Jets are a riddle wrapped up in an enigma


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/03/2019 (1545 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Steve Lyons: Morning bud — how are you?

Last time we chatted like this, you had just got back from the Caribbean — how’d ya enjoy the rest of winter? It’s over now, right?

We also chatted about how it was time for the Jets to flip the ignition switch if they were planning on hitting the playoff stretch drive — and the playoffs — in high gear. I’ve seen a few signs, but would be hard-pressed to say a lot has changed so far this month. The club played a few solid games on its recent road trip — particularly the 8-1 drubbing of Carolina — and played a decent game against the Caps in Washington and last night at home vs the Sharks, but they seem to be finding ways to lose rather than ways to win.

This team has been an enigma all season — so hard to predict what its going to look like and play like in April. Really good, but Inconsistent, doesn’t usually win a Stanley Cup.

Having Byfuglien and Morrissey in the press box doesn’t help. Perhaps getting those two back for the post-season will make the difference?

Paul Wiecek: I dare you to put away your snow shovel. This winter from hell ain’t over yet by a long shot.

The last time we talked, I was counseling you and everyone else to be calm, sure as I was at that time that some spotty play by the Jets was just a lull from a team that had long since locked up a playoff spot. But that lull is starting to look like a tailspin and what I’m seeing right now is a Jets team that has a lot more wrong with it than just the absence of two of their best defencemen.

They’re giving up the third most shots per game in the entire league, a mind boggling 33.5 per game; their Vezina trophy candidate goaltender from last year has seen his goals against average swell from 2.36 last season to 3.01 this year and — even more worrying — his save percentage drop from .924 last season to .909 this year; and they’ve lost eight of their last 12 games and been humbled by the exact kind of elite teams they’re going to have to face in the playoffs.

Put it all together and a Jets team that finished second overall in the NHL last season with 118 points is currently sitting ninth in the league and on pace for just 100 points. That’s not a lull, it’s a swan dive.

Steve: I dare say, not once this season — for any prolonged period — have the Jets looked like a serious Cup contender. Just once they’ve gone an extended win streak — five games in December. Three times they’ve won four in a row, but on most of the short streaks the opposition was weaker and it was halted when they played a quality opponent. The better teams in the league have had extended win streaks. Tomorrow’s opponent, the Bruins, are just coming off a 19-game point streak. Now, the Jets haven’t had any prolonged losing streaks either, but i’m gonna suggest thats due to the talent on the team and a bit of schedule luck.

So, if they are this uber-talented team what the heck is going on? Someone in the know once said to me a couple of seasons ago: ‘Paul: Maurice will be the guy to get these young guys to a certain place, but he won’t be the guy to get them over the top.’ Frankly, his spin job wore thin on me awhile back — any chance it’s worn thin on the players as well?

I actually shoveled my own snow this year for the first time in ages — I’m running out of room to pile it. Oh, I did pay to have someone get rid of the windrows twice. Worth every penny spent.

Paul Wiecek: How do you know you’re a Winnipegger? You know how to use the word ‘windrows’ in a sentence.

I’m not sure the problem is Maurice. That’s the same guy, I think, who did a masterful job dragging a very young Jets team all the way to the Conference Final last season. That counts for something.

But yeah, if your argument is that Maurice is not the kind of coach who is going to get this team over that final hurdle, it’s hard to argue with the facts. Maurice has been a head coach in the NHL for all or part of 21 seasons and he’s still looking for his first ring. He’s been to a Stanley Cup final once — in 2002 with Carolina — and two conference finals — last year and in 2009, again with Carolina. And aside from that he’s got a whole lot of coulda, shoulda, woulda on his coaching resume. Indeed, the only Cup Carolina did win came in 2006 during a short four-year hiatus Maurice was gone from a franchise that had otherwise employed him for 13 of 17 years.

Coincidence? Yeah maybe. And it’s not like Maurice is the only talented coach never to win a Stanley Cup. Neither did Pat Quinn and he’s a Hall of Famer. And like Quinn, Maurice has also had the misfortune of presiding over a lot of lousy teams during his coaching career.

Still, if the problem is always with someone else, maybe the problem is with you?

