Matthews or Laine: A feverish debate

A conversation between sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/12/2016 (2063 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Steve Lyons: So, I see the season’s Great Debate has heated up again over the last week: Who will turn out to be the better player — Patrik Laine or Auston Matthews? I think it’s a difficult comparison frankly because they are, and will be, very different types of players. 

Having said that, here’s my take…

If you are wondering who has a better chance to win the Hart Trophy as MVP, I go with Matthews hands down. If you are considering who might win a scoring title, I’m also leaning towards Matthews. If you’re projecting who might win the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals, Laine gets the edge. And I also think Matthews has a chance to win a Selke Trophy for best defensive forward at some point in his career.

Perhaps it should come down to which player eventually leads his team to a Stanley Cup victory (i.e.: Crosby over Ovechkin), but I’m not sure either the Jets or the Leafs will win one of those in the near future — although I give the Leafs a better chance at accomplishing that feat over the next five years.

Of course, only time will tell on this but I’m picking Matthews top wind up the winner when all is said and done. And before you go calling me nuts, remember you called me crazy the last time we did one of these and I suggested the Redblacks would win the Grey Cup. Ha!

Paul Wiecek: I know you picked up a cold during our trip to Arizona last week, but you never told me it came with a fever so high you’re delirious. I recommend bed rest, plenty of fluids and the suspension of all emailing activities until you get the thermometer back down to double digits.

I wrote it this week and I will write it again: the debate is no longer whether Laine is a better rookie than Matthews — that’s been all but settled as far as I’m concerned. The real debate is whether Laine can be a better rookie than Ovechkin. 

Now, the analytics nerds — many of whom seem to be based in Toronto and are drinking the Leafs Kool-aid — are doing all kinds of intellectual gymnastics right now to try and make the case that Matthews is having a better rookie season than Laine. That’s absurd — as Laine has already proven 17 times (and counting) this season. And ask yourself this — who’d you rather have on the ice right now late in the game with your team down a goal? There’s only one answer to that question and if you said Matthews, your fever is getting worse.

Now, predicting the future is a mug’s game. Anyone who tells you today which player is ultimately going to have the better career is guessing. There are just way too many variables involved, not the least of which is durability over the long haul. But who’s the better rookie? That’s a no-brainer. 

As for your Redblacks prediction, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Which is more than can be said for Dave Dickenson and his decision not to hand off to 254-pound tailback Jerome Messam with the ball on the Ottawa two-yard line and the game on the line.

Steve: You are right — I stepped off the plane from Phoenix, was blasted by the winter here and it was like I instantly caught a cold. Breaking news folks — Man, is it freezing out there.

I’m not convinced Laine has been a better rookie. Flashier for sure, but Matthews seems to be getting stronger and more productive as the season progresses. I am willing to wager Matthews ends up having the better rookie season and winds up winning the Calder Trophy.

He’s got 13 goals and nine assists in 28 games while Laine has 17 goals and eight assists in 32 games.

He and Michael Nylander cycled the puck dominantly last night against the Sharks setting up a Zach Hyman goal that was brilliant stuff  and showed how Matthews can dominate in the offensive zone. Lindros-like.

And speaking of our trip to Arizona; one of the best lines ever from one of our hike guides when we told him we were from Winnipeg..

‘Hey we took your hockey team right? You can take them back anytime.’ Zing!

Paul: It’s worth remembering almost a third of Matthews goals — four — came in the first game of the season against an Ottawa team that looked that night a lot like my 1979-80 Luxton Falcons, only we had better goaltending. Just sayin.

How about those three-year contract extensions for Mike O’Shea and Kyle Walters while we were gone? I’ve got no problem with the Walters extension — he’s very quickly become one of the CFL’s best GMs and I don’t see that changing. The guy’s got a great eye for talent and Jim Barker is still looking for his wallet after Walters fleeced him in the Drew Willy trade.

But three more years for O’Shea? Based on what, exactly? He was 7-11 in Year 1, regressed to 5-13 in Year 2 and then finally made the playoffs in Year 3, only to blow the West semifinal with one of the most spectacularly wrong calls I’ve ever seen from a pro football head coach.

Has that 61-yard Justin Medlock field goal attempt dribbled to the B.C. goal-line yet?

Steve: Three years seems excessive to me. 

Listen, I’m all for the Bombers having some continuity on the sidelines and in the executive offices — for too long they’ve been firing and hiring — but giving each guy two more years would have been sufficient, don’t ya think?

Walters still has a year left, so that would bring it up to three years; and O’Shea hasn’t earned three years just for getting the team to the playoffs.

Got a snail-mail letter from a long-time reader on Monday about O’Shea. She wasn’t crazy about the three-year deal. The 87-year-old Bombers fan (since she was four years old btw), had some advice for O’Shea: smile once in awhile will ya; and don’t ask a player to do something that they’ve never done before.

I have a feeling it’s Grey Cup or bust for O’Shea and the team’s fans — he seems to rub a lot of them the wrong way.

So now they have to get Matt Nichols signed, and he’s asking for big coin. Is he the guy to pay top dollar? Burris and Durant will be on the market as well.

