While Winnipeg Jets’ ownership/management fiddles, careers of older players waste away

Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc.

That’s the unstoppable sound of the clock rapidly and relentlessly ticking down on the National Hockey League careers of certain able-bodied players whose bodies soon will begin to betray them, if that isn’t happening already.

Toby Enstrom will be 33 at this time next year. Dustin Byfuglien 32. Captain Blake Wheeler 31. Bryan Little 30. They were in, or about to enter, their prime playing years when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011 and the Thrashers morphed into the Winnipeg Jets. Since then, each has swallowed the Kool-Aid and put his signature on a long-term contract, convinced that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, and his obedient servant, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, would deliver on a promise of better days.

Toby Enstrom
Toby Enstrom

Well, those four men are still waiting for deliverance. Their biological clocks are still ticking. And they have every right to ask: When is when?

Except the Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff won’t, or can’t, provide a definitive answer. Unlike Enstrom, Byfuglien, Little and Wheeler, they aren’t on the clock, so they simply recite the draft-and-develop mantra and add more pimples than puck sense to their roster, all the while allowing four careers to waste away.

There is no urgency in ownership/management. The Little Hockey House on the Prairie is sold out every night. There’s a waiting list for season subscriptions numbering in the thousands. Many among the rabble remain in swoon, still giddy to have an NHL outfit to call their own, no matter how inferior the product. The Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment can’t sell enough $10 Jumbo Jet hot dogs, $10 pints of beer and $300 jerseys. That isn’t a hockey rink tucked between Hargrave and Donald in downtown Winnipeg. It’s a cash register.

Much of that money is, of course, funneled into player wages and, to be sure, the Jets’ on-ice workers are handsomely compensated. They draw enough pay to purchase every $10 Jumbo Jet dog ever put on the grill. But once the contracts are signed, sealed and delivered, it’s no longer about the number of zeroes behind the dollar sign. It’s about winning. Period.

Do you think Blake Wheeler is interested in a draft-and-development plan that won’t bear any fruit for another, say, four-five years? Indeed, head coach Paul Maurice spoke to that very issue last April, when he began sifting through the charred leavings of another dumpster fire that put the Jets on the outside when the real fun began in the Stanley Cup tournament.

If we put a really, really young lineup again in the Central (Division) and have a couple of tough nights, as long as those are the best guys we have then I’m all for it,” coach Potty-Mo told news snoops.

Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler

At the end of the day, I don’t care who’s in that lineup, we’re going to try and figure out a way to win with that group. We’re going to put that expectation in our room, instead of saying, ‘Hey, just come out and try hard and follow us and then in five years we’re going to…’ Blake Wheeler doesn’t want to hear that, he doesn’t want to play like that.

Our expectations have to be higher. The players have to be under that pressure because I think they develop faster.”

But, as in the case of when is when, how fast is fast?

I mean, the Jets commenced their current crusade with two goaltenders still on training wheels. The tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson has crashed and burned. What’s old is new again, with Ondrej Pavelec back in the blue paint. And if he doesn’t return as the second coming of Dominik Hasek, what then? Back to Hellebuyck and Hutchinson?

I doubt that rate of development is fast enough for Wheeler and the others.

It is said today that 70 is the new 50 and 50 is the new 30, but it doesn’t work that way in hockey. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, 31 wasn’t considered old in the NHL. Today, 30 is the old 35 and 35 is the old 40. (No, that doesn’t explain Jaromir Jagr, but some things defy logic.) The point is, Wheeler cannot afford many more failed experiments and wasted seasons before rot sets in. None of the ‘old’ boys can. Their clocks keep ticking while ownership/management keeps talking. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff have failed them. Miserably.

Little wonder Wheeler seems to be owly much of the time.

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

Bottom Feeders ‘R’ Us…hope in Edmonton…media whining about the zebras…and other things on my mind

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

chipman and chevy
Is this how it works with Mark Chipman and Kevin Cheveldayoff?

