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 11/12/2019 (282 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hello there. How’s it going? Hope you are staying warm. Guess winter is here now. Man, it’s been nice so far — especially, the lack of snow. Thought we were in for a long one after that dump of white stuff in October. I bought a new shovel on the weekend just in case. I’m sure it will show up at some point. Yes, I’ve been doing my own shoveling.
So, lots going on since we last chatted. Like the whole world changing with the Bombers winning the Grey Cup! More on that in a bit…
The Jets won AGAIN on Tuesday night, beating the Red Wings. The team is now 19-10-1-1, good for 40 points. As we chat on Wednesday morning, they are just two points behind the Blues, who hold down top spot in the Central. Heady stuff. They certainly look like they are going to make me eat my words about not making the playoffs.. I think.. maybe.. haha
One caution: Since Nov. 1, the Jets have won 13 games, but only four of those victories have been against current playoff teams — Vegas, Florida, and the Dallas Stars twice. They’ve certainly made hay in this soft spot in their schedule, but it will be interesting to see how they fare once they start playing the Caps, Bruins, Isles, Blues and Avs of the world. The one game they had against a top tier team in November, they got whacked 4-0 at home by Colorado.
I’m not sure if it’s smoke and mirrors or just Connor Hellebuyck, but what this Jets team has done over the last five weeks is nothing short of miraculous.
If you had no idea what their record right now was and just looked at their roster, you’d have the Jets pegged as a sub . 500 squad.
I mean, just look at their blue line right now — Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Nathan Beaulieu, Tucker Poolman, Anthony Bitetto and Luca Sbisa. That’s one elite defenceman, some third pairing guys and a couple of AHLers on most teams. Throw in a fourth line right now that also looks more Moose than Jets — Gabriel Bourque, Logan Shaw and Nick Shore — and this Jets team has no business being where they are in the standings.
And yet, seeing is believing. And when you’re doing it night after night, as they have been, it’s hard to argue these 2019-20 Jets are just getting lucky.
Now, I’m a big believer in the old saying ‘if it seems too good to be true, it usually is’ and so I think you’re quite right to qualify at least some of this by noting the Jets have had a soft schedule of late. But great goaltending is always the great equalizer and when you dissect what has allowed a roster like this to put up wins night after night, I think much of the credit goes to Hellebuyck.
After a shaky start, I can think of at least a half dozen games this season in which Hellebuyck has simply thrown this team on his back and carried them to a win. That was particularly so earlier in the season when the offense was struggling mightily and on many nights Hellebuyck was the first, second and third stars.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again — as Hellebuyck goes, so go the Jets. And if he keeps playing the way he has been — a tall order to be sure — this team could surprise everyone, not just guys like you and I.
Speaking of reassessing your views, I’m wondering if you’re warming up yet to my man Patrik Laine? I know you’ve had reservations in the past about his defensive game and overall worth to the Jets, but I think even you must be impressed by what we’ve seen from Laine this season now that he’s finally gotten his wish and is surrounded by top line players on the Jets top line.
Laine’s game has been very impressive. That was a highlight reel goal off the rush vs the Red Wings on Tuesday. If this is what it took to get more out of Laine, please tell me Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler will never be re-united. Ironically, it’s a puck to the head of Bryan Little off a Nik Ehlers’ shot that forced the team to move Wheeler to centre and Laine to right wing with #55. Apologies to Little, but best injury of the season haha
I was definitely wondering whether or not Laine was going to end up being a one-trick pony, but he seems determined to round out his game so kudos to the young winger. I’ve liked his assertiveness a lot.
A lot of people are wondering if the Jets can be Cup contenders with that blue line of theirs. It’s certainly no-name that’s for sure, but the Pittsburgh Penguins won back to back titles in 2016 and 2017 with a lunch-bucket group, Guys like Ian Cole, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta behind Kris Letang and Justin Schultz. Now, they had Crosby, Malkin and Kessel but the Jets current group of Top 9 forwards is an extremely skilled and talented group as well. Throw in Hellebuyck and you just may have a recipe for success.
In a year in which the Bombers traded for a new quarterback 30 seconds before the trading deadline expired and then went on to snap a 29-year Grey Cup drought, I suppose anything is possible.
But man, the idea that the Jets could win a Stanley Cup with that blue line just seems crazy to me. In a seven-game series, there’d be some juicy matchups for any Jets opponent to exploit. I’m just not sure the Jets could overcome that blue line, but hey, they’ve surprised me this far.
