Jets playoff run leaves lasting impression Sports editor Steve Lyons and sports columnist Paul Wiecek talk life after Winnipeg's Cup campaign

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/05/2018 (1655 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Steve Lyons: Good morning. How you doing today? I know you’ve been a bit under the weather. Seems like a lot of folks are below-par this week — is it recovering from the May long or Whiteout withdrawal?

So, how crazy a month and a half was that in River City. We haven’t had a chance to chat like this for awhile — what with you jetting all over North America to cover the local NHL team’s playoff drive.

Before we get to what the heck happened in the end — losing to an expansion team — you must have some thoughts on what you witnessed reporting on what was perhaps the most intriguing and biggest sports story since, well the Jets coming back to town.

Paul Wiecek: I think I ran out of gas last Sunday, just like the Jets and their fans did.

But yeah — what a ride that was. I’ve been privileged to cover some very memorable events in this job over the years, including a couple World Series and three Winter Olympics, and I’d put these last five weeks right near the top of ‘cool things I’ve covered.’

I had a feeling the Jets were going to lose Game 5 on Sunday and so I made a point to soak as much of that scene in as possible — both inside and outside Bell MTS Place. I have no idea when we might see a scene like that again in this town and you only have to look at the recent history of Canadian teams who have gone on playoff runs only to go backwards the following year to see how precious these last few weeks really were.

Steve: So, the team had its best season ever and most so-called hockey experts are suggesting the Jets are built to last and will be contenders in May and June for a number of years ahead.

I’ve heard from plenty of readers, friends and co-workers what they will need to improve on going forward. My feeling is they will need to either add some grit or elevate a guy like Brendan Lemieux next season — I thought they got a little soft in that final round vs Vegas.

At one point I thought they missed a Chris Thorburn — or Ryan Reaves — type. The big hits from Buff also dried up. Too many guys were playing a perimeter game — nobody crashed into Fleury like James Neal bowling over Connor Hellebuyck.

I watched the last couple of games between the Caps and the Lightning and at one point I thought — the Jets do not have a T.J. Oshie-type of player.

CP The Winnipeg Jets salute the crowd after falling to the Vegas Golden Knights during the Western Conference Finals, game 5, in Winnipeg, Sunday, May 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

Paul: I’m not sure I agree. I think the Jets could win a Stanley Cup with exactly the roster they had this year, but the problem — and it’s a big one — is there is no way they can keep that roster moving forward.

The numbers simply don’t add up in a salary-cap era. A bunch of Jets player are now free agents and they are all going to want to get paid for being such big parts of such a great season.

Josh Morrissey is going to get a monster raise off his entry level deal. Connor Hellebuyck is going to get an even bigger raise — if Carey Price is worth $10.5 million a season for the next six years, Hellebuyck has to be worth at least $6 million per. Lowry, Tanev and Armia are also in line for raises.

And then there’s Jacob Trouba. I was struck this week how excited everyone was that Trouba told reporters he really wants to stay in Winnipeg and play for the Jets. For the record, that is exactly the same thing Trouba told me at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in 2016 — a week before his agent announced he wanted out and Trouba proceeded to hold out for four weeks of the 2016-17 season.

Trouba told reporters what they wanted to hear this week — his agent will be telling Chevy something very different, which is that if the Jets want to lock down Trouba for years to come it is going to cost them, big-time.

And then on top of all that, there is Paul Stastny, who was a huge addition at the trade deadline but is now an unrestricted free agent and is going to cost the Jets a ton to bring back.

"I haven't put a whole ton of thought into it. The season just ended," said Jacob Trouba (right, with Josh Morrissey). "But I'm sure in the next week or two, or couple of days, I'll meet with my agent and we'll go over stuff and see where it goes from there and talk to (Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff)."

And that doesn’t even begin to deal with extensions that still need to be negotiated for Patrik Laine and Blake Wheeler, whose contracts both expire after the end of next season and both of whom are also in line for substantial raises, Laine of the eye-popping variety.

