The River City Renegade


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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—another dive.

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.

 


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About jocks jumping the MRI queue…those “coddled” millionaire Winnipeg Jets…a dude named Dart Guy…it isn’t The Forsberg…giving the Soviets the finger…Centre of the Universe snobbery…and Gomer Pyle sings the anthem

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

Okay, hands up anyone who is genuinely shocked that professional athletes pulling in great gobs of American greenbacks have been allowed to jump the MRI queue in Canada?

Seriously. If word that play-for-pay jocks receive “preferential treatment” is a revelation to you, then you’d probably be interested in knowing that a guy named Trudeau is prime minister in the True North but his first name isn’t Pierre. I mean, hellooooo. How long have you been napping?

Pro athletes and “preferential treatment” have been hand-in-glove since David threw down on Goliath. You think David ever had to buy his own pints and chow after scoring that upset?

But, hey, what’s happening in Manitoba isn’t about free bar or restaurant tabs, is it? It’s about health care and the deified, millionaire members of the Winnipeg Jets and the regular Joe-salaried workers with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. According to the provincial auditor general, 59 jocks were allowed to jump the MRI queue for 149 scans in an eight-year period (2008-2016). Allow me to do the math: That averages to less than one athlete and 1.5 scans per month.

Frankly, I’m surprised the numbers are so low.

Look, I don’t blame anyone for being PO’d if they’ve been on a wait list for four months only to see Jacob Trouba or Matt Nichols limp in and go directly to the scanner. It isn’t fair. But in Winnipeg, that’s the way it has to be if you want a National Hockey League and Canadian Football League franchise.

In the interests of full disclosure, I had an MRI scan done on my brain slightly more than a year ago. The good news is, they found a brain. The bad news is, results showed soft tissue in my grey matter, the result of the combined nuisances of multiple concussions (10) and aging. Hopefully, that explains a lot of things, if not everything.

This whole MRI thing has really gotten up Paul Wiecek’s nose. His pallor surely must be as ashen as his hair, because the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has called out Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman for the Winnipeg Jets owner’s silence on the issue, and he describes the local hockey heroes as a “tiny cadre of coddled millionaires.” Coddled? Coddled? You want to talk about coddled? During my time in the media we received free beer, free food, free books, free music, free tickets, free clothing, free merchandise, free access to back-stage gatherings, free access to doors that were closed to the regular rabble, free everything. And, hey, some might even have been pushed to the front of the queue at the doctor’s office. I can’t say what, if anything, has changed, but it’s my guess that the media Gravy Train is still chugging along.

Unlike Wiecek, I’m not interested in what Puck Pontiff Chipman has to say about MRI scans. I’m more interested in what he thinks about his general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, not being able to accomplish in six years what Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton McDavids and Lou Lamoriello of the Toronto Maple Leafs have done in two years.

Dart Guy

This spring’s Stanley Cup skirmishing has been strange. How strange? Well, let’s put it this way: The Chicago Blackhawks are out of the playoffs after only four games and Dart Guy is still in them.

I don’t know what to make of this Dart Guy dude. I mean, he has a Maple Leafs logo painted on his face, he sticks an unlit cigarette between his lips and he becomes some kind of cult figure in the Republic of Tranna? Sometimes I wish Andy Warhol hadn’t been right about those 15 minutes of fame.

Why do broadcasters and writers insist on describing a goal with a one-handed deke “the Forsberg?” I know for certain that I saw Alexei Zhamnov of the Jets perform that very move, more than once, before I ever saw Peter Forsberg do it. I also saw Kent Nilsson do it before Forsberg.

This from Don Cherry during one of his Coachless Corner segments on Hockey Night in Canada last week: “The last Coach’s Corner, I said to you kids, ‘Don’t taunt or laugh when you’re winning.’ I said, ‘Never do that, kids.’ Kids, it’s not the Canadian way. You never laugh or taunt your opponent.” Grapes is right. The Canadian way is to give them the middle-finger salute, like Alan Eagleson and Frosty Forristall did to the Soviets in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series. We don’t taunt them when we’re losing, either. We break their ankles (hello, Bobby Clarke).

Guaranteed to happen in life: 1) Donald Trump will tweet; 2) Adam Sandler will make bad movies; 3) a Bruce Boudreau-coached team will be eliminated from the Stanley Cup tournament.

P.K. Subban is still playing hockey (suprise, surprise). Shea Weber isn’t. Does that mean the Nashville Predators got the better of the Montreal Canadiens in their exchange of all-world defenceman? No. It isn’t Weber’s fault the Habs’ forwards score less often than the Pope swears.

