Wheeler fight with Malkin draws mixed reviews


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/03/2017 (2090 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Steve Lyons: Hey — how’s it going? Any thoughts on that hockey game at the downtown rink last night?

I’ve got a couple — so glad you asked ha ha

I’ve been trying to come up with the proper adjectives to describe Blake Wheeler’s decision to challenge Evgeni Malkin to a fight early in the first period. I’ve settled on: Dumb and selfish.


What exactly did that accomplish, other than to get Pens enforcer Tom Sestito riled up to the point that he later breaks Toby Enstrom’s face? 


All because Wheeler felt the league should have suspended Malkin for the head shot on him a couple weeks ago in Pittsburgh? Or did he feel Malkin deserved to get beaten up because ya know, Malkin is notorious for this type of thing and had to finally be taught a lesson?

So Wheeler’s need for revenge causes a teammate some serious pain; he risks breaking his own hand repeatedly punching Malkin’s helmet; and Enstrom’s injury leaves his team short-handed on defence for the final 47 minutes of the game.

In my opinion, Captain Blake owes his teammates and Enstrom and apology today.

Oh, and I guess we should also mention that Malkin got his revenge by scoring two goals and assisting on another in a Pens’ 7-4 win. Sure taught him a lesson.

Paul Wiecek: Holy shmoly. Get off the fence man. What do you really think?

So, I think the popular U.S. sports blog Deadspin best summed up Wednesday’s debacle with the headline, ‘The Penguins-Jets Grudge Match Was the Perfect NHL Cycle of Stupidity.’ Deadspin contended — and I agree — that Wednesday’s problems can be traced back to the league’s inexplicable decision weeks ago not to sanction Malkin for his gutless hit on Wheeler.

But just because the league is stupid doesn’t mean the Jets should be too. That game meant a lot more to the Jets Wednesday night than it did to the Penguins and I thought an injury depleted Pens lineup — literally half their defence was missing, including Kris Letang — was vulnerable. That was a very winnable game for the Jets, I thought, if they’d just played their game.

Now having said all that, if we’re apportioning blame for the stupidity Wednesday night I would put Wheeler at the bottom of the list, not the top. I don’t have any problem, in fact, with Wheeler taking matters in his own hands early in the game. And I was there Wednesday night — you could feel the lift in the building and see the intensity in the Jets rise after that Wheeler-Malkin scrap. I’d argue you can draw a much clearer line between the captain dropping the gloves and the Jets taking a 3-2 lead into the dressing room after the first period than you can between the Wheeler scrap and Sestito running Enstrom. The person to blame for what happened to Enstrom isn’t Wheeler. It’s not even Sestito, who is a career idiot. It’s the gutless wonder that is Pens coach Mike Sullivan, who called up Sestito on Wednesday for one purpose, thereby setting the tone for the ugliness that was to follow that night while Sullivan’s safely ensconced behind the Pittsburgh bench in a $2,500 suit. Of all the people who deserved a beating Wednesday night, Sullivan topped my list. By a mile.

It’s all beside the point anyway. The Jets lost that game not because of all the scrapping or even the loss of Enstrom. They lost that game because Connor Hellebuyck gave up three goals in 57 seconds in the second period, five goals in 15 shots and he was pulled for the 10th time in his 71 starts for the Jets, which is ridiculous.

Steve: I actually pulled a few punches in my opening salvo. And, I definitely do not agree with you on Wheeler being at the bottom of the blame list. And this whole blame-Hellebuyck thread is such a smokescreen for this team.

Even if the league got it wrong on the Malkin hit a couple of weeks ago — and I don’t believe it did by the way; and even if Sullivan was provoking a situation by calling up Sestito, nothing happens if the Jets just go out and play their game like they did against the Sharks instead of Wheeler picking a fight with Malkin and Chris Thorburn picking a fight with Sestito. They did not have a 3-2 lead after the first period because of the fights — they had a lead because Pens goalie Matt Murray had a shaky opening 20 minutes.


Where the league is wrong is it should finally implement a rule that suspends players — or at least ejects them — for staged fights. It’s ridiculous already.

And if this team needed Wheeler to scrap Malkin to get a rise in its intensity when they are fighting for their playoff lives and hosting the defending Stanley Cup champs, then they’ve got big problems.

The only thing that bugs me about Sullivan, is I wish I could afford $2,500 suits.

