Controversy in Jets’ net is news all the way to Nevis


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/01/2019 (1597 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Steve Lyons: Hello there! A belated Happy New Year to you — and to the seven people reading this haha

So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room right away. It’s -26 C here today and where are you?

Some Caribbean island nobody’s ever heard of correct?

We all hope you are having a nice time.

Question: if you are retired and go to the Caribbean for a month — that’s right folks a month — is it considered a vacation?

Any chance you watched the Jets game last night. Backup goalie Laurent Brossoit was brilliant, blocking 43 shots to help the local NHL team defeat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1. In the second period, he set a franchise record when he stopped 26 shots — one more than Ondrej Pavelec stopped in a game in 2017. Connor who?

Paul Wiecek: Happy New Year to you too, although it sounds like mine is a bit happier than yours at the moment — it’s 28 C here in Nevis. The view from the office today is particularly nice today — out there on the horizon is the island of St. Kitts, which is the sister island of Nevis.

This is a strange place. They have no weather here — the high is 28 C every day, the low is 25 C everyday and that’s just the way it is. I could definitely get used to this.

Had a cool experience yesterday — climbed a hill and had a view of four different countries at once: I could see Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat and Guadeloupe all from where I was sitting. Throw in St. Kitts and it was five countries, I guess. I was trying to think of anywhere else in the world that something like that would be possible.

You ask a good question — are you ever really on holiday if you’re retired all the time anyway? What I’m finding is it’s even more enjoyable being on vacation now because there’s no clock constantly ticking down in my head and I don’t have to feel like I have to fill everyday down here with activities because time is so short. Basically, whenever this holiday ends, a new one starts and so I’m just content with whatever the day brings.

After 28 years in daily newspapers, I cannot begin to tell you how great it is to finally be rid of deadlines.

There are Canadians down here but no one is showing hockey that I’ve heard about. But I did watch the highlights of that Jets game today and would like to make this proclamation, once and for all: Laurent Brossoit and his $650,000 contract is the best bargain in the NHL by a mile. People talk about Scheifele’s contract being the best bargain, but he’s still making over $6 million a year. There’s no way to overstate the value of having a guy like Brossoit around for a team like the Jets, who have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. He’s not only a valuable insurance policy if Hellebuyck should get hurt, he’s a bonafide second elite goaltender for this team heading down the stretch. Nobody gets to have two elite goalies anymore — and especially not a second one making what amounts to an AHL salary.

Steve: All I read was blah blah blah until the part about Brossoit.

The Jets have had some victories stolen from them this season by standout performances by the opposing goalie, but Tuesday night’s win over Vegas is the first time I recall a Jets goalie stealing one — a team needs that every once in awhile.

Man, Vegas swarms in the offensive zone. They are going to be a difficult team to beat in the playoffs again this spring.

Brossoit has been a heck of a bargain and an astute acquisition by Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. For those who don’t know, the 25-year-old backup shares the same goalie coach as Hellebuyck.

Should we be concerned about the Jets’ No. 1 netminder? After 35 games, he has a goals against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .908. Last season, he finished the year 2.36/.924. I get that was a career season to date, so perhaps somewhere in the middle would be a reasonable expectation?

Paul Wiecek: I’d be a lot more concerned about Hellebuyck if the Jets didn’t have a backup as talented as Brossoit, that’s for sure. But to answer your question, yes and no.

I don’t think there’s any longer any doubt that something has changed — and not for the better — in Hellebuyck’s game. The sample size is now big enough that you can draw some inferences from the numbers and what those numbers scream is that Hellebuyck has regressed to mean.

Look, the reason his performance stood out so dramatically last year was because he’d never performed like that before in his career. And I think what we’re now seeing is that the real Hellebuyck is actually a lot more like the Hellebuyck we used to know prior to 2017-18 than the one we saw for that brief, incredible season last year. Make no mistake — he’s still competent, still capable of making the big save, still capable of winning the Jets a lot of hockey games. But what’s lost is the consistency we saw last year and I think we may have to start to get used to that.

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit has been a heck of a bargain. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Now, the good news — in addition to the presence of an excellent Plan B in Brossoit — is that the Jets are so good offensively that even a lesser Hellebuyck might be good enough, at least this year. I think that was exactly the point Andrew Berkshire made a week or two ago — there’s nothing that cures some leaky goaltending and defensive play quite like filling your opponents net with pucks every night.

As long as the Jets keep scoring and the goaltending is at least competent, I think they remain what they’ve been — a legitimate candidate to win a Stanley Cup.

Steve Lyons: Aren’t you the guy who always said it was the team with the hottest goalie that would win the Cup? It’s the sun right?

