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10 big questions: The year to come will answer them all, for better or worse

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As 2012 limps to the finish line and prepares to go down as a year of sports many will want to forget, hope for 2013 is already beginning to bubble.

Just the return of the NHL would quickly push next year ahead of last in terms of being a good year on the local sports scene.

There were some bright spots in 2012 including a championship for the Goldeyes as well as Olympic medals for Winnipeg's Desiree Scott and Janine Hanson.

But the NHL lockout and a disastrous year for the Blue Bombers in almost every way imaginable put a damper on the lives of sports fans in this town. Thankfully, as one year closes another opens. What will 2013 bring? No one can really know but here are 10 big questions we'll see answered one way or another in 2013.

 

Will there be hockey?

Yes. At least that's my guess. Donald Fehr will push ownership to the last moment and then get serious about making a deal. Expect the two sides to get together in the last week of 2012 or the first week of 2013.

Both sides are doing as much sabre rattling as they can but they don't want to duel to the death. A deal will be reached in the second week of January and the season will start on Jan. 20.

 

Will the Bombers land a quarterback in CFL free agency or through a trade?

No. GM Joe Mack has some interest in Mike Reilly and less in Adrian McPherson. Reilly will draw interest from the Edmonton Eskimos as well, so it will be interesting to see how much of a bidding war Mack is interested in having with Eskimos GM Ed Hervey.

Mack had his eye on Kevin Glenn but the Calgary Stampeders won't be trading Glenn. Expect Mack to bring in some college kids or NFL cuts with no CFL experience. Maybe one of them can break through but as far as landing an established CFLer, that doesn't appear to be in the cards.

 

Who will quarterback the Blue Bombers?

Buck Pierce. At least to begin the season. The Bombers will bring Pierce, Justin Goltz, Alex Brink and maybe Joey Elliott to camp. Elliott is a curious player at this point. He's had some big moments but his work ethic has been called into question by the organization. Burke is not a fan and unless Elliott can provide a reason for the coach to change his mind, he may be the odd man out.

Pierce is a veteran with talent. In a training camp atmosphere where he doesn't get hit, he wins the job easily.

Unless Mack pulls a stunning move to usurp his No. 1, how long Pierce can stay healthy and active will once again be the major story in Bomberland this summer.

 

Will Joe Mack last the summer?

Two factors will decide this. Buck Pierce's health and Justin Goltz's ability to step in and be a No. 1 quarterback in the CFL. If Pierce gets hurt, look for head coach Tim Burke to give Goltz a try with Alex Brink playing a role in wildcat situations.

Burke likes Goltz and sees him as the best of the bunch in terms of a future starter. Mack has promised the Bombers executive he'll solve the quarterback issue in Winnipeg and the expectations on Mack are clear -- put a winner on the field or time is up. Under Mack the Bombers have had two terrible seasons and one good one. It's really simple. Another strong season and he stays. A bad one and he's done.

 

Will the stadium open smoothly?

Let's hope so because Garth Buchko could use a break. With his first year on the job as CEO of the Bombers almost over, there haven't been many bright moments for Buchko. But he's been learning and developing a thick skin.

If Buchko can pull off a clean transition and let the glow of the new stadium take over the spotlight, he can ease into life as an executive working quietly and efficiently behind the scenes. If things go badly, he'll be forced to be front and centre again taking the bullets.

 

Will the Goldeyes repeat?

Why not? Manager Rick Forney has consistently put his team into the playoffs and last year figured out the championship formula. The Goldeyes are well situated to have continued success because of a rock-solid organization led by GM Andrew Collier.

Winning is eventually out of their control for a variety of reasons such as injury and luck, but the Goldeyes take care of the details in their control. If they can do it, they do it right. At some point they have to turn it over to the players but they remove all the obstacles they possibly can. They deserve a repeat.

 

Will Winnipeggers still love their Jets?

Yes. But for how long will depend on the product on the ice. Winnipeggers will return to the NHL, if and when it returns to the ice. And in the early going, they'll be mad about their Jets. But if the team is a dud, they'll soon be just mad.

The lockout has raised a lot of emotion in this town and fans feel jilted by both the players and the owners. They're going to have less patience going forward. But if this season isn't cancelled and the Jets play, their fans will show up and be a catalyst for success on home ice just as they were last season.

 

Will the Jets reach the post-season?

Tough one. They're still a little unpredictable. I say yes but it will be tight. I think they'll come back off the lockout and play on adrenaline for a month or so and be red-hot. They'll stockpile wins and then when things level off, have to hang on to keep their spot. It could also be a complete disaster. If Ondrej Pavelec doesn't have his game coming out of the gate, the Jets could fade out of the picture in a hurry.

But Pavelec has some fence-mending to do with ownership and the ticket-buying fans. Winning games and being the foundation of his team's success on the ice and a quiet citizen off of it will quickly get him back in favour. Coach Claude Noel will have a difficult job piecing his lineup together and getting new parts like Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky to mesh quickly and have an impact.

The return of Zach Bogosian from injury and the condition Dustin Byfuglien arrives in after an extended layoff are also big question marks.

 

Will Scheifele crack the NHL?

If the NHL were to return to the ice and begin playing games on or around Jan. 20, Mark Scheifele will have a chance to grab a spot with the Jets. Will he stick? Only if he can contribute. The Jets will want to see he can survive in the NHL and play substantial minutes to continue his development. Under the old CBA rules, Scheifele will have a new 10-game window in which to show he can stick in the NHL before the Jets must decide whether to keep him for the full season or return him to junior. It's possible after half a season dominating in the OHL and then taking part in the world junior tournament that Scheifele will be a step ahead of his Jets teammates.

 

Will Evander Kane make more news on the ice or off?

Since joining the Jets, Kane has scored 30 goals and signed a six-year, $31.5-million contract. He's also caused a number of stirs off the ice with some ill-advised tweets and a tendency to be involved in trade rumours. Kane hasn't done anything that can be labelled nefarious and most of it can be chalked up to mistakes of youth. The Jets, however, will want more from their investment. They'll want him to continue his development as a player and a man, hopefully at the same pace. If one rate of development falls behind the other, there will be headlines. On the other hand, if Kane continues to get better as a player and shows growth off the ice, he will have Winnipeg at his feet.

 

Will the Blue Bombers make the playoffs?

First off, in the eight-team CFL where six teams qualify for the post-season, this isn't much of a feat. The Edmonton Eskimos got in last season with a 7-11 mark. It can be argued that type of season isn't much of a success but the playoffs remain a measuring stick in pro sport. The Bombers have a lot of work to do this off-season in re-signing their own free agents and perhaps improving their level of play at quarterback. Too much remains unknown to judge where they will finish and how they will perform this season. But we can look around at the rest of the East Division and handicap how the other clubs will perform. Toronto is the Grey Cup champion, Montreal will have Anthony Calvillo back and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have lots offence and must now add some defence. At this point, and as they are currently constructed the Bombers are fourth in the East on paper and not a playoff team. But lots can change before June. Let's hope it does.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 26, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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