Winnipeg Jets, last place in the National Hockey League. Manitoba Moose, last place in the American Hockey League. So, how’s that draft-and-develop thing working out for you so far, Mark Chipman?

Look at it on the chipper side, though, Mark. This rare daily double of yours provides True North Sports & Entertainment with a catchy slogan for next season’s marketing campaign—Bottom Feeders ‘R’ Us. That ought to lure prime NHL free agent beef to River City come summertime.

Cheap shots aside, accusing fingers are being pointed in the direction of Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of the Jets (at least on paper) who’s bound to be the fall guy for an NHL crusade that has gone horribly wrong and has two principles, captain Andrew Ladd and backliner Dustin Byfuglien, skating in shinny limbo.

I cannot, however, let go of the notion that Chevy is merely playing Pinocchio to owner Chipman’s Geppetto.

Saint Mark already has advised a national television audience that he sticks his thin, pointy beak into Chevy’s business, which is to say the co-bankroll imposes his whims and wishes on trade and contract negotiations. To what degree, we are uncertain. So, what exactly do we have here? Humpty Harold Ballard without the bluster?

Chipman’s involvement/interference, to me, is the X factor in the Jets’ operation and, should we discover that he’s hamstrung his paper GM, then we must refrain from flinging poison arrows in Cheveldayoff’s direction and aim them toward meddling Mark.

connor mcdavid
In Edmonton, hope is named Connor McDavid.

Here’s the difference between the Jets and Edmonton Oilers: In Winnipeg, they’re hoping; in Edmonton, they have hope. Hope is named Connor McDavid and, if you bore witness to his return from sick bay against the Columbus Blue Jackets this week, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Oilers management, of course, have been the poster boys for faceplants since 2006, but it appears that a decade of pratfalls is finally about to pay dividends.

Here’s what should be unsettling, if not frightening, for the faithful in Jets Nation: The Winnipegs aren’t pretending to be this bad in order to land the next whiz kid, Auston Matthews, in the 2016 NHL entry draft. They are this bad.

This from Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press in his gamer on the Jets-Carolina Hurricanes joust Friday night at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie: “The Jets continue to have a hard time getting away from their reputation for taking penalties. In the first 40 minutes, the tally was Winnipeg, four infractions; Hurricanes, benefit of the doubt every time.” Oh, please. Would you like some cheese with that whine, Tim? It’s one thing for fans to infer the zebras are out to screw the Jets, but it’s lame when a member of the mainstream media does it. Campbell goes on to say, “The calls and non-calls had no bearing on the outcome (a 5-3 ‘Canes win).” So why even mention it?

newspapers2So this is how it works in the new world of Postmedia, which does not believe in competition between newspapers: Terry Jones of the Edmonton Joursun goes to Las Vegas to cover curling; Ed Willes of the Vancouver Provsun is dispatched to Charlotte, N.C., to file copy on the National Football Conference championship match; Toronto-based scribes Michael Traikos and Mike Zeisberger are sent to Nashville for the John Scott Testimonial, otherwise known as NHL all-star hijinks; Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sunprov and Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun are lodged in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50, and Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun is…well, he’s told to stay home and write an advancer for the men’s provincial curling event next week. I realize that Paul is a ginger-haired lad, but does Postmedia really have to treat him like the ginger-haired cousin who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the kids?

First Jets rookie Nikolaj Ehlers is $2,000 out of pocket for flopping all over the ice, and now the NHL has dipped into prodigal son Alexander Burmistrov’s pay envelope to the tune of $2,000, also for bad acting. The Jets aren’t very good at hockey, but they’re assembling a crack synchronized diving outfit for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

I note that Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters plans to be an active participant in this year’s livestock auction of Canadian Football League free agents. “Overall, organizationally, we just need better players,” he says. “Simple as that.” Geez, what was your first clue, Sherlock? Last season’s 5-13 record or a quarter of a century without a Grey Cup championship? And shouldn’t you have recognized that two years ago?

