Hello! How’s it going? It’s been awhile since we had a chat like this — I think you’ve had two shorter vacations and I’ve just got back from a long one. I got an email from a reader this week suggesting I take a permanent vacation. Unfortunately for him, and me, I’m back in the big chair for — well, at least until my boss gets back from vacation.
I missed a few Bombers games while I was away, but watched the game Saturday night. They looked good. Guess they’ve looked good against two bad teams (Lions and Als); not bad against one good team (Eskimos) and not so good against another good team (the Ticats).
Tough to get a good read of them just yet I think. Chris Streveler was adequate filling in for Matt Nichols at QB, but ultimately this team’s success will depend on #15 staying upright this season. Let’s see how they do over the next few weeks with games at the Lions; and then a home and home with the Argos. Need to win two of three at least and be 4-3 heading into the bye week.
Some folks in the office were pretty giddy about the win over the Lions and talking Grey Cup. I predicted at the start of last season, they were finally going to break that long drought. I think they’re an even better team this season (re: Adam Bighill), but I’m not going out on that limb again — there’s always something with this team. Not to mention the Stamps look as good as ever, and you have to think they are on a major mission having lost the last two Grey Cup games.
I’m taking a major wait-and-see approach.
You picked the Bombers to win the Grey Cup last season too. I guess if you pick them to win every year, sooner or later you're going to be right. Although this is the Bombers we're talking about. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, but with the Bombers now in the 28th year of a Grey Cup drought — and the seventh year since they last won a playoff game — you've got to wonder if the Bombers time will ever come.
I've said it before and I will say it again — I think Bombers GM Kyle Walters has given this team everything they need to succeed. I thought this was a championship caliber team last season and I think it's only gotten better and deeper, talent-wise, this season.
All of which is to say Mike O'Shea is out of excuses. If he can't win with this team then the problem isn't with the team, the problem is with the coach. This is Year 5 of the O'Shea experiment and it's time to start producing results. This team has posted two really good regular season records the past two years — 11-7 and 12-6 — and I think they have all the ingredients to do so again.
But this team — and O'Shea — are going to be judged by what they do in the playoffs in November. This team needs to take a big step forward after losing winnable games in each of the last two West semifinals — or this team needs to move in a new direction.
Football fans in this town have been patient enough.
Perhaps you mis-read my email — which is not that unusual folks. Yes, I predicted them to win last year, but I’m not going there this year.
It’s weird about O’Shea. Seemingly, he has the team playing the type of football he wants; they all seem to respect and admire him. You and I have debated this for a few years now — I kept thinking he was going to get better and better at his job and that experience would pay off on the field. I’m not sure though. For all the good he’s brought to this team, there seems to be something missing.
It would be interesting to see what Walters would do if they don’t at least win a playoff game this season — I sometimes get the feeling O’Shea is untouchable as long as Walters is the GM.
O'Shea's in-game management sunk them in both those playoff losses, both times with risky gambles on special teams that went badly.
And really, that's been O'Shea's achilles since the day the Bombers gave him his first head coaching job — poor in-game management that has too often meant the difference between winning and losing in big games.
The problem isn't a lack of knowledge — O'Shea knows at least as much about the CFL as any other head coach and probably more than most. Rather, the problem has been a lack of humility — the man continually makes risky decisions that look like he's trying to prove how much smarter he is than everyone else, instead of simply trying to win a football game. A little humility would go a long way with this guy.
Speaking of that, I've been humbled. Upon further review, I see now that you've learned the lesson of last year's bold Bombers Grey Cup pick. I will read more carefully in the future.
We've both learned from our mistakes. All of which just proves my point on O'Shea — it's okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. But that's the key part — learning from them.
I’m going to have to agree with you. Listen, I’ve been watching and covering this team a long time and I wouldn’t mind seeing them succeed for a couple of reasons — the fans deserve it and the storyline would be something different for us to write about. Part of me had hoped O’Shea might be the guy to get that done, but I’ve also felt that smirk of his needs to go if that’s going to happen.
Some interesting Jets news while I was away. Not sure I was totally surprised Paul Stastny didn’t re-sign with the team, but I thought he would have gone back to St. Louis if anywhere — going to Vegas seems off if you’re a guy late in your career who might want one more shot at a Cup. There is no way the Golden Knights replicate the success of last season next season — right?
The Jets were a Top 3 team all season prior to getting Stastny. I think he helped during the first couple of rounds in the playoffs, but I’d suggest they’re better off saving their dough for another rental-type guy at the trade deadline again next season.
Maybe Bryan Little will have a bounce-back season and find some chemistry with Laine and Ehlers — his new contract kicks in this season, so he need to be closer to the No.1 centre he once was than the No. 4 centre he finished the season as.
I'd argue Stastny benefitted more from being on the Jets than the Jets benefitted from having Stastny.
Sure, the guy was a valuable contributor down the stretch and into the playoffs. But I don't think he was a difference-maker most nights.
But what Stastny gained from being here was immeasurable. He looked like a guy on the backside of his career who was going to have to take a massive haircut on the $7 million a season St. Louis was paying him — until he came to Winnipeg and the Jets rejuvenated him and revitalized his value on the free agent market.
Stastny wouldn't have gotten within a couple million of $6.5 million a year were it not for the run he had with the Jets. You're welcome.
