Thursday, December 29, 2011

Glass Ceiling

By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser
Edited By: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey

It’s no fun being on the outside looking in, looking up at a glass ceiling or banging on the door. All great euphemisms for being out of the top eight playoff spots in the conference. When you’re a fan it’s no fun to get that sympathetic look from other fans and hear “Well, they’ll be in the hunt, don’t worry”. Hearing that is like hearing someone runing their nails down a chalkboard, it makes you want to cringe. That’s why on Tuesday night, in their game against the Colorado Avalanche you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Jets nation after the Jets had finally smashed through the glass ceiling and into eighth spot.

The eighth spot has eluded the Jets for the better part of December, a month in which they had at least two failed opportunities to break down the door, the most notable being a loss against Washington in which a Capitals squad floating around the playoff barrier should have been vulnerable, and then an even tougher loss to the Islanders shortly after.  Now that fate has finally shone on the Jets and sent them north of the playoff line, what will it take to see this success carry through to the end of the season? A lot of hard work and a pinch of luck.

 Now there are far better sports statisticians than I, however looking at the current standings anything after fifth place is a total crap shoot, with teams from sixth to eleventh within four points of each other. That means that there can be almost zero room for error. The Jets will need to win the games they are supposed to win and steal a few from the elite teams if they want to stay in the playoff picture. There will be no room for nights off or losing skids, the competition is just too good. The good news is that if you look at the way the Jets have been playing, they seem deep when they shouldn’t be. What I mean by that is when you think of who the Jets should send to the All-Star game your choice is tough, why? Because the Jets have been scoring by committee, and seeing contributions not only from the big names but the plumbers as well. Already the injury bug has bitten the Jets and they have shown that there are capable call-ups from The Rock ready and willing to stand in. The goaltending of Pavelec has stood out, and Mason is another Jets component that seems able to slot in without missing a beat.

Now that I’ve spread around the pixie dust and sunshine, here’s what the Jets don’t have; a first line centre. It’s a problem that becomes apparent almost every night. They also don’t have a shutdown guy, which is something they could most definitely use on a blue line that’s full of gunners. These Jets will have to live without those luxuries and continue to grind and gun their wins just as they’ve been doing lately, but that’s ok, that’s new Winnipeg Jets hockey.

The competition may also help the Jets down the stretch. Does anyone really think the Panthers will stay amongst the top seeds in the east? They are overachieving now and may have to pay for it at the wrong time. I’m also going to stick my neck out and predict (mainly because it’s fun to do so) that Toronto will go on one of their legendary nose dives in the new year and provide the Jets with a bit of an opening to claw their way up. The upcoming two games the Jets have against the Leafs could help them along nicely.  I’ll crawl out on another limb and say Ottawa will probably fall farther down into the cellar as the season progresses.

There are also however a few teams to watch. There is no way Washington is as bad as their record and when they get it together they'll probably be in the fight. Buffalo is another team that could see some new life in the New Year. All the components are there, it’s just getting them to find their identity. Tampa also has the weapons to stage a late comeback.

What does all this mean? It means that being in eighth spot at the end of December, although a psychological lift, really doesn’t mean anything. It means we have a decent chance, it means we’re not out of the race. As the Jets scrape and claw their way up, there'll be teams that will be pulling at them from their heels. There’s still lots of season left and lots of ground to either gain or give up. Will guts, guns and the seventh man be enough? 

We’ll find out in April. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I am a Christian; therefore Christmas has a few layers of meaning for me personally. In the very best way, I have the opportunity to relive the joy of Christmas through the excited eyes of my five year old. I also get to dust off the traditions of selflessness and giving that seem to be too quickly forgotten throughout the year. Finally it’s a time for me to take a minute to commune with my maker and indulge in a spirituality that seems to be supplanted by the age in which we live.  After saying all that though, there is something else that is a wonder to behold during the holiday season and that is the universality of sharing, giving and fellowship that has been adopted by all who join the celebration at Christmas.

To me it’s a true miracle to see how kindness, selflessness and acts of giving can be so infectious amongst everyone who has adopted Christmas as not only a religious holiday but a cultural one.  

There is a dream of Christmas, and in this dream we all try to put forth a better version of ourselves. A self that shines a light on the darker shadow of our nature and puts the suffering of others at the peak of our concern. A self that embraces the love that is not only given by our family, but that which comes from our friends, our community and our nation. Finally, a self that discards concern over that which is received and focuses on that which can be given.

As the weather grows cold our thoughts turn inward and the dream of Christmas takes hold in our hearts. It takes on a life of its own through our children and our community. As we look outward again through the lens of this dream we see those whose circumstance has left them outside the grace of good fortune. With the veil of selfishness lifted we see not only all that which we have but that which we have to give and the dream of Christmas is our enabler.

As we come together, catch up with old friends, embrace family and celebrate our community, we should not forget those who are left outside and alone. Those who need our help are those in which the dream of Christmas is fulfilled. To bring joy where there is none, to give hope in the darkest corners of our human condition, to reach out and bring those on the outside in, this is the joy of Christmas.

As we retreat to our homes on Christmas day and bask in the glow of giving, it’s time to take stock of the toll exacted by our grievances. The price of war, the cruelty of injustice, and the suffering of disparity are the cost of believing that we as a people do not share common ground. We need to train ourselves to look past those that would point out our differences and start listening to the voices that would have us embrace our common humanity.  It’s the dream of Christmas that shows us we are more the same than we are different.

The children play with their toys, turkey sandwiches are consumed and a quiet calm descends. Slowly the dream of Christmas starts to give way to the expectation of hope for the New Year. Our Christmas dream has allowed us to look ahead and believe that we can do better, that we can carry on, elevated as our better selves. 

So the holidays eventually end, and we are thrown back into the realities of our lives. We reset our focus on survival in the modern world and our minds once again turn to our own situations. Children go back to school and parents go back to work. The world churns along much as it always has, but hopefully the dream of Christmas lingers just long enough to make things a little better and a little brighter. That is until next year when we once again try to find that better version of ourselves.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Selanne Effect

Some people have it. What it is can be different from one person to the next. It can be a magnetic, outgoing personality, the friend to all, that everyone notices when they enter a room. It can be a stoic strength that is envied and emulated but rarely copied. Or it can be a unique genuineness, an honesty that transcends language and is felt as opposed to conveyed. This honesty carries with it a sense of purity that draws out the better qualities of people that encounter it.

This is the Selanne effect.

I’m about five months younger than Teemu, so as a fellow person of middling age let me take you back to 1992. The sports headlines since the previous year’s draft had been dominated by Eric “The Next One” Lindros who at the time thought he could do better in any other market than the one who drafted him in Quebec City. Of course I and many other Winnipeggers shared a disdain for Lindros, not because we had any special affinity for Quebec City, but because in our heart of hearts we knew the same thing could very well happen to us in the next go around. Eric of course ended up going to an American club and Quebec ended up with some valuable properties in return, but it felt like the beginning of the end for small market NHL teams.

During all of this a young Finnish player named Teemu Selanne, chosen tenth overall by the Jets in 1988, quietly moved to Winnipeg with a modest amount of fanfare. At the time the Jets were doing what they always did, scratching and clawing their way into a playoff spot, only to be eliminated by the Oilers in the first round. The Jets original superstar, Dale Hawerchuck had been traded away for Phil Housley and the Jets where a decidedly dull and mediocre team. The economy was down, the city was down, the hockey club was down; the fall of 1992 was dreary. It was the perfect time for a hero.

At the time the Jets hockey club was trying to hype Teemu as much as they could, but as a jaded twenty-something my thoughts were, whatever, another European, what else is new? Indeed there had been a long list of European experiments that had gone off the rails in the previous seasons with the Jets and I was, in my twenty-something way, underwhelmed. That is until Teemu actually started to play, and I experienced the Selanne effect first hand. Teemu exploded into the National Hockey League and took everyone by complete surprise. Coaches, players, fans; everyone was taken aback as the young Finn seemed to score at will. There was a new energy on the Jets and it spilled over into the fans that sent it back again in a tremendous feedback loop that culminated in a record shattering 76 goal rookie season for the one that was now dubbed the “Finnish Flash”.

Through all the adulation, hysteria, and new found hockey glory running through Winnipeg, you could sense at the centre of it all was just a kid who loved to play hockey. Here was a spirit who embraced the people of Winnipeg because they embraced the game and the game was his life. The small city, the cold, the old rink, and the crazy fans all seemed to fit into the Selanne effect. Winnipeggers needed a hero and the hero needed them, it was one of those strange and rare convergences of circumstance, and everyone knew it was special. It also validated the fact that a superstar could end up in a small market and still be successful both on and off the ice. As the “Next One” looked average, the “Finnish Flash” blew through the record books.