If there is a worse website than that which the Winnipeg Free Press delivers, it is that which the NHL offers. What a tire fire. Someone in the NHL has turned a silk purse into a sow’s ear.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

What are the Winnipeg Jets afraid of…Big Buff a man of many words…no Sun in Twang Town…and a non-diving Dane

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

It’s almost Groundhog Day. Does that mean Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff is about to poke his head out of his hiding hole and do something? Or say something?

chevy
Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

That would be refreshing, since the man who does Saint Mark Chipman’s bidding hasn’t done or said much of anything since shuffling Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian off to Buffalo. For those of you keeping score at home, that was almost 365 days ago.

Chevy is the Howard Hughes of National Hockey League general managers. A recluse. He is the anti-John Ferguson.

When Fergy was at the wheel during the Winnipeg Jets’ initial whirl in the NHL, he took ownership of his deeds. Good (hello, Dale Hawerchuk) or bad (hello, Jimmy Mann). He didn’t hide from the faithful or news scavengers. From the moment he arrived in River City from Gotham until the day he was asked to leave, Fergy was up front and loud. His was the face and voice of the franchise.

What we now have with Cheveldayoff and the present-day Jets is complete non-accountability.

If there is a face and/or voice to this franchise, I can’t see it or hear it. No one can. Cheveldayoff says less than a street mime. The Winnipeg Sun recently requested an audience with the Grand Master for its three-part, state-of-the-union series on the Jets and was told, “Sorry, no can do. Chevy’s too busy doing stuff that is none of your business or anybody else’s business.”

That is so lame.

What I find myself wondering is this: Is Cheveldayoff standoffish by nature, or is he under some sort of gag order issued by team co-bankroll Saint Mark? I mean, it’s one thing for Chipman to operate a secretive society that suckles at the public teat in the form of tax advantages/subsidies and gaming revenue, but this isn’t about True North Sports & Entertainment profits. It’s about a hockey team, one in which the community has invested deeply, whether through ticket/merchadise sales or emotions. What is he afraid of?

If Chipman hasn’t instructed Cheveldayoff to keep his lips zipped, what is the GM afraid of?

Answering a few questions in advance of a looming NHL trade deadline ought not be an option. It ought to be an obligation.

big buff
Big Buff

On a similar theme, it was interesting to read dispatches from this weekend’s NHL all-star hijinks in Twang Town, Tennessee, because we discovered a side of Dustin Byfuglien seldom, if ever, seen in Winnipeg. Turns out Big Buff is humorous, witty, glib and an all-round nice guy who seemingly enjoyed his 25-minute parry-and-thrust with hockey scribes on media day. That Nashville scene, of course, would never take place in River City, because the Jets are so freakish about controlling the message that they shield their players from prying eyes and ears. News scavengers aren’t granted the opportunity or time to get to know players like Byfuglien as people and, by extension, Joe and Josephine Phan are also left out of the loop. Shame, that.

Not surprisingly, the Big Buff chin wag referenced his contract negotiations with the Jets. The all-star rearguard and pending free agent was asked point blank if his desire was to remain in Winnipeg, and, while he had some favorable comments about good, ol’ Hometown, part of his reply likely left a few in Jets Nation a tad uneasy. “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.” He didn’t say a Jets jersey. Apparently, any NHL jersey will do. He later said, “I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, but business is business.” Reminds me of the answer Evander Kane delivered in July 2014 when Team 1040 Radio in Vancouver quizzed him on his status with the Jets: “Well, I think, um, I’m a Winnipeg Jet right now and, um, you know there’s been speculation and rumors for the three years since I got there. You know, we’ll see what happens, and we’ll carry on as if I’m a Winnipeg Jet.” We all know how that ended.

Sad, but not surprising, that there’s no Winnipeg Sun presence in Nashville. The tabloid was served by the Toronto-based Michael Traikos of Postmedia and Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun. Get used to it, people. Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Free Press has its own man, Tim Campbell, on site. Score one for the Freep.