Postmedia scribe Steve Simmons, whose work often appears on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Sun, has provided us with a tweet that serves as a shining example of the self-absorbed, Centre of the Universe mentality that exists in the Republic of Tranna: “An absolutely stacked Canadian Sports Hall of Fame class is introduced on the wrong day. Not their fault. Toronto is Leafs consumed today.” In other words, the rest of the country be damned. Stevie says any national news of significance must be put on hold whenever Auston Matthews and pals are playing a hockey game in the 416 area code. All you good people in Winnipeg, you can wait a day to learn that your speedskating golden girl, Cindy Klassen, is among the 2017 CSHofF inductees. Ditto for you fine folks in Hanna, Alta. We’ll fill you in on native son Lanny McDonald after Auston and pals have had their fun. I must say, for a guy who once called Calgary home and ought to know better, the ego-fuelled Simmons has developed into a first-class Tranna snob.

In the week’s social news, Serena Williams announced she’s preggers and Ronda Rousey announced she’s engaged. The nerve of those women. I mean, don’t they realize the Maple Leafs are still playing hockey? Nobody wants to hear about a mommy bump or a diamond ring unless Auston Matthews happens to be the father or fiance, right Stevie?

Barney, Andy and Luke Bryan.

Well, golleeee and shezam! I finally figured out who country guy Luke Bryan sounds like when he tries to sing—Gomer Pyle. I swear, when I heard Bryan perform the American anthem prior to a Nashville Predators-Blackhawks skirmish, the first thing I thought of was good, ol’ Gomer Pyle pumping gas and visiting Andy and Barney at the sheriff’s office in Mayberry. How Bryan became one of the giants of the country music industry is as much a mystery as how Donald Trump got the keys to the White House.

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.

 


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About Mike O’Shea’s shelf life…unnecessary roughness on a coach…Evander being a twit…and the new Sammy Semenko in Edmonton

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

Mike O'Shea

Mike O’Shea

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Bombers lose! Bombers lose!

Of course you’ve heard it before. You’ve been hearing it since 1991. And it’s now 26 times that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been on the short end of the scoreboard since Mike O’Shea became sideline steward of the Canadian Football League outfit. Yup, 26 Ls against one dozen Ws his charges have scrounged up.

A .316 success rate means you’re doing boffo business if you’re the leadoff hitter in baseball. Not so much on a football field.

Those 26 losses? They put O’Shea on par with Jeff Reinebold. You do not want to be linked to that name. Reinebold is the gold standard for all that is wrong with a head coach. He was 6-26 before the Bombers much-maligned board of directors told him to turn off his Bob Marley tapes and hop on his Harley and haul his sorry butt out of Dodge.

Therefore, it perhaps strikes some as a minor mystery that the 12-26 O’Shea is still wearing the headset. There can only be one of two reasons: 1) Wade Miller, the CEO whose exhaustive search for a general manager was confined to a short walk down the hallway at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry to hire the man (Kyle Walters) who hired the man, still believes in O’Shea; or 2) the board no longer has an appetite for paying people not to coach.

If it’s the former, then Miller hasn’t been paying attention.

I mean, it’s one thing for the Calgary Stampeders to give the Blue and Gold a wedgie at McMahon Stadium, which they did Friday night, 36-22. That’s been happening seemingly since Peter Liske and Ham Hands Harrison were playing catch in Cowtown. But it’s the way the Bombers went about their business that’s so disturbing. They appeared disinterested. They didn’t warm to the task until all hope had faded, then put up staggeringly good garbage stats and garbage points in garbage time, when their foes were pulling pranks and kibitzing on the sidelines.

Disinterest is down to coaching. Or Walters has recruited the wrong players. Take your pick.

I remember when Mike O’Shea stepped forward as head coach of the Bombers. It was to the hard-diving beat of the Bachman Turner Overdrive classic You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet.

Here’s something that you’re never gonna forget. B-b-b-baby you just ain’t seen n-n-nothing yet.”

Well, b-b-b-baby, some of us have seen all we n-n-need to see.

Coach LaPo needs his playbook from TSN.

Coach LaPo needs his playbook from TSN.

Apparently, the Bombers’ regurgitated offensive co-ordinator, Paul LaPolice, left his playbook behind in the TSN studio. Might be an idea to put a call in to Milt, Matt, Jock and Schultzie, LaPo. Maybe have one of them run it over to you. Sad Sack offence notwithstanding, coach LaPo isn’t going anywhere. He’s the fall-to guy. If and when O’Shea is given his parting gifts, LaPolice gets the headset.

If Duran Carter scored a touchdown against the Bombers, do you think he’d have the balls to walk over to the Winnipeg bench area and try to do to O’Shea what he did to Rick Campbell, head coach of the Ottawa RedBlacks? Not bloody likely. Second question: Why was Campbell on the field when the Montreal Alouettes receiver knocked him on his fanny? If Campbell is where he’s supposed to be, which is to say on the sidelines, nothing happens. Thus, if Carter is suspended, Campbell ought to be fined.

