About Auston Matthews and Puck Finn, who ya gonna take now?…hockey goals and soccer goals on TSN…a swing and a miss for the Hockey Hall of Fame…no gay curling champion…Tiger, Tiger burning bright…and a “golden standard” that ain’t so golden

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

Puck Finn, Patrik Laine

Okay, let’s ask the Tranna Maple Leafs if they’d like a do-over.

That is, given the opportunity to revisit the 2016 National Hockey League entry draft, would les Leafs still use their first shout-out to select Auston Matthews? Or would they choose Puck Finn, more commonly known as Patrik Laine?

Matthews and Laine went one-two, respectively, in the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers in ’16 and, almost two complete crusades into their NHL careers, a case can be made that the Leafs chose the wrong guy. Laine, after all, has lit more lamps this winter than anyone other than Alex Ovechkin and a Kentucky coal miner. He’s just 10 shy of a 50-goal season as a sophomore. Only two players in history, Jimmy Carson and Dale Hawerchuk, scored more often as NHL teens.

In short, Puck Finn has come as advertised.

Auston Matthews

Matthews has as well, though, and going by the numbers the difference between the Leafs centre and the Winnipeg Jets winger is just six games, eight goals and a horrible mess of scraggly chin whiskers that make Laine look like an Amish bread, butter and egg man (worst…beard…ever). Matthews is 135-68-51-119; Laine is 141-76-51-127.

So, would the Leafs do things differently? Nope. Would the Jets want them to do things differently? Hell no.

I recall being puzzled by the results of a Postmedia preseason poll, whereby 25 NHL players were asked to read the tea leaves and predict the winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy, which goes to the league’s top sniper. Eight players were mentioned, not one of them named Patrik Laine. They were, in order, Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Vladimir Tarasenko, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel. (Seriously, Jack Eichel?) What is it, I wondered, that the players didn’t see in Laine? I mean, they’re on the ice with him. They have intimate knowledge of the shot that Puck Finn snaps off faster and is more lethal than a Donald Trump tweet. Surely they know more about pure talent than us lumps on bar stools. Guess not.

Lionel Messi

Speaking of lumps on stools, I direct your attention to The Quiz boys on TSN—Jeff O’Dog, Dave Poulin and Bob McKenzie. Quiz master James Duthie asked the three wise men to choose between Ovechkin (598 hockey goals) and Lionel Messi (600 soccer goals) as the greatest sniper of this generation.

O’Dog: “I’m going to pick Alex Ovechkin due to the fact I’ve never seen Messi play one second of a competitive soccer match…is that what they call it, the match?”

McKenzie: “I will go with Ovechkin. I’ve gotta go with the hockey answer simply because, as O said, I don’t have the context to provide for soccer. Don’t follow it close enough, so, I realize how great Messi is, but…”

Duthie: “You’re basically saying that you’re both ignorant to soccer.”

McKenzie: “That’s correct.”

O’Dog: “Don’t care about it either.”

Only Poulin got it right.

Six hundred goals in soccer is like two million goals in hockey,” he advised the two blockheads sitting to his left.

Poulin’s point is well taken, even if his math is suspect. The difference between soccer snipes and hockey goals is probably more like dog years to human years—seven to one. Thus, Messi’s 600 is the equivalent of 4,200 hockey goals. You’d think someone named O’Dog would know about dog years.

Pierre McGuire

There must be some Arctic air flowing into hell, because I’m going to agree with Damien Cox. The Toronto Star scribe is calling out the Hockey Hall of Fame for appointing “another older, white male” to replace legendary coach Scotty Bowman on its selection committee. “What was the hall thinking?” he asks. “What was (chairman Lanny) McDonald thinking?” They “blew it.” Cox figures the HHOF would be more in tune to the times had it chosen a woman or “person of color” to fill the vacancy, rather than broadcaster Pierre McGuire. He believes diversity and gender equality are “critical issues.” Hard to disagree. It is, mind you, odd to hear a Canadian sports scribe calling for “diversity” when his own business is largely old, white, male and exclusively heterosexual.