Best reads this week were delivered by the Freep’s Paul Wiecek, whose piece on Saint Mark Chipman is superb. It’s Wiecek at his best and a prime example that the Free Press is well-served with him in the columnist’s seat. Meanwhile, the much-maligned John Scott told it like it is in a Players Tribune article that offers insight and humanizes one of the NHL’s dying breed—the enforcer.

Tell me if this is coincidence or an attitude adjustment: On Jan. 7, the NHL dinged Nikolaj Ehlers $2,000 for diving/embellishment. It meant he was a repeat offender. To that point in time, the diving Dane had scored six goals and 13 points in 40 games. Since the NHL dipped into his pay envelope, the Jets freshman winger has scored six goals and collected nine points in nine games. Apparently, Ehlers has concluded that staying on his feet is more productive than flopping around like a European soccer player. Skating alongside linemates not named Chris Thorburn likely helps, too.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

About raw sewage and Paul Maurice…the Freep recruiting Shakey Johnson…a herd of Buffalo Girls at the Scotties…and idiocy in print

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

I see where the city of Winnipeg allowed five million litres of raw sewage to pour into the Red River earlier this month. That’s nothing compared to what Paul Maurice keeps pouring over the boards.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Maurice has lost the plot. Totally. Or he’s gone into tank-for-Auston mode.

Coach-Maurice-post-game-Dec-29-609x291
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

I mean, really. The Jets are down two goals vs. the New Jersey Devils, Maurice instructs his goaltender to vacate the net in favor of a sixth attacker in a final, frantic push to get a puck past Cory Schneider at the far end of the freeze, and one of his half-dozen wannabe heroes is Chris flipping Thorburn?

What am I missing here?

The last time Thorburn scored, the Prime Minister of Canada was a guy named Trudeau. Pierre, not Justin. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Thorburn actually has five snipes this winter. Trouble is, that’s his average over eight National Hockey League crusades. His career high is nine goals. He lights the lamp about as often as Adam Sandler makes a good movie. Thus, expecting Thorburn to come up with a big goal is like expecting Caitlyn Jenner to win a war of wits with Ricky Gervais.

So what is it that Maurice sees that the rest of us don’t?

Understand something here. I have no problem with Chris Thorburn being Chris Thorburn. The guy’s a gamer. Does whatever is asked of him.

My issue is with Maurice not recognizing that Chris Thorburn is Chris Thorburn.

So, after spending a few days to digest the ouster of old friend George (Shakey) Johnson as sports columnist at the Calgary Herald, here’s what I’m thinking: Why isn’t Winnipeg Free Press sports poobah Steve Lyons on the phone, making a pitch to bring Shakey home? The Freep hasn’t replaced Gary (La La) Lawless, who defected to TSN not so long ago. Since La La took his leave, columnist duties have been shared by the very capable Ed Tait and Paul Wiecek in something of a good cop, bad cop tandem. They’ve been cranking out boffo stuff. But Shakey Johnson is only the best sports writer in Canada (newspaper division). He got his start in River City, at the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1970s. It would be nice if he could finish it off in Pegtown.

chelsea carey
Alberta champ Chelsea Carey.

Can you say Buffalo Girls, kids? There will be a heavy Manitoba flavor to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts next month in Grand Prairie, Alta. Kerri Einarson and friends, of course, will have the Buffalo on their backs when the Canadian women’s curling championship slides from the hacks Feb. 20, but Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones and gal pals (Team Canada) will join the freshly minted Manitoba queens in the annual rock fest. There’s more. Chelsea Carey of the famed Carey curling clan and a former Manitoba champion is also headed for Grande Prairie as the rep from Wild Rose Country. Chelsea knocked off defending Alberta champion Val Sweeting on Sunday. We’re talking three of the morning-line favorites, all from the Keystone province.

