Jets working hard to have Winnipeg wear white


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Say What?! is an email conversation between sports editor Steve Lyons and retired sports columnist Paul Wiecek. Look for us regularly — but intermittently — on the Free Press website.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/03/2020 (1189 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Say What?! is an email conversation between sports editor Steve Lyons and retired sports columnist Paul Wiecek. Look for us regularly — but intermittently — on the Free Press website.


Steve Lyons: Hello there. Welcome home. I believe you just got back from vacay on Tuesday, right? I’m still confused by the idea that you’re on holidays when you’re retired — perhaps its just a trip?

It’s been a bit since we chatted about sports. The last time we did this, we did a special travel edition of Say What. Afterwards, a few people advised us to stick to sports. That’s a compliment perhaps haha.. several others enjoyed our adventure stories. I’m not sure I’m an expert on either, despite 33 years at this gig.

On that note, let me tell you what I think of this current Winnipeg Jets team. I’m still not convinced they will make the post-season party. But, I will say this — it won’t be due to lack of effort. I would suggest this is the hardest-working Jets team since its return to Winnipeg in 2011.

More than once, I have questioned this team’s leadership core in this space and most notably the team’s captains — past ones and present ones. That has not been the case this season. This edition of the Jets has played hard on most nights; has fought to battle back in a lot games; has stuck up for one another on the ice; and overcome one adversity after another.

Word is a lot of the credit goes to lunch bucket guys like Anthony Bitetto and Luca Sbisa, but I think major kudos should also go to Blake Wheeler — that’s right, I said Blake Wheeler — and some others who have been here awhile. Two guys I would mention there are Andrew Copp and Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets all-star goalie seems to be developing into a leader type in the ilk of Mike Smith of the Oilers and others like that. Copp has really just turned into a real good hockey player.



Paul Wiecek: Hello again.

Yes, I flew home late Tuesday night after the better part of a month in the Caribbean and Florida.

Bizarre night — my flight home to Winnipeg was delayed out of Montreal by what sure looked to me like one of those Coronavirus scares — the plane I was supposed to be on was surrounded by firetrucks, an ambulance and cop cars when it touched down in Montreal from Halifax. At one point there was even some guys wearing hazmat suits.

My plane eventually took off an hour late and Air Canada tried to pass the whole thing off as a routine “cabin grooming” — which was laughable to anyone who looked out the window and could clearly see it was anything but that. Classic Air Canada, displaying the unique combination of arrogance and incompetence that has been that airline’s brand for as long as I can remember.

My opinion of this Jets team hasn’t changed this season and it remains what it has been since we did one of these things just before the season started — they’re good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly good enough to compete for a championship once they do.

I cannot tell you what the dynamic inside that Jets dressing room is because I’m no longer covering the team, so I will just have to take your word that what we’ve seen out of this team this year has been the result of strong leadership from Wheeler and the others.

But from where I sit on the outside, the story of this Jets team this season has been the same as it’s always been — as Hellebuyck goes, so go the Jets. The Jets netminder has put this team on his back over and over again this season, through the spate of injuries and everything else.

When Hellebuyck has been sensational this season, the Jets have won. When he’s been ordinary or even just slightly above average, the Jets have mostly lost.

Hockey is a team game but this Jets squad has sure looked like a one-man show to me this year.

Steve Lyons: While I agree Hellebuyck has been sensational, I think the team’s success this season has also been dependent on the play of its elite forwards. They have five guys — Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Wheeler, Patrick Laine and Nik Ehlers — in the Top 50 or so of scoring. That’s a real good group and it also seems on the nights those guys pot two or three goals, the team wins.

Injuries have been disruptive to the forward lines for most of the season, with Bryan Little hardly playing at all and Adam Lowry on the shelf for an extended period. I noticed in the game on Tuesday, Mason Appleton was on the fourth line — where he belongs. Injuries have forced guys on the front line and on the back end to play in spots above their pay grade all season. Tucker Poolman was playing on the top defense pairing at one point this season. Don’t get me wrong he’s had a good season but he’s a good No. 6, where he was playing Tuesday vs the Sabres.

