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.

Madame Redneck sees it all before it happens…

madame-redneck2Through the magic that is Skype, I have been to the Rocky Mountain back woods, where the reclusive and mysterious Madame Redneck resides in a shanty with a dozen feral cats and a seemingly never-ending supply of Kokanee.

I have witnessed her gaze into her crystal ball, read her Tarot cards and use her bony, nicotine-stained fingers to sift through the tea leaves.

This is what the mysterious Madame says will unfold in the toy department in 2017…

* The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, will also become the Pigskin Pontiff when True North Sports & Entertainment assumes control of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Asked how much he paid for the Canadian Football League club, Chipman says, “Pay? Pay? Are you kidding me? Pay? Have you not been paying attention? They haven’t won the Grey Cup since kindly Cal Murphy still had his first heart. Bless his soul.”

* Chipman’s first order of business as a Two-Sport Pontiff will be to dismiss CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea and replace them with Craig Heisinger, because he replaces everyone with Zinger.

It’s been an unbelievable ride,” Zinger gushes after accepting his new position(s). “Not many people can say they washed Teemu Selanne’s jock and now Justin Medlock’s jock. I’ve been blessed.”

* There will be a playoff game at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry after the Bombers finish second in the West Division. Alas, the 8,298 frigid folks in attendance will leave disappointed when Medlock, who Zinger trades to the B.C. Lions, kicks a 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game to give the Leos a 34-32 victory.

Aha! All the smart asses in the media said it couldn’t be done,” Mike O’Shea barks from his perch as analyst on the CFL on TSN panel. “Just goes to show all those smart asses in the media that I was right last year! It can be done!”

johnny-football
Johnny Football

* Because his predecessor, Walters, left him without a quarterback under contract, Heisinger will sign National Football League washout and all-around bad boy Johnny Manziel to a five-year contract. Asked by news snoops if there is concern about Manziel’s sordid past, Heisinger is quick to prop up his new QB.

We don’t think Johnny Football is a risk at all,” Zinger assures one and all. “Johnny Football comes to us a humble, rehabilitated man. Johnny Football could have demanded the moon from us, but Johnny Football didn’t ask us to show him the money. All he asked for is a chance and a six-pack of Labatt’s Blue as a signing bonus. Off the record, we were willing to go as high as a two-four of Blue to sign Johnny Football. Just don’t tell him.”

* The Winnipeg Jets will not qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament and, when asked to provide an overview of his club’s season, head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t mince words.

What did you expect to happen?” he mutters. “Our young men just played 82 games in less than six months. That’s a lot to ask of these young men. There’s only so much you can ask of these young men.”

Reminded that the other 29 outfits in the National Hockey League also played an 82-game schedule in six months and 16 of them will carry on to participate in as many as 28 more playoff skirmishes, Maurice snaps.

I don’t appreciate you questioning our young men,” he bleats. “I can make you f%*&ing cry.”

auston-matthews
Auston Matthews

* Jets Finnish sensation Patrik Laine will finish second behind Auston Matthews in NHL rookie-of-the-year voting, prompting GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to offer a rambling response on behalf of Puck Finn.

Clearly, this was the result of an eastern bloc bias,” Chevy says. “Does this mean the Toronto Maple Leafs are using a better draft-and-develop model than us? I don’t think so. Does this mean the Toronto Maple Leafs have a better process than us? Again, I don’t think so. Does this mean Auston Matthews is a better player than Patrik? I don’t think so, but I suppose that’s for others to argue. Sometimes these things happen and, with Patrik, it happened. We didn’t want it to happen, but I recall reading somewhere that Bobby Hull never won the rookie award, either. So it happened to Bobby as well. We like where Patrik is and where he’s going, just like we like where all our young players are and where they’re going. Sometimes there will be hiccups, but I don’t look at this as a hiccup. I look at it as confirmation that our process is working and that the playoffs are right around the corner. How far away that corner is, I can’t tell you. But, as I’ve been telling you for six years now, I know there’s a corner out there somewhere and we’ll turn it one day, hopefully with Patrik and all our young players showing us the way to that corner.”

The Two-Sport Pontiff, meanwhile, echoes his GM’s comments and adds, “I’m just glad we don’t have to pay Patrik the rookie bonus. That doesn’t mean we operate on the chintz. It just means that I can tell Chevy to spend that money more wisely. Like by re-signing Chris Thorburn.”

sun* Someone at Postmedia will finally notice that there are only three people left to buy out or force out of the Winnipeg Sun toy department, so it will attempt to hire freelancers to put some flesh on the tabloid’s bones and combat the nine bylines that appear regularly in the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages.