How do you write a story about the provincial women’s curling championship without telling readers that you’re writing about the provincial women’s curling championship? That’s a good question to ask Jim Bender of the Winnipeg Sun, because he managed to report on Sunday’s Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts final between Kerri Einarson and Kristy McDonald in Beausejour without once mentioning the sport of curling. Tsk, tsk Big Jim.

I have long harbored great admiration for a number of sports scribes in our home and native land. I think of wordsmiths like Jack Matheson, John Robertson, Jim Taylor, Jim Coleman, Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes and current-day jock journalists Cam Cole and Bruce Arthur. Giants, each of them. But, in terms of pure writing talent, there are precious few about whom I have said, “I wish I could write as well as him/her.” Atop that list would be the legendary Trent Frayne, whose way with words was unequalled. There has not been a better sports scribe in the True North. Ever. After Trent, my personal fab four includes Allen Abel, Stephen Brunt and Shakey Johnson.

Nothing to admire in this quip from Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: “The idiocy of social media: Fans arguing online who was the better Leaf, (Dave) Keon or Wendel Clark.” Apparently, no one is allowed an opinion unless it jives with Little Stevie Blunder’s. If he says Keon is the greatest of the Toronto Maple Leafs, cased closed. As if, Stevie. Talk about idiocy.

This from my very own self just 15 days ago: “Prediction: By the end of this month, the Jets will be in a playoff position.” D’oh! What a mook.

I miss Citizen Kane…$1 million should make Big Buff a fan of 3-on-3 hockey…a swan-diving Dane…and other things on my mind

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

Top o’ the morning to you, Evander Kane.

Evander Kane
Evander Kane

I must say, it’s been awful quiet in these here parts ever since you packed your track suit and shuffled off to Buffalo. The boys you left behind are quite the bland lot. I mean, the surviving members of the Winnipeg Jets all pay their restaurant and bar tabs. They pay their parking tickets. They don’t swan off to Las Vegas and tweet selfies featuring great gobs of American greenbacks. They don’t buy billboards on Sunset Strip in Tinseltown to woo back their model girlfriends. All they do is kiss Saint Mark Chipman’s ring finger and play hockey. Bor-ring.

I was kind of hoping that your return to Pegtown for the Buffalo Sabres-Jets joust this afternoon at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie would liven things up. You know, get our motors running. But you didn’t play along. Your chin-wag with news scavengers upon your return to River City was as ho-hum as your offensive output this National Hockey League season. Just another game, you said. Business as usual, you said.

Balls!

It’s never “just another” anything when you and Winnipeg are in the mix, Evander. You had a love-hate relationship with us. Sans the love. You wanted out of River City the moment your eyes made acquaintances with Portage and Main. But you lied to us about that, didn’t you, Evander? You said everything was cool. You even signed a long-term contract that, as we have since learned, was window dressing and not an indication that you liked us, you really liked us.

It’s not quite a year since the trade that sent you from one NHL backwater burg to another and, other than a wardrobe adjustment from Jets to Sabres linen, not much has changed for you, Evander—eight goals and five assists in 30 games, pauperish returns for princely pay.

Still, I miss you and your underachieving ways, Evander. You were interesting. Fun. A walking, talking, 72-point headline.

That’s why you’re in for a rough ride this afternoon. The rabble in River City prefers their sporting heroes to be humble. Modest. Feet on the ground, not nose in the air. You made too much noise, Evander. The wrong kind of noise. And now you’ll be hearing a different kind of noise at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. It won’t be pleasant and it won’t be polite. But I suppose it will be befitting.

Welcome back, Evander.

Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.
No. 33 is no fan of 3-on-3 shinny.

So, the successful side in this month’s NHL all-star hijinks in Twang Town, Tennessee, divvies up a $1-million pot of gold. That would be one million U.S. dollars, or about one million, 400,000 loonies. Something tells me that Dustin Byfuglien suddenly is a fan of three-on-three hockey. Big Buff, of course, harrumphed mightily earlier this season after he and the Jets had been beaten in a three-on-three overtime session. It’s not hockey. It’s terrible. It’s stupid. Fine, Buff. Remind us of that when you and your Central Division colleagues are counting the cash in Nashville.