The team is getting healthy for the stretch drive and they have a favorable schedule with plenty of rest between games — perhaps they can sneak in.


Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves against the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night. (Fred Greenslade / Canadian Press files)
Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves against the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night. (Fred Greenslade / Canadian Press files)


Paul Wiecek: If the season ended today, the Jets would play the current Central division leader St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs, which would almost certainly yield the same humbling results as last season when those two teams met in the first round. St. Louis, of course, never looked back, going on to win it all while the Jets look like they’re still trying to pick up the pieces from that series loss, now almost a full year later.

And if St. Louis doesn’t win the Central, Colorado probably will, which wouldn’t make for any easier of a first round opponent for the second wild card team. The Avs have won seven in a row as I write this (the Blues have won eight in a row) and Colorado has a mind boggling plus-50 goal differential. The Jets are plus-five.

All of which is to say that if the Jets are going to sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team, they’d have a much better chance of finding some traction if they could claim the first wild card spot and a likely first round date with the Pacific Division champion, which will likely be either the Vegas Golden Knights or the Edmonton Oilers, instead of the Blues or Avs.

Steve Lyons: I’ve liked how the Jets have competed with the Avs and Blues this season — 2-2 vs both of them — and I actually think they could give either of those teams a run for their money if they were to face them in an opening-round series.

I’m actually of the opinion that if the Jets do make the playoffs and they get a healthy Lowry and Mathieu Perreault back into the lineup, they could be a problem for any team in any round; for exactly the reasons we’ve mentioned. Hellebuyck can win games on his own, as can that elite group of forwards. Plus, they would have played desperate playoff-like hockey for the final month of the season, making them battle ready if they manage to get in.

Tell me a bit more about this month in the Caribbean? I’m heading to Jamaica next Thursday.

Paul Wiecek: We went to Bonaire, which is a sister island to Aruba and Curaçao, about 100 kms off the coast of South America.

The entire island is a coral reef that basically rose out of the ocean, so the diving is spectacular under the water while the landscape above is mostly desert-like. Basically, Bonaire is Arizona above water and Australia underneath it. We loved every minute of it, snorkeling or diving every single day. So much fun.

And then we spent another week and a bit in south Florida on the way home. Took in a couple of Grapefruit League games — saw the Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer start against the cheating Houston Astros and then the next day saw Adam Wainwright start for the Cardinals against your man Marcus Stroman for the Mets. Almost caught a home run ball in that one and watched Tim Tebow drop the game winning out after he tripped on his shoelaces. So funny.

Man, those Astros players are getting abused during games. The heckling is constant — I was sitting in the first row behind the Astros dugout and the abuse started during batting practice and never ended. A guy sitting in the same row as me was a Yankees fan who drove halfway across the state for the express purpose of doing nothing but abusing the Astros all game.

Jamaica is an interesting tourist destination these days now that ganja is basically legal all over North America and Jamaica no longer has a monopoly on freely available weed. It reminds me of how Vegas had to reinvent itself after everyone legalized gambling.



Steve Lyons: The heckling should be constant. These guys have shown little remorse for what they did. The first thing they should do is give back the cash winnings they stole — make a donation or something. Make some sort of gesture. I’m not sure there’s a way to revoke the World Series title the Astros won. It’s not like you can give it to the silver-meldalist Dodgers — that wouldn’t seem right, either. Maybe it could just be blank for that year? But, something.

I won’t be smoking no ganja in Jamaica, man lol… I’ve been invited down by the Jamaica Tourism Board to run in the Kingston City Marathon. I’m doing the 5-km portion of it! Then spin a travel yarn on the running culture of Jamaica. A guy at my gym said I should be training sprints to run from would be muggers in Kingston. Jamaica is known for its crime a bit haha.

I don’t run a ton in my fitness conditioning, but my man Richard Burr (name dropping again) promises to have me ready for a 5-k by next Saturday.