We of course all know that in real life happy endings are few and far between. In the winter of 1996 even though our hero had fought and slayed many dragons, the hockey club had been sold and was heading out of town. It appeared to all the experts that even a superstar couldn’t save the small market Canadian hockey club, and on one fateful day near the end, Teemu Selanne was told he had been traded. By most accounts Teemu was furious, he stormed into the dressing room and ripped off his nameplate, and stormed back out again. By his own account he felt that he had been betrayed and cheated out of the opportunity to say goodbye to the people he had grown up with, the people that had taught him why the game was worth playing. It was one of a very few regrets that Teemu carried with him to Anaheim and was one he was reminded of every time a number 13 jersey appeared in the stands during the years that followed.

Now we come to the end and our hero is in the twilight of his playing days. By most reckoning Teemu Selanne has had a hall of fame career, going on to win a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks and consistently, year after year, being their top player. With the re-emergence of both Winnipeg and its hockey team though, Teemu has made his way back to old ground, and back to the people who seem to understand him best.

On Saturday December 17, 2011 Teemu Selanne stepped back onto the Winnipeg ice to a thunderous ovation usually reserved for conquering heroes. Teemu looked up and saw the faces that he’d longed to say goodbye to all those years ago and waved, biting his lower lip, remaining stoic and humble like the hero he is. Through the storm of emotional energy the game carried on, and every time number eight touched the puck a swell of noise followed. After, ironically, a Jets victory, the old Jet did one final lap as the third star. The circle had been closed, and the debt that Teemu felt he owed Winnipeg had been repaid.

Through all the hype, media attention, and storming crowd noise, one still came away with that same old feeling. Teemu is simply a man who loves hockey and he embraces the place where it all started because the people of that place love the hockey he plays. It is that genuine honesty that cannot be conveyed in words, the same old feeling that drew out the best of Winnipeg in 1992 and again on Saturday.

It is the Selanne effect.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Man Up Buttercup

So, there I am sitting at the local rink on Sunday morning watching my five year old play a game against other five year olds and loving every second of it. It was a beautiful sunny crisp morning and I was in a pretty good mood. And then it happened, one of the other dads sporting his Oiler cap started to make his way towards my direction. I should have known it would be inevitable, there was no way to avoid it, but for a brief moment in time I had actually forgotten the events of the previous night. That was about to change.

“I caught some of that game last night, I’m really sorry man”, he said grinning ear to ear, his voice dripping with mock sympathy. “Seven one, oooouch, that’s gotta sting a bit”.  I managed my best eff you smile and tried out the excuse de jour that was making its rounds on Twitter, “Well you know they didn’t get in till 4 am”. I stopped; I knew it was weak as soon as the sound waves penetrated the air around my mouth.  The Gretzky lovin Oiler fan chuckled a bit, “Ya, or maybe it was that shiny new logo of theirs that distracted them”. Unbelievably, I had nothing.  “ I hope you guys make it to the play offs so we can take you out again just for old times’ sake” , he said, attracting unwanted attention from old time Canucks fans who were fellow prisoners in the Smythe division of the eighties.  Think of something, THINK, THINK, THINK! I thought to myself. “Whatever…” I said. That was all I could manage as the Gretzky lovin oiler fan walked away chuckling. Whatever …. For five cents, that’s all I could come up with? Really? It was junior high all over again, and I was taking crap from some no good, Gretzky lovin Oiler fan.  I was psychologically wounded on several levels.

Now against that backdrop of pain and misery, my embarrassment has turned to anger. Obviously I had a failure of whit when jousting with the Messier skate licking Oiler fan, but I should never have been put in that position by my team in the first place. It was truly a failure of grand proportions, albeit not as epic as the Vancouver Canuck Stanley Cup final implosion, but a big none the less.

There was a change of ownership Saturday night that was not sanctioned by the NHL board of governors, as the Detroit Red Wings completely owned the Winnipeg Jets.  It started as most Winnipeg Jets games do, they scored first. Bryan Little who has done a lot to silence the critics lately, busted into the Red Wing zone with speed and notched one early, but that was it. Now I’m not sure if they thought they had it in the bag after that or if they just plain lost their minds because in true holiday fashion the Wings lit them up like a Christmas tree. If you do the math the Wings averaged a goal every eight minutes against an Andre Pavelac who was left helpless against the late man in the high slot, who over and over again scored on almost exactly the same play. It was like the nightmare hockey version of Groundhog Day and the Jets seemed completely confused by it all.

So at the end of the night the Red Wings handed the keys to the club back over to Mr. Chipman and the Jets high tailed it home to regroup. The regrouping process started Monday morning with a practice and bag skate. I took an almost inhuman satisfaction in knowing these guys where getting a taste of Noelian justice as they dragged their sorry backsides up and down the rink.  I hope it was communicated to them that if they want to be an elite club, a club that can truly contend for a playoff spot in this league that seven one losses are going to have to become unacceptable. I for one am not inclined to have sympathy for the “sometimes you just have one of those games” excuse.  As I have said in previous writings, players, you’re not in Atlanta anymore and these fans deserve more, they deserve a contender.

So cupcake, if you think Detroit was tough, go over to NHL dot com and check out Minny’s record as of late. They have been kicking ass and taking names lately and if you want survive that game you’re going to have to dig a little deeper than that effort on Saturday night. Yes players, as your pulling on your frilly pink underwear this morning, know this; it’s time to man up.

There are a lot of Jets fans out there that constantly get told “be happy that you have a team” and “You don’t really expect them to make the playoffs do you?” How many times do I have to read sports columns that say the Jets have a honeymoon period this year and that no one cares if they win? Guess what, that’s crap!  I and every other fan out there working a ten hour plus day to put money in your pockets cares. Every kid in the school yard rocking a Jets shirt cares. Every out of town fan that shows up to a hostile rink cares.

So it’s time to man up buttercup and get it together for tonight’s game, because I want be the guy with  arrogant grin on Sunday telling that Yari Kuri  ass kissing mofo where to go! 

Friday, December 9, 2011


There has been some debate lately about what actually happened last May between the NHL, Atlanta Spirit Group, and True North Sports and Entertainment. I have a personal version of events that I’ve pieced together through private contacts, media reports and my own business experience. It’s conjecture of course but in my mind it seems to ring true. Writing as a blogger and not a reporter leaves me free to speculate as I may.

I’m going to start our tale with a little side bar that I think will help understand the events of late May 2011. Jimmy Patteson is the head of a multibillion dollar conglomerate based in British Columbia and during the 80’s was considered by some to be the most powerful man in western Canada. This was evident as he toured the new prince and princess of whales around Coal Harbour on his multimillion dollar yacht during the opening of Expo 86.

In his biography Jimmy relays a story about how he once challenged what he termed to be “old eastern money”. Now old eastern money refers to a loose fraternity of Ontario wealth that in some cases traces its roots back to the Plains of Abraham. It’s an old power structure that is not so much advertised as felt in Canadian business circles. Jimmy during the eighties decided he wanted to acquire a company we are all familiar with, called Maple Leaf Foods. It was owned by several wealthy eastern families and Jimmy had decided to perform a hostile takeover. Several cease and desist letters crossed Jimmies desk and he of course ignored them all. The final warning came in a personal phone call from one of the share holders who, almost sympathetically, tried to convince Jimmy that buying Maple Leaf Foods would be a huge miscalculation on his part. Jimmy of course wrote it off as posturing.

Then it happened. Jimmy woke up one morning and he had no credit. Not one bank in all of North America, Europe, Asia, or Australia would extend any credit for the daily operations of Jimmy’s multibillion dollar business enterprise. To add insult to injury, many of his current credit lines were also being “called in”. Of course Jimmy knew why this was happening and abandoned his pursuit of Maple Leaf Foods. It was an example of just how powerful old eastern Canadian money could be, and the NHL thirty years later would get a small, albeit brief glimpse of this world first hand.

The Thomson family’s wealth goes back less than 100 years in Canada but they have become entrenched, and are indeed charter members of the old eastern Canadian establishment. This was confirmed when the family patriarch, Ken was granted title and became a member of the British house of lords as the 2nd Baron of Fleet. This is the pinnacle of symbolic power within the halls of the old Anglo Saxon power structures of Toronto and it has cemented the Thomson family’s position as richest in Canada.

