Jets take back seat to the Blue Bombers this week An email conversation between sports editor Steve Lyons and (retired) sports columnist Paul Wiecek


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/11/2018 (1490 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Steve Lyons: Hello there. How’s it going? Hope the retirement thing is going well. Sorry I don’t get right back to you on those mid-day texts — I’m like working.

Apparently you have plenty of time now to lie around and watch sports — is it different watching now that you don’t have to be thinking about what you’re going to write? I’m still getting paid to watch it by the way (*sticks out tongue*).

Some big games coming up this weekend and obviously the Bombers playoff match against the Riders in Regina being the most notable. The Jets have a couple of games as well and need to get things going in the right direction, but the Blue and Gold once again have a chance to win a playoff game — they haven’t done that since 2011 when they won the East Final — and I’m wondering how we judge this season if they fall short in Saskatchewan.

Paul Wiecek: Those afternoon Jets broadcasts from Helsinki were perfect for a retired guy like me. I watched the first period, napped during the second period and then woke up sometime in the third when things really got interesting. Every NHL game should be held on a weekday afternoon.

There’s an old line you’d hear from sportswriters: ‘I didn’t watch the game. I was covering it.’ It’s funny because it’s true — the games I’ve seen the least of over the years were the games I was covering from a press box, nose buried in my computer and writing instead of watching because I’d have to have a full game story, or column, filed 10 minutes (or less) after the final whistle. All of which is, again, an advertisement for more afternoon games.

So to answer your question: Yeah, compared to that craziness, watching sports is infinitely more satisfying now that it doesn’t come with three hours of wracking self-doubt and anxiety.

Also, I told you the Red Sox would win for fun. It gives me no joy to be right.

Here’s a sentence you don’t get to write very often: The Jets take a back seat to the Bombers this week. The table is set for this Bombers team, I think, to finally end that interminable Grey Cup drought. I’ve said all season long they’re the most talented team in the CFL and they’ve finally showed it down the stretch when it mattered most. They’re healthy, they’re executing at high efficiency in all three phases and they’re peaking at exactly the same time as rivals like Calgary and Saskatchewan are showing some cracks.

So yeah, as long as Mike O’Shea doesn’t try any 61-yard field goals — like he did to seal that semifinal loss to BC two years ago — or fake any punts in his own end with his team leading — which led to the game-winning touchdown in that semifinal loss to Edmonton last year — I think the Bombers win in Regina and head into Calgary for the West Final with all kinds of swagger and momentum.

John Woods / The Canadian Press files Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea

But if not now, then when? And if not now, then what? If this Bombers team once again fails to win a playoff game — and especially if it happens because once again O’Shea just couldn’t get out of his own team’s way — I don’t see how you could categorize this season as anything less than an abject failure. O’Shea has had five full seasons now to finally show some results and it’s time he either put up when it really counts or the Bombers moved on and found someone else who can.

Steve: I really think they will need to self-destruct to lose to the Riders this weekend — and if that happens, then there will need to be a reckoning of some sort.

Doug Brown’s column this week perfectly described how the Riders win by being better on special teams and scoring on defence. Their offence is generally awful, no matter who is playing quarterback — and at this point, there’s no certainty who that will even be this weekend. Like Doug said, if the Bombers can protect the football and not give up any big plays on special teams, they should win this one for fun. They beat this team 31-0 a few weeks ago.

The Bombers have way more talent than the Riders. If it ends up coming down to coaching, well perhaps it will be time for a new coach.

I had no doubt you were going to be right about the Red Sox — what a boring World Series that was. As I previously said I don’t like either team, but there was no drama at all.

What’s with Boston fans throwing beer cans during the victory parade, damaging the World Series trophy and hitting manager Alex Cora — Say What?!

Paul: Boston fans might actually be the worst. Fans in Philly have the worst reputation, which is what happens when you pelt Santa Claus with snowballs (true story) and are so chronically drunk and disorderly that their football stadium has its own jail cell (another true story).