It’s either that or shutter all the doors and windows,” a Postmedia mouthpiece says. “Now that Kirk Penton is gone, I don’t know how Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Ken Wiebe can compete with the Drab Slab if we don’t give them some help. Know anyone who’ll write for free?”

Recognizing that the Sun is ripe for the picking, True North Sports & Entertainment will swoop in with an offer Postmedia can’t refuse. Postmedia agrees to let TNSE take the tabloid off its hands for $1 plus applicable tax.

Can you believe it? It cost us more to buy this two-bit rag than the Bombers,” says Puck, Pigskin & Paper Pontiff Mark Chipman, who now owns everything in River City except the Winnipeg Goldeyes and the Disraeli Bridge, “but I think it’ll be worth all 100 pennies once we brainwash the appropriate people and show them how to do things the True North way. Friesen, Wyman and Wiebe can all keep their jobs, but they’ll be house organs who write nothing but puff pieces.”

Asked what will happen if they refuse, the Triple P Pontiff says, “I’ll get Paul Maurice to make them f%*&ing cry.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.

Winnipeg Jets: A personal ‘best of this and best of that’

I’m not fond of all-time greatest lists because they’re too often compiled by people who are not all-seeing.

Take, for example, the recent anointing of Dave Keon as creme de la Toronto Maple Leafs. As someone who witnessed the wonder that was Keon, initially on the family’s black-and-white TV with rabbit ears and then live and in living color with the New England/Hartford Whalers, I offer no quarrel with the salute to the diminutive, balletic centre-ice man. More to the point, I endorse it. Fully.

ducky3I wonder, though: How many among the 30 “experts” and 300,000 fans who gave voice to the Keon coronation actually saw him perform? How many can say they watched Syl Apps or Teeder Kennedy, who finished second and third, respectively, in balloting to select the greatest of the greats who have worn Maple Leafs linen in the past 100 years?

Syl Apps retired in 1948, two years before I was born. Teeder Kennedy hung ’em up in ’57. I don’t have the vaguest memory of him.

Time passed is the flaw in the all-time-greatest ointment, and it explains how a thug like Tie Domi can find himself on the same list as Dave Keon. I mean, seriously? Tie Domi belongs in the same company as Dave Keon? Ya, like I belong in the same ballet as Sophia Lee.

All of which brings me to the Winnipeg Jets. (Yes, I agree, the mention of Domi and ballet in the same breath serves as a rather odd, if not odious, segue to a discussion about the local hockey heroes, but work with me, kids.)

The creaky, old boys and the not-so-creaky Teemu Selanne will be back in town this week to participate in True North Sports & Entertainment’s genuflection to the Jets’ gloried past in the World Hockey Association and its limited achievements during the first go-round in the National Hockey League. Many of them, no doubt, shall arrive in River City greater of girth and with hairlines in rapid retreat, but hopefully old habits kick in when they take time away from the mirth and merriment of their reunion to play some pond hockey with the creaky, old Edmonton Oilers.

Slow-motion cameras won’t be a requirement, of course, because the actual-time speed is apt to be in super slo-mo—save for Selanne—but I’m guessing the Alumni Game on Saturday has as much appeal power as the Heritage Classic featuring the present-day Jets and Oilers on Sunday. (For those of you inclined to place a friendly wager on Team Hawerchuk in the old boys’ skirmish, be certain you get favorable odds because Team Gretzky has them out-Hall of Famed, 5-1, with one inductee-in-waiting.)

Anyway, this gathering of the clan puts me in mind of the best of the best, Jets version.

Many of my vintage can say we’ve seen them all, from the original Jet, Norm Beaudin, to today’s current flavor of the month, Patrik Laine, and some of us can say we saw more than most because we had the good fortune of an insider’s view home and away. That doesn’t make me an expert. It simply means I saw the Jets from a different vantage point.

It’s with that in mind that I submit some personal “best of” Jets lists…

peter-sullivan2My Favorites to Watch

1. Kent Nilsson: Pure magic. The most-talented player to wear a Jets jersey. Bar none.
2. Peter Sullivan: Silky smooth. I don’t care if he was defensively deficient. He was dazzling with the puck on his stick.
3. Anders Hedberg: The Swedish Express. His acceleration off the right wing was unparalleled.
4. Teemu Selanne: Ditto what I said about Hedberg.
5. Alexei Zhamnov: Spectacularly subtle. Perhaps that’s a contradiction in terms, but he was supremely skilled without a shred of flamboyance.