This of course leads us to the current day partnership between the late Ken Thompson’s son David and Mark Chipman, member of another wealthy family that had made its mark in Winnipeg. By all accounts David has a special affinity for Manitoba and Winnipeg because of his time running the Hudson Bay Company, in which he worked and toured through its holdings in Manitoba. Together they have built a profitable sports and entertainment enterprise that found itself in May 2011, in a position to fulfill a long held ambition of the group; to bring NHL hockey back to Winnipeg.

The NHL had long ago given its blessing to Winnipeg after True North Sports and Entertainment (the Thompson/Chipman partnership) had successfully lobbied the NHL board of Governors for a chance to bring the NHL back to a revitalized Winnipeg. In the spring of 2011 a troubled Atlanta Thrashers hockey club became available for purchase and relocation.

Now we have to remember the circumstances of the negotiations. A deal for an asset priced in the hundreds of millions of dollars was being negotiated over a span of less than three months. This is practically unheard of in most business circles, and to complicate matters the ownership group of the Thrashers (ASG) consisted of more than a half a dozen partners, all of whom had to come to terms with their own differences. Fortunately TNSE had many of the logistical items in boilerplate from a previous close call in purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes and most of the work that was left was with terms of sale and due diligence. One curious aspect of the transaction though, was that as part of the total asking price the NHL was demanding a relocation fee of roughly fifty million dollars. This was something that had never been demanded in the past and was seen as a premium for a) revisiting a market that had failed previously and b) penance for the ASG and NHLs poor working relationship.

There were other reasons the NHL demanded a relocation fee, and the most important one was that it desperately needed the money. During the previous two years the NHL had subsidized its team in Phoenix after the previous owner had let the team slip into bankruptcy. Phoenix was a big market to lose when negotiating a national TV deal and the NHL would go to the matt to keep a team in Phoenix. Losses in the vicinity of 30 million dollars a season where mounting and the board of governors by all accounts was tired of writing the cheques. The NHL executive, lead by Garry Bettman was under enormous pressure to repay the monies that had been spent on Phoenix and one way out was seen as the relocation fee levied on ASG and TNSE.

There was also one last factor to consider. As the beginning of May approached, an NHL schedule needed to be finalized by June 1, therefore putting a hard and fast deadline on the sale negotiations. This deadline was the gun that the NHL would hold to the head of TNSE in the days to follow.

The NHL then did something astounding at the beginning of May. They approached both parties who were moving briskly towards completion of the sale deal and told them the NHL wanted more money. The numbers vary depending on who you talk to, but the demand that was put forth was that either TNSE would have to increase the amount they were willing to pay, or ASG would have to take less. With a hard deadline for a sale less than a month away, ASG partners still bickering over who got what from the sale, and a steady stream of leaks building anticipation in Winnipeg,  it was a high pressure, strong arm tactic. It didn’t go by unnoticed in Toronto at Woodbridge Inc (Thomsons holding co.) .

Thomson by certain accounts was furious. The NHL to Winnipeg was a personal pet project for him and even though he had taken a low key, hands off approach, his name was still publicly attached to the deal. David Thomson and his advisors immediately identified the NHL tactic for what it was; Extortion. This is when the NHL awoke the sleeping giant.

On May 19th Stephen Brunt, sports reporter for a major national Canadian news paper owned by Thomson/Reuters, reported that an agreement to acquire the Atlanta Thrashers had been completed by TNSE and that the team would be relocated to Winnipeg. In his article he speculated that an announcement could come as early as May 24th. Brunt would only say that his source was from the highest levels and that it had been confirmed by others. Several other sports outlets picked up the story and on the night of May 19th there was wide spread celebration in the streets of Winnipeg. A visibly angry Gary Bettman was caught on video in the stands of an NHL game getting the news on his Blackberry. Everyone in the sports world was thoroughly convinced that after months of speculation, a team was coming to Winnipeg. There was only one problem, the deal wasn’t done. It was close, but the new NHL demands had thrown a wrench into the process.

Over the next 48 hrs Stephen Brunt did a brief media tour, defended his sources and his story, and was then quickly assigned to cover soccer in Europe. Shortly after something amazing happened, the NHL quietly dropped its demand for more money and began to facilitate the acceleration of the sale.

The NHL had pushed David Thomson and he had pushed back. The Brunt story was a plant that was meant to force the NHL into a position where it could not see the deal fail. A critical mass had been built up around the return of the NHL to Winnipeg and the Brunt story had simply pushed the deal beyond a point of no return. It was also quietly conveyed to the NHL commissioner that the “Full Resources” of Woodbridge Inc. and its “friends” would be applied to seeing the NHL return to Winnipeg for the 2011-21012 season.  This was a statement that had significant meaning that could not be missed. Woodbridge had more than enough cash to go to war with the NHL and its friends where many, global, and powerful. Old eastern Canadian money.

Of course we all know the rest is history. Mark Chipman was able to play good cop to Thomsons bad, and an announcement was made that a deal had been concluded on May 31st with negotiations going down to the wire. Now you may think that all’s well that ends well, and that the establishment for once had harnessed its power to work for the common good, but there are a few lingering threads to this story.

The NHL is still subsidizing the Phoenix Coyotes and with a long term TV deal on the books, the NHL is now in no mood to hang on there anymore. The governors are still pressuring the NHL executive to recover their money and the list of bonnafide potential owners begins and ends with Quebecor. Quebecor of course wants to emulate the success in Winnipeg and bring an NHL club back to its former glory in Quebec City. Quebecor also wants to cash in on broadcasting revenue its media outlets in La Belle Provence would surely enjoy. Now as winter progresses, we know the NHL needs to have an answer by spring and so they have begun the process of extortion anew with Quebecor.

Media reports of buyers in Portland, Kansas City and Seattle are bouncing around at opportune times conveniently syncing with Bill Daly making barbed statements about how the NHL will not accept a discount for the purchase of the Coyotes. It seems at least some of the pre posturing for the sale of the Coyotes is beginning to happen and the NHL is back to its old tricks.

I would however caution the NHL, and urge them to deal in good faith. Quebecor itself is an old and storied conglomerate and it along with Bombardier form a clique of powerful companies within Quebec that might have a longer reach than the NHL suspects. It would be a shame if the Garry Bettman where to wake up one morning and find that the NHL was having trouble with its banks. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Walk The Line

The Bee’s are back in town and face the hard working Jets tonight at the house that Chipman built. I’m thinking tonight’s game should be interesting not only because the Bruins are who they are, but also in measuring the Jets response. This Boston team reminds me of the Dallas Carter high school football team made famous in the movie Friday Night Lights. When the coach of their rival asked one of his shell shocked players what it was like out there, his reply was, “They’re big…. They’re fast….They’re dirty……..They’re big….”

They’re big, namely in the form of Milan Lucic who it seems lately has a penchant for running goalies and challenging the opposition to respond. Right or wrong it seemed to work in Buffalo with Lucic drilling Ryan Miller, while the dazed goalies teammates looked on like shrinking violets. Don’t get me wrong in everyday life if a tree like Lucic was angry with  me I’d be thankful that I can run faster scared than he can mad, but if you’re on the ice and you get paid to play, you have to respond.  Then there’s Zedano Chara, who of course feels it’s necessary to put habs players in the hospital, but watch out, he’s also got 18 points this season. Chara will make you pay in all sorts of ways.

They’re fast.  The Boston forwards will make you pay to play as well. Burgeron, Lucic, and Seguin make a formidable front end, that have been chewing up teams in the east with remarkable consistency since they woke up from their Stanley Cup hangover.  The top two lines also seem to be scoring by committee which makes things even tougher for opposition teams to contain.

They’re dirty. Two words: Brad Marchand. Now most of these Bee’s have a repertoire of “get under your skin” dirty plays that they like to roll out every so often, but Marchand seems to work in dirty tricks as a great sculptor would work in clay. The trouble is, the little bugger can also score while sticking you in the ribs, and why is it that the ref is always looking the other way?

They’re big. Tim Thomas has seemed like a giant in net. When he’s on, he’s almost unbeatable if he can see the puck, and don’t even try and run him. He’ll leap out of the crease and deliver a check, clearing his front porch without the aid of his massive defensemen. The key is to make sure he’s not on, get him off his game early, and there’s a chance to see daylight.