Paul Wiecek: Wow — Kingston, Jamaica has quite a reputation. What are you going to do for an encore — the Baghdad Triathlon?

We’re on exactly the same page about the Astros. MLB was hoping that throwing their manager and GM under the bus would make this all go away but fans aren’t stupid — the players were clearly in on this scheme and have now gotten away with it with zero punishment, plus World Series rings.

The whole thing is disgraceful but I guess the Astros are hoping that once they’ve done a tour through every ballpark in the American League — and everyone has gotten a chance to voice their displeasure — that this will probably all go away.

Sadly, they’re probably right, although for me that 2017 series win will always have an asterisk on it.

How bad are your Blue Jays going to be this year?

Steve Lyons: You’re kidding me, right? The Jays have some of the best young position players in the AL with Vlad Jr, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr and Danny Jansen. With a revamped starting rotation led by Hyun-jin Ryu, I’m betting the Jays win at least 85 games this season. I’m not sure they’re ready to contend just yet, but I’m one of the believers in what Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are doing with that franchise. Sure, they are American interlopers and they supplanted the ever-popular Alex Anthopolous, but they are solid baseball guys with pretty good resumes prior to taking over the Jays.

I’d never heard of the Kingston rep until I mentioned to a few people I was going. You can have those brown Gucci loafers of mine you like so much if I don’t make it back.

What do you mean, you almost caught a home run? Like it was near you, or you dropped it?

Paul Wiecek: The Jays might — might — finish third in the AL East this season. And that’s if everything goes right.

If that’s all it takes to get Jays Nation excited these days, that’s more a statement on the woeful nature of the last couple seasons than the team’s chances in the upcoming one.

I’m with the Globe’s Cathal Kelly when it comes to Shapiro and Atkins. Those guys are clowns and that franchise refuses to spend what it takes to field a competitor.

I was sitting out in left field on the grass berm for that Cardinals game. The homer ended up landing maybe five feet from where I was sitting, but I hopelessly misplayed it, forgetting I was on a hill and moving back instead of forward.

You can kind of see me on the left in the blue checked shirt looking like a doofus in a highlight the Cards tweeted out.



Steve Lyons: OMG, dude.. what were you doing?!

Cathal Kelly kills me. Great columnist — writes as well as anyone ever. But man, has he been chewing on that same bone since his buddy Anthopolous was moved out when Shapiro took over. Let it go already. They spent some money this off-season and I’m sure they will again when the timing is right. Not everyone can — nor should — throw money in the trash can like Brian Cashman. And for all the money your Yankees spend, still no title since 2009. In New York years, that’s like way longer than the Jays drought haha

Your Bronx Bombers are dropping like flies and it’s weeks before the season is starting. Luis Severino is gone for the season. James Paxton had back surgery. Aaron Judge has shoulder issues and the gazilion-dollar man Giancarlo Stanton has a strained calf or something – poor baby.

Paul Wiecek: Don’t get me started on my Yankees.

They go out in free agency and land a stud starter in Gerrit Cole and I’m thinking they finally — finally — have the kind of starting rotation that can win in the playoffs, not just the regular season.

And then Severino goes down for the entire season because of course he did.

The Yanks will win a 100 games and lose in the first round of the playoffs.

Also, in my defense it’s tricky trying to track a home run ball standing on a steep hill. Try it sometime.

On the plus side, sprawled out on the grass is a fantastic way to watch a game.


“It was just good to be playing again,” said Poolman of his experience last season with a concussion.
SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS “It was just good to be playing again,” said Poolman of his experience last season with a concussion.


Steve Lyons: Knowing you, it was also the cheapest way.

But then, I’m working today and you’re lounging somewhere — with pants on, I hope.

Gotta get back to the real gig now. Always great chatting.

Jets make the playoffs?

Paul Wiecek: Yeah, Winnipeg will wear white next month. But it will be like a Britney Spears wedding — over almost as soon as it began.

Luis Severino is gone for the season. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press files)
Luis Severino is gone for the season. (Matt Slocum / 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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