Most Grit

1. Ulf Nilsson: The punishment he absorbed and endured in the WHA was barbaric and criminal.
1a. Anders Hedberg: See above.
1b. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: See above.
1c. Ted Green: How he played so well in so much head pain is a mystery. I used to cringe watching the Seed hobbling on and off buses and airplanes, knowing he was in crippling pain.
3. Terry Ruskowski: He finished the 1979 WHA final with one arm.

Most Fun

Tom McVie: He’d always spice his interviews with comments like, “I’ve been fired more times than Al Capone’s machine gun” or “If life made sense, it would be men who rode sidesaddle. Think about it.”
Willy Lindstrom: The great prankster. He always made a pit stop at a joke store on our visits to Quebec City, then would toss stink bombs and sprinkle sneezing powder on our flight out of town.
Gary (Suitcase) Smith: Smitty seemed to take life with a wink and a nod.

jimmy-mann2Moments of Madness

1: Mike Smith: Comrade Mikhail, as I called the Jets GM, sold Kris Draper to the Detroit Red Wings for $1 (U.S. currency, one presumes) and used nine of his 12 selections at the 1992 NHL entry draft to claim Russians, the first of whom was the legendary Sergei Bautin. Smith’s make-work-for-Russians project fell flat. Little wonder Dale Hawerchuk got out of Dodge a couple years earlier.
2. Jimmy Mann: The sucker punch that shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw was every bit as bad as Todd Bertuzzi’s assault on Steve Moore.
3. Tom McVie: Taking his teeth out and trying to fight coach Al MacNeil of the Atlanta Flames was comedy gold.
4. John Ferguson: Punching a hole in the wall of his bunker at Winnipeg Arena? Check. Dumping a bucket of ice on to the Buffalo Sabres bench? Check. Kicking a hole in a dressing room door? Check.

Most Frustrating

1. Andrew McBain: We called him “Fergy’s son” or “Fergy’s kid” because we couldn’t think of any reason he was on the team, except that he must have been GM John Ferguson’s illigitimate kid. Beaner fooled us, though, with 32- and 37-goal seasons before leaving the Jets.
2. Scott Campbell: Asthma did poor Scotty in. His was never able to tap his full potential.
3. Ray Neufeld: Not because he underachieved, but because I silently cheered for him to succeed more than any other Jet. He became a fan whipping boy due to the Dave Babych trade, and I wanted Neuf to be a star. Never happened.

Best Quote

1. Dave Babych: Always gave thoughtful answers.
2. Terry Ruskowski: Honest, emotional, passionate.
3. Dale Hawerchuk: Ducky was the face of the franchise for so many years and he always delivered the goods.
4. Andrew McBain: No matter how hard the media rode him, Beaner didn’t balk on interviews.
5. Eddie Olczyk: I didn’t talk to Eddie O a great deal, but I could tell he had a future in talking.
5b. Barry Melrose: Friar Nicolson and I called him Kelvington after his home town in Saskatchewan. He loved talking into a microphone or tape recorder.

He’s Got Gonads

1. Tom McVie: Anyone who would bench Bobby Hull, one of the team owners, for arriving at the rink late has size XXXL gonads.
2. Morris Lukowich: A bantam rooster with a tiger in his tank. Luke never picked on anyone his own size, because they were all bigger than him.
3. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Built like Barney Rubble, the Little General shied away from no man, not even Bad News Bilodeau and the rest of the cement heads who would run him through the boards in the WHA.

laurie-boschman2Good Guys

1. Laurie Boschman: So belligerent on the ice, so soft-spoken and genuinely nice off it.
2. Dave Babych: A big, friendly bear of a man.
3. Terry Ruskowski: A good Canadian Prairie boy.
4. Barry Melrose: Fun guy, always joking with Friar and I.
5. Jude Drouin/Pierre Hamel: They took care of me after I collapsed on a flight home from Toronto.

Curmudgeons Before Their Time

1. Randy Carlyle: Mostly it was an act (I think), but Kitty played the role of the two old farts on The Muppets.
2. Mario Marois: Forever bitching about the heat on the bus.

Most Underrated

1. Teppo Numminen: I think he was only appreciated in Winnipeg. Had he played in Toronto or Montreal, they’d still be talking about him.
2. Ron Wilson: Dawg: Subtly efficient.