Now I know what you’re thinking reader; bcmike who’s side are you on anyway? I know I’ve spent half the blog building up Boston, but you gotta know what you’re up against. So what are the Jets to do when these bullies from bean town roll into town with their brass knuckles, tin foil and rolls of quarters? Simple; play Winnipeg Jets Hockey. The beaners don’t have a lock on hardnosed hockey and the Jets have been playing an in your face aggressive, blue collar style all season.

Attack, attack, attack. The Jets need to open it up and play fearlessly against the huge defenseman of Boston; Kane especially will have to amp up the hard charging physical edge in his play. And of course Buff will need to come up huge. If there’s one guy that can meet these monsters physically its Buff. He’ll need to come at them with reckless intensity and send a message quickly. And it will be all about messages tonight. The crowd will have to make it be known that this is their barn and Boston you are not welcome. The Jets will also have to walk a fine line between taking a bunch of dumb penalties and standing up to the shenanigans of the Bruins.

By far the biggest problem tonight won’t be the opposition, but how the Jets respond. The Bruins are the bully in the school yard and if they think they can walk all over you, they will. That’s when it’s time to chuck the knuckles. If Pavalec gets snow showered, shouldered or run, it’s time. If Marchand sucker punches Wellwood in the head, it’s time. If Lucic or Chara try and pull their tough guy BS, it’s time. And I don’t mean “Oh lets go on the next face off”, I mean whoever’s closest to the play drop em and go.

It’s only after the Jets show these guys that they “aint no band leader”, that they’ll be able to meet them eye to eye and play hockey. If the Jets can walk the line between standing up for themselves and their teammates, while pressing the attack and scoring goals, they can be successful.  Go after Thomas early, with sustained pressure. Keep the puck in the attacking zone and make the Bruins think about defending their net more than punching someone in the head. That will be the path to a much needed win.

If the Jets with the help of the faithful at the MTSC can pull off a win tonight, they'll officially be on a roll and closing in on eighth place. But most importantly they’ll show the Bruins that when it’s time, we’ll walk the line.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wild West Show

Step right up! Get your tickets here! See the Winnipeg Jets Wild, Wild West show. Experience high flying, fast skating feats of amazement as these young players straight from the frontiers of the Canadian north will dazzle and astound you. There will be spills, chills, feats of strength and neutral zone antics of every description! Get you tickets here!

I think every NHL city should have a carnival barker announcing the arrival of the Winnipeg Jets when they come to town, because with the brand of hockey this club is playing right now they should be the hottest ticket in town.  Don’t misunderstand me though, it’s not necessarily a winning style of play, but oh boy is it fun to watch.

Next week at the board of governors meeting every owner of every NHL team should get down on their knees and kiss Mark Chipmans ring. Not only for doggedly perusing a club in Winnipeg and showing how small passionate markets can save the business of the NHL. But also for mandating his club’s style of play not be about winning at all costs, but be about entertaining at all costs. Now as a fan you’re probably thinking that’s a bit counter intuitive, but really it has a simple brilliance to it that seems lost on the NHL braintrust. Quite simply put, this club is giving hockey fans what they want and what they want is exciting hockey.

When talking about the attendance troubles in the NHL we keep hearing a familiar refrain from troubled teams; “people will show up to see a winner”. The standard reply on the other side is that “winning is not a business plan” and if you look at it from the simplest possible perspective this is absolutely true. Someone in the league at some point in time needs to be losing. Thirty teams can’t possibly end the season with a winning record , so there must be another dimension, a hidden quality, some sort of secret sauce that brings sports fans out to see losing teams , if only we could put our finger on it and nail it down.


Now I’m just putting this out there, but here’s a crazy idea and I know it’s kind of out from left field, but here it goes; let’s get the teams to play open ended exciting hockey. I know, it’s shocking! Let me put it this way, would you rather go see your team trap all night, and feel like you where attending a baseball game or would you rather see a back forth game full of hits, saves, and goals but in a losing effort. Now I know everyone wants to see their team win, but frankly, what I really want is to be entertained.  I want to be sitting at the edge of my couch watching the game, punching cushions. Not falling asleep on the couch with a cheeto hanging from my mouth watching a New Jersey trap extravaganza (How are they doing for attendance by the way…)

Now I know what you’re thinking reader; bcmike you’re preaching to the converted, we all know the trap sucks, what’s your point. Well what I’m trying to get across is that True North seems to have found the secret sauce, because really, even though this young team is slightly under 500, who walks out of the MTS centre not feeling like they just saw something cool? And if the Jets keep playing run and gun with reckless abandon how long will it be before the Jets are a sought after ticket in out of town rinks as well?

Now this may simply be one clubs long term philosophy on how to put a product on the ice, but I also think it’s a blue print to save the NHL, and believe me the NHL needs saving. Don’t believe the rosy talk from the NHL about gross revenues increasing dramatically year over year. There are no fewer than three clubs facing immediate peril and an untold number that must be straining if you look at their attendance figures. If you want to save these markets, you not only have to get people to games with free hot dogs and beer, you need to give them an experience they will remember and a staid defensive game with the occasional fight thrown in to wake everyone up is not it.

Instead these markets should look to change their philosophy from; win even if it means putting everyone to sleep, to put on a great hockey show that will stay with fans long after. Let’s open up the game and play Winnipeg Jets hockey; a fast attacking style with the defensemen jumping up into the play and the goal tenders bailing them out. Let’s see strong physical forwards cut to the net with speed, and playmakers dipsy doodle dangle in the attacking zone. And yes, once in a while let’s see a couple players (not goons) enforce the unwritten rules of hockey in a fight.  It doesn’t really take rule changes to make this happen (Although the illegal defence concept is tempting) it just takes a shift in mindset; lets pursue an entertaining exciting product. Let the young stars off the chain and give them the latitude to light it up.

Again, I think True North sees the value in this approach and has successfully resisted the urge to play conservatively and possibly put a few more wins on the board. Instead we have been treated to some rootin tootin roller coaster rides that have made us happy to pay the price of admission. So I say Buff keep pinching, Pavalec keep up the acrobatics and Kane keep scoring.  I for one am enjoying the show. Maybe it’s time for the rest of the league to follow suit.

Step right up…

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Run Through the Jungle

Last week after the Tampa game, I stuck my neck out a little by going on Twitter to proclaim that the Jets were about to turn it around. There was no real magic in that proclamation, the jets appeared to have gotten their collective act together in the defensive zone and really in my opinion that was the only piece that was missing. They’ve rarely had trouble scoring, and Pavelac has been solid in net. So for once in my life I can stand up on my soap box and say I told you so (that almost never happens), although I do it with some fear and trepidation going forward.

Now I know what you’re thinking, trepidation? Fear? These guys are in the middle of a win streak, and not just any win streak, they’ve knocked off Tampa, Washington, and Philly. Why worry? Well reader as always you’re right,  there seems to be a new work ethic, but there’s still something lingering, something I can’t quite put my finger on that s giving me that feeling in my gut. One could make the argument that these guys needed time to settle in and get a feel for playing together and I can buy into that, but there still seems to be a willingness to take chances that I find both entertaining and alarming. These guys are going to have to figure out how to take those gambles to the edge of the envelope without getting burned and they’re going to have to do it under fire in the next few games.

What lies ahead of the Jets now is like a patrol into the territory of a desperate enemy. The Jets will be embarking on a three game road trip that is sure to test their mettle as a group. The first stop will be a besieged Washington team who will be playing in some form of desperation as Ovi continues to try and break his drought, while Boudreau holds on with his finger nails to maintain control of his meandering club. These guys are just 20 games in and their back is against the wall with no more rabbits to pull out of a hat. They’ll see Winnipeg as chance to get a streak going and regain some lost confidence. Look for Ovi and others to play the Jets hard, and physical. If the Jest can pull out of Washington with a win it will be a significant, but probably costly victory. One thing I think we can bank on; there will be more fight in this Capitals team than what we saw in Winnipeg.

There are a few underachieving teams in the NHL that are ready to push the panic button all the way up into the executive level of the organization and one of these teams is the Canes. If the Jets survive the initial firefight that is going to be the caps, the Carolina Hurricanes will surely be another ambush along the trail. The Canes will either bring it, or implode, with the consequences of implosion being big time changes in the organization. My bet is they will bring an A-game and the Jets will be hard pressed for a win on the road. If the Jets walk out of Carolina on a five game winning streak I will be the happiest Jets blogger on the planet, but I’m not betting my mortgage on it.