But it’s the whininess of the Boston fans that make them even worse. The Celtics, Bruins, Patriots and Red Sox have piled up title after title over the last 20 years but your average Boston fan would have you believe that everyone — the refs, other fans, Roger Goodell — are out to get them all the time. They were so much easier to take when all the teams in Boston sucked.

So how about Joel Quenneville getting fired this week? The guy took over behind the bench of a moribund franchise and in 10 years won three Stanley Cups — and they show him the door 15 games into a new season?

If you want to blame anyone for what’s happened to Chicago, I’d be looking at GM Stan Bowman, not Q. It was Bowman, remember, who thought it was a great idea to tie up one-quarter of his team’s entire salary cap on two players, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Everything bad that’s happened to Chicago since those salaries kicked in — from the first round playoff exit two years ago, to missing the playoffs last season to the struggles this season — track back to that hare-brained decision.

Q is the same coach he’s always been, he just doesn’t have the same players anymore because Bowman blew the payroll on two guys.

I raise all this not because I particularly care about Q or the Hawks, but because I think all this is a cautionary tale for the Jets. Jets GM Kevin Chevaldayoff is a product of Bowman’s front office and everything about Jets 2.0 to this point has been built on the Chicago model. It’s all worked out quite nicely to this point, but there is a lesson to be learned here that is particularly relevant for the Jets with a guy like Patrik Laine due to become a free agent at the end of this season.

Laine is a phenomenal young talent and it’s in everyone’s interests to lock him down for a long time to come. But not at any price and especially not if it means the rest of the team has to be run on a budget.

I think Paul Maurice would back me up on this, especially after seeing what happened to his buddy in Chicago this week.

Steve: I loved the Bruins as a kid — they were my first favorite team and my favorite player was a guy named Ken Hodge. He played on a line with Phil Esposito and Wayne Cashman. I’ll always remember watching the game when Bobby Orr scored that iconic goal against the St. Louis Blues to win the Cup in 1970.

I also was a fan of later Bruins teams — being of Irish heritage, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a Bruin I liked more than Terry O’Reilly.

Elise Amendola / The Associated Press files Former Boston Bruins player Terry O'Reilly

I was also a huge Gerry Cheevers fan — what little hockey i did play as a kid, I played goal.

I think I’ve told you the story about meeting Cheevers in a restaurant outside Boston? I was in the area on my first honeymoon (yes, I had two) having dinner at this restaurant in Danvers, Mass. and Cheevers walks by. I was working at the Free Press by then, so I stopped him and introduced myself. He sat down and chatted for like 20 minutes or so. He was working color for NESN at that time and had made several recent trips to Winnipeg and wanted to chat about the Jets. Great sports memory.

Not sure when my love for Boston sports teams changed, but I could not agree with you more — insufferable now. Maybe it’s Brad Marchand; Tom Brady; and David Ortiz.

I think you are on to something with the Jets contracts. I was looking at them a bit yesterday. The Little deal may turn out to be Chevy’s worst deal. Or maybe Ehlers. They better hope it’s not Wheeler’s.

This team needs to start scoring. Wheeler and Ehlers have two goals each; Little has three; Perreault has two. They don’t have anyone in the Top 20 in league scoring and they’re 20th overall in goals.

Paul: This is sure an enigmatic Jets team. One moment, they look every bit like that powerhouse that rolled all the way to the Western Conference final last year and then the next moment they look like, well, the Jets of a couple years ago, taking dopey undisciplined penalties and delivering more pizzas in their own end than Dominos.

Thank God for the Jets power play — it’s saved them on more than a few nights this season.

But the good news is the goals are going to come, one way or another. This team is just way too talented not to score. I think Laine’s experiences this season are instructive — he’d struggled to find the net early in the season, started gripping the stick too tight and so it got even harder to score and then finally last week it was like a pressure relief valve let loose and he got four goals in two games. I think something like that could be in the cards for this whole Jets teams generally. Once they start scoring, it will be in droves.