What Were They Thinking?
(When they Drafted this Guy)

1. Sergei Bautin: Still hard to believe that comrade Mikhail Smith squandered a first-round pick on this pylon.
2. Jimmy Mann: Strike one against Fergy.
3. Hannu Jarvenpaa: Scored four goals in an exhibition game. Scored 11 the rest of his career.
4. Evgeny Davydov: Mikhail was kidding, right?
5. Ryan Stewart: Three games, one goal. Say no more.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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.

About Bobby Hull pooping on his own party…fallen heroes…the CFL not on TSN…and Rod Black losing the plot

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

Bobby Hull
Bobby Hull

True North Sports & Entertainment put itself in a non-winable position with Bobby Hull.

Once the decision had been made to create a Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame and salute players as far back as the World Hockey Association, TNSE had no choice but to include the legendary left winger and every piece of soiled laundry and excess baggage that he drags along with him.

That, in turn, meant howls of protest would arise, because not everyone can separate the fabulous hockey player from the flawed man who sometimes roughed up women.

So Hull will poop on his own party.

Nobody in officialdom is saying exactly why Hull has advised True North that there shall be no need to set a place for him at the table when the National Hockey League club honours the Golden Jet and his two Hot Line accomplices from the WHA—Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson—as the initial inductees to the team Hall of Fame on Oct. 19. We’re told it’s for “personal reasons.”

At first blush, I thought perhaps Hull was ill. There is, after all, considerable age around his eyes and he’s done some hard living and hard drinking in his 77-plus years. If it’s a health issue preventing Hull from traveling to River City, I suppose his desire might be to keep it on the QT, but we wouldn’t need to know the gory details. The Secret Society that is TNSE need only tell us that he’s not in fine fettle and leave it at that. So strike illness off the list of possibilities for Hull pulling the chute on an appearance.

What then?

Domestic violence. That has to be the elephant in the room.

I doubt Hull wishes to arrive in River City and open a newspaper, or tune in to talk radio, and read/hear another story about splitting his second ex-wife Joanne’s head open with the stiletto heel of one of her shoes. Or threatening to hurl her off a balcony. Or threatening her with a shotgun. Or the family’s former nanny telling tales about him ripping a telephone off the wall with one hand while yanking on Joanne’s hair with the other. He doesn’t need to hear another recital of some off-handed remarks he might or might not have made to a Moscow newspaper about Adolph Hitler’s swell ideas.

True North wouldn’t have any appetite for any of that either.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.
Jets original owner Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull the day the legendary left winger signed his WHA contract at Portage and Main.

The inaugural Hall of Fame function, which is part of the Heritage Classic festivities next month, is meant to be a celebration of hockey and the glory days, when the Jets were rulers of all they surveyed in the WHA. And many will tell you that that’s all it ought to be about. I mean, the Chicago Blackhawks made it all about hockey when they erected a statue of Hull outside the United Center and put him on the payroll as an ambassador. Domestic violence be damned. So why shouldn’t TNSE act in kind, right?

If only it were that simple.

It could be that the fine folks in Winnipeg are a bit more sensitive to the notion of men whacking women than those in the Windy City. I don’t know. I’ve never lived in Chicago. Just visited while on assignment. I do know this, though: There is no wrong time for a conversation about the scourge of domestic violence.

If Hull is a no-show, are his non-hockey trespasses less likely to hijack the headlines next month? Perhaps. Then again, his absence might bring spousal abuse into greater focus.

This is a fine mess TNSE has gotten itself into and the owners are named Chipman and Thomson, not Solomon, so this baby is being cut in half.

It’s a most unfortunate circumstance, and the great irony is that the man who crusaded so vigorously against violence in hockey couldn’t keep his hands to himself away from the rink. More’s the pity, Bobby Hull.

I recall making my way down to the Jets changing room after a game one night at the old barn on Maroons Road when a young fellow stopped me to say how much he admired Bobby Hull. More than anything, he wanted to meet his hockey hero. “Kid,” I told him, “sometimes our heroes aren’t who we think they are.” I left it at that. I heard from that “kid” last year. He advised me that he went home and asked his dad what I might have meant. What ensued was a father-son, fireside chat about domestic violence and he said it had a “positive impact” on his life. Like I said, there’s never a wrong time for that discussion, even if it brings one of our heroes down from the pedestal.

In a perfect world, Hull would show up for his party and address the elephant in the room by telling younger people “don’t make the same mistakes that I made,” then get on with swapping lies and tall tales with the boys.