After the first two battles, a wall stands in front of the Jets on their way home, in the form of the Boston Bruins.  These bruisers are riding high after a shaky start while still recovering from their Stanley Cup hangover. They’re now on a roll and eating teams for breakfast in the east. This will be a game to watch as the Jets will either be looking to save a road trip or extend a winning streak, and we all know that the blue collar Jets are not going to take any physical BS from the bees.

So the Jets face a journey into darkness on what could be one of the roughest (albeit thankfully short) road trips of the year.  The first two teams they face are backed into a corner in more ways than one and winning is the only way out. If the Jets can hunker down and play a disciplined set of road games, focussing on not making mistakes in their own end, they may just get out alive. The Jets will also need to learn how to play with a lead and avoid their classic third period implosion.  I still think the Jets are better than their record and they certainly will have a chance to prove it on their tour of duty in the eastern seaboard. If they can come away with at least one win it will be a victory, if they walk out with two wins look for this team to go on a tear, if they come out winning every game, we may have something special on our hands. Here’s hoping they make a run through the jungle.

The Kid is Back!

This edition of Lucky 7 wouldn’t be complete without spilling some ink about the return of Sidney Crosby. Back in August I wrote about Sids situation: ( and made the prediction that pressure from the NHL, et all might force him back too early. Thankfully I was wrong and Sid made an amazing comeback last night getting four points in his first game. Questions still linger though. Will players back off? Will referees pay special attention to #87? And most of all will it happen again?

I think almost everyone in the league must realize that they owe a portion of their paycheque to generational players like Crosby, so I’m thinking Sid will be handled with kid gloves in the short term, but what happens when the playoffs start? Will the special treatment stop? The temptation of going for the Stanley Cup may bring out the worst in some, and the needs of the few may start to outweigh the needs of the many. I’m hoping not, because if Sid gets rocked again, that’s it, game over, not only for Sid but in a very real sense for everyone that loves watching hockey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


This blog entry is a day late and a dollar short. I was going to open my rambling with a short paragraph on how the Jets where stinkin it up, but of course they had to go and ruin it with a hard effort and a five to two victory over the Bolts. It was a marked departure from the five game skid that seen them hit rock bottom, losing to the worst in the league Columbus Blue Jackets. The recent winless streak was the first valley in what's sure to be a season of ups and downs for this new club and it’s had an interesting effect on the faithful.  A faction of fans have caught a common bug that is seen throughout the NHL; Schizofania.

The NHL owners in their infinite greed, uhhh… I mean wisdom have seen fit to give us an 83 game season over the course of which even the best teams in the league will simply suck at some point, this is the prime infection vector for Schizofania. When a team starts to notch L’s and flies down the standings, invested fans will almost always want answers. When the answers from coaches, players and GM’s start to wear thin, potential victims start making up their own remedies, leaving themselves unwittingly vulnerable to schizofanic tendancies.  This disease usually starts with trade talk. A player will be singled out and the schizofanic victim will invariably claim that if management would simply ship said player out, the home team would suddenly be Stanley cup bound. Of course the questions of trading with whom and for what, get conveniently pushed aside. Depending on who you talk to, during this particular outbreak said player was Dustin Byfuglien.  No one can dispute the fact that Byfuglien has been a defensive liability, but he is what he is. He’ll roam and get burned or he’ll roam and blast one in, that is the nature of his game. In good times we’ll only see the wicked point shot or the wrister in open ice created from the pinch and in bad times we’ll only see the two on ones.  With all of his faults though, Byfuglien, to me looks better in a Jets jersey than in the colours of a divisional rival. Defensive responsibility can be coached, size and scoring touch not so much.

If Schizofania is left to fester too long and the losing streak continues, stage two symptoms can become apparent. In stage two the fan will start to slowly grumble about coaching as trade talk is no longer satiating the need to express the victim’s frustration. In the early stages, commentary may revolve around an assistant but as the disease progresses there will be calls to replace the coach. The victim at this point has moved from the delusion of the perfect trade and on to the “If you can’t replace the players, replace the coach” Philosophy.  Even non shcizofanics may be tempted to jump on this bandwagon from time time. Full blown stage two will see phrases like “he’s losing control” and “they won’t play for him anymore” tossed around. Luckily for Noel the losing streak stopped in the early part of this stage because if that talk gets out of control and the media starts to buy in, it’s time to dust off the resume. In the totality of the situation I can’t really fault Noel much, although I do think he resorts to the stick over the carrot more than he should. It’s also still a bit of mystery to me why Kane is benched for long periods of time when the Jets seem to need all the offensive ability they can get. But don't listen to me, it's just the stage two talking.

Stage three is dark days. The Schizofanic can unmercifully linger at stage one & two almost indefinitely as organizations roll through coaches, players and finally GM’s looking for that perfect mix. However, if the losing streak is severe enough or the playoff drought reaches into a decade, the dreaded stage three can manifest itself in terrible ways. Basically this is when the faithful begin to lose faith. We are seeing this happen in Dallas and Columbus right now, and who can ever forget that it was stage three Schizofania in Atlanta that delivered us our Jets. Fortunately for Jets fans, the drought has neither been long nor severe (with a few losses still netting us a point), remission will probably occur after a couple of wins. You’ll know when it’s happening as the recovering victim will go into a manic stage where parade routes will be planned and the president’s trophy will be handed out in advance, forgoing the formality of actually winning it. All sins will be forgiven and the remarkable systems of coach Noel will be hailed as revolutionary, along with the amazing play of Dustin Byfuglien.

The best thing about an outbreak of Schizofania though, is the means of its infection. If you have schizofania or know someone who has it, it’s a wonderful thing.  It means that the NHL is playing in your city and your living and dying with your very own team. There is no more surrogate city, no more following from a far with fans you don’t know. Your team is back, so I say let the schizofania spread like wildfire. Just remember to never let yourself fall into stage three, because you might just find that the cure is worse than the disease. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Are you kidding me?

I recently read an opinion piece by Sportsnet contributor Michael Gardner that had me questioning my faith in humanity. Now I know the old adage; no one ever went broke betting on the stupidity of the human race, but really I thought people hired to professionally write for a major sports network might be somewhat above that. Apparently I was wrong. On the Halloween instalment of Fan Fuel, which you can read here:  there is so much anti Winnipeg sentiment and Toronto cheerleading it really does make me question how something like this would get past any reasonably paid editor or fact checker.

Mr Gardners article is basically an attempt to breathe some life into the same old tired story that the Toronto based brain trust of writers loved to put out last winter. How can the lowly Oliver Twist of Canadian cities, Winnipeg possibly afford to join our exclusive NHL club? How would it ever be possible for them to compete with the shining light at the centre of the universe that is Toronto? Of course as we all know Winnipegers earned their place in the NHL club and they did it with a certain style and form that is not regularly seen in the NHL. So now Mr Gardner writes; Oh but how will the poor downtrodden unwashed hockey fans of Winnipeg ever stay in our club, it must be a temporary solution at best, merely a placeholder for when the team can move east to the glowing paragon of opportunity that is southern Ontario.

Are you kidding me?

In his article Mr Gardner also dredges up the old Gretzkian argument of no corporate support. Really? I thought we put that to bed when corporations started to line up and go on waiting lists to buy suites at six figures a year.  But wait Mr Gardner cautions, US lawmakers may pass tax legislation barring “entertainment as an inducement”, surely now corporations will flee from Winnipeg like a Wall Street protester from a riot cop. Whatever will Winnipeg do?

Again, are you kidding me?

First of all Mr. Gardner needs to figure out just what legislation he is talking about because from what I ‘ve seen any mention of barring entertainment induced tax write offs is fringe at best. I mean really has Mr. Gardner ever done business in the US? The whole corporate machine is greased with entertainment induced tax write offs. There is no way that anyone who has benefited from a night out on the corporate expense account (which is almost anyone in business or politics) is ever going to support such a measure. Even if, by some puritanical miracle, legislation that forbade using a hockey ticket as corporate write off became illegal would that wipe out the fan base over night? Oh wait in Toronto it might.  Of course this is all complete hogwash because Mr. Gardner cannot fathom the fact that US law has no jurisdiction in Canada, and yes I am quite certain that CRA will never pass a measure that outlaws giving away a hockey ticket to a client and writing it off. If that ever happens we might as well move because that place isn’t Canada anymore.

Mr. Gardner, as he copies and pastes his article from the year 2010, also dusts off the old naysayer standby of ticket price. It seems unthinkable to him that 15,000 people in Winnipeg could possibly be in good enough financial standing to afford an NHL hockey ticket 41 times a year. Again the 8000 on the waiting list for the next five years may have an argument against that. The simple fact of the matter is that Winnipeg has succeeded beyond expectations, why is that so terribly hard for the eastern Canadian elitists to accept?