But since we’re on the subject of scoring: any thoughts on the enigma that is Patrick Laine?

He could wind up being the worst player in the league to score 40 goals this season. At this point, there’s no way this team should be thinking about getting him to sign a long-term deal at $8 million or $9 million a season. Never mind the $10 million I’ve heard previously mentioned. I foresee a bridge deal of some sort for Laine when he becomes an RFA after this season. I get that he does one trick better than anybody, but he makes very little positive impact on the game other than his shot — and how is a guy minus-10 on a team that is plus-31?

I get that he is only 20 years old, but this kid needs to get some jump in his game.

On the other hand, how good a player is Kyle Connor becoming? Now, he’s killing penalties and scored a sweet shortie last night vs Vegas. He out-hustles most players on every shift. Combine that with his skill level and the Jets have a special player blossoming. He will also be an RFA this summer. If I had to pick one over the other, I’m keeping Connor all day.

The real Connor Hellebuyck is actually a lot more like the Hellebuyck we used to know prior to 2017-18, Paul Wiecek says. (Gene J. Puska / Associated Press files)

Which got me to thinking the other day: would the Jets ever trade Laine while his market value is at its highest?

Paul: I think we broached this goalie issue once before. I said it then and I will say it again — I’m as surprised as anyone that the Jets seem to be succeeding despite Hellebuyck’s goaltending rather than because of it. That’s a new script for these guys — and a monument to just how deep and talented the rest of this team really is.

That’s a funny line — “the worst player in the league to score 40 goals this season.” By definition, that is still one hell of a player.

This isn’t the first time this season there has been much angst on the subject of ‘what’s wrong with Patrik Laine.’ The last time, of course, he promptly went on an epic goal scoring run that included a five-goal night that made some guy a millionaire. I didn’t think there was much wrong with Laine back then and I don’t think there’s much wrong with him right now.

I would submit that it is in the very nature of what makes him special — an other-worldly, one of a kind shot — that he is going to go through these slumps from time to time. And then just as quickly, he will score 10 in five games and all will be right again. To me, you judge a guy that plays like that by his production total at the end of a season, not any particular 10-game stretch. And as long as Laine is putting up 40-plus goals a season, he is going to be just fine — and also very, very wealthy.

Kyle Connor scores a short-handed goal on Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury Tuesday night. (Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press)

The Jets would be insane to trade Laine — for any price. The name of the game in hockey is putting the puck in the net — and he does that — at worst — as well as anyone in the league. You trade Laine and you’re asking for a ‘Curse of Ruth’ pall to hang over this franchise for the next century. Ask the Boston Red Sox how that one worked out for them.

Steve Lyons: It’s not the scoring slumps that concern me. It’s Laine’s play when he doesn’t have the puck that’s worrisome.

The name of the game is also to keep the puck out of your own net, so if he’s on the ice for way more goals against than for, then I don’t care if he scores 60 — he’d be a liability. Especially, when salary dollars are going to need to be doled out very carefully on this team in the next few seasons.

Comparing Laine to Ruth is a little premature I’d suggest. Time will tell.

Is it still plus-28?

The Bomber made some news this week, signing middle linebacker Adam Bighill to a three-year contract. Tough to argue against bringing back the league’s top defensive player from last season, but the Bombers brass seems to have an affinity for signing aging stars to long-term deals. It’s worked out with only one really — Andrew Harris. Maybe a bit with Weston Dressler. No doubt they need to go all-in on the next season or two because this Grey Cup drought is on the verge of reaching three decades. Can you imagine that? Three decades!

Paul Wiecek: I’m not sure that plus-minus stat — good or bad — is really even relevant anymore in the age of advanced analytics. I’d be interested in reading Berkshire’s take on that.

Like I said, it’s always plus-28 down here. I don’t know what to tell you. Best job in the world would be as a weatherman on this island.

Funny — I was reading Mike Sawatzky’s piece on Bighill, in which he advanced the proposition that at $230,000 a season with this new contract, Bighill is now the highest paid defender in the entire CFL. It just illustrates what a completely different world Winnipeg’s CFL players live in, compared to our NHL guys. Blake Wheeler, at $8 million — plus on his new contract, will be making about $200,000 a game — and that’s in US dollars, unlike CFL contracts which are in Canadian dollars.

None of it adds up, but then that’s hardly a new insight on my part.

I will say this, though — Bighill is worth every cent. He filled a huge hole up the middle for the Bombers last season, a hole that seemed to exist for that franchise for as long as I can remember until Bighill came around. And you just got the feeling that he made everyone on that team — on both sides of the ball — a better player.