Steve Lyons: It’s not like a bunch of players are having bad seasons or anything. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to say any single player is having a bad year. Sure, there was the Laine slump but that seems to have sorted itself out a bit. Other than that, name me a guy who hasn’t played up to expectations — a lot have even exceeded expectations. It’s just collectively, they don’t seem to be on the same page or something. It’s a conundrum. Missing Buff for a couple of extended periods hasn’t helped I suppose — perhaps he’s more important on and off the ice than we think? I once wrote in this space that he really does drive this team over all others. I recall you scoffed at me — not that that didn’t happen regularly when you were employed here haha

How is retirement treating you by the way — drinking plenty of tea; taking naps; and going for strolls are ya?

Paul: I was out at the Brier in Brandon for the final weekend and that was the same question everyone out there had for me too: ‘How’s retirement?’

I struggle with answering that question because the people who ask it usually aren’t retired themselves and if I tell them the truth — ‘It’s freaking fantastic! Every single one of my dreams came true the day I retired’ — then I feel like I’m rubbing it in a bit.

But yeah, it’s freaking fantastic.

The lady of the house and I do a session of yoga together every morning and then take the dog for a walk along the beach in Gimli. Whatever happens the rest of the day after that, I’ve already had a great day. I highly recommend it.

Couple of things from the Brier:

I watched the last couple ends of the Brier final Sunday night with Jeff Stoughton. We both agreed that anyone who thinks curling is boring has never seen a Brier final. I’ve covered World Series and Olympics and NBA Finals and a bunch of major horse races and Grey Cups and even last year’s Jets run through the Stanley Cup playoffs. But for my money, the most exciting three hours in sport is still a Brier final, especially when it’s played like the Koe-Bottcher final was and comes down to a last rock for a Canadian title.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice

And I picked up a scoop while I was out in Brandon. Remember how Justin Timberlake played Bell MTS Place on Feb. 4, the day after the Super Bowl? Well, it turns out he was in Winnipeg the day before with his entourage and wanted a place to watch the big game so he rented the entire Granite Curling Club for Super Bowl Sunday. My birdies tell me he brought in all his own furniture and TVs and he and a bunch of his entourage did a ‘learn to curl’ thing before the big game. All the Granite employees who worked the event had to surrender their phones at the door and swear themselves to secrecy. It worked — until now.

No question the Jets miss Buff and are a better team with him in the lineup. But like I said, this team’s problems right now run a lot deeper than an injured Buff.

Steve: You went to the Brier in Brandon and we weren’t paying you to be there — Say What?!.. are you off your rocking chair?

I’m going to bite my tongue on your suggestion the Brier final is the most exciting three hours in sport — not the least of which is: nothing in sport should be three hours. Come one man, nothing is more exciting than the greatest two minutes — accentuating minutes — in sport. What have they done to you in Gimli? Is this what they call a seniors moment?

Cool scoop on Timberlake though. I’m not a huge fan, but he seems like a real standup guy — and one heck of a golfer, so he’s got that going for him.

I dunno — that morning pace of yours might drive me a bit batty, but i’m sure glad you’re enjoying it 🙂

Got some bad news this morning: our friend and colleague of many years — Randy Turner — died after a battle with cancer. We all got started in this biz around the same time and shared a few beers together here and there — ok, more than a few once or twice. It was sad news to hear of his passing, but I’m always a little happy as well to know someone is no longer suffering.

Kevin Koe and Team Alberta hoist the Tankard after winning the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier. (Chelsea Kemp / Brandon Sun files)

Paul: Randy left his mark on this province, that’s for sure. He will be remembered as a great writer — and he was all of that. But I always thought the secret to his great writing was all the dogged reporting that went into it.

There’s a lot of people in this business who can turn a pretty phrase — and use it as a crutch to cover up the lapses/laziness of their reporting. But Turner did the reporting first and was always the kind of guy who’d make that one extra call to dig up that one final detail that would tie a piece together. Everything else flowed from his reporting and it showed in everything he did.

He wrote books and some award-winning features for us over the years, but the stuff I will always remember best came early in his career when he was working for our Provincial Page. He was a small-town guy himself — he was from Boissevain — and nobody was better at bringing to life our small towns — and the people who populate them — than Randy.

I remember he found a couple somewhere who’d adopted an orphaned beaver, named it ‘Bucky’ and basically had it living in their house with them like a dog. It was vintage Turner — and on a sad day the memory of that piece still makes me laugh.

From left: Steve Lyons, Paul Wiecek and Randy Turner at a friend's wedding in the late '90s.

Steve: He covered a lot of beats for us here in the toy department: the Goldeyes and the Bombers as a beat guy and then later as a columnist he went to the Olys for us. I remember an epic tale he told about the Sutter clan in Viking, Alberta as part of his world juniors coverage that he did so well.