Hellebuyck was not great, I admit, but I would have been p…ed off being yanked after those three goals. Two were on the power play — one was with his team down two men — and on none of the goals were the Jets d-men anywhere to be seen. And on the 5th Pens goal, Malkin kicked sand in Mark Scheifele’s face in front of the net and showed what fight is.

Paul Wiecek: We can agree that we would all be better served by a better brand of suit, particularly in Winnipeg where the average guy’s idea of dressing up is turning a filthy T-shirt inside out so you can’t see the stains.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS Pens coach Mike Sullivan called up Tom Sestito for one purpose on Wednesday.

We will have to disagree on Hellebuyck’s culpability Wednesday night. I will leave this here, however — even Paul Maurice, a man genetically incapable of calling out his players individually, admitted Wednesday night that Hellebuyck has to be better if his team is going to have any chance against a team like the Penguins.

How about this for a stat: The Jets record this season against teams that currently have 80 points or more in the standings is now 5-14-2. And if you subtract Winnipeg’s weird 4-1-0 record against Chicago from that list, it’s now 1-13-2. That says a lot about where this team is at right now. They’re promising and, on some nights, even really good. But they are still boys playing with men.

So, let me put this on a tee for you: I understand that you are not a big fan of the eardrum-bursting levels of music that they play at MTS Centre on game nights, not to mention that really annoying in-game host who spends the entire game shrieking at the paying customers for some reason. 

Please, do tell…

Steve Lyons: I will of course preface these comments by pointing out that I do not have to pay to go to a Jets game, so I’m not sure how much right I have to complain about the ‘fan experience’ — but man is it loud in the MTS Centre. And at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man — again — I left last night’s game after two periods, went home and rested my eardrums for 45 minutes before even turning on the TV for a bit before bed.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS Nick Bonino (13) and the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate Bonino's goal against the Winnipeg Jets in the first period.

Yeah, why does that guy need to yell at everyone between face-offs? If you are trying to engage the younger fans, you don’t need to shout — their hearing is still fine.

Last Sunday, the New York Knicks organization decided the first half of a game at Madison Square Garden between the Knicks and the Golden State Warriors would be played without all the manufactured noise. They had an announcement on the scoreboard that read — nobody yelled it at you:  The first half of today’s game will be presented without music, video or in-game entertainment so you can experience the game in its purest form. Enjoy the sounds of the game. That I actually would pay to experience.

The Warriors’ Draymond Green blasted the whole thing calling it pathetic and ridiculous, which tells me normal folks likely enjoyed it.

And while we’re on this subject, why do hockey announcers on TV continue to do play-by-play like it’s on radio. I can see that Byfuglien passed the puck to Laine — do I need to be told what I am seeing. That’s one of the biggest reasons I love watching baseball — the stories that are told while I watch what is happening. I don’t need someone to tell me “the pitcher pitched the ball and the hitter swung at it.”

Paul: Maybe it’s my imagination, but I really think they turned up the volume at MTS Centre this year. It just seems louder. Or maybe I’m just an old guy who wishes those kids would get off my lawn.

This reminds me of the season the Montreal Canadiens started playing rock music during stoppages for the first time. Author Mordercai Richler — icon, curmudgeon, diehard Canadiens fan — wrote a column ripping the Habs for interfering with his enjoyment of ‘nos glorieux.’ Of course, Richler is the same guy who once ripped those "insufferable Inuit throat singers" — which is simultaneously hilarious and true, but also the kind of thing only a national treasure like Richler could get away with saying.

Basketball is stupid, with or without the volume. Any sport in which you achieve your stated scoring objective better than 75 percent of the time is too easy. Make the hoops higher or the players shorter. Right now, the entire sport is just a freak show. 

What percentage of the world’s seven-footers are in the NBA? One in two? I’m only half joking.

Steve Lyons: The Internet says — and we all know if it’s on the Internet it’s true — the probability of, say, an American between 6’6" and 6’8" being an NBA player stands at a mere 0.07%, but it’s a staggering 17% for someone 7 feet or taller. It also tells me most estimates suggest there are three 7-foot individuals per 20,000 — around 50,000 total in the world.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders signed a tall guy today — ex-NFL QB Vince Young. Best thing I can say about that is it’s getting the CFL some ink in the middle of March.