Patrik Laine (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

The Jets talk all the time about having ‘drivers’ — players that make things happen and alter the course of a game. Bighill drives the Bombers bus. But the problem is we have no way of knowing who else will be along for the ride this coming season. With so many free agents around the league this winter and a collective bargaining agreement still to be worked out before opening kickoff, this coming season is maybe the most wide open CFL season there has ever been.

And that’s too bad, because the Bombers were, for my money, the second best team in the CFL last season and the most talented Bombers team I can recall in years. The best case would have been if they could have simply built on that for another run this coming season. Instead, because of the unique circumstances of this expiring CBA issue, they’re going to have rebuild the entire thing. That’s a tall order, but Bighill is a good start.

Steve Lyons: Matt Nichols is also in town this week. The Bombers have a promo thing going with the Wheat Kings and so the veteran QB is going to a WHL game in Brandon. He has an availability with the media tomorrow and Mike McIntyre — you know, the guy who has replaced you as our columnist — is going to spin us a yarn on whether or not Nichols is the guy to end this near three-decades long Cup drought. What do you think?

Just got an email from McIntyre:

MAIN – Well this is getting a bit interesting. I’m gonna focus on the goalie “controversy” that seems to be swirling….Connor Hellebuyck was admittedly cheesed today about not getting the start last night and wasn’t afraid to say it. And Paul: Maurice admitted Brossoit’s brilliant play is creating an intriguing situation, one he doesn’t believe the Jets have ever had since their return. Lots of comments from a pretty PO’d Hellebuyck, who snipped about the fact he’s still piling up the wins and his team is in first place and not wanting to admit there are some obvious cracks in his game.

Oh oh.

Paul Wiecek: Hmmmm. That’s not the answer you want to be hearing from Hellebuyck. I’m all for guys who are eager to play every game and do anything possible to help their team, but McIntyre’s description sounds more like a guy who’s starting to feel very entitled and who thinks the Jets starting job is his own personal fiefdom. This would be an excellent time to nip that idea in the bud.

This is the best chance the Jets may ever have to win a Stanley Cup and for the rest of this season, there is only one correct answer to the question: ‘Who is starting in net?’ ‘The guy who is playing the best right now.’ Maurice needs to disabuse Hellebuyck of any ideas to the contrary. Pronto.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson Winner of Most Outstanding Defensive Player, Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Adam Bighill, holds his award, during the Shaw CFL Awards in Edmonton on Thursday.

I’m not sure if Nichols can win a Grey Cup. What I do know is he hasn’t won one yet — unlike Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell, both of who are free agents this winter. Mitchell is probably going to end up in the NFL, but Reilly is available and if I were the Bombers, I’d go all in on trying to land him. That guy is a proven winner; Matt Nichols is still trying to prove he’s a winner.

Steve: I think Nichols very much reverted to mean last season. Couple that with the ongoing injury issues and I’m not sure I’d be banking on him to lead this team to a Cup victory. Seems like a super smart QB, but I’m not sure he has the athletic or physical ability to do what his brain says he should.

Your favorite CFL coach bailed on the Riders yesterday, just days after signing a contract extension.

In case you missed it, Chris Jones is off to the NFL as a senior defensive specialist with the Cleveland Browns — that’s a position I’ve never heard of by the way and have fun there Mr. Jones!

Paul: Chris Jones was easily the most disliked man in the CFL. The horrors of the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL will look good on him.

And I’m not sure the Riders are any worse off. They accomplished very little during Jones’s stay in Regina and were a complete mess last season when Jones ill-advisedly attempted to answer the question: ‘Can you win a championship with no quarterback?’

The answer, to the surprise of no one but Jones, was of course not.

Steve Lyons: Going to have to let you go soon — some of us still work for a living. But a couple of things:

— Who do you like in this weekend’s NFL conference finals; and give me a Super Bowl winner. I’m taking the Chiefs and the Saints, with the Chiefs winning the Super Bowl. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes is one of the best young QB’s I’ve ever seen — I mean who throws 50 TD passes in his first season as a starter? Nobody ever is the answer.

— And then finally, tell us how the heck you ended up in Nevis of all places and a couple of things we need to know about the place.

Paul: Betting against Brady, eh? Not me. Defence wins championship and the Chiefs don’t have any. I think Brady shreds that team and then beats the Rams in the Super Bowl.

As for Nevis, I was looking for the smallest, most laid back island I could find in the world to kind of kick off this retirement thing and Nevis fit the bill. There are 12,000 of the nicest people you will ever meet living here on a 35-square mile piece of paradise. I may never leave.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols.

Steve: Well, it sounds like it would be nice to have a friend living there. Take care and talk soon.

Paul Wiecek, sporting a retirement beard, may never leave Nevis.
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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