The River City Renegade


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About death by wedgie in the CFL…the Rodney Dangerfield Blue Bombers…diversity on the gridiron…nonsense on Sportsnet…boffo stuff from Ed Tait…dump the ump…hockey pride at Pride…and hot dogs for Phil Kessel

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

Randy Ambrosie wants to talk. That’s a good thing. I think.

Specifically, the Canadian Football League commissioner would welcome a fireside chat about division alignment and playoff structure, both of which are becoming hot-button issues due to a West-East competitive imbalance that borders on the sadistic.

I’m happy to have that conversation with everyone and I think we should have it,” the commish told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

For those of you keeping score at home, West has met East 20 times during the current crusade. The tally is 17-2-1 in favor of the five outfits left of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary. One game finished 60-1.

That is not a typo. Do not adjust your monitors. It really was 60-1.

Seriously. This is death by wedgie.

Actually, West Division clubs aren’t simply giving their nerdy eastern foes a basic wedgie. They’re the high school senior pulling the freshman’s underpants up to his ears, sticking his head in a toilet bowl, flushing, then stuffing him into a locker. Oh, but first he steals his lunch money.

And yet, under the current structure, two of the eastern rag dolls will qualify for the playoffs in November. And be rewarded with home dates. Nice gig if you can get it.

Little wonder that Ambrosie says he’s “willing to have the conversation for sure.”

Wyman and others suggest the CFL scrap its antiquated West-East divisional arrangement. Lump all nine teams together, with the top six advancing to the Grey Cup tournament. Radical, yes. After all, geographic rivalry has been the heartbeat of the CFL since its inception, and getting some people to abandon tradition is like trying to pry Donald Trump’s thumbs off his Twitter account. You’ll need the jaws of life, baby.

I don’t think you have to sacrifice tradition, though. Just tweak the schedule. Reduce it to 16 games (18 is two too many) and either eliminate, or reduce by half, interlocking play. You know, just like in the good, ol’ days when West and East were separate entities. In other words, go back to the future.

Works for me. So, gentlemen, start your chins wagging.

I wondered when one of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would play the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect card, and running back Andrew Harris delivered not long after he and his blue-and-gold clad pals had paddywhacked the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 39-12, on Saturday at Timbits Field in Hamilton. “I always think someone is out there slouching us and not giving us any respect.” Here’s the deal, Andrew: Beat someone other than one of the lame and halting outfits from the east and more people will climb on board.

Chad Owens and CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

The CFL broke out its Diversity is Strength T-shirts last weekend, and it occurs to me that it’s more than just a fresh marketing slogan. Among other things, the CFL has included a female general manager, Jo-Anne Polak with the Ottawa Rough Riders; another female, Catherine Raiche, is an assistant GM with the Montreal Alouettes; the Larks once had an openly gay man, Michael Sam, in their lineup; Ambrosie’s predecessor in the commish’s office, Jeffrey Orridge, is African-American; and a black man, Bernie Custis, was playing quarterback for Hamilton as far back as 1951. That’s diversity.

Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet writes this: “The MOP at the halfway point of the season is a kicker.” Say again? A punter/place kicker, Justin Medlock of the Bombers, is the most oustanding player in the CFL? Spare us the nonsense, Donnovan. Everyone knows that kickers aren’t football players (sorry Bob Cameron and Troy Westwood). Once upon a time kickers were, indeed, football players (hello Kid Dynamite James, Choo Choo Shepard, Spaghetti Legs Parker, Jack Abendschan, Don Jonas, etc.), but now they boot the football and go for a Slurpee. Your MOP right now is Mike Reilly.

Terrific read from Ed Tait on Winnipeg O-lineman Jermarcus (Yoshi) Hardrick, who look a long, hard road to the CFL. Tait’s piece is the type of feature you seldom read in either of River City’s two dailies, due largely to space and access restrictions, and it’s a reminder of what the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages lost when he defected to bluebombers.com. Anyone at the Drab Slab who thinks Tait is a hack (hello, Paul Wiecek) has totally lost the plot.

Let’s see now, umpire Joe West provides a harmless, fun anecdote about Adrian Beltre and he’s suspended for three days. So what will Major League Baseball do with Detroit Tigers second sacker Ian Kinsler? He dumped all over ump Angel Hernandez, telling the Detroit Free Press, “He needs to find another job, he really does. He’s messing with baseball games, blatantly. I’m just saying it’s pretty obvious that he has to stop ruining baseball games. Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore.” I’m guessing MLB will be making an ATM withdrawal from Kinsler’s account, at the least.

Nice to see Erik Gudbranson, Troy Stecher and Jake Virtanen of the Canucks get into the spirit at Vancouver’s Pride parade and hijinks. It takes some special kind of gonads for macho hockey players to put on a rainbow-colored skirt and lei.