You're bang on with your assessment of Little and that crazy contract of his. Six year's with an average annual value of $5.3 million a season looked like a terrible deal for the Jets when Chevy signed Little to an extension last year — and it looked even worse after the season Little had in 2017-18. One of two things is going to happen moving forward: either Little is going to have a late career renaissance or that contract of his is going to hang around the necks of the Jets like a 200-pound anchor for years to come.
Bryan Little is 30 years old! As crazy as this might seem, that is ancient in today’s NHL.
I recently listened to an NHL player talking about this at the gym I go to: saying he needed to cash in on his next contract because these young, fast, inexpensive kids are taking over the game. This guy is 26 and he was talking like he only had a few years left.
They should have traded Little two years ago at the deadline when his value was the highest it was ever going to be and his contract was expiring. No GM is going to be perfect in his decisions — Chevy has made a lot of good ones — but I’m not thinking the Little extension will turn out to be one of the better ones.
Having said all that, Dustin Byfuglien might have had the best year of his career last season at the age of 32 and in the first year of his new five-year deal — so, ya never know.
On the subject of more mature hockey players, got a story for you from my trip to the Czech Republic. Man, they love their ice hockey there. Was on a walking tour in Prague and the young woman leading the tour, stopped to point out the tallest building in the city — outside the old city by the way. She also wanted to mention the entire top floor was a penthouse apartment owned by Jaromir Jagr. More than one person in the Czech Republic told me Jagr could run for president and win if he wanted to. Although, most younger folks over there are not currently enamored with their current president’s alliance with some fellow named Putin.
It's about time someone with a mullet became a world leader. Business out front, party in the back — there'd never be a dull moment in a Jagr regime.
Tell us about all the speeding tickets you got while you were zipping around Europe in that free BMW.
Remember the story where Jagr was photographed asleep in bed with the young model from Moravia? Someone tried to extort money from him or they were going to release the photo and Jagr’s response was ‘Who cares?’ Guess he knows his people — the photo apparently did nothing to tarnish Jarg’s popularity in the Czech Republic.
So yeah folks, you can get a speeding ticket on the Autobahn! And hey, just one — so far.
I’ve been driving a Bimmer for the better part of the last decade, but driving one in Germany; the Czech Republic and the Austrian Alps truly was the Ultimate Driving Experience. I’m going to write a yarn about it for our Autos section later this summer, but in a nutshell: the roads are amazing; there are lots of places with speed limits now in Germany; too many people drive in the left lane when they shouldn’t be (like here); the best and fastest drivers are driving BMWs; Mercedes-Benz and Porsche; and nobody — not once — speeded up and tried to block me out when I signaled to change lanes.
The photo radar speeding ticket was for 6km over the 130km limit — pretty petty actually; but the cost was only 15 Euros. It actually cost me more to wire transfer the money.
And since we’re on the subject of gouging — why is two scoops of gelato less expensive anywhere in Europe than in Winnipeg. We’re not importing it are we?
It is only in Winnipeg that the application of a turn signal is regarded as a declaration of war.
You drive anywhere else in the world — even insanely congested cities like NYC and London — and drivers yield when they see someone ahead of them signal a lane change; in Winnipeg, drivers speed up at the sight of a turn signal to close the gap as quickly as possible — and then complain that they were cut off.
Gelato is worth it, whatever the price.
Top 3 local desserts:
3. Tallgrass Prairie cinnamon bun — but one of the middle pieces not the end pieces. Always the middle pieces. Demand it.
2. Coconut gelati from anywhere. I like Goodies on Ellice, but I'm a West End guy.
1. Jeannies birthday cake — but chocolate, not vanilla. Always chocolate.
Ok, so two really dumb sports things I saw in Europe:
First day in Berlin, I go for a long walk with a destination of the Brandenburg Gate, right. The site of many major historical events and today a symbol of not only the tumultuous history of Germany and Europe, but of European unity and peace. All plans to walk up to and through the gate are thwarted when I get there and it is closed to pass through because giant screens are erected for folks to watch the World Cup. Listen, closing Donald Street is one thing — but the Brandenburg Gate. Say What?!
And what’s with every third person in Europe wearing a Yankees hat? It got to be funny seeing the various types of folks sporting the NY logo. Finally, I saw a guy wearing a Jays hat — it’s weird to know what the circumstances need to be for a Winnipegger to be happy to see someone from Toronto.
Finally, a small world story:
I’m sitting outside a small neighborhood hotel in Munich I’m staying at having a morning latte when I see a guy standing next to his wife wearing a CN shirt. As I look closer, I see he’s wearing a Jets hat. I go over, ask if they’re from Winnipeg and introduce myself. The woman recognizes me and says she reads all my travel stories — ‘Wow, you really get around,' she says.' The guy, however, didn’t say a word. Perhaps he’s friends with that fellow who sent me the email suggesting I take a permanent vacation.
Back to the Jets — no mention of Jacob Trouba today. We’ll have to talk again soon.
Trouba is a problem. Again.
I don't like it that readers are demanding you be fired. That's my thing.
They're stuck with us — and O'Shea — for now.
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.
As a young boy in the 1960s, Steve would plead with his mother to let him watch Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. And CFL football. And baseball. And PGA golf. And… well, you get the picture.