Put it all together and the Jets had an utterly unique opportunity this spring to take down a title with a team they’re never going to be able to afford again. People are deluding themselves if they think this will somehow get easier for the Jets from here. On the contrary, I’d submit.

Chevy did an extraordinary job putting this team together, but the real work is still in front of him — figuring out a way to somehow keep the team together.

Steve Lyons: I was doing a little math and research on this yesterday — I know, again an editor doing research. Stop the presses.

A report by NHL.com — and they would know I guess — suggests the salary cap will be between $78 and $82 million next season. So, for the sake of this argument let’s say $80 million.

Here are the guaranteed salaries for next season already in place:

  • Byfuglien: $7.6 million
  • Scheifele: $6.125 million
  • Ehlers: $6.0 million
  • Wheeler: $5.6 million
  • Myers: $5.5 million
  • Little: $5.3 million
  • Kulikov: $4.3 million
  • Perreault: $4.125 million
  • Mason: $4.1 million
  • Chiarot: $1.4 million
  • Copp: $1.0 million
  • Laine: $925,000
  • Connor: $925,000
  • Roslovic: $894,000 and
  • Mark Stuart: $583,000. (That’s right, he’s still on the books for another season.)

That adds up to $54.344 million.

Then you have five significant RFAs to be signed. Let’s suggest this:

  • Trouba: $6 million
  • Morrissey: $6 million
  • Hellebuyck: $5 million
  • Lowry: $4 million
  • Armia: $3 million

That adds up to $24 million.

Leaving a grand total of $2 million for RFAs Tanev; Poolman and Morrow and any other possibilities.

Um, so where would you get the room for Paul Stastny — or any other free agent?

And yes, how about raises / extensions for Wheeler and Laine? Or Connor? All three have one year left on inexpensive deals.

For me, the solution is you’re going to have to dump one or two guys — to pay Wheeler, Laine etc — and to have any chance to keep Stastny.

Best-case scenario would be to get rid of Perreault and/or Little but good luck with that. The other options to me are Myers, Ehlers and Lowry. If you had to choose, who would you rather have on your team next season — Stastny or Ehlers? Stastny or Myers? Stastny or Lowry?

Listen, Paul Stastny was great down the stretch and for the first two rounds of the playoffs, but like he has in the past he faded in the third round and he’s not getting any younger. Just sayin’.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler (centre) flanked by Mark Scheifele (left) and Paul Stastny. Wheeler is entering the final year of a six-year, US$33.6-million deal this fall.

Paul Wiecek: Like I said, the numbers just don’t add up for this Jets team. And that’s even if the Jets are willing to spend to the limit of the salary cap in years to come, something they’ve never come even close to doing in the past.

This has always been a budget team with a budget payroll that was among the lowest in the league. If you think Chipman and company are now going to start spending to the cap limit simply because they had some success this season, you got a memo I never received. Please forward it.

Look, I get it. This was a disappointing end to an amazing season and so people are finding solace in the whole, ‘Yeah, but wait til next year thing.’ If that’s what you need to get you through the day, I’m not going to stop you.

Just understand, however: Basically every Canadian team that went on a playoff run in recent memory went backwards the following season. That’s not a coincidence.

Also, speaking of delusional, that’s what you are if you think you’re getting Trouba for $6 million per and Hellebuyck for $5 million per. On the other hand, I think you’re high on Lowry and Armia.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Connor Hellebuyck says the season was a learning experience and the team will be better from it in the long run.

Steve: Yeah, I may have been low on Trouba and Hellebuyck and a little high on the other two you mention. We’ll see I guess — all four of those guys are eligible for arbitration so chances are they’ll all be getting big raises.

Morrissey is not eligible for arbitration, so I guess the Jets could save a bit there and offer him a less-costly bridge deal for the next two season — but do you really want to do that to the guy who threw himself in front of more pucks than other player on the team during the playoffs?

Plenty for us to speculate about and write about this off-season — and that’s what’s most important right haha

Wanna pick a winner between the Caps and Vegas? I’ve been trying to come up with the best adjective I can think of to describe what it would be like for the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Stanley Cup — how about dumb?