Bravo to Phil Kessel. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward has posted a pic of himself and the Stanley Cup stuffed with BBQ’d hot dogs, in what was a direct shot at Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons, who’d written a blistering piece about Kessel after he’d been dealt away by the Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago. Among other things, Simmons called Kessel “poison” and he claimed that the winger pigged out daily at a certain downtown hot dog stand in the Republic of Tranna (proven to be false). So what did Simmons think of the Kessel burn? “One, I thought ‘Phil’s pretty funny. Good for Phil for making a joke about it.’” he said on TSN 1050’s Breakfast Club. “Two, ‘This is your day with the Cup. This is your day…you’ve worked this hard, you get this thing, you’re having a party, why be so small to reference something that really isn’t important in your life?’” Yo! Steve! “Small” is writing about a guy’s rumored eating habits and getting the rumored facts wrong. What Kessel did to you, meanwhile, is a classic burn. Try lightening up.

Which brings me to today’s list: Biggest hot dogs in sports…

1. Muhammad Ali: The former heavyweight boxing champion was many things, but he most definitely was a hot dog (in a fun way).
2. Reggie Jackson: Mr. October was also Mr. Swagger.
3. Terrell Owens: Popcorn anyone?
4. Deion Sanders: He once said, “They don’t pay nobody to be humble.” He’s living proof.
5. Johnny Manziel: There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover this do-nothing hot dog.

Further evidence of the Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun sports section: In Steve Simmons’ past two odds-and-ends, three-dot columns that appear weekly, he devoted 21 items to sports franchises or figures in the Republic of Tranna. That’s compared to zero (0) Winnipeg references. To repeat: Toronto 21, Winnipeg 0. So, again, I ask why is a Toronto-centric column appearing weekly in a River City sheet? Aren’t any of the local writers capable of stringing together a series of wide-ranging quotes, notes and anecdotes that include opinion snippets about Winnipeg’s sports scene? I mean, if I can do it from Victoria, surely someone with their feet on the ground in good Ol’ Hometown can do it.

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 Kevin Cheveldayoff’s playoff guarantee for the Winnipeg Jets…Festus Haggen running the Vancouver Canucks…Genie Bouchard’s hissy fit…the heavyweight boxing alphabet…and those darned kids are playing on Steve Simmons’ lawn again

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

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Interesting exchange between John Shannon of Sportsnet and Kevin Cheveldayoff before the ping pong balls went bouncy-bouncy at the National Hockey League draft lottery on Saturday in the Republic of Tranna.

Shannon: “I mean this sincerely, I don’t wanna see you (here) next year.”

Chevy: “I’m not coming back.”

I suppose we can read that light-hearted bit of good, ol’ boys banter one of two ways:

1) Chevy, after half a dozen years of generally (mis)managing the Winnipeg Jets, is telling the faithful that there shall be meaningful games played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next spring. That’s right, playoffs. You have his guarantee. No ifs, buts or maybes. It’s iron-clad.

Or…

2) Should the Jets fail to qualify for the 2018 Stanley Cup tournament, Chevy is telling Jets Nation that he no longer will be generally (mis)managing the Jets. They’ll kick him to the curb.

Which of the two is it? Well, I don’t think Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman is inclined to kick Chevy anywhere, although a good, swift boot to the seat of his britches might serve a useful purpose. So, he’s guaranteeing us that the Jets will not be a lottery team next year.

Trouble is, nobody will hold him to it.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! This is your weekly reminder about how to build a playoff team. If you’ve been paying attention to the Edmonton McDavids’ postseason run, you’ll know they’ve gotten game-winning goals from Zack Kassian (two), David Desharnais, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon and Anton Slepyshev. All but Slepyshev were acquired in trades, Chevy. Oh, and that goalie who stole Game 2 for the McDavids in their skirmish with the Disney Ducks? That’s right. Cam Talbot was acquired in a trade, as well. But, hey, you just keep drafting and doing nothing else, Chevy.

Why do I keep reading and hearing that it will be an upset if the McDavids knock off the Ducks? Edmonton was a mere two points in arrears of Anaheim at the close of regular-season business, they racked up the same number of Ws (regulation/overtime), and their goal differential was 12 better. So how would that qualify as an upset?

Festus Haggen and Trevor Linden: Separated at birth?

That hot mess that is the Vancouver Canucks doesn’t look any prettier after they dropped three spots, to No. 5, in the draft lottery, but it won’t prevent Trevor Linden from peddling his flock a snootful of hooey. “We could get a better player at five than the top two, and that’s what we’re focused on,” the Canucks chief cook and bottle washer said. “We’re thinking about the entire draft. We’ll have six picks in the top 120 and we’re going to add to our group of prospects. That’s the message to our fans.” Which is like trying to sell mosquitoes to Winnipeg.