In acknowledgement of International Women’s Day, Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet had a panel chin-wag with three female jock journalists—Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star, Rachel Brady of the Globe and Mail, and Christine Simpson of Sportsnet. I’d like to report that the women provided considerable anecdotal insight about the challenges they face in what remains very much a man’s world, but it wasn’t much more than bland generalities. That to-and-fro came on the heels of Bennett’s gab fest with David Amber, Morgan Campbell, Eric Thomas and Rosey Edeh in recognition of Black History Month. It leaves me to wonder if he’ll gather together three or four gay sports writers during Pride Month in June. Oh wait. Scratch that thought. There are no gay sports scribes in Canada.

John Epping

I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had John Epping and his Ontario team won the Canadian men’s curling championship on Sunday. Epping is the only openly gay man to skip in the Brier, and many kudos to TSN for acknowledging his husband, Thomas Shipton, during Ontario’s semifinal loss to Brendan Bottcher of Alberta. That recognition might seem trivial to most, but it carries considerable significant to many in the LGBT community.

Interesting gimmick the Southern Professional Hockey League is adopting for its playoffs this year. The first-, second- and third-place teams get to choose their opening-round foes. Yup. Disregard the standings. The top dog decides if it wants to face off against team No. 5, 6, 7 or 8. Then the next two outfits sift through the leftovers and choose. Seems to me that it’s a risky bit of business for the teams making the call. Totally insulting and the ultimate bulletin board material. Can’t see that ever working in the NHL. But, then, I never thought I’d see the day when an NHL player would be given a minor penalty for scoring a goal (hello Brian Dumoulin). So all bets are off.

So, Tiger Woods didn’t win another golf tournament. Same old, same old. Except, this time, Woods only missed it by that much. One less swing and he’d have been in a playoff with eventual winner Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla., on Sunday. Both Woods’ game and his body appear to be in fine fettle as we near the first tee at Augusta National. Ditto his attitude. I mean, is it my imagination or is Tiger smiling more? Is he interacting with his playing companions and the rabble more? It’s as if he’s adopted a “just happy to be here” mindset. He certainly seems less angry. It’s a good look.

Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard

And, finally, our Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. This week we find our man Steve wondering where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin fit in among the NHL’s all-time best middlemen combos.

Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier have been the gold standard for 1-2 punches playing centre for the same NHL team,” he writes.

Oh, there have been other great combinations down the middle over the years. Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg in Colorado. Mario Lemieux and Ron Francis in Pittsburgh. Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov in Detroit. Stan Mikita and Phil Esposito in Chicago. Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard in Montreal.

Gretzky and Messier won four (Stanley) Cups together in Edmonton. Should Crosby and Malkin pick up a fourth Cup—and maybe more than that—they will slide neatly right behind Gretzky and Messier in a very special place in hockey history.”

Excuse me? Gretzky and Messier are the “gold standard” because they helped the Oilers win the Stanley Cup four times? As if. Believeau and Richard hoisted hockey’s holy grail 10 times together. They were winning the thing before Simmons was in his mother’s womb. They’d won it five times before he was out of diapers. The “gold standard” is 10, not freaking four.

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About the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Model…the Blue Bombers and soccer…the Puck Pontiff going into hiding…and what the women on the tennis tour think of our Genie

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

When the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, purchased his new play thing in 2011, he turned his eyes due south, directly toward Twang Town U.S.A., and found himself a role model for his team to be named later.

The Nashville Predators,” he mused. “I wanna be just like those pesky Predators.”

Now, it’s quite unlikely that the Puck Pontiff spilled those exact words, but he did confirm that the plan for the outfit he later named Winnipeg Jets was (still is?) to follow the blueprint laid out by Nashville, now in its 18th National Hockey League season and still winners of exactly nothing.

That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg,” he supposed.

Yup. Strange like hiring Justin Bieber as a life coach strange. Strange like wanting to dress like Don Cherry strange. I mean, Nashville is like that Dwight Yoakam song—guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With a whole lot of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry tossed into the mix. But hockey? Come on, man.

They’ve done it methodically,” the Puck Pontiff advised news snoops in springtime 2012, “they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”

That team” he spoke of so fondly failed to qualify for the next two Stanley Cup tournaments, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a misguided notion.

The point is, the Puck Pontiff likes to think of his fiefdom as Nashville North sans Dolly, Carrie and Little Big Town, so, with the Predators awaiting a dance partner in the Western Conference final for the first time in club history, let’s take a look at them to see if they tell us anything about the Jets.

