Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Just thinking out loud...

The curious case of Burmistrov, and other notions from the road

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MONTREAL -- A guy wakes up in Winnipeg, goes to sleep in Philadelphia that night, then bolts to Florida for three days and finally ends up in hockey's Mecca... let's just say a lot of half-baked story ideas and random thoughts can bounce around a dude's head while racking up travel points following the Jets.

Consider this, then, our attempt to put some of that to paper...

-- Just thinking out loud here, but if I'm Claude Noel I'm trying anything -- and we mean anything -- to get the Jets better prepared to handle the nightmares that have become the second games of back-to-back contests. Friday's loss to Florida means the Jets are now 0-9 in that scenario this season -- even winning just a third of those would have them in the playoff picture.

-- Call this the curious case of Alex Burmistrov. You can see the skill -- even if the majority of it is flashed on the periphery -- the desire to improve and the dedication to his defensive responsibilities. But many nights it seems wasted unless he is playing on the top two lines with players that can match his skill set. So the debate is this: Are the Jets better served letting him develop, and make mistakes, as a top-six forward or does he have to earn Noel's trust for one of those plum spots?

-- Question: Why do hockey people and folks in the media business always use the term 'puck-moving defenceman'? I'm no Scotty Bowman, but wouldn't you want ALL your players to be able to move the puck?

-- Which team will overpay for Sam Gagner in the wake of his remarkable eight-point night against Chicago earlier this week? Rumours are the team most intrigued might be the one he scorched -- the Blackhawks.

-- Tampa owner Jeff Vinik has done a marvellous job marketing the Lightning and making the Tampa Bay Times Forum a great spot for hockey. Pictures of Lightning players are everywhere, from billboards to bus shacks. Shoot, the minute you get on a shuttle train at the airport you are greeted by a recorded message by captain Vincent Lecavalier welcoming you to Tampa.

-- The Panthers, meanwhile, have a super rink just off the highway in the middle of suburbia. The announced crowd on Friday was 16,773, but it was half that. And like in Tampa, there were a ton of Jets jerseys. In fact, their 'Go Jets Go!' chants often got so loud it prompted the home fans to either boo or cheer for their own squad to drown out the enemy. It's awesome to hear even a dozen or so Jets fans belt out 'True North!' at the right time during the anthem, even if the other fans have no idea what it means.

-- Yours truly is going to weigh in and play GM before the trade deadline... I see depth at defence both here and in St. John's that gives the franchise assets. I see two gaping holes on the first two lines outside of Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane. Everybody's tradeable, of course, but the men I'm building around or keeping are the four just mentioned, the GST line of Tanner Glass, Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn, defencemen Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart and Toby Enstrom and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. I also see enough in Patrice Cormier that he should be with the big club.

-- Further to the point above... if the Jets are seeking top-six help, their most-tradeable asset may be Enstrom. He's immensely gifted and last year had 51 points -- 50 the season before that. Paul Postma and Zach Redmond with the IceCaps are also offensively gifted while Bogosian is developing that aspect of his game. Byfuglien is an offensive force.

-- First time dealing with Tampa head coach Guy Boucher this week and he's a fascinating character. Intelligent, well-read and very passionate, he also gives thoughtful answers during his media sessions. Cool story courtesy Lonnie Herman of NHL.com, who wrote a wonderful piece on Boucher this week. A voracious reader always looking for ways to motivate his squad, Boucher recently asked his players to read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It's the story of Louis Zamperini, a World War II aviator who crashed into the Pacific Ocean and survived.

And then he quizzed them on it.

"It's about how someone survived something much worse than what the team is going through and he survived and learned from it," Boucher told Herman. "I believe in that. To me, whether it's hockey or life, I think there is a way out; a way to build even in the tough times, and I believe this is what we're going through right now."

-- Arrived in downtown Montreal near the end of the Canadiens' 3-0 loss to Washington on Saturday. The taxi just happened to be driving by the Bell Centre with a couple of minutes left as fans poured out. Had the window down to hear fans and you could actually hear the boos from inside as we headed to the hotel. Ugly, ugly, ugly scene here and it's only going to get nastier by season's end.

-- Took a shuttle bus to the Tampa Bay Times Forum a few days ago. Nice guy behind the wheel. He explained that hockey was huge in Tampa and that he was a big-time fan. The rest of our conversation went like this after we established that I was a newspaper writer from Winnipeg covering the Jets:

Driver: The Jets? Is that an expansion team?

Me: No. We used to have a team. It left for Phoenix in the mid-90s. But this team came from Atlanta this year when the franchise there had trouble.

Driver: There was a team in Atlanta?

Me: Yup.

Driver: Where is Winnipeg, anyway?

Me: About seven hours north of Minneapolis.

Driver: What state is it in, then?

Me: It's in Canada.

Driver: Hockey is big up there, isn't it?

Me: It's like a religion.

Driver: Are there a lot of NHL teams up there?

Me: Yessir. Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Driver: Geez, that's a lot. Well, like I said, I'm a huge fan.

Me: I can tell.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2012 B3

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