The sun is shining on the Jets and Bombers this week

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This is usually a really lousy week to be a Winnipegger.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/02/2016 (2495 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This is usually a really lousy week to be a Winnipegger.

You’ve already had two months of winter piled higher than a back-lane snowbank upon your soul. And, with a couple months of Prairie winter still to go, that flicker of light you think you might be seeing at the end of the tunnel is most likely just an oncoming blizzard.

 

Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS Fomer Hamilton Tiger-Cats' kicker Justin Medlock (7) celebrates his game winning field goal in the end of fourth quarter CFL Eastern Division Semifinal football action against the Toronto Argonauts in Hamilton, Ont., on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. The Bombers reached a deal with Medlock.

 

But what makes it all particularly hard to take right now is that whatever refuge from the cold you might seek in the arms of another comes this week with the Valentine’s Day tax — that bouquet of roses you could have bought for $25 last week will cost you $100 this week.

You can, of course, always substitute carnations. You can also, of course, sleep in the yard.

And you thought you were cold before.

My point is this: if ever we needed a reason to hope — some warm blanket to cling to until this unlikely town can orbit closer to our star — it’s this week.

And — thanks first to the Winnipeg Jets Monday and then, spectacularly, to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Tuesday — the sun is shining just a little bit warmer all of a sudden here on the frozen banks of the Red and the Assiniboine.

The Jets’ signing of Dustin Byfuglien Monday speaks for itself. He’s a mountain of a man with an utterly unique skill set, and the fans love him, which is increasingly a consideration for a Jets ownership that for the first time this season is seeing tickets go unsold in worrying numbers.

But I’d argue it’s the Bombers and their monster splash in CFL free agency Tuesday that is the more noteworthy move this week, because it has the potential to turn around the fortunes of the franchise.

While there is no underestimating the impact Byfuglien has on the Jets, what’s been lost in all the euphoria surrounding his signing this week is Byfuglien has already been a central piece for five years on what has been a losing Jets team.

You can argue, of course, the Jets have been losing despite Byfuglien, not because of him. And, in support of that point of view, you can point to all the offensive production out of Byfuglien lately, although to do so you’d have to also ignore some very costly penalties the big man has taken during that same stretch.

Whatever the case, the Jets’ signing of Byfuglien was a case of a team retaining a piece they already had.

But what the Bombers did Tuesday was something quite different. With the high-profile signings of receiver Ryan Smith, running back Andrew Harris, defensive tackle Keith Shologan and kicker Justin Medlock, the Bombers improved their offence, defence and special teams in a way that gives fans real reason to hope this city’s long football nightmare is finally over.

Medlock is nothing less than the most accurate field goal kicker in CFL history.

Smith led a horrendous Saskatchewan Roughriders offence last season with 991 yards receiving.

Harris — and his rare Canadian passport at running back — was probably the most coveted free agent in this year’s class after non-import defensive tackle Ted Laurent.

And Shologan is dependable (114 starts over eight seasons), a winner (he’s played in three Grey Cup games), a non-import and coming off a season with the Ottawa Redblacks in which he posted a career-high seven sacks, a number almost unheard of for an interior lineman.

Add in a fifth signing in non-import Pascal Lochard, who backed up Harris at running back in B.C. last year and will do the same in Winnipeg this year, and a sixth in veteran offensive lineman Jeff Keeping, and the Bombers were the unanimous choice Tuesday as the winner of CFL free agency’s opening day.

On top of all that, the Bombers were in advanced talks Tuesday night with former Toronto Argonauts defensive lineman Euclid Cummings, who had eight sacks last season.

Now, if that sounds familiar, it should. Winnipeg GM Kyle Walters was also most people’s choice last year as the “winner” of free agency on a day he signed 2015’s big free agent prize, offensive tackle Stanley Bryant.

And then the Bombers promptly went 5-13 and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

So winning free agency doesn’t actually win you anything.

But do the calculation yourself. Add up Medlock, Smith, Harris, Shologan and, don’t forget, future Hall of Fame receiver Weston Dressler, who signed with the Bombers last month. Now subtract all the dead weight the Bombers let go to free agency this winter: Dominic Picard, Demond Washington, Nick Moore, Selvish Capers and Lirim Hajrullahu, etc.

The result? Hope.

And in the depths of a Winnipeg winter, that — and a $100 worth of roses — should be enough to keep you warm this week.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

 

New Blue blood

Andrew Harris

Length of deal: three years

Age: 28

Height and weight: 5-11, 213

Position: RB

Years in the CFL: 6

College: N/A

Hometown: Winnipeg

Interesting fact: Taking the Canadian Junior Football league path instead of CIS, Harris led the Vancouver Island Raiders to three national championships (2006, 2008, and 2009), and set records for all-time touchdowns (84) and scoring (504 points).

 

Ryan Smith

Length of deal: two years

Age: 24

Height and weight: 5-7, 175

Position: WR

Years in the CFL: 2

College: North Dakota State

Hometown: Wahpeton, N.D.

Interesting fact: In 2015, Smith recorded a catch of 40 yards or more in six of his 15 games, and caught at least one ball in every game he played.

 

Justin Medlock

Length of deal: two years

Age: 32

Height and weight: 6-0, 208

Position: K/P

Years in the CFL: 5

College: UCLA

Hometown: Santa Clara, Calif.

Interesting fact: Justin isn’t the only athlete in his family. His wife, Hannah Jun Medlock, is an avid golfer currently on the LPGA tour.

 

Keith Shologan

Length of deal: two years

Age: 30

Height and weight: 6-2, 290

Position: DL

Years in the CFL: 8

College: UCF

Hometown: Edmonton

Interesting fact: Shologan lives on a bull farm in Alberta with his family during the off-season and legend has it, he’s also a pretty mean squash player.

 

Pascal Lochard

Length of deal: two years

Age: 25

Height and weight: 6-0, 215

Position: RB

Years in the CFL: 2

College: Laval University

Hometown: Montreal

Interesting fact: While playing with Laval University, Lochard played in four Vanier Cups, winning in three of those games and was named the most valuable player of the 49th Vanier Cup in 2013, his final year.

 

Jeff Keeping

Length of deal: one year

Age: 33

Height and weight: 6-6, 295

Position: C

Years in the CFL: 8

College: Western University

Hometown: Uxbridge, Ont.

Interesting fact: Keeping played 10 seasons with the Toronto Argonauts, and has more than 100 starts.

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

History

Updated on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 11:14 PM CST: writethrough

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