The River City Renegade


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About a 1980s redux for the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers…a Little good news from Bryan…pollywaddle from the Republic of Tranna…odds of bringing Stanley Cup home…playoffs or bust in Pegtown…and the Sedins love letter

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

Rink Rat Scheifele

So here’s what I’m thinking as the Winnipeg Jets embark on their seventh crusade: This might be a 1980s redux. You know, deja vu all over again.

The Jets, you see, have some nice pieces in place. Very nice pieces, actually. Hard to go wrong with Rink Rat Scheifele, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and a few others. Even a carnival barker like potty-mouth head coach Paul Maurice ought to be able to coax a playoff-worthy campaign out of that group, and the fact they were found wanting last season says more about him than them.

But let’s suppose the Jets’ universe unfolds as it should in 2017-18. Let’s say Steve Mason is the answer in goal—even though Coach Potty-Mo refuses to commit to him as No. 1 in the blue ice as the local lads open training camp—and Scheifele is top-five in scoring, Wheeler is top-10, Patrik Laine leads the National Hockey League in snipes, Jacob Trouba is in the Norris Trophy conversation, Kyle Connor is the top freshman, and Maurice learns that there’s life after Chris Thorburn. Then what? A playoff date with the Edmonton McDavids? Oh joy. It’s the ghosts of playoffs past—Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Anderson, Kurri et al revisited.

There are grown men who still wake up in the middle of the night—yowling like banshees—at the nightmarish horrors that the Edmonton Oilers imposed on the Jets during the 1980s. Seven times the locals qualified for the Stanley Cup derby. Five times, the Oilers put them out of their misery. They did it again in the spring of 1990. Sadists.

Jets fans saw too much of this in the 1980s.

And now, 27 years later, it appears that, once again, the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force, even as ownership squabbles with politicos and beats the drums about relocation should the city refuse to pony up substantial coin for a new shinny palace.

The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian prairies.

I have a suspicion the Winnipegs soon shall be able to handle the Flames. But the McDavids? Different deal. I mean, Scheifele is a delight. He’s got that boy-next-door thing going, the kind of guy you want your daughter bringing home for dinner. And he’s very good at hockey. But let’s face it, the Rink Rat is to Connor McDavid what Dale Hawerchuk was to Wayne Gretzky.

So it could be curses, foiled again.

Bryan Little isn’t going anywhere. Nice. The Jets have locked up their No. 2 centre and, although I’m surprised at the length of term (six-year extension), it’s a very good move because the 29-year-old Edmonton native is a very good player. Little was on board when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, and I don’t think he’s ever disappointed. Solid guy who operates under the radar.

Ignore the pure pollywaddle drifting from the Republic of Tranna, where the hockey club’s bandwagon is overbooked with keyboard blowhards who insist on using the words “Stanley Cup” and “Maple Leafs” in the same sentence, something that hasn’t been done since 1967. If a Canadian outfit is going to bring the Stanley Cup home for the first time in a quarter century, it will be the Edmonton McDavids. I’d even be inclined to suggest the Jets will win the NHL title before the Tranna Maple Leafs. Does that mean I’m now drinking the True North Sports & Entertainment Kool-Aid? That I’ve bought into the Secret Society’s propaganda? Negative. Not prepared to go there. But I do believe general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled better young talent than the Leafs, who have the benefit of playing in a soft division.

Today’s list: Odds on each Canadian team ending the Great White North Stanley Cup drought…
1. Edmonton McDavids: 3-1
2. Winnipeg Jets: 5-1
3. Calgary Flames: 5-1
4. Tranna Maple Leafs: 10-1
5. Montreal Canadiens: 20-1
6. Ottawa Senators: Fuhgeddaboudit.
7. Vancouver Canucks: You’re kidding, right?

I’ll say this for the Leafs, they have a couple of pains in the ass who can also play. Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov are gooey chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your shoes. The Jets need to add some of that to their makeup.