Yo! Trevor Linden! It’s one thing to look like you’re in the fourth month of a hunger strike, but what’s with those scruffy chin whiskers? If someone were to stick a tattered, old cowboy hat on you, we’d be looking at Festus Haggen from Gunsmoke.

Would I be out of line if I suggest someone other than Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world? I mean, I don’t see anyone better than Erik Karlsson these days, and the Ottawa Senators captain is playing on a foot with two hairline fractures.

I see our girl Genie Bouchard had herself quite the hissy fit when the Sharapova Shriek returned to the Women’s Tennis Association tour this week after 15 months of shriek freedom. Maria Sharapova, of course, had been in exile for using the banned substance meldonium, and the return of Her Royal Blondness as a wild-card entry in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix at Stuttgart, Germany, inspired Genie to label the former world No. 1 a “cheater and…I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again.” Geez, who knew Genie Bouchard was still on the circuit?

Maria Sharapova

Yo! Genie and all you other ladies (hello, Caroline Wozniacki) who would have Sharapova grovel! Listen up. Serena Williams is away having babies. The Sharapova Shriek had been silenced. You have no star power without them. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So give your heads a shake. Of course event organizers want the tall Russkie in the main draw. That’s why she was offered wild-card entries at Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome. She sells. It’s a no-brainer. Will she receive a free pass into the French Open at Roland Garros? We’ll know mid-May. In the meantime, the WTA needs her as much as she needs it.

Once upon a time, a heavyweight title bout was the biggest sports story of the day. Heavyweight champion of the world was the most exalted position in all of jockdom. Today? Dispatches on the title tiff between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday night at Wembley Stadium in London didn’t even make it on the front page of the Sportsnet website (I guess they couldn’t work a Toronto Maple Leafs angle into the story) and it made the bottom of the page on TSN’s site. For the record, Joshua (19-0, 19 knockouts) stopped Klitschko in the 11th round and he now owns two of prize fighting’s alphabet belts—the IBF and WBA. Deontay Wilder is the WBC champeen and Joseph Parker holds the WBO title. No word on the three champions going dukes up to sort out boxing’s alphabet, but if they do fight I’m sure Sportsnet won’t care.

Grandpa Steve Simmons is in the Bow Wow Bungalow again.

Oh, dear me, those pesky kids are playing in Grandpa Steve Simmons’ front yard again. The Postmedia columnist tweets: “Shouldn’t playoffs be enough to get people excited? Why this need for blaring noise and screaming half hour before Raptors game?” Shhhhhh. You kids keep it down out there! Grandpa Stevie has to get in his nap before tipoff.

Just wondering: Is there a Canadian Football League rule that Chris Jones hasn’t broken since taking over Gang Green. The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Mr. Everything has been levied fines totaling $116,500, which could buy him a backup quarterback, a rookie O-lineman and a fine to be levied later.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

 


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About what a hockey town looks like…NHL teams that actually make trades…old man Sudsy…Coach Potty-Mouth’s smugness…a steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver…and blaming it all on Canada’s sad-sack hockey fans

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

In the department of really, really, really dumb headlines, Sportsnet takes the prize for this: “Oilers fans ready to show us what a hockey town looks like.”

Edmonton Oilers fans perfected the jersey toss.

Just wondering, would those be the same fans who, only two years ago, were hurling Edmonton Oilers jerseys onto the ice in disgust? Those people are going to show the rest of us how it’s done? That’s like hiring Don Cherry as a wardrobe consultant. Or Meryl Streep recruiting Adam Sandler as an acting coach.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. Oilers fans are terrific. When they aren’t tossing $200 orange-and-blue clothing onto the freeze.

I doubt there’s anything Oilers loyalists can teach the faithful in the other six National Hockey League ports-of-call in Canada, with the possible exception of Vancouver, where the locals like to play with matches and try to reduce the town to ashes whenever the Canucks lose a playoff series. I mean, what can the rabble in Montreal, for example, learn from their counterparts in The Chuck? Zilch, that’s what.

Officially, Roman Catholicism is the main religion in Montreal. But we know better, don’t we. It’s hockey, specifically les Canadiens. The team jersey (which no one tosses on the ice surface) is known as La Sainte-Flanelle—the Holy Flannel. The Habs’ former home, the fabled Forum, wasn’t a hockey rink. It was a cathedral. Carey Price isn’t a goaltender. He’s deity. If he backstops les Glorieux to their 25th Stanley Cup title, he, like Patrick Roy, will achieve sainthood. At the very least, he becomes the Pope.