Speaking of cash, I note that Jets’ freshman Nikolaj Ehlers is a bit lighter in the wallet these days. The NHL dinged the not-yet-great Dane to the tune of $2,000 for diving/embellishment, which means he’s a repeat offender. Somebody tell the swan-diving Dane that the pond is frozen. You want to embellishment something, kid? Try your scoring numbers. You had four goals before we carved our Halloween pumpkins. Then you turned into a pumpkin. You’ve scored two since, one into a empty net. Stay on your feet and play the game, Swanny.

Why all the angst over the Jets getting an early first-round pick in June’s NHL entry draft? If grand master Kevin Cheveldayoff is such a wizard on the draft floor, it shouldn’t matter whether he gets his initial call in the top 10, middle 10, or bottom 10 of the first round.

Who is Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun trying to fool? Following the Jets’ 4-1 faceplant against the Disney Ducks in Anaheim, he wrote, “Faced with a back-to-back situation, the Jets were unable to find their skating legs against a well-rested Ducks team.” Really? Well-rested? Wiebe surely is not letting the facts get in the way of his reporting, because the Ducks were playing their fourth game in six nights. Same as the Jets. Up to and including that game, the Ducks played nine matches from Dec. 17-Jan. 3. The Jets played eight. The Jets played five road games during that stretch. The Ducks played seven, including four on the opposite side of the continent. It was the Jets’ fifth post-Christmas game. Ditto the Ducks. So, exactly when did the Ducks have time to rest? Wiebe’s comment smacked of homerism.

Local sports scribes who wrote articles this week that did not include the sport and/or league they were writing about: Ed Tait, Tim Campbell, Melissa Martin, Scott Billeck, Jeff Hamilton, Doug Brown, Ken Wiebe, Paul Friesen.

Prediction: By the end of this month, the Jets will be in a playoff position. Seriously. The Nashville Predators have gone into free fall and the Colorado St. Patricks are legitimate like Jaromir Jagr is a rookie. About the only thing I can see screwing up the Jets this month is the return of Ondrej Pavelec.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

The Drab Slab recruits Scott Campbell…nothing new at the Sun…still a hate-on for Shane Doan…and why not Anthony Peluso in the NHL all-star game?

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

So, how does one improve upon the toy department of a daily newspaper? Why, you recruit a non-writer to write, don’t you know? That, at least, is the thinking of the madcap minds at the Winnipeg Free Press, which now has more sports scribes than Donald Trump has critics.

Scott Campbell
Scott Campbell

Latest to join the Drab Slab’s stable of thousands is old friend Scott Campbell, who, when last seen, was helping the Winnipeg Jets wrestle the final World Hockey Association championship away from the Edmonton Gretzkys, then, sadly, he fought a losing battle with asthma that ended his National Hockey League career at the tender age of 25.

Scotty was one of the good guys, one of my all-time fave Jets. A raw-boned rearguard, he was friendly, witty and quick with a laugh. He took his game seriously but not himself.

And what will he bring to the Freep sports pages commencing Friday? Honesty. Bluntness. I hope.

I say that based on Scotty’s scribblings at Mitch Kasprick’s pride and joy, Winnipeg Hockey Talk. He doesn’t write with the smoothest pen (copy editors, please take note: punctuation is not Scotty’s strength), but he offers unvarnished critique, fair analysis and the voice of someone who has been there, done that.

My main concern is this: Given that the Freep is in bed with the Jets (official newspaper and all that rot), will Scotty be writing in a harness or given free rein? If he’s expected to be a True North Toady, it shall become a wasted exercise. If allowed to ruffle feathers, it’s game on.

Go get ’em, Scotty. I’m root, root, rooting for you.