Frankly, I’d be a lot more worried if this team was struggling to keep the puck out of their own net, but they’re not. The Jets are ninth in the league in goals against — and three of the teams who have surrrendered fewer goals than Winnipeg have also played less games. We know this team will score sooner or later; the question coming into the season was always going to be whether they would continue to get the goaltending and stellar defensive play that made them such a powerhouse last season.

So far, the signs are generally encouraging, at least on that front.

Steve: I’m not so sure about the scoring. It is good to see you have a much more glass-half-full look at things though from your retirement couch haha

Ehlers went months without scoring then scored a couple. He could go months again. And I don’t envision Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault ever scoring again like they used to. Meantime, they are getting no production from Roslovic, Lemieux, Copp and whoever else might make up the fourth line. I might make May vacation plans instead of June plans this year.

I’m taking my final two weeks of vacation this year starting Friday — going to the west coast next week to visit my father. Always great to go to B.C… I’d ask if you have vacation plans, but well: is is still a vacation when you travel in retirement?

Paul: It’s funny you’d mention that. I was thinking the other day how the rhythms of the week still feel the same. I’m still putting together to-do lists on Monday and then pounding out tasks all week long and looking forward to ‘relaxing’ on the weekend. Everyday is the weekend when you’re retired, but it still somehow doesn’t quite feel that way.

So yeah, damn right I’m looking forward to a holiday. I’ve rented a house for a month in Nevis in January and it can’t come soon enough. I’ve had enough of winter already after that lousy fall.

Speaking of lousy, how about those Ottawa Senators? It’s gotten to the point they can’t even take an Uber without embarrassing themselves and their city. You know you’re doing something wrong when you’ve supplanted Parliament as the most underperforming thing to come out of the Nation’s Capital.

Hard to believe that outfit was in a conference final just a couple years ago. Which, come to think of it, is another cautionary tale for the Jets and their fans — things can go wrong, in a hurry, in the NHL.

Steve: I’m not sure those players did anything differently than most of us have done when we complain about our boss.

Watching the video, they didn’t sound that much different than your average guy at the plant bemoaning the same old ‘lame’ instructions they hear day after say from their foreman. I have more contempt for the Uber driver who released the video. I’m not a big fan of the growing trend where folks try to catch and then take joy over amusement in someone else doing something wrong or embarrassing.

Last time we did this you said: “Some of the least likable people I’ve ever met were in a professional sports locker room and I’m looking forward to seeing a whole lot less of them in my new life.” I made a note of it thinking it would be cool to ask you to give us some names. I’ve changed my mind.

Nevis eh? Isn’t there a Nevis playing for the Bombers? How do you find these places?

Paul: I’ve said way worse things about you, mostly to your face, than those Sens guys said about their boss. But we’re friends.

I’m with Mike Babcock on this Senators thing. Babcock said this week that he’s told his players in Toronto that everything is on the record, all the time, no matter where you are when you’re in the NHL. So in other words, behave yourself. That’s generally sound advice, whether it’s coming from a hockey coach or your mother.

I will say this about the most unlikeable people I met in this job — one of them is in the Jets dressing room. I don’t think he misses me, either.

My goal for my first winter holiday in retirement was to find something that demanded of me the least responsibility possible. So to begin with, it had to be small enough that I didn’t need a car and Nevis is the grand total of 35 square miles and 11,000 people. Throw in a Caribbean climate, great food, a direct flight out of Minneapolis and all the hiking, biking and snorkeling you could ever want and it sounded like the place for me.

Steve: Sounds idyllic, pal. I’m sure we’ll chat again before that.

I have to get to work — that four-letter word to you now — so going to have to wrap this up. But let’s end with this: If the Bombers lose on Sunday, should they fire Mike O’Shea? I say yes.

Paul: I say yes too. But they won’t.

Steve: I’m not crazy about that storyline again — a win would finally be something different to report on.

Take it easy, talk soon.

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.

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