And Edmonton is going to show Montreal what a hockey town looks like? As if.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! Did you notice who scored twice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their double OT victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night? That’s right, Kasperi Kapanen, acquired as part of the Phil Kessel trade. And did you notice who assisted on both of Kapanen’s goals, including the overtime winner? That’s right, Brian Boyle, acquired just before the trade deadline for a minor leaguer and a conditional second-round draft choice. So you see, Chevy, there’s more to being an NHL general manager than draft and develop. It’s actually permissible to improve your Winnipeg Jets roster via barter, whether it means surrendering spare parts or an elite performer, as the Leafs did with Kessel.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler would excel in playoff hockey.

I don’t know if Blake Wheeler has been watching first-round Stanley Cup skirmishing, but, if so, I’m guessing it must really gnaw at the Jets captain that he isn’t included in the fun. This is his kind of hockey—intense, ballsy, belligerent, hostile, up-tempo, elite. Wheeler would excel on that stage. As for his colleagues, I wonder how many of the Jets could compete in that environment. It would be nice to find out sometime this decade. Well, wouldn’t it, Chevy?

Unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Free Press ignored the passing of Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, a member of the original Word Hockey Association Jets team and assistant/head coach of Jets 1.0 in the NHL. Sudsy’s death doesn’t warrant a mention? Not even a paragraph or three on one of the truly good guys in Jets lore? That’s totally lame.

Funny story about Sudsy from Joe Watson, a teammate with the original Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. After scoring the first goal in franchise history in Oakland, Sudsy and the Flyers returned home for their season debut at the Spectrum, on Oct. 19. Here’s how Watson remembered it for csnphilly.com: “We’re coming through the building and the security guards were there and we are all walking through and all of us are looking kind of young and Billy was looking older and the security guard says, ‘Where are you going? Billy says, ‘I’m a player.’ And the security guard says, ‘You can’t be. You’re too old.’ He was 36 at the time.” As it happened, Sudsy scored the only goal that night in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had lifetime security clearance thereafter.

I’m not sure what was more astonishing at Paul Maurice’s season-over chin-wag with news scavengers, his unvarnished arrogance or his smugness. Asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun why, given the head coach’s track record, Jets fans should be confident that he is the right man to “turn this (team) around,” Coach Potty-Mouth declared “It doesn’t need to be turned around. It’s already headed in the right direction.” Well, excuuuuse us all to hell. And here we thought the Jets missed the playoffs. Again. Later, Maurice twice refused to allow TSN’s Sara Orlesky to complete a question about acquiring a veteran goaltender, interrupting her both times with a smug response. I will say one thing for Coach Potty-Mo, though: At one point, he confessed to lying to the media. I’m sure they take considerable comfort in knowing they shouldn’t believe anything he tells them.

While it remains uncertain if the Jets are, indeed, “headed in the right direction,” as Maurice submits, I’ll take their roster over that steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver. Do the deep-thinkers with the Canucks (hello Trevor Linden and Jim Benning) even have a clue? Basically, they fired their head coach, Willie Desjardins, because the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, had the bad manners to get old, and former GM Mike Gillis mangled half a dozen entry drafts.

To underscore how fortunate the Jets were at the draft lottery last April, consider this: By the odds, they should have picked no higher than sixth in the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers. Patrik Laine would have been gone by then and they likely would have settled for Keith Tkachuk’s boy Matthew. The difference between Puck Finn and Tkachuk? Twenty-three goals, with Laine scoring 36 and Keith’s kid 13 for the Calgary Flames. Of the top 10 youngsters chosen last year, only three—Laine, Tkachuk and Auston Matthews—played full time in the NHL this season. That’s how lucky the Jets were at the lottery.

Blame it on the fans.

Paul Wiecek of the Free Press offers an interesting theory in explaining why NHL outfits from the True North have failed to bring the Stanley Cup home since 1993—it’s your fault, Josephine and Joe Phan. “My theory,” Wiecek writes, “is that we’re to blame—every sad-sack hockey fan in Canada who continues to fill the arenas in this country and pay huge bucks to watch mediocre (at best) hockey. Our strength as a hockey nation is also our biggest weakness when it comes to the NHL: our passion for the sport—and our willingness to be separated from our money in support of it, no matter what—provides no incentive for our NHL teams to be anything more than exactly what they are: Just good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly good enough to actually win a Cup.” The alternative, I suppose, is to stop supporting Canadian-based teams and let them all move to the southern U.S. How did that work out for Winnipeg the first time?

An odd bit of analysis on the Jets was delivered by Jeff Hamilton, one of the young scribes at the Drab Slab. “It makes little sense at this point to start pointing fingers,” he writes in the Freep. Really? If the media isn’t prepared to critique the local hockey heroes and assign responsibility for failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby, who will? Certainly not the fans, who, as Wiecek submits, happily part with their money for the opportunity to watch mediocrity. It’s the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to hold the Jets’ feet to the fire, and a talented writer/reporter like Hamilton surely knows that.