I’ve spent a lot of this blog refuting Mr. Gardener’s ridiculous column, but what really sticks in my craw is why are these pieces still being written? That is the real core issue that has me so incensed. Is there a secret cabal of anti Winnipeg conspirators that pulls the levers of power and forces media types to write this stuff? Do they secretly meet in a star chamber somewhere and plot the downfall of the Winnipeg Jets? I really don’t understand how Winnipeg back in the NHL is threatening to anyone, but somehow somewhere it must be. Does it somehow rattle the owners in New York, Chicago and LA when they have to put Winnipeg on the marquee? Or is it that allowing Winnipeg back into the league somehow invalidates the great southern experiment?

In any event I would like to reassure Mr. Gardner that “entertainment as an inducement” tax laws will remain as they always have, Winnipeg does indeed have an abundance of corporate support, and there are more than enough fans that can afford NHL ticket prices. Please Mr. Gardner sleep easy knowing that the freshly poured, deep foundation of the Winnipeg Jets has absoloutly no cracks in it. Now can we say the same thing about Phoenix, New Jersey, Dallas, and the Islanders?

Monday, October 31, 2011


Last week I used the analogy of a team trying to get their sea legs. I lamented the fact that they were still getting their bearings and as always I harped on defence, or more accurately the lack there of.  This week I’m the one that needs to find his seal legs, as the Jets have shown me more split personalities than most of my ex girlfriends. It’s been a wild ride this week and the ups and downs have for once left me without even a clue as to what’s about to happen next . The only thing I can take away from this week is that they may not win, but they’re always entertaining.

The week started with me writing a lengthy blog about how the Jets usually find a way to score first and always manage to put up some goals. So of course they have a game that same day where they score only once, and not first.  I really should have sensed that irony was about to bitch slap me as I was writing about the Jest scoring goals but hind sight is 20/20. The Jets rolled into the Tortorella media sideshow fresh off a gut check win at home against Carolina. As a fan I was at the euphoric stage of the Jets fan manic/ depressive cycle and hoping for a good defensive outing to keep me “up” as we were about to swing through Philly and Tampa on the road. I sensed there could be trouble for the Jets facing these two formidable eastern teams and New York seemed like the weak sister amongst the upcoming games.

Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes and this was one of those games that should have been notched up as a win for the Jets. They outplayed the rangers bombarding them with shots and putting on a passing clinic midway through the third. Unfortunately two own goals off defenders skates proved to be the difference and the Rangers stole a road win away from what appeared to be a hungrier Jets team. Off course as we all know now, the best was yet to come.

The Jets landed in Philly and one could sense trouble. The young team had been handed an unfair loss from Rangers and where now going to face Jagr and crew. What happened next will go down in hockey legend as probably one of the worst played games defensively by two teams in history. This game challenged all the conventional wisdom. Usually when you’re up five to one at the NHL level, that’s it, you’ve won, turn off the TV. Even at six to two, you pretty much have it in the bag, and that was the wonderful world of the Jets in the second period. All they had to do was clog up the neutral zone, play all the guys back and get a little bit of goal tending to run out the clock. Unfortunately this is the Jets and that seems to be a tall order. What happened next were five unanswered goals by the Flyers to put them up seven to six. After that it was pure pond hockey, they might as well have just pulled both goalies and turned the nets to face the boards. I think I actually heard one of the refs yell out “Last goal wins”. Each side traded goals, with Ladd ending up with the winner, and an unbelievable score of nine to eight. It was a train wreck of a game and many where even hesitant to call it a win as the defensive play on both sides was off the charts abysmal. There is however one very positive thing to take away; the Jets never gave up. It would have been very easy after five unanswered goals to simply stop trying, to write it off and call it a night. But they didn’t. Even as the game seesawed back and forth in the third there was always a determination to gut it out. That’s one of the flashes of brilliance that keeps me interested as a fan and gives me hope going forward. The game of course also validated my blog about scoring; Irony it seems is a fickle mistress.

Now I was less worried going into the game with Tampa. The Jets had faced Philly and came out on top in a barn burner. The massive defensive break down in the second period aside they again gutted out a win. The Jets came to play against Tampa and took it to them with an energy I had not seen yet in previous games. The game however became a goalie duel. Pavelec was very good, making a host of amazing saves, but unfortunately on this night rolie the goalie was better. Rollason seemed to break every jets wave that came at him and played a perfect game. Pavelec did much the same but yielded on a mental error, allowing one of the games most prolific goal scorers to get a sharp angle shot through for the win. It was another one of those games where you felt the Jets should have won but didn't.

OK now let’s take a quick break from your regularly scheduled Blog for me to bitch out the coach.  Burmistov was benched during the third period for five minutes. Sorry Noel, that doesn’t compute man. The team is down by one goal and struggling to put one past a hot goalie. You don’t bench your leading scorer no matter what he’s done to piss you off.  If they have him figured out from tape, it’s your job to coach him through it. Not bench him and hope he’ll figure it out.

So when does this crazy train start to get on the tracks? I’m hoping soon. We’ve started to see the defence come around and a real work ethic set in. There have been two games now where bad luck or hot goalies have handed us a loss, and we’ve seen some of the best teams in our division.  The question is when can we start to see some consistency?  I myself would settle for a little less entertainment and a few more wins. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sea Legs

It occurred to me today that the Jets are kind of like a person’s first time at sea. There’s a four foot swell and the boat is pitching and rolling beneath your feet. You get up, stagger, stop to right yourself, stagger again and then make it to the rail to puke your guts out. You repeat the process until you get what’s known as your sea legs. Some people never get their sea legs and simply must live with the fact that boats aren’t for them, let’s hope that’s not the case for our Jets. Luckily I don’t think it is.

Over the last week the Jets have definitely shown signs of the stagger and puke, losing to Ottawa in a dismally embarrassing performance that saw Pavalec hung out to dry more than a summertime beach towel at the lake. The defence still looks dismal, special team’s need a lot of work and giveaways are par for the course. With all that there are reasons to believe the the Jets may be getting their legs.

The Jets ran head on into a white hot (stupid oughta be kicked out of the NHL) Leafs team and proceeded to hand them a two goal deficit after two periods. Unfortunately the stagger crept back into their game and the Jets had to settle for a heart breaking shootout loss. Again turnovers and defensive zone breakdowns where the story. Unfortunately the stagger again turned into a trip to the rail as the next game was the debacle in Ottawa. Was the Toronto game a flukey anomaly against an overachieving Leafs team?

During the opening minutes of the next game against Carolina it certainly appeared to be the case, as the Jets where in disarray and reeling to an ordinary looking Carolina crew. Then came a massive dose of Gravol, as the usually emotionless bench boss Noel became indignant. He launched into a fiery tirade at players on the bench that woke them up and provided one of the better performances of the season in front of the home crowd faithful. Will this be the beginning of something better?

I think so, here’s why. Besides the fact that I’m a massive Jets homer I have noticed one interesting aspect to the Jets game; more often than not, they score first. Also with the exception of one game, they score often. So what does this tell us? It tells us if they could string together even a semblance of defensive responsibility, they would most likely win more games than they lose.

At the beginning of the season most of us for some reason thought we were in for a whiz bang defence with an anaemic offense.  The season started and has since proved the opposite. With Burmistov emerging as a bonnafide superstar scoring machine, Buff blasting pucks from the blue line and the GST line pitching in for the odd helper, scoring hasn’t been the issue.  The issue has been the defensive liability that is Johnny Oduya and to a lesser extent Byfuglien, who lacks the quickness to scramble back after playing rover.  To make matters worse Bagosian has decided he’s going to play the gambler on the blue line, when he knows neither when to hold em nor when to fold em. The result is turnovers, and turnovers in the NHL equate to goals against, plain and simple.

As a fan I’m hoping either someone can crack the whip and make these guys play some defence, or if need be move some personnel out for a stay at home shutdown guy that can hold the fort. There are playoff teams in this league that make their bread and butter on 2.5 goals for, because they can keep the puck out of their own net. If the Jets want to be a playoff team they need to follow suit. I’m really hoping the Jets find their sea legs and start to defend their zone. Otherwise it’s going to be a long season of trips to the rail.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Panic Button

I’m an emotional guy. No that doesn’t mean I cry at weddings (There was something in my eye dammit!), but what it does mean is that when my team loses I get frustrated. Now I know what you’re thinking reader, its only three games in, no need to push the panic button. But there it is looming in my mind’s eye, that big red bastard just won’t go away. My head says; the readers are right, give it time, leave the panic button alone. My heart however is pushing my hand toward the button, and saying; push it, you know you want to.