Mark Chipman
Mark Chipman

If Mark Chipman hadn’t caved in to the demands of the rabble and named his NHL franchise something other than Jets in 2011, would we even be having this conversation about Hull? Not likely. Had Chipman called the current outfit Falcons or Monarchs or Polar Bears, there’d be no compulsion to link to the past. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Okay, enough of B. Hull. I’d like to know the name of the genius who decided to show beach volleyball and fast car racing on the main TSN channel Saturday afternoon instead of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Toronto Argonauts skirmish. Seriously. Some of us live in poverty and can’t afford to subscribe to all five of TSN’s channels. It’s sad when you live in Canada but have to turn to an American streaming website to watch a Canadian Football League game. Put the CFL on the main channel, for gawd’s sake.

At times during the Bombers-Argos joust, I wondered if TSN play-by-play voice Rod Black was watching with his eyes shut. Like after Quincy McDuffie of the Bombers returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Old friend Blackie prattled on about a “punt return.” He really lost the plot later when suggesting that the Bombers inserting of Matt Nichols at quarterback was “a stroke of genius.” Oh, pu-leeze. It was nothing of the sort. It was an act of desperation to save the season and head coach Mike O’Shea’s job. Those geniuses knew Nichols was the best bet at QB coming out of training camp, but it took them four losses in five games to correct their blunder.

The Winnipeg Free Press has dispatched columnist Paul Wiecek to the Republic of Tranna for the cash grab known as the World Cup of Hockey, and I’ve been enjoying his stuff. I particularly got a kick out of his take on the media: “The tournament will be played at the Air Canada Centre and all the teams are staying at a nearby hotel within walking distance. It quickly becomes apparent from a walk through the hotel bar that the biggest egos at this event won’t be the players but rather the insufferable national media that covers hockey in this country. There is an unavoidable reflected glory that comes with covering hockey in a rabid country like Canada—and way too many media people who think that means it’s about them.” That won’t win Wiecek many friends on press row, but he’s spot-on.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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.

 

About the Winnipeg Jets spending more big bucks…the Blue Bombers’ winning formula…”gutless” comments…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…

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.
Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

It’s no surprise that the Winnipeg Jets have tossed top dollar at Mark Scheifele.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, the Jets operate on the chintz. In any payroll search of National Hockey League clubs, you’ll always find the locals nearer the bottom of the heap than the top. This is a “budget” team.

Yet the Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment contradicts itself. That is, it is not a big spender, yet it has never been shy about spending big.

I mean, any outfit willing to compensate a lowly foot soldier like Chris Thorburn to the tune of $1.2 million per annum isn’t afraid to chuck the change around. Co-bankroll David Thomson likely found enough to pay Thorbs’s salary hidden behind and beneath the cushions of his sofa.

The point is, stuffing $49 million (US) into Scheifele’s piggy bank doesn’t represent a seismic shift in how True North does business. The Jets have a history of showing a willingness to deliver term and top-market compensation to those they deem their most valued workers. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.

Earlier this year, the Jets committed $38 million to defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. Two days ago, it was $16.5 million for Mathieu Perreault, a generous stipend for a guy who might be playing third-line minutes. None of this is chump change. Nor was the $93.1 million they doled out to three players—Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian—three years ago this month. Thirteen months before that, they agreed to pay Ondrej Pavelec $19.5 million over five years (ignore the reality that it was money not wisely spent on their much-maligned goaltender).

So no one should be surprised that the Jets went all-in with an eight-year, $49 million contract for Scheifele. It wasn’t a debunking of a “cheapskate tag,” as the Winnipeg Free Press suggests. It’s what they’ve done and will continue to do. Nothing has changed.

Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler

I have one question about the Jets signing of Scheifele: Why didn’t they name the 23-year-old centre team captain at the same time? While prevailing sentiment suggests Wheeler ought to wear the C, Scheifele will be doing his thing at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie for the next eight winters. Wheeler, whose birthday cake next month will feature 30 candles, won’t be.

In Florida, owners of the Panthers talk about winning the Stanley Cup. “They expect a Stanley Cup and we have a duty to bring the best team possible to our fans,” general manager Tom Rowe says of owner Vincent Viola and vice-chairman Doug Cifu. In Winnipeg, meanwhile, His Holy Hockeyness, Mark Chipman, and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, talk about a “process.”