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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My Hens in the Hockey House want Jacob Trouba to stay long term and Big Buff to stay short term

Once again, I present to you my two Hens in the Hockey House, who are down on Winnipeg Jets ownership/management but bullish on a number of players.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, this is our final gum-flapper of the hockey season. We’ve already dumped on the Fiddle-Farters Three, so what do you want to talk about now?

Answer Lady: Hey, this is Buffalo West. What do you think we’re going to talk about? In other National Hockey League locales, they talk about the now, which is to say the start of a playoff series, but not in Buffalo West, where one of the unfailing rites of spring is failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup shindig.

Question Lady: Boy, that’s a word you don’t hear too often anymore—shindig. You think youngsters in the audience know what it means?

Answer Lady: We have an audience? And there are youngsters in it? Who knew? Anyway, in River City, much like Buffalo where the Sabres make an annual early exit from the fray, we talk about the future because that’s all the Jets have to peddle—hope. That’s what both general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice will be selling next week at their respective season-end chin-wags with news snoops—hope. Both men will wax on about the “process” and the “long haul” and “patience” and new players “fitting in,” but neither will say when the future becomes the now.

Question Lady: You think?

Sean Spicer

Answer Lady: Listen, it’ll be Chevy/Coach Potty-Mouth doing Sean Spicer without the finger-pointing and schoolyard bickering. They’ll probably  deliver some interesting alternative facts, too. By the time they’re finished blah, blah, blahing and yadda, yadda, yaddaing, they might have some of the rabble convinced that the Jets actually made the playoffs.

Question Lady: Okay, let’s forget about those two because, you’re right, it’s all going to be hollow, preach-the-party-line blather. So you tell me, are the Jets about to turn the corner?

Answer Lady: I’m not sure they can even see the corner.

Question Lady: You’re kidding me, right?

Answer Lady: Not at all. Look, the Jets have incredible, top-end talent that I’m sure some other outfits envy. You think George McPhee wouldn’t like to hit the ground running with the top end of the Jets’ roster in Vegas? I’d venture to say that Vancouver Canucks ownership would swap rosters with the Jets—even-up—faster than you could say “Harold Snepsts is a cult figure.” I mean, would you want to step into the future with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine or with the Sedin twins? So, ya, the Jets have some fab pieces in place. But ready to turn the corner? Not without first navigating a whole lot of potholes. Frankly, I can see them in the same situation a year from now.

Question Lady: I find that hard to believe. I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?

Answer Lady: One, coaching. Two, goaltending. Three, unless Dame Fortune looks very favorably on the Jets when the ping pong balls start bouncing in this year’s draft lottery, their first choice in the auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers will be a two- or three-year project. Maybe longer. I’m not saying he’ll be as bad a choice as last year’s panic pick, Logan Stanley, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll step in immediately like Laine did this season.

Canucks cult figure Harold Snepsts.

Question Lady: Is Laine going to win the Calder Trophy as top rookie?

Answer Lady: I think Puck Finn could finish this crusade with back-to-back hat tricks and it still wouldn’t be enough to sway the eastern bloc vote. The Calder is Auston Matthews’ bauble. He deserves it. But it’s no bigee that Laine won’t win. Connor McDavid wasn’t rookie-of-the-year. Nor was Sidney Crosby—he received only four first-place votes. The Hockey Hall of Fame is full of players who don’t have their names inscribed on the Calder. Guys like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Mark Messier, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, St. Patrick Roy.

Question Lady: Laine is a keeper for sure. What other Jets do you consider untouchables?

Answer Lady: There are no untouchables…there are players I would least like to move—Puck Finn, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey, Bryan Little.

Question Lady: No Dustin Byfuglien on that list?

Answer Lady: They should have sent him packing last year, when he was positioned to become an untethered free agent. He would have brought a boffo return. So it was a missed opportunity. He’d still be the first guy I’d try to deal away, but his contract makes it very difficult, if not impossible. I’m afraid the Jets are stuck with him, although I’m sure they don’t look at it that way.

Question Lady: What’s the most-pressing issue the Jets face vis-a-vis the roster?

Answer Lady: Convincing Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. He’s the stud defenceman you build around. He has just one year left on the under-market-value deal he signed to end his contract impasse last November, and the Jets don’t want to go there again. I don’t know if there’s negative residue on either side from their standoff, but I want Trouba happy, healthy and wealthy.

Question Lady: What do you think owner Mark Chipman and Chevy will do?