Paul: I thought Doug Brown’s column on Nichols was bang on — he needs the Bombers and a Paul LaPolice offence that uniquely suits him as much as the Bombers need him. Nichols had a career year, for sure. But his numbers were middle of the pack and didn’t blow me away. The team posted a lot of wins with him under centre, but I’d argue most of those wins had more to do with an incredibly opportunistic defence than anything special that Nichols did. And if I was Walters, I’d also look at his overall career numbers and be concerned a reversion to mean might be in the cards for Nichols in 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) is congratulated for his goal by centre Tyler Bozak (42) during second period NHL hockey action against the San Jose Sharks in Toronto on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.

The only way I’d sign Durant would be to play for the Green Bay Packers — because I hate the Green Bay Packers. So much. Durant’s unreliable, injury prone and, like Drew Willy, drunk on his own opinion of himself. I think he’s washed up, but I stand to be corrected. Ditto Willy, for that matter.

As for Burris, wouldn’t it be the most Bombers thing ever if, after passing on him in 2014 because, in part, they were concerned he was getting too old, they signed him in 2017? Sooner or later, Burris is going to start acting his age and how much you want to bet it would be the second the Bombers signed him? That’s just how it goes for this franchise.

Hey, how about that story out of Baltimore last week on how the Orioles told Jose Bautista’s agent they weren’t interested in signing him because their fans hated Bautista too much? There are a lot of disagreeable personalities in sports, but this is one of the only times I can recall where someone was so reviled that a team actually took a pass knowing they’d never be able to sell it to their fanbase. I mean even the Yankees signed Roger Clemens — and nobody hated Clemens more, and with ample good reason, than Yankees fans.

Steve: Man, Bautista has made a mess of things. First, he makes the big pronouncement at the beginning of last season that he has given the Jays a number and he isn’t interested in giving the team a hometown discount. Then, he has a sub-par season and is on the DL twice. Not to mention getting punched in the face by Rougned Odor.

He likely imagined at one point he would sign a deal worth $25 million a season for four or five years. Now, he hasn’t even signed a contract and it doesn’t appear anybody wants his whiney attitude in their locker room or in front of their fans.

He’s still loved by most Jays fans — it now looks like he needs the Jays more than they need him.

The Encarnacion situation is a mess as well. His agent clearly overestimated the market for Double E, turning down the Jays’ offer of $80 million over four years. So dumb. You love playing for a team; the fans love you and they’re going to pay you $80 MILLION!!! Greed.

The only thing more dysfunctional than all this is your Yankees pal. All that cash for a closer?!!!

It would really make my winter and cold much better if they end up signing Joey Bats ha ha

Paul: I think the Rangers should sign Bautista — and then have Odor punch him in the face prior to every game as part of a new pre-game ritual. It’d be like batting practice, only using Bautista’s face.

The Yankees. Only the Yankees would sit on the sidelines while everyone is signing exactly the kinds of starting pitching and hitting that New York so desperately requires — and then blow the bank on a closer they’re never going to need because they’re never actually going to have a lead in the ninth inning in 2017. I would fire Yanks GM Brian Cashman and then immediately rehire him, just so I could fire him a second time. 

The Yanks need to dig up The Boss.

v
Winnipeg Blue Bombers Head Coach Mike O’Shea

 

How about all the hockey mooks on Twitter on Tuesday complaining that the Lou Marsh Award for the top athlete in Canada went to 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak instead of Sidney Crosby? What kind of bottom feeder would you have to be to complain the country’s top sporting honour went to a kid in Grade 10 who set a new Olympic record, won four Olympic medals and set a shining example for two weeks this summer of everything that is right and decent in this great country — all while getting paid precisely zero?

Crosby gets paid, right? Tens of millions, right? To do his job, right?

Steve: Crosby wasn’t even the top Canadian ‘male’ athlete last year in my books.

The Canadian Press has a male and female athlete of the year. I get to vote on that and my top picks were Oleksiak and Andre DeGrasse. I was asked to make a comment on my selections — I can’t remember the exact wording (hey, it was yesterday ya know), but I do remember the phrase ‘no-brainer.’

My team of the year vote went to the Redblacks btw — hope the hockey ‘mooks’ don’t vote for Crosby and Team Canada from the World Cup of Hockey. 

Perhaps we should clarify something for today’s readers after mentioning getting back from our trip to Arizona. Yes folks, Wiecek and I went to the desert for 10 days. We hiked some great trails in Scottsdale, Sedona and Prescott. You will be able to read all about it in the Travel section sometime soon.

To answer the three most common questions I have had thrown at me since returning: No, we did not play golf; No, there was no need for law enforcement to be called in; and yes, he still has a job.

We’ve known each other for a quarter-century, but I did learn one thing I previously did not know about PW on the trip: He yells at the TV when he watches the Vikings play — guess there is a little loogan in him after all.

Happy holidays folks.

Paul: If you’re not yelling at the Vikings, you’re not paying attention.

steve.lyons@freepress.mb.ca

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

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