The other thing standing in the way of the Jets and a serious Stanley Cup run is, holy smoke, have you looked at the Western Conference lately. As good as the Jets have been, they still trail St. Louis and Colorado (my Stanley Cup pick right now) in the Central Division and are just one point up on the Dallas Stars. And then over in the Pacific Division, Edmonton and — talk about surprises — Arizona both have the same number of points as the Jets as of this morning, with Calgary right behind with 38 points and Vegas — remember them — at 37.
Put it all together and the Western Conference is stacked. It will take a very, very good team to come out of west this year and I’m just not sure the Jets can overcome the glaring holes in their roster.
Kevin Cheveldayoff has added at the trade deadline in recent seasons — perhaps it will be a rental defenceman this time.
So ok — you were a Bombers fan for many years. Then you were a Bombers beat writer for a few seasons. Then, you were a columnist here who wrote a few words here and there about the Bombers.
The floor is yours pal. We were texting during the game, so I have a good idea already what you thought — but there are tens of readers (haha) who want to know as well, I’m sure.
The thing that stood out most about that Bombers win to me was the poetry of it all.
There were so many unlikely things that had to conspire together to keep that Grey Cup drought running for 29 years. It was such an impossible number of frequently unrelated things that all had to go bad year after year that it just seemed like sooner or later it had to end. And yet it never did, dragging on year after year after year.
And so what really struck me when it finally did end was was the poetic karma of it all — the seemingly impossible number of things that went right for the Bombers to finally end the drought. This Bombers team looked dead and buried after Matt Nichols went down and I don’t know anyone who thought in October that this was the team that was finally going to end the Bombers Grey Cup drought.
But from the deadline trade for Zach Collaros to special teamer Shayne Gauthier somehow tracking down that Saskatchewan Roughriders punt returner in the West Final, everything that had to go right for the Bombers did go right. And we finally got to see a party at Portage and Main because of it.
No one, anywhere, deserved it more than Bombers fans. This team put their fan base through hell for the better part of three decades — from the frustrations of the final years of the Cal Murphy regime to the lunacy of the Jeff Reinbold years to, more recently, the stadium fiasco and the gross incompetence of guys like Joe Mack and Garth Buchko that set this franchise back years.
And yet, every year Bombers fans came back for more. It’s a credit to the perseverance, resilience and no small dose of craziness that it takes to live on the prairies that there were any Bombers fans left to watch when the drought finally ended last month.
I’ve been blown away by how cathartic this has been. Everywhere I’ve gone the past few weeks, the conversations I’ve heard and the merchandise I’ve seen have been all about the Bombers, not the Jets. After waiting so long, people aren’t ready to stop celebrating just yet it seems.
And so what I wonder now is whether this new enthusiasm for all things Bombers has legs heading into next season. Bombers attendance was down again this year and has now declined every year but one since the new stadium opened in 2013. Overall, attendance is down 20 percent since the new stadium opened and that’s just not sustainable for a team with a big mortgage.
So, what do you think — is this the moment all the fans this Bombers team lost in recent years come back on board?
I’m not sure the Bombers — or the CFL — will ever return to what they once were. Although some will say they're exactly what they’ve always been — crazy and dysfunctional, just in a different way.
The league is not as gate driven as it once was, with its partnership with TSN providing a fair bit of its revenue, so I’m not overly concerned about the declining attendance. There’s still typically around 25,000 people going out to see the team on a regular basis and the team has managed to turn a profit each season for awhile now.
Wade Miller has been successful luring the younger generation to IGF and I think the Cup victory and all the celebrations afterwards will help that. It’s the first championship parade a whole generation has ever seen.
On the parade subject, I wanna share an email I got from a reader of ours:
Hi Steve. I like to read the occasional banter between you and Paul W. I’m writing today to see if others felt the same way I dod watching the Grey Cup parade on Tuesday. I am an avid sports fan and long time sufferer of the Bombers record… As a kid, I remember the glory days of Ken Ploen and Leo Lewis as larger-that-life heroes. I was overjoyed with the team’s play during the playoffs and happy the football Gods finally gave us a break or two. I watched the dressing room celebration and thoroughly enjoyed it. The players deserved to celebrate the culmination to a wild year.
But, then the parade happened.
I was thrilled to catch it on TV and to see thousands of folks out celebrating. But Chris Streveler, a player I love for his on field efforts, really left a bad taste in my mouth. He appeared to be pretty drunk right from the start. Then to accept a six-pack from a fan and chug another beer in front of a TV audience was nuts. My concern is for the thousands of young kids who idolize these players and now think it’s okay to drink and be drunk on public streets in front of everyone…
The last few weeks, we’ve witnessed much of the hockey world turned upside down — from commentators to once respected coaches. Their behavior is being examined and a new culture change is happening. I think the Bomber management blew hot by not expecting ‘respectful’ behavior and celebrating from their players. I just wonder if anyone else noticed.
