Jets should have no problem now taming Wild

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/04/2018 (1706 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Steve Lyons: Good morning. How are you enjoying this lovely spring weather? Ha! Guess, we wouldn’t be Winnipeggers if we didn’t complain about the weather — or something.

So, you asked me the other day if there was any way the Jets could lose to the Wild in the first round of the playoffs. I said of course they could, especially against a team that has the likes of Ryan Suter; Zach Parise; Mikko Koivu — and Devan Dubnyk in goal. Well, no more Suter as he suffered what looks to be a season-ending ankle injury the other night. It’s a devastating loss for the Wild. The veteran defenceman was having a career season in what has been a great career, with 45 assists. He logs tons of ice time and is the QB of the team’s power play.

The Wild still have a wealth of talent: Eric Staal is having a resurgent season with 40 goals; Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker are having breakout seasons and their defence corps still has the talented Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon. And, no team in the league has lost fewer games in regulation at home so far this season (6).

Taking all that into account, I will now say — after the loss of Suter — there’s no way the Jets lose to the Wild in the opening round of the playoffs.

That’s as far as I’m willing to go on a post-season prediction. How about you?

Paul Wiecek: This might be the slowest melt in the history of Winnipeg. On the plus side, that persistent snowbank next to my deck is going to provide free ice for drinks all summer long.

I was thinking just this morning that the season-ending injuries to Suter in Minnesota and to starting goalie Semyon Varlamov in Colorado are exactly the kind of terrible late-season breaks (pun intended) that usually happen only to the doomstruck sports teams in this town. For once, they’re not only happening to someone else, they’re happening to the Jets division rivals just as the playoffs are now in sight.

The Jets have had their share of injuries too, of course, with 276 man games lost to injury this season as I write this Tuesday morning. But they’ll be as healthy as you could realistically hope for — knock on wood — when the playoffs open next week and for once it feels like the sporting gods are working in favor of the locals instead of against us.

I’d be stunned if the Jets cannot get past an injury depleted Wild lineup — and there would be some hard questions to be asked and answered if they don’t. This Jets team just seems to me like they’re made of tougher stuff than to fold like that in the first round after the season they’ve had. But until this franchise finally posts its first-ever playoff win, I suppose every possibility is still on the table.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again — this team’s lack of playoff experience is worrisome. If there’s going to be something that will trip them up and end their season prematurely, it’s going to be the result of some variation of that.

Steve: I guess playoff experience can be valuable. On the other side of the coin, it can be an anchor around your neck — like if you had the playoff experience of the Washington Capitals. I think the brashness of youth will counter-balance the lack of playoff experience this team has.

I was trying to think of other things that might cause this team to fall short of its ultimate goal — and frankly, I have a hard time coming up with anything. I had been wondering if Mathieu Perreault was ever going to score again, but he finally got off the schneid against the Sens.

Should be an interesting spring — if that ever happens around here. Good hockey weather, though.

If the Jets do get to the second round — and assuming the Preds do as well — it will reveal — in my opinion — a flaw in the league’s current NHL playoff format. Assuming the Preds and Jets meet in the second round, one of the Top 4 teams — based on today’s standings — would be eliminated after the second round. I don’t mind the way they seed teams currently for the first round, but the seeding and home ice advantage in the second round should be done by points in the conference.

Paul: I’m going to disagree with you — again. The Jets youth and brashness isn’t a counter-balance to their lack of playoff experience — it is precisely why they so desperately need some. If they weren’t so young and weren’t so brash, I’d worry a lot less.

My problem with the NHL playoff system begins with the fact that an 82-game regular season eliminates less than half of the league’s teams — just 15 of 31 teams go home this weekend. And then on top of that, an extra home game isn’t a proper reward for finishing first in your division, much less first in your conference, much less first in the league. You know what you get for finishing first in the entire NHL after the grueling marathon that is the regular season? A dopey trophy no one has ever seen, which is named after a position that doesn’t even exist in the NHL — president.

I’d cut the number of teams that make the NHL playoffs from 16-12 — the four teams that win their division, the four teams that finish second in their division and four wild card teams, two in each conference. The four teams that win their division all get a first-round bye, while the second place teams have to play the wild card teams in a best-of-five opening round.

A system like that would make the regular season a lot more meaningful and give a tangible reward — the ability to rest and heal for a week after the regular season ends — to the teams that win their division.

You’re welcome.