Jacob Trouba

Answer Lady: It’s like the to-and-fro between a man and a woman. The guy’s always going to be interested in the girl, but if the girl isn’t interested in the guy it’s a non-starter. Same with the Puck Pontiff and Trouba. Chipman can pitch woo and Chevy can have a gazillion pictures of Trouba on his office wall, but the kid’s heart might be set on playing in another market, come hell or high income.

Question Lady: That’d be a bummer. Any other thoughts on the Jets before they shut down for the season?

Answer Lady: Ya, I kind of feel sorry for guys like Wheeler and Little. As I’ve written, their career clocks are ticking and they can’t afford many more wasted years while the Fiddle-Farters Three continue to fiddle-fart around by selling hope. Wheeler is very good at hockey. He’s the Jets’ best player. And Little goes about his business in an admirable, understated way. They deserve playoff hockey.

Question Lady: Agreed. Well, that’s it for me, girlfriend. I’m out of here until the entry draft in June.

Answer Lady: Ditto. Enjoy the playoffs. Or do what I do—break out the hot dogs and watch baseball.

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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One too many hands on the Winnipeg Jets’ wheel?…being goalie blind…Mark Scheifele’s worth…a shootout to decide first pick in the NHL entry draft…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 Chipman

Mark Chipman

Here’s the main question I wanted asked of, and answered by, Kevin Cheveldayoff in his gum-flapper with news scavengers on Monday: Are you Mark Chipman’s puppet?

I think it’s important to know if Cheveldayoff, the Winnipeg Jets general manager, is simply a yes man or if he has autonomy to make his own big decisions in the hockey department of the Secret Society Also Known As True North Sports & Entertainment.

Keep in mind that, during a gab session with George Stombouloupouloulouloulous on Hockey Night in Canada last winter, team co-bankroll Chipman disclosed that he has a large, if not the largest, say in hockey operations.

“Chevy and I talk pretty much daily,” His Holy Hockeyness told Stromboy of his working relationship with Cheveldayoff. “Those are his calls to make, but it would depend on the extent of the term or the quantum of the contract you’re talking about (that) would, to a certain degree, determine the level of involvement that he would require me. The lengthier the deal or the more impactful the deal, the more I would be involved on a consultant basis.”

So, is former Jets captain Andrew Ladd now trying to help the Chicago Blackhawks repeat as National Hockey League champions because of Chipman? Is defenceman Dustin Byfuglien on board for another five years of ice fishing because of Chipman? Do we find Chipman’s fingerprints on the directive to transform the roster into a Kiddie Corps?

In short, exactly when and how often are Chipman’s hands on the till?

It’s a question that should have been asked but wasn’t.

Trying to pry a straight answer out of Cheveldayoff is like expecting Alexander Burmistrov to stop skating in circles, but his counterpart in Vancouver, Jim Benning, isn’t shy about laying out a timetable for the Canucks to once again become a playoff outfit. “Realistically,” the Canucks GM says, “if you’re asking me when will the day be that we can compete with the best teams in the league, I think that (the end of the Sedins’ contracts) timeline is fair. This is Year 2, and by our fourth or fifth year, I hope we’ll be there with the elite teams in the league.” Why is it so difficult for Cheveldayoff to be that forthcoming?

Kyle Walters

Kyle Walters

Okay, kids, quiz me this: Would you rather be Kevin Cheveldayoff or Kyle Walters? Well, if you don’t want to be sitting in the hot seat, you’ll be Chevy every time. I say that because, in a recent Winnipeg Sun poll, Cheveldayoff received a whopping 86 per cent approval rating from 2,318 fans who played You Be The Boss. That despite the fact the lineup he iced this past season delivered the most disastrous results in the Jets’ five crusades under his stewardship. By way of comparison, 1,386 played You Be The Boss at the conclusion of the 2015 Canadian Football League season, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Walters got clobbered. He had the support of just 60 per cent. So here’s your bottom line: Cheveldayoff has been on the job five years and just delivered his worst results; Walters has been on the job three years and his on-field product is no worse. Two questions: 1) Is Chevy made of teflon; 2) Are honeymoons supposed to last this long?

The Jets have long been goalie blind, but both Cheveldayoff and the head coach, Paul Maurice, insist that Ondrej Pavelec will not get the No. 1 job by default next autumn. To quote both men, there’ll be “competition.” Well, I’d like to believe them. I really would. Honest. But I don’t believe them. I doubt any other team would be willing to take Pavelec’s contract off their hands, so they’re stuck with him. And so are you.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs agreed to pay Nazem Kadri $4.5 million per annum and gave him a six-year term, does that impact on the Jets payroll? I am, of course, thinking of Mark Scheifele, who is due a handsome increase in earnings after completing his entry level contract with a 61-point season, 15 more than Kadri put up in the Republic of Tranna. Surely, Scheifele is the superior of the two centre-ice men. Surely he has greater upside. Here’s a guess: The Jets lock Scheifele down for eight years and make him the team’s highest-salaried forward, starting at $6 million next season.