Nice to see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally found a winning formula—play a team that will commit six turnovers. That’s what went down when the Bombers bettered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-24, Thursday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer. The trick now, of course, is to find a few more teams as inept as the Tabbies.

On that note, who stole the real Hamilton Tiger-Cats and what have you done with them? Not to discredit the Bombers, who’ll take Ws in any shape or size, but the Tabbies were gawd awful and aren’t even a reasonable facsimile of the outfit that has been a Canadian Football League force since Kent Austin put his hands on the till. Yes, I realize the starting quarterback, Zach Collaros, is in sick bay, but that’s no excuse for the Keystone Kops routine.

Just wondering: Did South African High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa give her “fallen hero” Oscar Pistorius a hug and a kiss before shipping her “broken man” off to jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, or did she settle for an autograph?

Cathal Kelly is among the finer wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism, but I fear he’s lost the plot when it comes to tennis. Scribbling in the Globe and Mail, he mentions “the golden era of Canadian tennis” and cites Genie Bouchard’s march to the 2014 ladies’ final at Wimbledon and Milos Raonic advancing to the gentlemen’s semi-final round before bowing to Roger Federer that same summer. That’s Kelly’s idea of a golden era? One fortnight on the lumpy lawns of the All England Club? I’m sorry, but there’s nothing “golden” about one exceptional-yet-unsuccessful run at a tennis Grand Slam, then operating on the periphery of the sport’s elite. I would suggest that if Raonic topples Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final on Sunday morning, we can begin talking about a “golden” era of Canadian tennis. But not before he’s actually won something of note.

Shame on Steve Simmons, Postmedia sports columnist and TSN gab guy who this week on The Reporters with Dave Hodge advised us that Kevin Durant has “no spine” and his signing with a stacked Golden State Warriors outfit was “gutless.” In case we didn’t hear him the first time, he repeated his reckless “no spine” insult in his weekly three-dot column. Yo! Stevie! I’ll tell you what takes “no spine” and is “gutless.” Sitting in the shelter of a faraway TV studio or in your home office and slandering one of the top five performers in the National Basketball Association. Stand on a chair, look Durant in the eyes and then say he’s spineless and gutless or don’t say it at all.

I’m liking two new features in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department: 1) Paul Wiecek’s Sticks and Stones column (a string of brief opinion blurbs can make for a bright and breezy read; 2) TV columnist Brad Oswald’s take on the sports shows we watch. I’m anxious to see if Oswald will critique sports scribes freelancing as broadcasters or treat them like sacred cows. I’m betting it’s the latter, because people in the toy department don’t tend to eat their own.

It’s about that Trivago guy who shows up in all those commercials during sports programs: Someone has to tell him to stop dancing. He’s smooth like JLo is ugly.

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.

Winnipeg Jets: Do Mark Chipman and Kevin Cheveldayoff still not have a clue what to do with Andrew Ladd?

Let’s be clear on something vis-a-vis Andrew Ladd: He has been a good and loyal foot soldier, but, as a hockey player, he has delivered nothing extraordinary in his five-season tour of duty with the Winnipeg Jets.

There have been no 30-goal crusades. He topped out at 62 points. There has been one fleeting whiff of playoff hockey, but zero victories.

Having said that, by all accounts Ladd is a boffo leader and, because there’s an uppercase C stitched on the left side of the Jets jersey he was still wearing when the Dallas Stars came calling at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on Tuesday night, he’s been accomodating and professional in posturing as the players’ front man in dealings with news scavengers, many of whom can be trying and wearisome.

Away from the freeze, the Jets’ captain and his bride, Brandy, are pillars of the community, heavily involving themselves in charity works, most notably Special Olympics.

andrew ladd
Andrew Ladd

Yes, he is a good man, this Andrew Ladd. Of sturdy stock. Tall timber.

This might give many of you cause to think co-bankroll Mark Chipman and his puppet general manger, Kevin Cheveldayoff, to be rather insensitive cads, if not flat-out callous, for leaving Ladd in limbo, uncertain if he and his pregnant bride are coming, going or staying while the two deep-thinkers dither and dally over his fate in yet another National Hockey League crusade gone horribly wrong.

None of us is privy to the inner workings of the Secret Society that is the shinny division of True North Sports & Entertainment, of course, but I tend to subscribe to the notion that they have been less than forthcoming with Ladd, especially when I hear him say he’s been feeling a “weird vibe,” in recent days.