Steve: Your baseball leanings are revealing themselves. I’m so glad they finally added wild-card spots in baseball — makes the regular season and September playoff races way more interesting. Although I hate the one-game thing they do with the two wild-card — would prefer a best-of-three.

I watched a little baseball over the weekend — Yankees and the Blue Jays split that opening four-game set. Your team’s bullpen collapsed to give the Jays a split in the series.

(Aaron Lavinsky/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS) Minnesota Wild's Eric Staal.

I watched a little of the Jays game vs the White Sox as well last night; flipping back and forth from the Jets game. So, here’s my early take on the Jays:

They will likely not win as many games as they have over the last few years — excluding last season — but they will be way more enjoyable to watch lose.

Like a lot of folks, I had grown tired of the whining Blue Jays — led by Joseyou Bautista.

They have some new players this year — like Yangervis Solarte and Curtis Granderson — who are known to be good guys full of positive energy. Total breath of fresh air.

Paul: Everything I heard and read about that Blue Jays clubhouse last season was that it was cancerous and the problems began with Bautista. Even if they hadn’t made any other meaningful acquisitions in the off-season, I’d argue the Jays added by subtracting Bautista.

I will tell you this much — for all the hype about the Yankees right now, I would trade my starting rotation for your starting rotation straight up in a heart beat. It’s going to be pitching that kills this Yankees team. It was the bullpen over the weekend that caused the damage, but I think it’s the Yankees rotation that is the weak link, beginning with a 37-year-old, 325-pound walrus in CC Sabathia.

I actually like the Jays pitching — a lot. It’s everything else that will do your team in. If we could somehow breed the Jays with the Yanks, we’d have something special. Although knowing our luck, we’d end up with a team that had the Yanks pitching and the Jays hitting and fielding.

Steve: Who would manage this hybrid — John Gibbons or Aaron Boone? Are you serious Brian Cashman — Aaron Boone… Say What?!

So, here’s where I WILL say experience is so valued — managing. And, I’m not just saying that because I have to do it every day haha

That would be like the Jays asking Buck Martinez to manage the team. Oh hang, they did that — and he was a disaster. Might have been a worse manager than Pat Tabler is an announcer.

Perhaps if Boone crashes and burns, the Yankees can bring A-Rod out of the booth and he can manage.

I like baseball managers who were never much as players — guys like Sparky Anderson; Ron Gardenhire; Jim Leyland; and Gibbons.

I thought it was kinda crazy when Alex Anthopolous brought back Gibbons after being named GM of the Jays, but he’s turned out to be a perfect guy for the job — even impressing the new regime of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins.

Cathal Kelly wrote a great column about Gibbons a week ago calling him ‘the most Torontonian Toronto sports figure of modern times.’

It will be interesting to see what they’ll be writing about Boone by mid-season.

Paul: The Yankees — and Cashman in particular — wanted a puppet to manage the team this season, so the front office could impose all the analytics and algorithms that are all the rage in baseball these days.

Joe Girardi, the Yanks previous skipper, had the audacity to think that his fourteen years of playing experience, eleven years of managing experience and four World Series rings might also have something to contribute to the way the Yanks were managed.

That’s crazy talk, of course, in an age where teams are now using four outfielders and wild defensive shifts because the numbers, not the manager, tell them to do so — and are then getting upset when an opponent simply bunts for a free single to the side of the infield that was vacated.

Did you see how angry the Minnesota Twins got the other day when Chance Sisco of the Baltimore Orioles did exactly that with his team down 7-0? Twins pitcher Jose Berrios insisted to the media after the game that taking what the defence gives you — which was all Sisco was doing by bunting for an easy single to a vacated side of the infield — was violating some unwritten rule of baseball. “I just know it’s not good for baseball in that situation,” said Berrios.

So dumb, on so many levels. Aaron Boone, who never managed a day at any level of baseball until the Yanks gave him the most prized managing job of all, will fit right in.

Steve: I did see that play by Sisco — and I bet O’s manager Buck Showalter had a huge something-eating grin on his face afterwards.

On the subject of the TV booth, holy homers Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson on Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada between the Leafs and Jets.

Even the officials were against the Leafs, according to Simpson. And Hughson’s praise of the Jets in the third almost seemed to be concern that the Leafs might not be as great as they thought — or hoped.