Paul: Like I said — freak show.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS It's loud in the MTS Centre.

And seeing as we’re on the subject, that’s basically what this Vince Young signing is too. The guy hasn’t played football for six years, let alone CFL football. I predict he doesn’t get out of training camp, if he survives that long. I love these washed up NFL guys who come up here thinking they’ll run roughshod over the league en route to their big comeback, only to get their heads torn off and a very rude awakening — the CFL is no joke.

But it’s a gift to TSN, who are basically a majority owner of the CFL at this point and are doing everything they can to pump up interest in a declining property that is one of the few things they have left since they lost the national TV hockey contract. TSN actually went live from Regina on Thursday with the Vince Young press conference, which is hilarious. I can’t wait to see what they do if Teague Sherman signs somewhere. At least Sherman actually played last year.

Steve: Are you kidding me? Why didn’t you tell me the Young signing was live on TV!?

Since we’re on the subject of ‘media’ a bit today — one morning this week I was surfing Twitter and came across a tweet from a fella who works for NHL.com out on the west coast. He was lamenting ‘never thought I’d be the only local reporter for a Canadiens practice in Vancouver, especially one with BC boys Price, Weber and Gallagher.’

Couple of things crossed my mind: a) is someone who works for the NHL a ‘local reporter’; and b) why does he think the real local media should be out to cover players just because some local boys are in town to play the Canucks? This guy sounds like a publicist, not a journalist.

Back to the Internet for a second, Merriam-Webster defines a reporter as a person employed by a newspaper, magazine, or television company to gather and report news.

Listen, I bear no animosity or hard feelings towards the folks who have left the mainstream media to take jobs working for professional sports teams or leagues but I’m not sure those folks should be called reporters. You went to journalism school at Carleton University — what ya think?

Paul Wiecek: I’m old school on this reporter thing: Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks. 

You can’t blame a guy or gal for trying to make a living, however — particularly given the state of the media industry right now.

It’s interesting though — and you’re seeing this extending all the way to the current White House — how the vested interests are right now trying to blur the line between real and fake news.

The teams would love it if they could break down that barrier in people’s minds and pass off their own self-interested propaganda on team websites as news. But I don’t see that happening, simply because the public isn’t stupid. They recognize Pravda when they see it. 

And so in the end, that makes the market for content on these team and league websites limited to the sheep who will countenance no dissent and want to hear nothing but good news about their favorite team. That’s a very small market of the already converted choir and I don’t see how you grow your fanbase that way. But the choir needs a preacher too, I guess.

Steve: I had a reader call me a couple of weeks ago complaining about one of our Jets game stories — called it a puff piece, comparing it to what he would read on the team website. The Jets had played poorly that night and he wanted us to be critical of what he saw. He agreed that we had some critique of the game, but not enough. I said we didn’t have enough space to detail and analyze ALL the mistakes from that game. He chuckled and asked me to keep providing the unbiased reports he relies on us to give him.

So, we’ve been off on a few grumpy-old-men tangents today. Anything bright and happy to share?

Personally, I’m loving the form Jose Bautista is showing in spring training 😉

MARK TAYLOR / THE CANADIAN PRESS Vince Young announces his signing with the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium in Regina Thursday.

And if you wanna see some great athletes this weekend folks, the U of M Bisons are hosting the Canada West men’s volleyball Final Four. If I wasn’t going to the symphony Saturday night, I’d definitely go watch the super spikes.. there’s no screaming announcer and blaring music though, so you would have to enjoy watching sports in its purest form.

Paul: And speaking of sports in its purest form, it’s tough to beat the annual spectacle of ordinary people doing extraordinary things that is the Brier every year.

CHRIS O'MEARA / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Jose Bautista slides into third base ahead of the tag by Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria with a stolen base during the second inning Sunday.

It’s been a very long time since someone other than Jeff Stoughton won a Brier for Manitoba (1995 — Burtnyk, Kerry) but I’m really liking what Mike McEwen is selling this week.

Steve: Hear hear!

You’re off to Nashville and then the Big Apple area with the Jets next week — oh, and then of course another vacation. Safe travels pal.

Talk soon

Paul: There are those who would suggest my entire job is a vacation.

Those people need to keep it down.






Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press Mike McEwen doesn't have one of his biggest fans in the crowd at Mile One Centre.
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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