Interesting how the two Pauls—Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press—interpreted the party line delivered by Jets ownership/management last week.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

Friesen wrote: “For really the first time since buying the moribund Atlanta Thrashers and moving them lock, stock and Evander Kane to this Canadian prairie burg six years ago, the people in charge aren’t ducking expectation. Instead, they’re almost embracing it. From the new slogan inscribed on the team’s interview backdrop—Rise Together—to the words of the team captain, the GM and even the man who shelled out a good portion of the $180-million franchise price tag, it’s playoffs or bust.”

Wiecek, meanwhile, tells us that Jets ownership/management remains wishy-washy in terms of expectations. They’re sending a message “that says that the 2017-18 Jets ‘can be’ a playoff team, but hey, these things take time and it’s still not a deal breaker if they don’t,” he writes.

Me? I’m with Friesen. I thought Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman made his thoughts absolutely clear the day he announced the re-upping of both his GM and head coach, saying, “Our expectation this year is to take a step forward in a meaningful way.” I don’t know how you can take that to mean anything other than he expects a playoff berth. There can be no other interpretation. Furthermore, in a conversation with John Shannon of Sportsnet at the draft lottery in May, Cheveldayoff stated flatly that “I’m not coming back” next year. Meaning, he doesn’t expect the Jets to be a lottery team in 2018.

The Sedin twins

That was so sweet of the Sedin twins to express their fondness and unwavering devotion to Vancouver in a love letter to The Players’ Tribune, but I just don’t see how warm and fuzzies advance the Canucks so-called youth movement. Say what you will about two players who’d rather stay in Vancity and loiter with the NHL also-rans rather than pursue the Stanley Cup elsewhere (for the record, I admire their stick-to-itness), but should Henrik and Daniel still be driving the bus? Some very dark and rainy days (years?) ahead on the West Coast.

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

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About clowns in mainstream media…depth in pro tennis…lady star power…budget cuts at TSN…too much Nadal-Federer…great rivalries…sports scribes defecting…and aiming for 50 years

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

Venus Williams

Steve Simmons has secured his position as the biggest assclown in Canadian sports media.

It’s one thing to have an ego higher than the CN Tower and deliver opinion, which the Postmedia columnist and TSN talking head offers in abundance, but Simmons totally lost the plot when he stooped to age shaming on the return of The Reporters with Dave Hodge to TSN’s air Sunday morning.

Discussing the U.S. Open, Simmons said:

Women’s tennis is in a bad way without Serena (Williams). There’s no real star. You’ve had four Grand Slams this year and four different winners. Venus Williams is in a final at Wimbledon and she’s what, 92 years old or something like that?”

Shameful. Also objectionable, rude and insulting in the extreme. It might even have an undercurrent of sexism.

I mean, Simmons had no quarrel with Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in July, scant days before he blew out 36 candles on his birthday cake. It was bravo Roger. Called him the “best ever” before the Swiss maestro rag-dolled Marin Cilic in the final. Thing is, Federer is just one year and two months younger than Venus Williams, who was beaten by Garbine Muguruza in the Wimbledon ladies’ final.

Serena Williams

It’s good for tennis that 37-year-old Venus Williams didn’t win,” he wrote. “To win now would speak badly for the state of women’s tennis.”

But it was okay for a 36-year-old man to win Wimbledon? Interesting logic.

Once he was done age bashing Williams, Simmons—he’s 60, by the way—attacked the depth of the women’s game, comparing it unfavorably to the men’s draw. “There isn’t the depth…you look at men’s tennis, there’s the core at the top and then there’s about 15 deep of really good players,” he stammered. “It doesn’t exist on the women’s side.” Really? Factual evidence supports the notion that Grandpa Simmons is full of the stuff that comes out of the south end of a bull. In the past 48 men’s Grand Slam finals, only three lads not named Nadal, Federer, Murray or Djokovic have won—Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic. They’ve combined for a grand sum of five titles. In 12 flipping years! Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic claimed the other 43. For those of you scoring at home, that’s Big Four 43, Rest of World 5. That’s deep like a thimble.