I get it when you have a home broadcast crew, but CBC and HNIC is a national entity — partially funded by all of us btw — so come on guys, try to refrain from cheering in the press box will ya.

Just got my daily email from Jimmy Shapiro, sports publicist for Bodog.com: Tiger is now listed as the fifth favorite to win The Masters. His odds of 14-1 are now behind Jordan Spieth (9-1); Rory McIlroy (10-1); Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas (11-1) and equal with Justin Rose (14-1).

I’m taking Rose.

Had a few middle-aged white guy golfers mad tell me they were mad at you yesterday — didn’t like you dissing their beloved game and Tiger’s redemption — or resurrection; whatever you wanna call it.

Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin (55) celebrates with teammate Curtis Granderson (18) after hitting a two-run home run during seventh inning American League baseball action in Toronto on Monday, April 2, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Listen, I love the sport. I played it a lot in my life; played decently (seven-handicap at my best); and spent a lot of time and money on the game. I put down the clubs about three years ago — rarely miss it.

I’m not sure I agree with you that Tiger’s fall is the reason for the sport’s decline — there’s lot of variables; but most people I know who have given it up up say: It’s too expensive; it takes way to much time to play; and they have better things to do on a Sunday afternoon than lie on the couch watching TV.

I bought my first HD television a week before The Masters. I recently bought some wicked surround speakers — but I’m not sure I will spend any time this weekend watching golf. Maybe if it snows I guess.

Paul: I never said Tiger’s decline was to blame for the death spiral in golf. On the contrary, golf’s decline is inevitable judging by any metric you’d care to use: participation numbers, course closures, ratings declines and/or the demographics of both the sport’s participants and spectators, which are old, white and getting older and whiter. Throw in the environmental unsustainability of golf courses in an age of climate change and dwindling supplies of fresh water and the question is no longer if golf is going to die, but when.

What I do contend, however, is that the rise of Tiger temporarily reversed that decline and his ensuing downfall has led golf’s sad metrics to resume a death spiral that was already detectable before Tiger ever turned pro.

I get that golf fans wish that weren’t so. And I get why they wish, against all common sense, that Tiger will somehow rise from the ashes this week in Augusta and save their sport again, albeit temporarily. But I’m just not sure that I agree that the fact neither of those things is going to happen is my fault.

I deal in facts. And the facts, as they pertain to golf, aren’t pretty.

Steve: Was just walking to the fridge here in the office and saw that curling was on the TV — reminded me they’re playing the men’s world championship in Vegas. I seem to recall you covering a curling event in Sin City — why do they keep going there?

Some of the golf comments I hear also lump in curling when they discuss dying sports. Is that true about curling still? Seems like the participants are younger than ever when I watch the world championships; Olys, etc..

Paul: Curling is a mixed bag, but overall it is in much better health than golf.

Participation numbers are down in Canada and a lot of clubs are either closed or closing. We’re still the world’s biggest curling country by numbers, but there’s no glossing over that less people are playing the sport and the people who are watching it on TV and in the stands are, like golf’s fans, very grey.

But curling is also booming in both Asia — Korea loves it and the biggest TV ratings in the world for curling are in China, by a mile — and now the U.S., where The Canadian Press reported this week registration numbers are through the roof in the wake of that unlikely gold medal win by John Shuster in Pyeongchang.

Put it all together and curling is growing — and in some cases booming — in the countries that matter. That is not something golf can say.

My favourite road trip of all time for the Free Press was a couple years ago when I covered the Jets in Calgary; flew from there to Vegas and covered curling’s Continental Cup — and cleaned up on the blackjack tables at the Orleans; rented a Charger — yes, with paddle shifters on the steering wheel — and drove across the desert to Anaheim, where I caught up with the Jets again; and then drove up the Pacific Coast highway in the same car to San Jose, covered one more Jets game and then abandoned the car at the airport and flew home.

So fun. And I came home with more money than when I left.

Steve: I’m not going to ask. Time to get back to work. Good chat. Talk tomorrow — looking forward to that ringette column on the national championships starting here on Sunday.

Paul: Ringette is awesome. I’m serious. I’d love to see the Jets play these women in an exhibition game, if only because I’d like to see what Patrik Laine could do with a bladeless stick and a ring. The ring might melt.

steve.lyons@freepress.mb.ca

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Tiger Woods, left, and Phil Mickelson share a laugh on the 11th tee box while playing a practice round for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Tuesday, April 3, 2018. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
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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