I haven’t really sat down and had a strong conversation with Kevin,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Does Cheveldayoff have strong conversations with anyone? Other than Chipman, that is? We know Saint Mark has a heavy, if not final, say in matters of high priority, because he went on national TV and told us as much. So what has he told his GM to do with Ladd? More to the point, why hasn’t Chipman or his emisarry taken the captain aside and let him know the lay of the land? Seems to me that would be a professional courtesy.

I mean, Steven Stamkos knows where he stands in Tampa heading toward the NHL trade deadline on Monday. Ditto P.K. Subban in Montreal.

It could be, mind you, that Chipman and Cheveldayoff didn’t have a clue what to do with Ladd. It could be they still don’t. But leaving him to twist in the wind as D Day approaches is not a favorable optic and does nothing other than rub more of the squeaky clean off True North.

Quite frankly, there’s only one reason why this entire scenario isn’t messy: Ladd hasn’t allowed it to become messy.

He could have taken the low road by now and moaned and groaned and whinged about lack of respect, lack of loyalty and breach of trust. But no. He understands the gig. He gets the business side of hockey. He knows he’s a moveable asset, one who’s about to become an untethered free agent and whose sticker price apparently doesn’t fit into the Jets financial scheme. He’s convinced that there remains a healthy market for 30-year-old left wingers and surely there’s an NHL outfit willing to happily pay the freight on his final, hefty contract. So, he’s saying all the right things.

But his body language tells you he’s bloody disappointed. And, yes, sad.

All of this is not to say Ladd is without responsibility in this soap opera playing itself out to what might yet become a bitter end. It’s been reported, after all, that he turned his nose up at a six-year, $6-million overture from the Jets and, if true, tsk-tsk.

Still, this has not been True North’s finest hour. You might say it’s been their shoddiest hour.

I mean, it’s hard to believe Chipman and Cheveldayoff have yet to receive a suitable offer in barter for their captain, so why prolong the agony?

There’s no shame in the Jets dealing Ladd. They’ll miss the playoffs with him, they can miss them without him. Just do it already.

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.

Weekend Wrap, Vol. 5: All about the 2019 Stanley Cup champions, tennis rivalries and quality curling coverage

A little bit of this, a little bit of that and a whole lot of opinion in a weekend wrap…

I’m not sure what is more giggle-worthy, the puck prophets at The Hockey News reading tea leaves that tell them the Winnipeg Jets will be rulers of all they survey in 2019 or Jets Nation getting all giddy about a magazine designed to do nothing more than spike sales.

If you missed it, there shall be a Stanley Cup cavalcade on the streets of downtown River City in June 2019. The Hockey News says it will be so in their Future Watch issue, and who can we trust if not the Bible of Hockey? I mean, according to David Larkins of the Winnipeg Sun, THN is the “trusted periodical on all things hockey.” So there. If those wild-and-whacky puck prophets at THN tell us to plan a parade route, then that’s what we must do. Plan a parade route. For June. 2019.

Ignore the fact that those same shinny swamis pegged Team Peg to finish dead last in the Central Division of the National Hockey League this season. Hey, sometimes the tea leaves are tough to read. So cut ’em some slack.

Just know this, Jets Nation: A Stanley Cup parade is coming to a downtown intersection near you—assuming you live in the vicinity of Portage and Main—because your Winnipeg Jets are bringing hockey’s holy grail to good, ol’ Home Town. In June. 2019. Book off work. Skip school. Strike up the band.

This is big. This is colossal. I mean, it’s been a quarter century since River City last held a downtown parade that didn’t include Santa Claus. Or a bevy of Ru Paul wannabes.

What I like best is that THN has given us advance notice. Four years worth. That’s plenty of time to put some spit and shine on our ol’ girl, Peg. Why, once we’ve scraped all the hobos off the streets and shuttered them away in the background so as not to ruin the optics we’ll be sending out to all those losers in locales like the Republic of Tranna, we can have ol’ Peg looking like a million bucks.

Oh, what fun this will be for the kids. For the entire family.

We wish we could give you an exact date for the parade, also a route, but the THN shinny swamis didn’t have the good manners to tell us if our local hockey heroes would be winning the Stanley Cup final in four, five, six or seven games in June 2019. Doesn’t matter. We can work out the details later. For now, they assure us that the Jets shall be NHL champeens. In June. 2019.

Be there.

WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT? Watching good, ol’ Home Team dismantle the Nashville Predators in Music City on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but wonder who among the current crop of Jets will be part of the large celebration. In June. 2019.

