid. His dad built him a rink in his back yard. Mr. Hockey—that’s Gordie Howe—wasn’t spoiled. He had to trudge two miles barefoot through three feet of snow just to get to the rink and back when he was a kid. All of us kids had to do that.”
My boy bowed his head. He had been properly chastised, yet he remained unconvinced of Howe’s superiority before finishing the last of his green peas and slinking off to the living room.
“Gretzky’s better,” were his defiant, parting words, “and I don’t believe that stuff about Howe walking barefoot in the snow. I’m sure they had buses back then.”
“They did, but Howe got kicked off for elbowing all the other boys,” I replied.
Similar tall tales will be told about Patrik Laine, his five goals on five shots in Winnipeg Jets’ 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues last weekend destined to be included in the I-was-there-when-it-happened folklore 40-50 years hence.
And that set me to thinking…
I began watching and following River City athletes more than 60 years ago, in the mid-1950s just as Billy Mosienko was returning to Good Ol’ Hometown to join Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League. So I’ve seen some jocks. And these are the 10 I mention most when asked about the way it was “back in the day.”
Kenny Ploen: Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup. Repeatedly. And Ploen was usually at the forefront of those powerful 1950s-60s Canadian Football League outfits—as a quarterback, a defensive back, or both. Oh, yes, Ploen played two ways. Sometimes in the same game. And he was an all-star at both positions. He also might be the nicest man alive. I recall riding my bike, twice a day, out to Packers Field in St. Boniface during Bombers training camp. I’d ask Mr. Ploen for his autograph after each of the morning and afternoon sessions. Every day for a week. He never once declined my request for his signature.
Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Hedberg was a cheetah on skates. Nilsson had four eyes, two in the front of his head and two in the back. The Shoe was short and squat, kind of like Barney Rubble. It was as if an unseen giant had put his thumb on the top of the Shoe’s head and squashed him. But move the puck? The best. And the beatings those Swedish boys took from North American ruffians after joining the Jets in the World Hockey Association? Rented mules don’t get whacked that often.
Terry Sawchuk: The great goalie grew up in the same area of town as I did, East Kildonan. When I began playing Little NHL hockey at Melrose Park, rumor had it that a pair of goalie pads we used once belonged to Sawchuk. That set of pillows had magical, mystic powers. The kid who wrapped the Sawchuk pads around his legs always got a shutout. Honest. He did.
Donny Lalonde: I remember the first time I saw the Golden Boy working out in a firehall-turned gym, his every move in concert with the sound of Bob Dylan’s great album Infidels. He struck me as kind of scrawny for a light-heavyweight boxer. He wasn’t much of a ring technician. And he fought with his left arm tied behind his back. But his one good arm won a world championship and he became just the second man to floor the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.
Chris Walby: If it’s possible for anyone to actually be larger than life, Bluto is your man. He went from total junior hockey goon with the West Kildonan North Stars to a career as arguably the best offensive lineman in CFL history. He later became a talking head on CBC football coverage, mangling the English language while actually making sense. If you ever see Walby, check out his hands. His fingers are as gnarled and as bent as tree bark. They’ve been broken more often than a politician’s promises.
Jeff Stoughton: A curler who didn’t drink. Go figure. And I don’t recall ever hearing cuss words escape his lips. That certainly made him suitable for mixed company and, in fact, mostly forgotten is that his breakthrough on the national stage came in the mixed game, where he skipped his rink to a pair of Canadian titles before beginning his run as the most successful male curler in a curling-rich province. His spin-o-rama delivery is legendary.
Teemu Selanne: I’m not convinced that the Finnish Flash actually happened. I mean, 76 goals and 132 points as an NHL rookie? Go on. You’re making that up. That’s pure fiction. But it’s not. Teemu actually did it in real life, not PlayStation. Then—poof!—he was gone, like Col. Flagg on M*A*S*H.
Vic Peters: Like Selanne, seemingly too good to have been real. Forget that he was a champion curler. Vic was the loveliest of lads. A total people person who, when not winning curling championships or making pebbled ice, could be found at Larters or The Meadows golf courses, grooming the fairways/greens or playing a few holes while still wearing his superintendent’s galoshes. If K. Ploen isn’t the nicest man, Vic was and he left us far too soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.