Grandpa Simmons pooh-poohs the women’s side for delivering four different Grand Slam champions this year, as if that’s a bad thing. Yet he says there’s no depth on tour. Total contradiction. Total clown. You want depth? Sixteen women not named Williams have combined for 30 titles in the past 48 majors. None of the four women who won a Grand Slam this year was a top seed. Serena Williams was the closest, seeded second at the Australian Open. The French and U.S. Open champions, Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens, were unseeded and ranked world Nos. 47 and 83, respectively. The Wimbledon winner, Muguruza, was seeded 14th and ranked world No. 15. The final four at the U.S. Open—Venus Williams, Madison Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe and Stephens—were world Nos. 9, 16, 22 and 83.

Maria Sharapova

As for “no real star” on the women’s side…excuse me? Apparently Grandpa Simmons missed the memo advising us that Maria Sharapova is back on tour. No female athlete on this planet has more star power than her Royal Blondeness. The bottom line on her bank statement is proof. Had there been a lack of oomph to the women’s tour? You bet. Then Ostapenko happened on the red clay of Roland Garros. She’s a spark plug. Muguruza has style and tremendous appeal. Stephens is a bundle of charisma. Now Sharapova is back, and new mama Serena Williams hopefully will resurface at the Australian Open in January, perhaps with her bambino in tow. I’d pay to watch any of them play. Venus Williams, too. She should be saluted, not scorned, for being so competitive at age 37.

Guess the weekly commute from Montreal to the Republic of Tranna is quite costly, because Michael Farber was cut from the starting lineup on The Reporters due to budget restrictions. I just wish they’d given us a vote on who got culled from the herd.

Rafa and Roger

Grandpa Simmons wasn’t the only scribe donning a clown costume last week. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail tells us he’s had his fill of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Doesn’t want to see them anymore. “For its own sake, men’s tennis needs to start moving on from its top-two fetish,” he scribbles in a rambling treatise. “And not just as far as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are exactly like their better, older peers, only boring. Tennis needs to turn a page, rip the page out, then find a new book. We’ve been at this for a decade and it started to get old when Stephen Harper was still in charge. It’s time to move on from the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis.” Oh, yes, by all means let’s do that. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to see Kevin Anderson in more Grand Slam finals? Good grief. Get a grip, man.

Here’s what Kelly wrote after Roger Federer had won the Australian Open last January: “We now have to confront the real possibility that Federer might never stop being great at tennis. Maybe he’ll just go on forever. Nobody would complain.” And now here he is, eight months later, complaining about Federer seemingly going on forever. Sigh.

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

My five favorite all-time rivalries…
1. Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe: Bjorn was my main man.
2. Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier: Brutal, especially the Thrilla in Manilla.
3. Jack and Arnie: I was a member of Arnie’s Army.
4. Secretariat-Sham: Never saw anything like Secretariat, before or since 1973.
5. Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert: Liked Chrissie until she got engaged to loathsome Jimmy Connors.

Longtime hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek has defected from the Globe and Mail to The Athletic Calgary, part of an expanding online sports venture that features some top-level writing talent. Pierre LeBrun, Michael Russo, James Mirtle and Craig Custance are among the ever-growing stable of scribes at The Athletic, which now has franchises in each of Canada’s National Hockey League cities. No word on who’s covering the Jets and Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, but Mirtle, the man putting it all together, says she or he is on the way.

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 48 years ago yesterday. My hope was to stay at the Winnipeg Tribune for 50 years. Neither of us made it. The Trib went toes up in my 11th year and I felt obliged to bail from the rag trade after 30 years. To the day. None of the people with whom I worked at the beginning—running mail and copy to the various departments inside the old building at the corner of Smith and Graham—remain in the newspaper business. Five of the sports guys—Jack Matheson, Uncle Vince Leah, Gus Collins and freelancers Harold Loster and Ron Meyers—are dead. The very nice man who took a chance and hired a scrawny, 18-year-old kid fresh out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate on Sept. 10, 1969, Don Delisle, left us 10 years ago this month. I’m not sure how and why I’m still here, but I believe I shall continue to crank out the crap for a bit longer. Might still make it to 50 years. Or maybe just five more days. We’ll see.

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