I mean, you think Lee Stempniak is going to be riding in a convertible when the Stanley Cup motorcade lurches toward Portage and Main in late June 2019? Jiri Tlusty? Jay Harrison? Mark Stuart? Drew Stafford? Anthony Peluso? Ondrej Pavelec? Jim Slater? Michael Hutchinson? Chris Thorburn?

Well, okay, maybe Thorburn will be part of the parade. Apparently he has dicey pics. Thus, the Jets no doubt will double down on his existing pact between now and Nirvana. Or just grant him a contract for life. But those other guys? Not so much. They’ll probably be playing their hockey for the woeful Las Vegas Crap Shoots. The parade will pass them by.

HITHER ‘N’ YAWN: Interesting that True North Sports & Entertainment plans to bring its American Hockey League affiliate home to Winnipeg. Can’t see much fan lure there, other than affordability compared to the tariff for Jets matches. Seems to me a Western Hockey League outfit would be an easier sell…Don Cherry has become so irrelevant that I didn’t even notice what he was wearing during his Curmudgeon’s Corner rory1gig on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night…So quiz me this: When Tiger Woods has a hissy-fit on a golf course and swears or spits or slams a club into the ground, it’s boorish behavior. It’s deplorable. Entire forests are plowed to the ground in order to provide enough newsprint to satisfy the needs of sports scribes who spend the next month cutting Woods a new one. Yet, when Rory McIlroy has a hissy-fit, hurling his 3-iron into a water hazard at Doral, it’s greeted with a shrug and a ho-hum. Why the double standard?…Couldn’t believe what I heard tripping off Hazel Mae’s tongue late last week when the Sportsnet talking head previewed the Davis Cup tie between Canada and Japan. She actually compared the rivalry between Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori to those of tennis legends Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe, Andre Agassi-Pete Sampras, among others. Good grief. Apparently, research is an option Hazel doesn’t exercise…When it comes to tennis rivalries, there has been none greater—ever—than that produced by Martina Navratilova and Chrissie Evert. Between 1973 and ’88, they met 80 times. More than 25 per cent of those matches (22) came in Grand Slam events and 14 were Grand Slam finals. Nothing compares to that. For the record, Navratilova held a slight edge overall, 43-37.

CUE THE CURLING: Totally selfless act by John Morris to demote himself from skip to third on the Team Canada outfit that won the Brier on Sunday. Can’t imagine many curlers doing that…Although the Johnny Mo team was wearing the Maple Leaf at the Saddledome in Calgary, let’s not lose sight of the reality that another Alberta squad has won the Canadian men’s curling championship. They play out of the Glencoe Club in Cowtown, so Wild Rose Country teams have now won nine Briers this century…Department of Better Late than Never: Melissa Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press killed it at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw last month. When a scribe is on assignment out of town, I want her or him to take me to their locale. I don’t want to simply read the final score and a stream of quotes. I want to see and feel what the writer sees and feels. What the fans see and feel. Martin delivered. She took me to Moose Jaw with some wonderful anecdotal insight and spot-on reporting that allowed me to join Jennifer Jones and her Buffalo Girls for every step to the Scotties title, a fifth for Jones. It was boffo work…It pains me to say the Winnipeg Sun wasn’t served as well as the Freep at either the Scotties or Brier. They never had one of their own on the scene. Don’t blame sports editor Ted Wyman, though. That had to be a corporate call. But a Winnipeg daily should always, always, always have their own scribe at the two main bonspiels on the curling calendar…

Jeff Stoughton
Jeff Stoughton

Interesting take by Freep scribe Paul Wiecek on Reid Carruthers’ wonky, unManitoba-like record (4-7) at the Brier. “The job description as the curling writer for a paper that has covered every Brier since the first one in 1927 says I’m supposed to rip Carruthers in this space today,” he writes. “He let down his team, he let down the province etc. But my heart’s not in it. Carruthers knows better than anyone what went wrong this week. And no one feels worse about it than he does. He’s a good guy, who had a very bad week. I’m giving him a pass. You should too.” Good for Wiecek…Now that Jeff Stoughton has retired, I suppose it’s time to confirm his status as the greatest curler ever produced in the Keystone province. Who else could it possibly be? Here’s my top-five list (since I began watching and writing about curling in the very early 1970s): 1. Stoughton; 2. Jennifer Jones; 3. Don Duguid; 4. Kerry Burtnyk; 5. Connie Laliberte; Honorable Mention: Vic Peters.

 

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.