Moving on to the National Hockey League, I note with interest that Evander Kane is in trouble with the law. Again. And it involves women. Again. Tim Murray, who has already suspended his left winger once, is unamused. “It’s not something I like getting up in the morning and reading about, that’s for sure,” the Buffalo Sabres GM says. What part of “bad apple” did Murray not understand when he acquired Kane from the Winnipeg Jets? I don’t know if Kane finds trouble or trouble finds him, but I didn’t think his act would wear thin so soon in Buffalo.

Just wondering: When Milan Lucic says he plans to give the Edmonton McDavids some “swagger,” is he threatening to kill his foes or will he just bust their knee caps if they mess around with Connor McDavid, the NHL’s new ‘it’ guy?

Sammy Semenko

Sammy Semenko

The addition of the hulking Looch to the Edmonton lineup has Wayne Gretzky and Dave (Sammy) Semenko written all over it, right down to sweater No. 27, no doubt still blood-stained from the days when Sammy’s bare knuckles would bust open a few heads. Put Jesse Puljujarvi on the right wing and you’ve got Semenko-Gretzky-Jari Kurri revisited.

If, as many have suggested since they swapped sweaters this week, P.K. Subban is a better defenceman than Shea Weber, why is it that Weber was a big minutes defender on two teams that won Olympic gold for Canada and will be given a similar role in the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, while Subban isn’t invited to participate?

Interesting troop movements in the toy department at the Winnipeg Free Press. Out is one of my favorite scribes, Melissa Martin, and in is longtime cops-and-robbers guy Mike McIntyre. The Freep sports section really misses the Ed Tait vibe.

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 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.


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Winnipeg Jets: Hee haw! Bring on Nashville for a first-round foe in the NHL playoffs

Why the continued angst? Why the hand-wringing? Why the gnashing of teeth? Why so many fretsome furrows on so many foreheads?

Oh ye of little faith.

It is no longer a matter of “will” the Winnipeg Jets qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. It has become an issue of “who.” As in: Who will serve as their first-round foe?

Yes, I realize there remains some heavy lifting before the curtain drops on the National Hockey League’s regular-season exercises and the Jets are officially invited to the big dance, but, as I scribbled on March 3, “You can make book that meaningful matches shall be staged at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie post-April 11.”

To refresh:

Surely, the Jets will finish no worse than fifth in the Central Division,” I wrote. “That will qualify them for the tournament, because it would take too much smoke and too many mirrors for either the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks to overhaul good, ol’ Home Team for a Western Conference wild-card spot.

The Flames, of course, have been a feel-good story this season, but it’s been hockey hocus pocus. An illusion. Reality is about to bite. The Sharks, meanwhile…they’re chronic underachievers.

The Jets are in. Trust me.”

The focus of discussion, therefore, should shift to their foe and, at this precise moment in time, the likelihood is that the Jets shall face off versus one of three outfits: The Disney Ducks of Anaheim, the St. Louis Blues or the Nashville Predators.

Pick your poison, right? Not necessarily.

I would submit that a first-round throw-down with the Blues is to be avoided at all costs. Not that Team St. Loo can’t be beaten. It’s just that the Blues are a playoff-hardened outfit that comes at you with a punishing, relentless, unflinching merger of talent and resolve. Taking them out in a seven-game series would be a highly taxing and burdensome bit of business. A Herculean task, if you will.

A date with the Blues surely would carry the greatest risk of a dash-away, one-and-done special for the Jets.

Not so with the Ducks or Predators.

Were the stars to align favorably for the Winnipegs, they would commence playoff proceedings in Kornfield Kounty, otherwise known as Music City or, officially, Nashville, where a song don’t mean a thang if it ain’t got that twang. Can you say “Hee Haw!” kids?

Although the Predators have hit the century mark and enter weekend activity as the No. 2 seed for all NHL points west of the Grand Ole Opry, I’m not convinced of their bona fides. Certainly they have a stud backliner in Shea Weber, a stud goaltender in Pekka Rinne and a fab freshman in Filip Forsberg. That’s considerable oomph down the middle. The Jets have no one to match Weber or Rinne, but, by the same token, the Predators have no match for the hybrid beast that Dustin Byfuglien has become. And surely Bryan Little is a superior centre-ice man to Forsberg.

Goaltender is, and always will be, the X factor for the Jets. If Ondrej Pavelec can replicate in mid-to-late April what he’s produced in March, the Jets move on. If not…fore!

The same would apply in a joust with the Disney Ducks.

The point is, I can see the locals getting past the Ducks or Predators in an opening-round skirmish, but I believe the Blues to be of too-tall timber.

Thus, if you’re a card-carrying member of Jets Nation, hope for either Nashville or Anaheim, but buckle up for a real rough ride if it’s St. Louis.

 

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 of Honour.