The email was one of many I received from readers voicing similar sentiments and I heard anecdotal stories from friends and acquaintances with the same concerns.
Mike O’Shea was asked about it at his season-ending press conference and replied "They work so damn hard, they can do whatever they want in my mind." I’m hopeful he didn’t really mean ‘whatever’..
I have to admit I was a little taken aback when I saw some of the public intoxication from the Bombers, but perhaps this a new norm established by the Alex Ovechkin and Rob Gronkowskis.
Funny — I was just talking to someone the other day who said Steveler’s drunken antics were one of her favorite parts of the Bombers post-Cup celebrations. And to be honest, I had to agree — I thought that whole fur coat get up was hilarious and if anyone deserved to cut loose it was a quarterback who took a hellacious pounding for the Bombers for the better part of the final six weeks of the season.
I’m not sure kids — or anyone else — is taking their cue from Chris Streveler on alcohol consumption or anything else. We live in a province in which the government sells booze and weed and does everything it can to convince you to spend your paycheque at one of its insidious VLTs. If you really want to go after poor role models, I’d start with Brian Pallister not Chris Streveler.
It seemed to be either you loved the antics or hated them. Kinda like the words and opinions of a columnist.
So, the biggest sports story of the 21st century in Winnipeg is the return of the Jets. But, what’s the bigger story of the current decade that’s coming to a close — the Bombers finally winning the Grey Cup again or the Jets making it to the Western Conference Final two seasons ago?
Hmmmm, that’s a good one. I think I’d go with the Jets. If news is the unexpected, I’d argue the Jets making it to the conference final that year was more unexpected than the Bombers finally winning a championship in what is, let’s face it, a very small nine-team league.
Plus, that Jets playoff run went on for months, spilled into the streets for those White Out parties and had this city on both the national and international radar. The Grey Cup played out on a much more compressed timetable and mostly inside people’s homes as they watched on TV. And while finally winning a Grey Cup was a huge story for us, I’m not sure it resonated anywhere outside our province.
What’s your vote?
I’m going with the Bombers. Mostly because it’s a championship and this city has been longing for one for 30 years. The Jets outpouring was somewhat connected to that desire to be winners. I watched Bombers fans weeping over the victory — joy and relief. The Jets playoff run had a feeling of being trendy and a fad for many. Bombers fans have paid their dues in spades. I think a Grey Cup win touches a lot of people in this city. Don’t get me wrong, the Jets are top dogs in town.. but the Bombers are the old dogs and there’s folks in this town who have been fans of the Blue and Gold longer than the Jets have been in existence — WHA, Jets 1.0 and Jets 2.0 combined.
Let’s wrap it up today with news from our beloved game. Lots of news from baseball’s winter meetings — most notably the huge amount of money being thrown around.
On Monday, the Washington Nationals signed Stephen Strasburg to the largest contract in history for a pitcher — seven years for $245 million. That record lasted all of 48 hours when your New York Yankees opened the vault for Gerrit Cole, signing the righty to a nine-year, $324-million deal. His $36 million average annual value is the highest in baseball history, topping Mike Trout’s $35.5 million.
The 29-year-old Cole was 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 326 strikeouts against 48 walks in 212 1/3 innings last season for the American League champion Houston Astros. He was also 4-1 with a 1.72 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 36 2/3 postseason innings.
The Yankees rotation next season will now be Cole, James Paxton, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and one other — will that be good enough for you?
I’m torn by this Cole signing.
As a Yankees fan, I’m thrilled they have added the piece they’ve been needing for the last 10 years — an ace starting pitcher that will tilt every seven-game series in the Yankees favor. It’s the last thing that a Yankees roster that won 100 games in each of the last two seasons was missing and it’s why as of this morning, my Yanks are 3-1 favourites to win the World Series next year.
But as a human being, I’m appalled by the idea that we’re paying anyone $324 million, much less a baseball player.
Now, I get that the idea that paying professional athletes outrageous amounts of money is hardly a new thing. Indeed, Strasburg and Cole are the 10th and 11th pitchers to sign deals worth over $150 million.
But even against that backdrop, these signings set a new bar for obscenity. Nobody is worth that kind of money and nobody needs that kind of money. And there seems to be no end to the madness — what’s next: a half-billion dollar deal?
As it is, regular fans cannot afford to go to games. This is just going to make it even more impossible for the average Dad or Mom to take their kid to the ballpark.
When the revolution comes — and it’s coming, brother — I’m going to Gerrit Cole’s house.
I'll wait for you at your cottage.
Have a wonderful Christmas bud and a Happy New Year.
You too, buddy.
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.
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.
Updated on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 at 5:56 PM CST: Typo fixed.
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