  • The Predators were built from scratch, as a 1998 expansion team. They missed the playoffs their first five crusades.
  • The Jets were a pre-fab outfit built in Atlanta, but the Puck Pontiff operated it like an expansion franchise, gutting the management side down to the studs. They’ve missed the playoffs in five of their six seasons.
  • The Predators have known just one general manager, David Poile, who learned at the knee of Cliff Fletcher in Calgary then earned his chops as GM of the Washington Capitals for 15 years.
  • The Jets have known just one (official) general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who apprenticed under Stan Bowman in Chicago and has done the Puck Pontiff’s bidding for six years.
  • The Predators have had two head coaches, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. Poile didn’t ask Trotz to leave the building until 15 years had passed.
  • The Jets have had two head coaches, Claude Noel and Paul Maurice. It only took about 15 months before Noel was asked to leave the building, but it’s apparent that the Puck Pontiff is prepared to stay the course with Coach Potty-Mouth for 15 years.
  • The Predators, under Poile’s direction, preached the draft-and-develop mantra from the outset.
  • The Jets talk about nothing but draft-and-develop.
  • The Predators can be found in the lower third of the pay scale.
  • The Jets can be found in the lower third of the pay scale (if not at the bottom).

So there are your commonalities: Methodical, consistent, patient, steady-as-she-goes, loyal (to a fault for the Jets) and frugal.

Where do the Predators and Jets part company? In the GM’s office.

David Poile

Poile is unafraid to deliver bold strokes. He dared to send a first-round draft pick, defenceman Seth Jones, packing in barter for Ryan Johansen, the top-level centre he required. He shipped his captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for flamboyant P.K. Subban. He somehow pried Filip Forsberg out of Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. His captain, Mr. Carrie Underwood, and James Neal came via trade. Yannick Weber is a free-agent signing.

By contrast, Cheveldayoff is only allowed to make significant troop movements when backed into a corner (see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew).

So what do the Predators teach us about the Jets? Well, if the locals follow the Nashville Model to the letter, we can expect to see meaningful springtime shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie as early as next season. As for arriving in the Western Conference final, put in a wakeup call for 2030.

In rooting through archives, I stumbled upon a most interesting discovery: Once upon a time, the Puck Pontiff spoke to his loyal subjects. Honest. Chipman actually stood at a podium and did the season-over, chin-wag thing with news snoops in April 2012, at which time the city was still in swoon and the rabble didn’t much care that there’d be no playoffs. He has since become Howard Hughes, hiding himself in a room somewhere, no doubt eating nothing but chocolate bars and drinking milk. I found one remark he made at the 2012 presser to be rather troubling: “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, ’cause I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.” I wish I could believe that he allows the hockey people to make the important hockey decisions, but I can’t.

I note the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking to branch out into another sport and secure a franchise in a proposed Canadian pro soccer league. Ya, that’s just what Winnipeg needs—more dives.

Carolina Hurricanes have had goaltending issues. Ditto the Dallas Stars. Double ditto the Jets. So ‘Canes GM Ron Francis uses a third-round draft choice to acquire the rights to Scott Darling, then signs him to a four-year contract. Stars GM Jim Nill uses a fourth-round pick to secure the rights to Ben Bishop, then lock him in for six years. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, do nothing. Don’t you just hate the sound of crickets?

I look at the Ottawa Senators, who ousted the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup derby on Tuesday night, and I mostly see smoke and mirrors. Yes, they have Erik Karlsson, the premier player on the planet at the moment, and Craig Anderson often provides the Sens with stud goaltending. But beyond that, it’s largely a ho-hum roster. Where is the stud centre? You don’t win championships without a stud centre. At least not since the New Jersey Devils. My guess is that the Senators’ fun is soon to end.

Here’s one way of looking at this year’s Stanley Cup tournament:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genie Bouchard proved nothing with her win over Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open this week, except that she can beat a player who had been away from elite tennis for almost a year and a half. And that she can’t win gracefully. I don’t like rooting against Canadian athletes, but our Genie has become increasingly difficult to embrace. Branding Sharapova a “cheater” and suggesting she ought to be banned for life due to a drug violation is good copy, but surviving a second-round match and acting like you’ve just won Wimbledon because you have a hate-on for your opponent is bad form.

Bouchard claims that a number of players on the Women’s Tennis Association tour approached her on the QT prior to her match with Sharapova, wishing her bonne chance. Simona Halep of Romania was not among those women. “I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually,” Halep advised news snoops. “She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.” Ouch.

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.