So now the Drab Slab has one ex-jock, Campbell, scribbling hockey, and another former play-for-pay guy, Doug Brown, prattling on about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and all things Canadian Football League. How do they compare as writers? Scotty is meat-and-potatoes. Brown is…well, let’s just say the former defensive lineman is from a school that preaches, “Why use just three words when three dozen are so much better?” Basically, just one thing separates the two—a thesaurus.

In advising readers that the Freep toy department is “upping its game” by bringing a novice on board, sports editor Steve Lyons also invited feedback. Or input, if you will. “How are we doing?” he asks. “Is there something you would like to see more regularly? Is there something you would prefer to not see at all?” Well, now that you ask, Steve…is it too much to expect from your scribes (also copy editors) that they adhere to the basics of writing? You know, the who, what, when, where and why of a story. It’s disgraceful and shameful that Freep writers repeatedly fail to mention the league or sport they’re writing about. It’s an every-day occurrence. This is a pet peeve of mine and I’m not going to let it go until I see them spell it out—every day, in every article.

I keep waiting for the Winnipeg Sun to add a fresh voice to its sports pages, but it remains same old, same old—Paul Friesen, Kirk Penton, Ken Wiebe and cameo appearances by Ted Wyman. Those boys do boffo work, but even following the Freep’s lead and finding someone to do a once-a-week gig would give the Sun a bit of a jolt. As it is, they continue to trot out the weekly Toronto-centric, three-dot ramblings of Steve Simmons each Sunday. Do people in River City really care about the goings-on in the Republic of Tranna? I think not. I enjoy reading quick-hit journalism, but I’d rather it be about good, ol’ Hometown rather than big, bloated Hogtown.

Shane Doan as a rookie with the Winnipeg Jets.
Shane Doan as a rookie with the Winnipeg Jets.

It occurs to me that there remains a pocket of people in Pegtown still harboring a fierce hate-on for Shane Doan. Why is that? I mean, it wasn’t his fault that a bunch of carpetbaggers took Winnipeg Jets 1.0 and hightailed it south to the Arizona desert in 1996. Doan went along for the ride, simply because he had no choice, and the fact the Arizona Coyotes’ captain broke Dale Hawerchuk’s franchise goal-scoring record last week ought to be saluted, not scorned. I mean, are we really still bitter about the NHL allowing the Jets to skulk out of town and morph into the Desert Dogs? Are the Jets 2.0 not a suitable consolation prize? Get over it, people.

I can think of a few things that would put my nose out of joint, but John Scott appearing in the NHL all-star game isn’t among them. Sure it’s farcical that the Arizona Coyotes’ resident rottweiler will be part of the glittersome gathering in Twang Town, Tennessee, at the end of the month, but what is the NHL all-star skirmish if not farce? Seriously. A hockey game with a football score is not a purist’s idea of quality shinny, which is why it’s no longer a single farce but a series of little farces. So why not let the goons in on the fun? What the hey, had Jets loyalists been on the ball, they would have stuffed the ballot box and sent Anthony Peluso to Nashville, whereupon both he and Scott could lay a hurtin’ song on the real hockey players.

Unless there is a dramatic change in fortune, we soon shall hear much talk of tanking in Jets Nation. For the record, I don’t believe that team co-bankroll Mark Chipman will instruct grand master Kevin Cheveldayoff to deliberately tank in order to better position the Jets to win the right to bark out the name Auston Matthews at the 2016 NHL entry draft. If the Jets get first shout at the June garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, they’ll do it the old-fashioned way—bad management.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

About cantankerous columnists…best burgers ever…lumberjacks…Eskimos…and a commish with his head up his something or other

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

waldorf and statler
Waldorf and Statler or Terry Jones and Steve Simmons?

The boys on the beat are not impressed with Pegtown’s pigskin party. Not by a long shot.

“My report card of Grey Cup Week in Winnipeg: Just so-so,” is how Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun describes the hijinks in River City leading up to Sunday’s argument over Canadian Football League bragging rights. “Not as much fun as Winnipeg usually is at Grey Cup time. A touch disappointing.”

Sounds like Little Stevie Blunder is as bored as some of his readers.