When the boys hit the ice on turkey weekend in what was probably the biggest sports media event of the year in Canada, it was easy to write off the brutal play to opening night jitters. The panic button was way down the hall on the other side of the building behind some boxes. The shaky defensive zone coverage and turnovers where a story, but one easily explained away by the heavy day that it was. We were all just happy to sift through the aftermath of an NHL game, call it an anomaly and move on to the windy city where another young team was waiting for us. The road game would get the boys away from the bright lights and hoopla, and they could get their “A-Game” back on. Surely we'd at least see a more disciplined hard fought game. Right?

There was a practice the day before the Chicago game in which coach Noel was asked if he saw improvement. His reply was ominous: “Marginal improvement”. Ouch! I looked down the hall, was the panic button in the same place it was the last time I used it? Yes, ok good just checking. The opening minutes of the game saw two quick goals by Winnipeg to get the party started. Ok good the nervousness had been dispelled; we were going to see some real hockey now. Then it happened. The first line came out with the top D pairings. The men, who were supposed to lead us to the promise land, lead us to four unanswered goals on more brutal turnovers. The neutral zone looked like it was open for public skating as the Chicago forwards swept through it unscathed with speed. At least Welwood provided some much needed comic relief by tripping over his skate laces during a break-away (the cheeseburger jokes are still showing up in my inbox). I went down the hall, moved the boxes away from the panic button and re-read the instructions. Just in case.

In the aftermath, some were already pushing their own personal panic buttons. How could this happen? Nothing had been fixed, we were going to go 0-82, there was a safety recall on ladies yoga pants, yes all of our worst nightmares where coming true. Again cooler heads eased all of our fears. This is a young group they said, playing under a new coach. These things take time, the team needs to gel. The coach it seemed was getting the message as well; guys were banished to the press box, or benched. Pavelec was replaced by Mason and the hard hand of Noelian discipline was about to fall.

It all set the stage for a show down in the desert. Old Jets vs. New Jets, in an epic battle for fan bragging rights. Many Jets faithful made a pilgrimage to the desert to ensure that there would be no more failure. Cayotes fans (both of them) salivated at the chance to hand those who had sought to remove their franchise a stinging blow. These guys must get the picture by now? This was a must win, time to show your skills, dig deep, give 110 percent, all that stuff. I even tweeted the top line friendly words of encouragement, as I know they usually immediately stop whatever they are doing to read tweets from @bcmike .

Ok the hockey night in Canada intro song is over, the home crowd is done singing O’ Canada, I’m settling in with snacks. I reach over to open up an ice cold Coke Zero .... The COYOTES SCORE!!!! I now move my television and chair right beside the panic button as I get that now familiar nervous quezieness in my stomach. I begin a new mantra; please not another gong show, please not another gong show, not here, not in Phoenix! Again the only thing the Coyotes forwards need to avoid in the neutral zone are toddler skaters in their walkers taking advantage of the free ice time. More brutal giveaways work up to the inevitable climax of more unanswered goals. I now officially break the glass on the panic button but restrain myself from pushing it. The Jets Score! Ok we’re within two boys, lots of hockey left, we can mount a comeback.  The Coyotes score and the last nail is plunged into the coffin of the Jets. The show down in the desert is over and I take my lumps from Coyotes fans (both of them). I stare long and hard at the panic button.

No not yet.

During the first three games of the season the Jets have looked like the opposing team during a Harlem Globe Trotters show. There has been however, some small flashes of brilliance that give me hope. Burmistov can dangle, Andropov can wield his big body like a freight train in front of the net, and Kane can get physical while putting himself in a position to score. Wheeler and Ladd although playing with some intensity look as though they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is something that can be fixed with coaching and time.  Buyfuglien needs to play forward if for no other reason than he always looks dangerous up front and he always seems to be a liability in back. The fourth line has been brilliant and has had the most production.  The rest of this team needs to take their queue from the fourth line. Simplify their game, dump chase and be responsible in the back end, with that should come results.

A word of warning. If I was Claude Noel and I had used up my entire bag of tricks on this group with little or no effect, I would implement the trap. Teams that can’t stand up to their talented brothers in the NHL play the trap. If that happens you can say goodbye to exciting hockey. We may win but it won’t be entertaining. With that said though I have the feeling that Noel has a few things left in his bag of magic tricks and this team may turn a corner in the next three to four games. 

If not, that big red button will look awfully tempting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pop Goes The World

Reader the last time we spoke I was in my red leather pants listening to Mike Reno’s Loverboy and lamenting the fact that I couldn’t wait for the weekend.  Now it's the day after my Turkey feast, two days after the first Jets home game and I'm back at work. My bubble has somewhat popped. All the hype, reminiscing, hoping, dreaming, and praying has finally paid off and now we as fans have to get back to the work of being fans.  Just like the players, we have to settle in for a long 82 game schedule and get ready to cheer, jeer, complain, poke and prod until this bunch delivers what we all want; A winning season and a chance at the Stanley cup in the playoffs.

Sunday was full of celebration and a release of anxious energy that had been building for years. The city of Winnipeg had collectively started their party on Thursday with the opening of the NHL season and was carrying it to a crescendo with the first home opener of the Winnipeg Jets. Everything was in place, the fans were nuts (as expected), David Thomson was a fountain of Canadian prose, Mark Chipman was beaming like a proud papa, and Don Cherry was on the ice with a picture of the queen. There was only one problem, Les Habs where looking for two points.

Before I even get going I’ll roll out the standard disclaimer, yes I am very very grateful to just  have my Jets back, and yes I know it was a tall order to play under that kind of hype.  But unfortunately from a hockey perspective the Jets kind of stunk.

The first thing I noticed is that the Defence needs work. If Byfuglien wants to be a forward he needs to let the rest of the team and the coaching staff know. While he looked good in the offensive zone, he was terrible defensively, causing at least two turnovers and looking pretty sloppy.  Johnny Oduya won’t be having many more games like that one before he’s sightseeing at signal hill. Oduyas play was as sloppy in the defensive zone as Byfugliens except without any of the offensive upside. There where however some shinning lights as Enstrom and Stuart had some impressive shifts standing up at the line against the Canadians forwards.  Hainsey worked hard and was effective, although Bagosian had a couple of mental lapses. It seemed evident that when the defence simplified their game and played physical in their own end, that was when things started to happen for the Jets. If I where coach Huddy, “Keep It Simple Stupid” would be pasted on all of the D core’s jerseys during the next practice.

Much has been made of this teams supposed inability to score goals, and the prognosticators will no doubt be on their soap boxes again after Sunday’s performance. However the forwards are what gave me the most hope going forward. Although the first line certainly underperformed (with the exception of Ladd), the second and third lines continued to look dangerous throughout the game. If Scheifele, Kane and Wellwood can gel a little more and get some of that timing down they will produce. Antropov who looked like a dump truck during the pre-season, was probably the best forward of the day. Working hard along the boards and in front of the net, he was rewarded with the Jets only goal for his effort. Again when the forwards got physical and worked hard, good things seemed to happen.  In a footnote, Patrice Cormier better get his bags packed, because I’m pretty sure the Brett Maclean experiment is about to come to an abrupt end.

The fourth line was outstanding. As all grinders do, they brought their lunch pails to work and simply out worked the Canadians at every turn. They did exactly what the fourth line needs to do; keep the other team’s first line in their own zone. If the fourth line work ethic and simplified game can infect their peers, we’ll have something special on our hands.  They played above their pay grade, which is something the rest of the team is going to have to do to find success in this league.

This brings us to Pavelec, who was solid, but not money. Most of the goals that got by him where lasers shot by bonafide snipers, but here’s the thing; money goaltenders in the NHL need to make at least a couple of those stops. For this team to be successful they will need to ride Pavelec at least part of the year. He needs to be money or it’s not going to happen. By the way they’ve booked him high glove side, there’s day light there and the vultures are going for it.

The Canadians were also a depleted team, with three of their top six defensemen out of commission and Mike Camalleri making an early departure. If the Jets have trouble handling this weakened Canadians team then there are certainly dark storm clouds ahead.