In recent years, Randy would stop by our desks in the newsroom with mini-chocolate bar treats. This morning, Jason Bell brought a bunch in as a memory of Turner. In the old days I would have raised a pint to him at the King’s Head — like we did many times — but since I don’t imbibe anymore, I had a Reese’s peanut butter cup and a Mars bar. I try to avoid sugar as well, but it tasted extra special today.


Paul Wiecek: The newspaper business has a lot of great people in it and those people are one of the few things I miss in retirement. But man, this business is also hard on the people who put out these newspapers everyday.

We’ve got higher rates of alcoholism, addiction, obesity, divorce and suicide than just about any other profession — and it’s just getting worse as the bottom drops out of the industry and reporters are forever asked to do more with less, all while being cursed at online for nothing more than doing their jobs.

I remember a piece a couple years ago in which ‘newspaper journalist’ was ranked above only ‘lumberjack’ as the worst job in existence. I don’t agree it’s that bad, but man I’m tired of waking up to find yet another guy or gal in this business has died way before his time.

Steve Lyons: Not that any of those happened to you and I right? haha..

I’m going wandering in the Jordanian desert later this month, but get this: part of the trek will be spent in a Bedouin camp, but organizers were quick to assure us there will be wifi — oh great lol

I was thinking I could live without Internet for a few days while making our way to the ancient city of Petra. Thankfully, I’ll be able to post pics on my Facebook and Instagram accounts — oh hang on, I don’t have those accounts!

I’ll email you, how’s that?

Paul: It’s a commentary on our times that even desert nomads have figured out the tourists won’t come unless you give them free WiFi.

I’ve never had Facebook or Instagram but I did have Twitter for awhile as a reporter when I was under the misguided notion that it was anything other a cesspool. I tried go back on Twitter the other day for the first time in months and found out I’d been locked out (for lack of use, I guess?) and the only way to get back on would be for them to send me a special code to my Free Press email account, which no longer exists.

So anyway, if you want my 4,600 followers, they’re all yours.

Steve: Nah, I’ll pass thanks.

I guess it might be kinda cool to send a live pic from Petra — guess we’ll see.

Got the full itineray last week:

I start with three nights in Amman then the desert adventure begins:

The first day we bike from a placed called the Dana Biosphere Reserve to Little Petra. After an overnight camp (I have to bring a sleeping bag), we hike a little-known Bedouin trail through the mountains — known as the Backdoor Trail — into Petra.

The next few days are spent hiking and biking in what’s known as Wadi Rum, a unique desert landscape described by T.E. Lawrence as ‘vast, echoing, and god-like.’ Our destination is to ascend the summit of Jebel Um Adami, the highest peak in the country at 1,832 metres.

The desert trek is followed by a three-day adventure travel conference in Aqaba, a resort area on the Red Sea.

Didn’t you scuba dive in the Red Sea once?

Paul: No. I have two eternal regrets about the time I spent in the Middle East: I chose to work in Amman instead of going to Petra when I had the chance; and I never had time to dive in the Red Sea, which is on the bucket list of every diver I know.

I will live vicariously through you. I know you don’t dive but you should at least try snorkeling when you’re down there.

Steve: Yes. I have a free day at the end of the planned itinerary and that’s what I hope to do.

So, I get back to Winnipeg April 6 — the final day of the regular season for the Jets. Got any predictions where they will finish and what they will do in the playoffs?

Nashville isn’t exactly tearing it up either (5-5 in its last 10) and the Blues have cooled off as well (4-4-2 in their last 10), so I’m going to say the Jets manage to hang on to first in the Central and beat one of the lame wild card teams in the first round. After that, I’m skeptical. They might even get past a second-round matchup with the Preds again, but I’m gonna suggest the Western Conference champ comes out of the Pacific Division again this year and right now I like the Sharks over the Flames and Golden Knights.

Guess the next time we do this will be when I get back. Hopefully by then, I can put away the snow shovel.

Paul Wiecek: I think the Minnesota Wild are the one team the Jets don’t want to face in the opening round — and with the Wild just one point out of the second wild card spot right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly what happens. The Wild are 4-0-0 against the Jets this season and that matchup would be a much tougher opening round series this year than it was last year, I think. I’d be willing to bet it’s keeping Maurice up at nights right now.

Travel safely over there. And don’t forget to write.

Steve Lyons: You always check on me — I’ll reply.


Hikers walk from the village on a trip into the desert in Wadi Rum. (Keven Frayer / Associated Press files)
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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