Maybe I’m old school here, but to me it’s embarrassing to the league that a team of castoffs is playing for the Cup — I guess they’ve individually paid their dues, and Gerard Gallant has certainly paid his. Remember, where he got off the Panthers team bus and took a cab after being fired last year? But, it just seems really really weird that an expansion team is in the Stanley Cup final.

How about this though — our old pal Gary Lawless will have a Stanley Cup ring and a Grey Cup ring if the Golden Knights prevail. Wonder if anyone else would have that set of jewelry? The Law-man won a ring working PR for the Argos before getting into the newspaper business.

BORIS MINKEVICH / FREE PRESS FILES Gary Lawless begins his new role as the Las Vegas Knights' Insider on June 6.

Paul: My inbox has been full all week of people with wild conspiracy theories about how Gary Bettman “rigged” the expansion draft and is paying off officials to be soft on the Knights because, well, something about how the NHL wants Vegas to win because its good for the American market and also future expansion fees. Or something like that. Like most conspiracy theories, the ones I’ve been seeing this week kind of fall apart when you get into the details.

The bottom line is this: the odds on Vegas to win the Stanley Cup last fall were 500-1 for a reason. And that reason is because on paper, no one — not Bettman, not Vegas and not any of these clowns emailing me this week about how the fix was in from the start — expected the motley crew Vegas assembled to do anything this season other than lose a lot of games.

And I include myself in the long list of people who expected nothing from this Vegas team, even as late as last week. After watching the Jets manhandle the Knights in Game 1, I wrote a column on how it looked like someone had stuck a pin in a balloon and now that the Knights had finally returned to earth, the series was as good as over.

Upon further reflection — and four consecutive Vegas victories — that was an especially stupid column. I take solace only in the fact the list of supposedly intelligent commentators who missed the Vegas story is a lot longer than the list of people who saw this coming, which is to say no one.

And so after picking against them all season, I’ve finally at long last learned my lesson — Vegas in six.

Steve: I can NOT do it. And i WILL not do it — Caps in six.

I had a number of those emails as well — and a wild phone message claiming Marc-Andre Fleury needed to be drug-tested because nobody could be playing that well without some sort of performance enhancement. Rubbish. FYI folks — I do not return those types of voicemails or emails. Call 1290 please and thanks.

Finally — or at least until the next Jets story — not everyone is disappointed the team was ousted. I have a few friends in the service industry and they have been making less than normal in tips on nights Jets are playing — and a local golf pro told me the Jets playing Game 5 last Sunday afternoon would likely cost his course $10,000 in greens fees. I can’t say which course — when I asked if we could do a story on the negative effect the Jets were having on the golf business, he quickly declined not wanting to upset anyone at True North or Jets fans… All Hail Caesar!

I hope folks still have some cash left for summer vacations; or tickets to a Bombers or Goldeyes game.

Paul: I’d be interested to know what, if any, performance enhancing drug would actually work for a goalie. It wouldn’t be steroids — those guys are all about being quick and nimble, not ripped. Adderall, maybe?

Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press files Vegas goaltender Marc-André Fleury had the Jets’ number for four consecutive games. He was the single biggest difference in the series.

Yeah, the Jets siphoned a phenomenal amount of disposable income out of this community over the last five weeks. That money’s got to come from somewhere — and at someone else’s expense.

It was a remarkable ride, but this community is going to be paying the bills, in one form or another, for months to come.

Steve: It will be awhile before we can chat like this again — you’re off for a couple of weeks after tomorrow and then I’m off for three. I’m heading to Germany and the Czech Republic; going to drive a Bimmer around the two countries — go to the Porsche; Mercedes and BMW museums.

Get this — all my life I thought Henry Ford invented the automobile, but I have recently learned it was in fact Karl Benz, who received a patent on the motorcar in 1886. It was Ford who developed and manufactured the first automobile that many middle-class Americans could afford.

Text you from the Autobahn, pal!

Paul: I would very definitely recommend you not text me while you’re on the Autobahn.

Steve: Pft… It’s a Bimmer pal — hands-free texting.

steve.lyons@freepress.mb.ca  paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca 

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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