Now that I’ve said my peace, I also have to acknowledge something. This game was an anomaly, with expectations through the roof. Phrases like “History will be made”, “Hopes and dreams”, and of course “15 year wait” where being thrown around like rice at a wedding. Personally I would have balled up in the fetal position, rocking back and forth sucking my thumb under that kind of pressure.  Over the course of the next five to six games, we’ll see what this team is really made of.

So here we go Jets fans. The regular season has begun and we can put away the “what ifs” and “maybe’s”. The Jets are playing in the NHL again. With that we need to realise that the big leagues are merciless and mistakes will always be costly.  Our teams need to be better than ordinary to meet a standard that Winnipeg fans deserve.  So now as all the superfluous stuff is stripped away we are left what we have always wanted, a hockey team playing in the best league on the planet. That realization also comes with a certain reality check. Pop goes the world.

Go Jets Go

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Everybody's Working for The Weekend

Yes reader I am writing this column in red leather pants to pay tribute to Mike Reno. I’m also starting the long countdown until Sunday just like every other fan.  I have written my fair share of sentimental, look back pieces, so as the big day draws near I find myself more looking to the future as opposed to looking back. I can’t wait to see how Jets 2.0 play against other teams in the NHL, with standings and paycheques on the line.

The pre-season as we all know is as a bit of sham. The NHL owners get to charge for a few more games and the coaches get to have a “live fire” training camp to weed out the final roster spots. One clubs “A-Team” will meet another clubs “B-team” and or a mixture of both and the fans a lot of the time end up seeing some subpar hockey.  It makes it extremely hard to judge just how well the Jets will stack up as we move into the regular season.  We have analyzed the team to death, and the final roster spots are coming into focus, so now is the time when the anticipation builds. It’s also time to get out on a limb and try to cobble together a preview.

Now the Sabremetrics bean counters will tell you that the Jets are going to stink this year, and the so called professional bloggers at Puck Daddy are tripping over themselves to declare that the Jets will end up near the bottom of the league. They trot out statistics from last year and whale: “but where will the scoring come from?”, oh woe be to the poor Winnipeg Jets fans. Then they prattle on about how Winnipeg fans will watch any form of hockey put in front of them as long as it has an NHL crest on it and so they say, it’s all good. Not so fast. There are intangibles at work here that cannot be quantified.


The scoring will come, and I’ll tell you why; ownership. That’s right; the ownership situation will have a direct and tangible effect on this hockey team. And I’m not just talking stability; I’m also talking about the small moves that were made in the off season to add character guys to this team. What this team needs most is for its young players, most notably Kane, Burmistov, Little and hopefully Scheifele to come into their own. In order to do that they need support, that guys like Glass, Fehr, and Wellwood can provide. These signings where a direct result of a smart management crew, which can and will make a difference on the ice.  When everything is said and done the Jets can roll two effective scoring lines, and that will be enough. Why will that be enough? Defense.


The defensive core will be the hallmark of this new club in the years until strategic drafting can bring us more front line talent. Byfuglien, Bogosian, and Enstrom will all be expected to contribute offensively as well as pound opposing forwards into submission.  Depth in D on the farm will also help when the injury bug comes around. Postma in particular is on his way to becoming NHL ready and a season with the Caps will put him in contention for a spot with the big club next year.  I expect this group to be a dynamic defence that will jump up into the play more times than not. Of course this also depends on the systems that coach Noel employs throughout the season.

Goal Tending

Pavalec will gain consistency this year and I believe will become a top tier goal tender. Mason is the perfect backup and will probably be playing about 15 games although some are saying more.  I think Pavalec at times will have to carry this team through the doldrums if they are to have a chance at the post season, but I think he’s capable.  Again the goalies will be leaned upon, and they will need to come through.

The Seventh Man

The fans are an important factor and don’t let anyone tell you different. Sure these guys are pros and they should perform in any environment, but don’t think for one second that when the building is rockin that an extra bit of adrenalin isn’t pumped through those veins. The crowd is a legal performance enhancing drug and the Jets will have an ample supply. If I were a Sabremetrics bean counter I would add a minimum of ten points just from fan support.


This is what may potentially cancel out at least some of the advantage gained from an insane home crowd. The Jets travel sched will be in a word Brutal. Technically they are in the Southeast division and will have to travel like it. It means long north south trips, but hopefully only across one time zone.

There is no doubt about it the Jets are in tough this year. The NHL is a man’s league and guys are playing for BIG paycheques.  With that said, I think our group has the right mix of journeymen and young talent to be in the mix come stretch time.

Will they tank? I doubt it. Will they make the playoffs? They have a shot. Will they win the cup? Everyone has a chance to win the cup, that’s why they play the games.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do The Scheifele

Dale Hawerchuck sat in his office and watched the press buzz in Winnipeg on a small TV in the corner. Replays of Mark Chipmans announcement where a common theme among the sports channels and the old Jet sat back watching with more than a twinge of nostalgia. He got up, opened the door and walked down the hall. The familiar smell of an ice rink was there, along with the heavy sound of pucks smacking into the boards. Hawerchuck found a seat and settled himself in, while reaching into his jacket pocket to retrieve his cell phone. On the ice members of  the Barrie Colts where enjoying an informal summer skate. Hawerchuck made the call, "Ya Zinger, it's Ducky" he said in an abruptness that only came with familiarity. "I've got a kid you need to look at".

I have no idea if that's how it happened but that's my romanticized version of the events and until someone tells me different that's what I'm going with. Of course the kid is Mark Scheifele and we all know what happens next in the story. The kid becomes the Jets first round pick and goes on to look like the best thing since ladies yoga pants.

Here's what was supposed to happen next. Scheifele was supposed to go to the young stars tournament and be the best player there - check. He was then supposed to go to the big camp, show flashes of offensive brilliance but ultimately get shut down by NHL defenses in pre-season play. He would then get ceremoniously shipped back to Barrie as "The one to watch", and we would tie the story up with a nice little bow until next fall. But wait, all did not go according to plan.

Instead this new experimental Jet pots a goal a game along with some beautiful assists thrown in for good measure. The big league defensemen and goalies look just as baffled as their junior counterparts by this kid who seems to always be in the right place at the right time. A good problem to have so we might think, but  this proves to be the ultimate dilemma. Common wisdom would suggest that it is far to early to bring a player like Scheifele into the NHL . Scheifele needs ice time and first line experience to keep him on an upward trajectory in his development arc. That would mean going back to Barrie and ripping up the OHL for at least one more season before trying making the jump to the big club. The problem with that is we need a reason to send him back, and so far he hasn't given us one.

There are some familiar frames of reference that I can draw upon as an observer of the Vancouver hockey. If we look back we can weed out some famous flame outs from Canucks pre-season play, the most famous probably being Jason King. Now I know what your thinking, King was a different animal. He already had a season with the Moose under his belt, and was hardly a superstar hopeful. Still in the pre-season and the subsequent first five games of the regular season he was averaging two points a game. He then went on to flame out in spectacular style, eventually being relegated to the AHL and then into hockey oblivion. Was King a victim of being brought up to soon, who knows, but it does illustrate the danger.

We can also look at Gilbert Brule who was a stud with the Vancouver Giants and was ultimately brought up too early by a struggling Columbus Blue Jackets club in the 2005-06 season. He walked away from that season with a broken sternum, broken leg, shattered confidence and a ticket back to the WHL. He is just now finding his NHL game in a second chance with the Edmonton Oilers.

I think what I'm trying to do is here is convince not only you the reader but myself that this kid needs more time. We all want to see a "Dale Hawerchuck 2.0" join the Jets for their historic first season back in the NHL, but the hard truth is that no matter how well he does in pre-season it would probably be a huge mistake to bring him up to the big club full time.

The first thing we need to do is let this kid grow into his body. If he joins the NHL now and puts up some numbers, he'll become a target. He'll need more meat on that lanky frame to withstand the punishment of an 80+ game season. Second he needs to learn how to be a top six guy, not a third or fourth liner. If he can't legitimately step into one of those top six spots then he shouldn't be with the big club. Third, young offensive talent needs ice time. This kid needs to be out there for big minutes and facing a variety of situations. if you can't give it to him, his talent will wither on the vine.

So what do we do? Tell the kid to stop looking awesome? I guess not, but if he keeps scoring goals it will definitely be tough to send him back. I'm hoping that this will sort itself  out on its own. Sceifele will get a look during the regular season, at which time the opposition, with paychecks on the line will introduce this kid to real NHL hockey and shut him down. I know that sounds counter productive, but I really do think another year in Junior is what he needs

But what if they don't shut him down ..........