But, hey, perhaps the Edmonton Sun‘s been-there, done-everything wordsmith Terry Jones has a different, more favorable take on the preamble to the CFL championship skirmish between the Edmonton Don’t Call Them Eskimos and the Ottawa RougeNoir.

Nope.

“It was a Grey Cup Week that didn’t quite make it,” he harrumphs. “Maybe it was just because this is Winterpeg and folks are still thawing out from the Grey Cup here in 1991, the all-time record for ridiculous, the coldest Grey Cup ever played with a minus 16 degree game time temperature.”

And here I thought Statler and Waldorf were a couple of cantankerous, grumpy Muppet characters, not two flowers of Canadian sports prose.

vj'sActually, I hasten to point out that Grey Cup week was not a colossal waste of time for old friend Steve Simmons. During his stay, he stumbled upon a River City treasure—V.J.’s Drive Inn, a greasy spoon on south Main Street that serves up “great, I mean great, cheap lunches,” he tweets. Oh, yes, the way to a sports scribe’s heart is through his wallet (even when he has an expense account), and how convenient that V.J.’s is located no more than a Henry Burris Hail Mary pass from the Fort Garry Hotel, where you’ll find the official CFL media hospitality suite. What better way to wash down those greasy double cheeseburgers and fatty fries than with an endless supply of free booze? Party on, boys.

I worked Grey Cup games in every CFL city and, in terms of hoopla, the worst host towns were, by far, Toronto and Vancouver. In 1994, when American interlopers from Baltimore arrived on the West Coast with the single-minded purpose of taking the three-down game’s holy grail south of the border, colleague Ed Tait and myself were caught off guard by the indifference of locals, especially given the fact their B.C. Lions were to meet the Stallions from Maryland. One morning as we stepped outside the Westin Bayshore, an elderly gent noticed a gathering of out-of-towners in the lobby and asked, “Is there something important going on this week?” To which Tait replied, “Yes, the Grey Cup.” The old fellow then asked, “The Greek what?”

loggersportsSo, Football Follies Field in Fort Garry has been declared a chainsaw-free zone when the Don’t Call Them Eskimos and les RougeNoir grab grass and growl in the 103rd Grey Cup game. That is to say, the Ottawa tradition of punctuating a touchdown by lumberjacks/jills sawing a log has been forbidden by the CFL. Loyalists of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers simply cannot understand this directive. I mean, Big Blue fans are usually seen sawing logs by halftime at every home game.

If the deep-thinkers in Edmonton wanted to do something positive, they would worry a lot less about lumberjacks and listen a lot more to Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. Obed is the mouthpiece for Canada’s 60,000 Inuit, and he’s of the opinion that the name Eskimos is both outdated and offensive. What would a renamed Edmonton CFL outfit be called? Well, I suppose we can rule out Lumberjacks. So, what is Edmonton best known for, other than trading away the greatest scoring machine in National Hockey League history? A big mall and not much else, really. Tough call when the best the locals can say about their own burg is “at least it isn’t Winnipeg.”

Apparently, CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge has been doing his grand poobahing with his head up the part of his anatomy that he sits on. Not until his inaugural Grey Cup chin-wag with the country’s football media the other day did the commish realize that there exists a barrier between the wants and needs of news scavengers and the control-freak messaging of the league’s nine member outfits. He vowed to address the matter of limited media access “if that’s an issue.” If? If? If? Yo! Commish! You have a head coach in Winnipeg, Mike O’Shea, who cannot answer a question without first watching the film, and he duct tapes his assistant coaches like they’re part of a Flashpoint hostage-taking. What part of that do you not understand?

No surprise that old friend Ed Tait would serve up the best read during Grey Cup week in Pegtown. His piece on the Blue Bombers circa 1980s-early1990s in the Winnipeg Free Press is boffo stuff. It is to Grey Cup coverage what V.J.’s is to the double cheeseburgers and fries. Worth every cent.

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