Instead of ping pong balls determining which team has first call in the annual NHL entry draft, I have a better idea: A shootout. That’s right. Each of the 14 non-playoff participants selects one shooter from its roster, and they gather in the Republic of Tranna for a showdown. Every team gets one shot (against two league-chosen, neutral goaltenders). You miss, you’re out. Sudden-death. It’s a process of elimination that determines the drafting order by skill rather than Lady Luck. Last team standing gets first shout at the draft. Next best gets second pick and so on. It completely eliminates tanking and would make for must-see TV.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Russian Hockey Federation withdraws its entire roster from the world Under-18 hockey championship in North Dakota because the players might have the banned drug meldonium in their systems. So the Russkies replace those kids with its Under-17 roster. What the comrades are telling us is this: “We don’t turn our kid athletes into druggies until they’re at least 17 years old.”

It doesn’t bother me that the three highest-ranking members in the Toronto Blue Jays ivory tower are all Americans. It does bother me that all three—president and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro, general manager Ross Atkins and vice-president of business operations Andrew Miller—come from the Cleveland Indians organization.

John Gibbons

John Gibbons

Found it interesting that Sports Illustrated had a go at Blue Jays manager John Gibbons for his sexist comment about his players wearing “dresses” because Major League Baseball is going soft on sliding into second base. Yes, that would be the very same magazine that flaunts female flesh on its cover and numerous inside pages once every year, just to remind us what women are supposed to look like. (The Cliff Corcoran piece, by the way, appeared on an SI.com page promoting these photo features: “Lisa Dergan and 22 Super Hot MLB Wives” and “25 Most Gorgeous Female Politicians.”) And they’re calling Gibbons sexist?

I get a kick out of scribes from the Republic of Tranna who pretend to know what we’re thinking in other areas of our vast land. Take Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun as an e.g. Little Stevie Blunder has determined from his bubble in the Centre of the Universe that the rest of us are doing nothing but blah, blah, blahing and yadda, yadda, yaddaing about the Jays. He calls Canada “a hockey country talking baseball.” Sigh. That might have been true last October when in-your-face bat-flipping was all the rage, but in early April? Not happening where I live, and last time I looked the West Coast was still part of the nation. Go back to stalking Phil Kessel and hot dog vendors, Stevie.

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.


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Winnipeg Blue Bombers: It must really suck to be Lirim Hajrull-oops

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

How bad a day did Lirim Hajrull-oops have on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry? Well, after coughing up a hair ball on four field goal attempts and a convert in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ one-point loss to the Edmonton Eskimos, he was so angry when he got home that he wanted to kick a dog.

Naturally, he missed. Fido is just fine.

It’s no surprise, really, that Lirim Hajrull-oops’s teammates stood by their man and resisted the urge to hurl the much-maligned place-kicker under the team bus. They put on the proper public face. In private, though, we all know what they had to be thinking—he cost them two points in the West Division table and, possibly, admission to the Canadian Football League post-season party. It was the worst kicking performance since Jay Leno gave Conan O’Brien the boot, and he ought to be fired. That’s the reality.

I see where TSN has been doing the promo thing for a feature on the Toronto Blue Jays’ 1993 World Series championship, and Joe Carter, the batsman who struck the decisive blow in the home half of the ninth inning of Game 6, tells us that “everyone knows where they were” when he swatted his three-run homer, and the Jays’ success “changed how we view baseball.” I can assure Mr. Carter that I, for one, do not have a clue where I was or what I was doing when he clouted a Mitch Williams pitch over the fence in left field, nor did that development alter the way I watch rounders. I mean, get a grip, man. It was a baseball game, not the JFK assassination.

Exactly how many people does Raffi Torres have to send to the hospital before the National Hockey League does the right thing and tell him to go away and never come back? Suspended for a fifth time, his most recent trespass being a predatory-type assault on Jacob Silfverberg of the Disney Ducks, it truly is time to toss the book at the San Jose Sharks’ repeat felon.

So, three female reporters were denied access—temporarily—to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ changing room post-game in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon. Not good. Blatant gender discrimination. Should never happen in 2015. A male usher made a serious faux pas. But wait. One of the women, Graham Watson, described the usher as an “old, out-of-touch geezer” and another, Joey Chandler, was only slightly more charitable, referring to him as an “old man.” Way to keep it classy, ladies. Makes it rather difficult to sympathize with you when you’re so insulting.

Okay, let’s put the corks back in the champagne bottles, boys. That is to say, there are far too many champagne celebrations in baseball for my liking. You win a division title, fine. Break out the bubbly. Ditto for an American League or National League pennant and World Series victory. But for earning a wild-card spot? Or a second wild-card spot? Again, get a grip, boys. You haven’t won a thing. What next? A champagne bath for finishing first in the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues in spring?

 

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.


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Swimming in a sea of Canuckleheads; Winnipeg Jets over the Disney Ducks in 6 games; and who sprinkled Ondrej Pavelec with Dominik Hasek dust?

I am already seeing it. Canuckmania.

People are wearing the jerseys with the big C-shaped, angry Orca on the chest. Flags flutter from car windows. It is all the talk in my favorite watering hole and, no doubt, most pubs on the left flank of the land. I live a short hop across the water from the B.C. mainland, and make no mistake about one thing—Victoria is Vancouver Canucks country.

One might assume that the reality that I, a member of Jets Nation, am surrounded by Canuckleheads to be discormforting. Not at all. If anything, I am quietly humored by their zeal, particularly those among their number who seldom discourse on matters of athletics but now give voice to the goings-on of the National Hockey League and the commencement of the Stanley Cup tournament.

Why is the Canucks orca such an angry whale?

Why is the Canucks orca such an angry whale?

For example, just yesterday afternoon the boys on the bar stools in Bart’s Pub were prattling on, in not-so-hushed tones, about the Canucks’ upcoming engagement with the Calgary Flames, when one of them squeezed a mention of the Winnipeg Jets into the chin-wag.

“Did you see how the Jets got in?” he asked without expecting a reply. “They lost their last game. Got shut out. And they make the playoffs!”

The inference, of course, was that the Winnipegs had exercised the very bad manners of using a back door to gain entrance to the tournament. That they had not won their way in. This while the Jets were, at that very moment, featured on a corner TV, laying a 5-1 licking on the Flames to earn their 99th point of the regular season, just two fewer than the Canucks.

My instinct was to correct this fellow. I mean, if blanking the Wild in Minny, the Blues in St. Loo and the Avalanche in mile-high Denver—three shutouts in succession, on the road, in the final week of a 6 1/2-month campaign—is his idea of backing into the playoffs, well…whatever.

I chose to sit in silence, listening as they shifted their deliberations to the Canucks’ goal crease, an area of considerable concern given that the starting goaltender, Ryan Miller, had, until Saturday night, spent seven weeks on the shelf due to a wonky right knee. The consensus: Understudy Eddie Lack should start when Team Orca opens playoff hostilities vs. the Flames on Wednesday night in Van City.

That, of course, bears no importance for me. My area of interest would be the blue paint at the Jets’ end of the rink once they face off against the Disney Ducks in the Magic Kingdom on Thursday. But no one out here wishes to discuss Ondrej Pavelec, the Jets goaler who apparently has been sprinkled with Dominic Hasek dust and whose net has been a puck-free zone for a few ticks less than 187 minutes. Do the math. That’s three-plus games.

Pavelec’s play is among the reasons why the Jets qualified for their first post-season crusade since arriving in River City in 2011, and he shall be among the reasons the Winnipegs upstage the Ducks in their opening-round skirmish.

Oh, yes. That is an early prediction. Jets over Ducks. In six games.

I say that not only because Pavelec has become inpenetrable, but because Bruce Boudreau is head coach of the Disney Ducks. Bruce Boudreau-coached teams and playoff hockey are not a favorable combination. They do not win. Ever. They implode.

Which means…the Jets shall advance to Round Two of the tournament, whereupon they shall rattle sabres with none other than the Vancouver Canucks, who shall vanquish the Flames.

80s-logo-homeThis puts me in a bit of a pickle. As mentioned, I am surrounded by Canuckleheads, a tribe of very sore losers prone to rioting whenever their universe does not unfold as it should. I have made no secret of my affections for the Jets, which positions me as the enemy in these here parts. I fear the worst. I shall not, however, be intimidated should the Jets meet the Canucks. That’s not the Paul Maurice way. I shall proudly display the Jets logo.

That, I hasten to point out, would be the Jets logo circa 1970s-80s. I still cannot embrace the current logo, which is…well, as one Canucklehead asked yesterday, “What exactly is that Jets logo supposed to be?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Just like I don’t know why that Orca whale on the Canucks logo is so angry. I guess it’s because the Canucks have been in the NHL for almost half a century and they still haven’t won the Stanley Cup. You know, just like the Maple Leafs.”

Logo wars aside, I hope the Jets and Canucks do meet in the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament for a couple of reasons: 1) It would be a one-anthem series; 2) it would guarantee one Canadian outfit a berth in the Western Conference final.

So bring it on, Canuckleheads.

 

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.